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Laughingstock – Chapter 1

July 2014

Mickey was dead, and Duckie was nervous.

Fabled comedian Mickey Gross was dead because a wicked case of pancreatic cancer had burned him up in a matter of months. He had been reduced to a husk of the dynamic man who had stormed stage and screen for decades. The only post-diagnosis photo, published by the American Investigator, showed a wisp of a man in a hospital bed, barely able to lift his hand to give the thumbs-up to the photographer.

Duckie Dunne was nervous because he was zooming along at three-quarters of the speed of sound, about six miles above northern Nevada. He didn’t think of himself as a nervous flier, but until today his experience with air travel had been limited to a handful of flights on the East Coast. This cross-country trip from Baltimore to Portland was something else, and the longer he was in the air, the more nervous he became.

If he was being honest with himself – and wasn’t that a challenge most days? – Duckie was more nervous about what was waiting for him at the end of the flight. He hadn’t seen his childhood friend Chuck Marshall in nearly two years, and he wondered how the reunion was going to go.

Duckie and Chuck had been friends since the sixth grade, and it was their love of comedy that had really cemented their relationship. They were huge fans of all the greats – Carlin, Pryor, Hicks – but it was the comedy of Mickey Gross that had really brought them together. It had started the day that Chuck had showed up at school with a CD filched from his dad’s collection: Mickey’s Blowing Rainbows album.

“Hey, have you ever heard of this guy?” Chuck had asked, waving the CD under Duckie’s nose.

“Quit moving your hand so I can see it,” replied Duckie. “Nah, never heard of him. Is it prog?”

“No, it’s comedy,” said Chuck. “It makes my parents really laugh hard, but they won’t let me listen to it. Wanna check it out?”

“Yeah, sure,” said Duckie.

So they had gone back to Chuck’s house after school and waited until his mom went out, and listened to the CD on the stereo in the living room.

They laughed their asses off.

Of course, they didn’t get all of the jokes – especially the title track – but there was enough that could be grasped by a pair of bright twelve-year-olds. It was funny.

“Man, I can’t believe people get paid to do stuff like that,” said Duckie.

“Yeah,” replied Chuck. “I wonder what it would be like to do something like that.”

“Are you kidding?” Duckie had said. “I’d be scared shitless to try. What if nobody laughed?”

However, the seed had been planted. There was no more talk that day of trying to be comedians, but a mutual obsession had been born. Duckie and Chuck had become rabid stand-up comedy fans. They haunted cable TV, glomming on to any stand-up special they could find. They had the schedule of Comedy Central memorized. Chuck discovered that comedy LPs could be had for fire-sale prices at Schoolkids Records over by the NC State campus, and began bringing them home by the armload. He made tapes of them and traded them with Duckie.

In short, they became adolescent comedy scholars. Their tastes weren’t exactly the same. Duckie remembered a monster fight they had gotten into over Emo Philips. Duckie thought he was pretty dumb, but Chuck thought he was brilliant. The argument had escalated into a shouting match that had been broken up by Chuck’s mom.

Things had continued that way until right after the beginning of their freshman year in high school. At that point, Mickey Gross’s short-lived sitcom had just gone belly up. In fact, Mickey’s whole career was in the process of going belly up, but to Duckie and Chuck he was a comedy deity who could do no wrong. Right after Mickey’s sitcom was canceled, he had appeared on Letterman. It was generally agreed that it had been a disastrous performance, but for Duckie and Chuck it had been galvanic.

Chapter 2