Warning: ADULT CONTENT ahead including hard-core profanity and hate speech.

The Laughskeller

A short story by J. Neil Schulman

Jerry always looked at the parking lot before each show. He scanned past license plates from New Jersey, Idaho, Arizona, Wyoming, New York, Florida, California, Vermont, Minnesota, Utah – Nevada, of course – and even some plates from BC and Alberta. There were a lot fewer pick-up trucks than anyone might have expected and a lot more Mercedes, BMW’s, and Hummers. A special parking section just for Harley Davidsons. Always stretch limos with the driver smoking, eating gourmet pizza sent out from the bar, and watching satellite TV. The helipad, which tonight had a Robinson R66 and a Bell 206 BIII JetRanger – in addition to the usual Mercy Air ‘copter.

Jerry had even — swear-to-God — seen an M1A1 tank parked on occasion.

He paid attention to clues like this. Jerry had to know who his audience was. When Gino first offered Jerry this gig Jerry thought he’d be playing to the Blue Collar Comedy Tour crowd, but he was quickly disabused of that notion. This wasn’t your Jeff Foxworthy or Larry the Cable Guy audience. These people were serious as a heart attack. He often wondered why a lot of them even bothered coming to a comedy club much less make it a de rigueur vacation stopover. Some of them looked like their other nights out were spent watching public executions and dog fights, or playing Xtreme Komando – not paintball, but with full-auto AK-47’s and body armor.

Crystal, Nevada was a nowhere town previously a tourist destination for only one reason: it had two legal brothels within a two-hour drive from Las Vegas. Heidi Fleiss had once had the idea to open a third brothel in Crystal with male prostitutes and female clients, but that dumb idea had gone nowhere fast. The closest Heidi had come to her dream establishment was a coin-op launderette in nearby Pahrump with the appropriate name Dirty Laundry.

The Laughskeller didn’t open its doors until eight PM. There was no point. It was so far off the beaten track few people were going to drive there just to drink and play the slots. But even so, precisely at ten PM, the management cleared out the few locals, the regular dinner patrons from Area 51 recognizable by their no-insignia desert camo, and any stragglers from the nearby brothels.

The team of bouncers and topless girls who took the door for the eleven o’clock first show – and again at one AM for the 2 AM second show — weren’t there just to collect the if-you-have-to-ask-you-can’t-afford-it cover charge. They operated the magnetometers and X-ray units and checked guests’ personal items. The Door Team weren’t checking weapons, but cameras, recorders, phones, handhelds, electronics of any kind – even one guy’s fake eye with a video camera built into it. But when it came to calling heads or tails on who got in, The Giant who commanded the Door Team was God.

There she was again. That cool blonde in the little black dress and string of pearls who looked as if she should be one of the Fox News babes, or the female lead in an old Hitchcock movie.

On her first night Jerry had tagged her in his mind as Superbabe. He would have been a lot less nervous if Superbabe was with some guy in an Armani suit and a Rolex, bait for some guy in an Armani suit and a Rolex, or even sitting with her arm around another spectacularly gorgeous woman. But this was Superbabe’s fifth night here and not only was she once again sitting alone at a back table eating fugu sashimi with chopsticks but she made it clear to anyone who sent over a drink that she wasn’t interested. Superbabe had snoop written all over her. But five nights in a row The Giant had taken Superbabe’s money – for both shows – and passed her in.

When Gino had first offered the gig he’d asked Jerry if he wanted to perform behind bulletproof glass. Jerry had declined, despite the previous two stand-ups ending their Laughskeller runs in the ER of Desert View Medical Center – one with a gunshot wound and the other badly lacerated from a thrown broken beer bottle. Jerry felt it was disrespectful to an audience to treat them as criminals – despite the evidence that some of them were armed-to-the-teeth maniacs. Comedians talked all the time about a joke killing the audience, but this was a metaphor. Aside from anything else, Jerry got a buzz from knowing that at any moment if a joke flopped it could really kill him.

Jerry thought of himself as the Evel Knievel of stand-up. The self-flattery was not unjustified. One of the bartenders had stolen a dry-erasable compliance sign from a construction job he worked at and put it up in Jerry’s dressing room. It now read, “258 Nights Without A Comedian Being Injured On This Job Site.”

Nevertheless, Jerry wore Kevlar, as did the bouncers, bartenders, parking valets, and Gino, himself. The female personnel’s skimpy dress didn’t allow for such body armor, but Gino being “old-school” Nevada he considered women easily replaceable anyway.

Jerry finished off the one Glengoyne 28-year-old Single Malt Scotch Whisky he allowed himself before each show, and waited just offstage for Gino to make his intro. He took a look at tonight’s first-show crowd. It was, as always, a full house. Some of them wore masks.

Lots of men in tuxedos and jackboots with their elegant women wearing designer dresses and jackpradas. The usual number of leather-and-chains-clad bikers. The skinheads – though they had to meet Gino’s upscale dress code. The Skull & Bones guys. The leatherboy Nazis with their black skull-and-barbwire-embroidered cowhide vests and swastika armbands. Lots of exotic tattoos and body piercings in the house. And, yes, there were the usual SS wannabes with their black uniforms seated well away from the white-hooded KKK wannabes – those two groups just never got along.

Just before Gino walked onstage, the house lights went down and the wallscreens came on with their montages of Nazi rallies, KKK marches, anti-Semitic cartoons, lynchings.

Then the stage lights came up, the medley of “Horst-Wessel-Lied,” and “Nigger Necktie” blended seamlessly into “Tomorrow Belongs To Me” from Cabaret, and Gino walked out to welcome the audience and introduce Jerry.

Jerry didn’t pay attention to what Gino was saying. He was watching Superbabe, who was lighting a Sobranie cigarette. Just what is her deal? he wondered.

Then Jerry heard Gino’s wind-up, “So please put your hands together for America’s most fearless comedian, Jerry Rhymus!”

Jerry walked onstage to thunderous applause.

He took the hand-held mike off the stool where Gino had left it, took a swig from a bottle of Smart Water, and waited for the applause and cheers to die down just enough that the audience could hear him.

Then he started his routine the same way he always did at the Laughskeller.

“Who wants to kill that kike-loving commie nigger motherfucker in the White House?”

The crowd went wild again.


The crowd from the first show was gone and the second show audience was just arriving. Jerry smoked a Monte Cristo cigar and watched a few of them pull into the parking lot. He always paid attention when a vehicle announced itself as green. A Volvo with the flex-fuel logo. A Tesla Roadster. A half-a-million-bucks CNG motor home.

Jerry went back in. The Laughskeller was cleared between the first and second show except for patrons who had paid in advance for both. Tonight that was only one person. Superbabe.

Superbabe saw Jerry walk in and gave him a shy wave. He strolled over.

“I doubt you’d remember me,” she said, leaning back against the leather-padded bench.

“Since Chaminade High School is an all-boys parochial school I know you weren’t one of my classmates,” Jerry said, stealing a chair from another table, “and I’m pretty sure you’re not one of my ex wives.”

“May I buy you a drink?” she asked. “I’m told it softens having been excommunicated.”

“My parents faked my baptismal certificate to get me out of public school and it’s an open bar for me,” Jerry said. “What are you having?”

“First of the night,” Superbabe said. “Whatever you’re drinking.”

Jerry made a quick hand gesture to Charlie behind the bar and put up two fingers. “This cigar bother you?”

“Hardly,” she said, taking out a Sobrani. Jerry struck a wooden match from the box on the table and lit it for her.

“So where don’t I remember you from?”

“I used to work for The Tonight Show,” she said. “I booked you for Jay Leno. Three times.”

“Before I started doing my own stand-up,” Jerry said, “I once met Sid Caesar at a huge book fair where both of us had new books out. I was introduced to Sid for about twenty seconds on day one of the convention. On day four of the convention we ran into each other on the floor and he remembered me by name. Sid had to have met hundreds of thousands of people over the course of his lifetime … and he was able to remember me by name after one brief introduction. I envy that memory for names and faces and realize it’s one of the many reasons Sid Caesar became a superstar and I didn’t.”

“You weren’t doing all that badly,” Superbabe said. “Three movies that grossed over a hundred million and co-star on a sitcom that went four seasons. A top-five syndicated radio talk show. Three Grammy Awards for Best Spoken Comedy Album.”

“You’ve done your homework on me,” Jerry said. “I might not have remembered us meeting but I did have you pegged.”

Charlie sent over a girl with their drinks. Jerry tipped her a twenty.

“You an agent now?” Jerry asked. “Is that what this is about?”

Superbabe shook her head. “And even if I were, you’d be too radioactive for me to handle.”

“Yeah.” Jerry took a sip of his scotch. “That’s not exactly breaking news. The guy with the videophone made sure of that. Then Jesse and Al. Then the 24-hour news cycle and the supermarket tabloids. Did you know Michael Richards, Mel Gibson, Don Imus, and Alec Baldwin all phoned to give me advice?”

“They all made public apologies,” Superbabe said. “You didn’t. What did you expect the media would do with that?”

“I didn’t expect anything from them. But I knew what they should have done. Stand up for the First Amendment. Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, Richard Pryor, and Andy Kaufman died for our sins.”

Superbabe asked, “Aren’t you worried that one of these nut jobs is going to take you seriously and shoot at the President?”

“The President and I both wear Kevlar,” Jerry said. “If he listens to his Secret Service detail and stays out of open-top limos he should be just fine. Did you know I campaigned for him? Obama, I mean. People think I’m older than I am. I wasn’t born yet when JFK died.”

“A nice New York Jewish liberal and now you do this?”

Jerry grinned for the first time. “So you did know I wasn’t Catholic.”

“Guilty,” Superbabe said.

“So why didn’t you send me a note? I would have comped you in.”

“The Bell helicopter sitting outside is mine,” Superbabe said. “I married for money. Twice.”

“Well maybe I can marry for money next time,” Jerry said. “Can you wait for me after the show?”

“I thought you’d never ask,” Superbabe said.


It was time for the Laughskeller’s second show. Jerry saw in the audience several Che Guevara wannabes, some North Korean Army uniforms, every sort of Arab and Muslim apparel, and more than a few anarchists. The video wall screens were showing their montages of anti-war demonstrations, a burning American flag, U.S. bombing runs in Afghanistan, Christians bombing an abortion clinic, homophobes attacking a Gay Pride march, Israeli tanks knocking over Palestinian homes, Hugo Chavez embracing Fidel Castro to cheering crowds waving red flags.

Then the stage lights came up, the medley of “The Internationale” and “Joe Hill” blended seamlessly into “The Star Spangled Banner” sung in a minor key, and Gino walked out to welcome the audience and introduce Jerry.

Jerry didn’t pay attention to what Gino was saying. He was again watching Superbabe. He hadn’t realized how isolated and lonely he’d become. He made a vow to himself not to screw it up this time and leave his outrage on stage where it belonged.

Then Jerry heard Gino’s wind-up, “So please put your hands together for America’s most fearless comedian, Jerry Rhymus!”

Jerry walked onstage to thunderous applause.

He took the hand-held mike off the stool where Gino had left it, took a swig from a bottle of Smart Water, and waited for the applause and cheers to die down just enough that the audience could hear him.

Then he started his second-show routine the same way he always did at the Laughskeller.

“Who wants to kill that Zionist-loving fascist fake-nigger motherfucker in the White House?”


April 12, 2009. 9:15 PM
Revised April 16, 2009. 10:47 AM

Copyright © 2009 by The J. Neil Schulman Living Trust. All rights reserved.

Winner of the Special Jury Prize for Libertarian Ideals from the 2011 Anthem Film Festival! My comic thriller Lady Magdalene’s — a movie I wrote, produced, directed, and acted in it — is now available free on the web linked from the official movie website. If you like the way I think, I think you’ll like this movie. Check it out!

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