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Authors: Laura Langston

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Stepping Out (3 page)

BOOK: Stepping Out
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“You need to learn other forms of comedy. Like improv and stand-up,” she says.

I’ve been
shortlisted
for the
ITCF
.

“Stand-up is dying,” I tell her
.
I’ve been shortlisted for the
ITCF
. Me. Paige Larsson. As I try to process my conflicting emotions (joy/horror/elation/panic), I do what I always do: speak my mind. “Who wants to get all dressed up and go sit in a cold, noisy club somewhere? My grandpa, that’s who. And pretty soon all those old people will die off and everybody else will be sitting at home in their pajamas, laughing at YouTube. YouTube is a community. I can interact with people. Comment on other videos. Get to know my fans. And I can make money too. YouTube is perfect.”

“It’s perfect
today
,” Carly corrects. “But what’s coming next month? Next year? You’ve got five thousand subscribers. You’ve had twenty thousand views to date. That’s not enough.”

I know she’s right. On the other hand, I have been picking up close to six hundred subscribers a month. And that’s pretty good, considering I only upload a few times a week. It’s not like this is my full-time job. Yet.

“We’ve been studying this in my social media class,” she continues. “People like Oakley and Marbles are getting numbers into the millions.”

I’d love that, but it takes years of work to get those kinds of numbers. And I’ve got school to think about. My part-time job at the pool. I tune Carly out
.
Go to Portland? Get up onstage in front of a bunch of strangers? Could I? It’s the kind of thing I’ve always dreamed of. But in my dreams I glide out effortlessly, graceful and sure. I don’t limp across the stage with a twisted foot. Or frizzy red hair. I glance at Hunter. He’s staring at his knuckle like it holds the answer to all of life’s mysteries. Finally he looks at Carly.

“Why don’t you quit talking,” he says, “and let her read the rest of it.”

Hunter’s middle name is
To the Point
. I start reading again.

Winners will receive $10,000 for themselves and $10,000 for their school drama or video department
. Ten grand? Whoa!
They will also receive a one-year contract with the Endless Field Agency and a one-month intensive with Kids Zone Comedy Troupe in New York.
Oh my god. I feel like all the air has been punched out of my chest. I gasp in a breath.
Endless Field represents Ellen DeGeneres and Amy Poehler. They handle social media platforming, sponsorships, agent representation. And Kids Zone Comedy is known for turning teen comic wannabes into stars.

Winners must be available to travel to New York City at least once during the twelve months following the win. Judging for this category will be led by Raven Prest.

Travel to New York. Raven Prest!

It’s a good thing I’m sitting down, because I am so light-headed I swear I could pass out. I love Raven Prest. She’s up there with Sarah Silverman and Jenna Marbles. She started out on YouTube, but she has her own comedy show now. Rumor has it she’ll be hosting the Academy Awards next year. “I can’t afford to pass this up.” My voice comes out in a barely-there whisper. It’s the truth, and it’s probably the hardest thing I’ve ever said.

“Of course you can’t.” Carly rolls her eyes. “What do you think we’ve been telling you!”

My friends—my best friends in the entire world—have landed me the biggest opportunity ever. And I am terrified beyond belief. Grandpa has a saying:
Life is either preparation for success
or preparation for failure
. Well, here it is. My opportunity for success. Except…what if I fail?

“But Portland?” I say. For once I’m not saying all of what I’m thinking.
That means I’ll have to limp across the stage in front of a bunch of strangers.
“I can’t take time off school. I don’t have money for a hotel. My parents will never let me drive the van down to Oregon.” They don’t even like me taking I-5 into town.

Carly starts to speak, but Hunter holds up his hand. “The competition is on the weekend, so you wouldn’t miss school. Two nights’ hotel is covered for the finalists. And you don’t need to worry about driving to Portland. That’s taken care of.”

“What are you talking about?”

Carly chews the corner of her lip. “Don’t freak,” she says.

Nerves flutter in my stomach. As if I could freak out any more than I already am. “What?”

Hunter clears his throat. My spine tingles a second time. What aren’t they telling me? I stare at him. His blue eyes can’t quite meet mine. “A pile of us are going to Portland with you.”

I snicker. “Yeah right, sure you are.”

Hunter pulls out his phone and taps the screen. Five seconds later, the school website appears. He shoves it under my nose. “Look.”

There it is, front and center under the big black Lampshire Heights logo.
See Paige Win
.
Congratulations, Paige Larsson, on being shortlisted for the International Teens in Comedy Festival. Join us April 3 when a group of us will travel down to Portland to see Paige win.

I am so stunned my mouth refuses to form words. Finally I say, “April 3rd is only two weeks away. Comedians take months to prepare standup routines.”

“You’ve got all the material there in your vlogs. You just need to reshape it for a live audience,” Hunter says. “That’s all.”

That’s
all
? That’s huge. “I can’t believe you already
told
people.” It’s one thing to bomb in front of strangers, but to bomb in front of my friends? Are they kidding me?

“We talked to Roskinski as soon as we got the email from
ITCF
, and he was totally stoked,” Carly says.

Roskinski is the drama teacher. Like Carly, he also thinks I need to “get out of my comfort zone.”

“He booked the school bus,” Carly says. “And it wasn’t easy either, because there’s some basketball thingy that Sunday.”

A black ball of horror rises up and threatens to swamp me. “The school bus?” It holds, like, forty people.

“I know the seats have crappy springs, but we can take lots of extra coats for padding and stuff,” Carly says. “It won’t be so bad.”

I’m not worried about the seats. I’m worried about the people sitting in the seats. All forty of them. Forty people to watch me make an ass of myself doing stand-up in front of a live audience. Forty people to come home and tell forty more, who will tell forty more, and on and on it will go. My shame will never end.

“What if I’d said no?”

“You can’t afford to say no,” Carly says. “And I knew you wouldn’t.”

She’s right.

“Don’t worry,” Hunter adds.

“I’m not worried. I’m freaking terrified. That’s three universes away from worried.”

Hunter takes my hand and gives it a squeeze. “You’re going to be great, Paige. You’re the funniest comedian I know.”

“I’m the only comedian you know.”

“You’re going to Portland and you’ll ace the competition.”

A lump the size of Mount St. Helens jams my throat.

He smiles. “And we’ll be right there, watching.”

I want to make a wise-ass remark, but the mountain-sized lump is cutting off my air supply. I’m going to compete in the Super Bowl of comedy. And I’m going to win.

I have no other choice.

Four

“I
t’s a terrific opportunity for you, Paige,” Dad says as we eat dinner later that night. Our kitchen smells like mashed potatoes and meatloaf. But I burned the edges of the meatloaf (as usual), and the cream I used for the potatoes was starting to go off, so there’s a charred, slightly sour undertone to the air.

“Dad’s right.” Mom enthusiastically digs into the salad I made. She loves my salads. Everybody loves my salads. It’s because they don’t go near heat or dairy.

“It is. I know.” Since Carly and Hunter told me the news, I’ve been experiencing a totally rare state called
paniness
. It’s a cross between panic and happiness. Or maybe it’s called
happnic
. Either way, it’s so overwhelming I could puke from it.

“I told her the same thing,” Grandpa says. “I am so proud of you, my little Paige note.”

I push a forkful of mashed potatoes across my plate and manage a smile. Grandpa comes for dinner on Fridays when I cook and Brooke works the dinner shift at Pizza Pieman. This afternoon I showed him the email I got from the
ITCF
, and we spent the entire time before Mom and Dad got home talking about what a great opportunity it is. Thank God Brooke wasn’t around. I don’t need my sister throwing doubts at me. I’m scared enough already.

“Our Paige is going to be as famous as Kathy Griffin. Only without all the swearing and Anderson Cooper.”

“Thanks, Grandpa.” He has more confidence in me than I have in myself. It’s touching.

“With only two weeks to prepare, you’ve got your work cut out for you,” Mom says. “At least the pool is closed, so you don’t have work on top of everything else.”

One of the few physical activities I’m good at is swimming. I was hired at the community center last year to help with preschool swimming classes, but when the roof on the building
started to leak in December, the whole complex was shut down for construction. I was bummed for a while—it was fun and the money was nice—but I can use the extra time now.

“You’ll have to make sure your schoolwork doesn’t suffer,” Mom adds. “Coming up with the videos and those stand-up routines will take time.”

“I do the vlogs every week, so they’re no biggie.” But the stand-up? Another wave of nausea grips me. Oh man. Why does that have to be part of it? “I forgot to tell you. The school drama department gets ten thousand dollars too if I win.”

Dad lets out a low whistle.

“So not only is this a huge deal for me, but it’s a huge deal for the school.” No wonder the drama teacher was so quick to get behind it and arrange a bus. He’s always complaining about being short of funds.

“Don’t even think about winning,” Mom says. “Just focus on doing the best job you can.”

Grandpa drops his fork. It hits his plate with a loud clatter. “Oh for heaven’s sake, Dina, of course she should think about winning. There’s no point in entering a contest like this if you aren’t in it to win.”

“Yes, there is,” Dad says. “In this house, we focus on enjoying the process.” They are mirror images of each other: balding heads, pointy chins, bulbous brown eyes. They even frown in sync. Like they’re doing right now. “It’s about the experience,” Dad says. “Not about the win.”

“Experience, my ass,” Grandpa mutters.

My parents exchange glances before Dad looks back at Grandpa. “The fact that Paige was shortlisted is an honor,” he says. “She’s worked hard at her comedy, and she should be proud of herself.” He turns to me and smiles. “We’re proud of you, kiddo. No matter what happens with the competition.”

Grandpa rolls his eyes. “Of course we’re proud of her. That goes without saying. But let’s call a spade a spade. Paige is either in it to win or she’s in it to lose. There’s no point in investing all her time and energy to go down in flames.”

It’s a variation on Grandpa’s
Life is either preparation for success or preparation for failure
line.

“I don’t think—” Dad starts to say, but Grandpa is on a roll.

“Quit coddling her. If it were Brooke sitting here, you wouldn’t be talking like this. You’d be
telling her to go for the gold. But because it’s Paige, you act like she can’t walk out onstage and tell her jokes. It’s as plain as the nose on your face.”

Trust Grandpa to get to the point. I love that about him. I try to be like him. Only without the clichés.

“And it’s just because she limps.”

Mom turns the color of a radish.

Dad glares. “That’s not—”

“She limps!” Grandpa repeats loudly. The words bounce off the kitchen walls. I fight an irrational urge to giggle. “Get over yourselves,” he says. “And get behind your daughter!”

My parents look shocked. I almost feel sorry for them. I push back my chair. “Dessert anyone? I made a strawberry fool.”

Later, when Mom and I are at the sink doing dishes, she says, “Dad and I believe in you, Paige. I hope you know that.” She’s up to her elbows in soap suds. I’m waiting for her to finish scrubbing the meat-loaf pan so I can dry it.

“I know. But Grandpa’s right. You do coddle me.” They always have. Because I was born with a clubfoot.

“We don’t want you to get your hopes up and be disappointed.”

“Yeah.” They think I’ve faced so many disappointments in my life. I heard them talking about it when I was twelve. I couldn’t sleep one night and I’d gotten up to get a glass of water, and they were talking about me. Feeling bad about the multiple surgeries they’d put me through when I was a toddler, the brace I’d had to wear as I grew, and the fact that the surgeries and brace hadn’t worked as well as the doctors had hoped.

“No matter what happens, you’ll do a wonderful job.” Mom attacks a stubborn piece of burned-on meat with a scouring pad. “Dad and I can’t wait to see you up on that stage.”

“You can’t come.”

She shoots me an incredulous look. “What are you talking about? Of course we’ll come.”

BOOK: Stepping Out
5.01Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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