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Authors: John Warner

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The Funny Man

BOOK: The Funny Man
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For Kathy, always

Copyright © 2011 by John Warner

All rights reserved.

Published by Soho Press, Inc.
853 Broadway
New York, NY 10003

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Warner, John, 1970–
The funny man / John Warner.
p. cm.
ISBN 978-1-56947-973-5
eISBN 978-1-56947-974-2
1. Comedians—Fiction. I. Title.
PS3623.A86328F86 2011
813’.6—dc22
2011018280

Printed in the United States of America

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Contents

Title Page

Copyright Page

Part I

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

17

18

Part II

19

20

21

22

23

24

25

26

27

28

29

30

31

32

33

34

35

36

37

38

Part III

39

40

41

42

Acknowledgments

PART I

The Rise (The Fall)

1

T
HE COURTROOM IS
not a space conducive to comedy. For one thing the ceiling is too high; too much space for jokes to float up and fade. And then there’s the layout, the way the various people—judge, defendant, prosecutor, jury—are isolated in their zones. Laughter is like a virus, more easily spread when people are in proximity to each other, and the only person anywhere near me is Barry, my lawyer.

Not that I’m in the mood to try out any new material, even if Barry hadn’t hinted that levity is a bad idea when you’re charged with manslaughter by saying, “The only one who gets to be funny in here is the judge and if the judge is funny I’m allowed to laugh, but you aren’t.
You
are going to be as serious as ass cancer.”

The viewing area is empty, the judge’s decision to prevent a “spectacle.” I didn’t object, and neither did Barry, which is odd because he seems to enjoy an audience almost as much as I used to. Because I’m famous, there’s been high demand to see the trial. Depending on the news outlet this is either the trial of the year or the decade. I am a top story every night. There are at least ten Web sites dedicated entirely to the trial’s goings on, reporting the tiniest of minutia. There are daily tweets on what the jury orders out for lunch. A large crowd hoping for a glimpse of something interesting gathers in a roped-in designated free speech area out in front of the courthouse every day. On the cable news crawl you will find my name scrolling by at five minute increments. Apparently, I spark the synapses of the national consciousness.

Crowds used to be my thing, but lately, I sometimes like to imagine myself as the main character in one of those postapocalyptic movies where there is only one person with one loyal dog companion left on Earth and that vision feels pretty damn good, relative to the present circumstances anyway.

No, two people. I would like there to be two people left on Earth (with or without the dog), me being one of them.

Barry and I must now enter and leave the courthouse from below ground in a car with dark windows because otherwise the paparazzi would never allow us down the courthouse steps. They would slowly melt me to a puddle under the heat and glare of their camera lights.

As is, when the car leaves the underground garage, they stand in front of the vehicle, blocking its way until they get more than enough pictures. They seem willing to risk their lives for these pictures (of the car, not even of me since the windows are blackened), one hand braced on the car’s hood while they fire away with their cameras, defying the car to run them over.

I killed a man, that’s not in doubt. We’re not arguing about that. I said as much to the first cops on the scene when they approached with their guns and their flashlights drawn, the guns aimed at my torso, the flashlights focused on my hands, because it was in my hands that I still held the gun and they asked, “Did you shoot this guy?” and I said, “Yeah.” And one of the cops said, “Hey, I know you,” and the other cop said, “Me too.”

In the mug shot that you’ve probably seen I look blottoed, crazy, my hair electrified, my eyes sunken deep into my skull, but it’s important to remember that it was raining and I was wearing a hood and there’s a certain amount of shock associated with being arrested, even when you’ve done nothing wrong.

Plus, I was in love.

The trial is to determine if I
had
to shoot the man, if it was self-defense, if it was justified. It is illegal to shoot someone because you can, or even should, or even if they deserve it. The only way it is legal to shoot someone is if you have a reasonable belief that your life is in danger at the moment you shot the person.

The answer to the question of why I shot the man is a complicated story. However, let me lay out these undisputed facts: The gun belonged to the other man, and the other man was a well-known thief, an armed robber as had been proven in a court of law twice before. And no, I did not have to shoot him. He was disarmed, the threat neutralized. I shot him six times as an act of kindness, of mercy. No one knows this story, not even Barry, because he wouldn’t believe it. It seems impossible to make the context clear. I deserve punishment for lots of things, but shooting that man is not one of them.

That night, I was walking around the city, minding my own business, feeling good, feeling really good for the first time in a long time, feeling really really good for the first time since the divorce and then the new thing bombing, my failures. Two of my failures, anyway. I was feeling good because I had gone to the ends of the Earth (another complicated story) and there I’d met
her
and in her I had been cleansed; all things suddenly seemed possible. I had spent the evening watching her the only way I could, on television, a match from Monte Carlo, tape delayed as filler. I could’ve been the only one watching for all I knew, but it didn’t matter. It was as though each serve, every groundstroke, was a message transmitted directly to me. As she destroyed the teenager from Croatia, it was as though she was saying,
I miss you.
I’ll see you soon.

It was raining, but following her match I couldn’t be contained by the walls of my apartment, so I gave in to the urge to grab my coat and walk, just walk wherever, rolling everything around in my head, her smile, the sensation of our first kiss, savoring this change in fortune. We were temporarily apart due to circumstances, but I was confident that those circumstances would change. Not confident, certain. Those were moments of certainty for me. I kept the hood on my jacket pulled up, protection against the rain. I must’ve looked a little dumb, walking in the rain, laughing, almost giggling to myself when I thought of her.

I turned a corner and smirked because just at that moment I was thinking about how my life had turned a corner and there I was,
literally turning a corner
, and there was something funny in that, not ironic funny, coincidence funny, but there was the man with the gun saying, “Give me your wallet. No funny business.”

B
ARRY SITS, STARING
placidly at the empty bench, his hands folded on top of a blank legal pad. An expensive pen rests to one side. There are no other papers or materials either on or beneath or beside the table. I used to have my own notepad and pen, but Barry took them away from me earlier in the trial because the courtroom sketch artist noticed that I had the tendency to draw obscene doodles and this little tidbit wound up anonymously sourced in the news, which was not good, which was described on several of the websites as a “setback.”

The judge is often called away for urgent business in her chambers, which means the rest of us—me, Barry, the prosecutor, the jury, the sketch artist—are left behind, waiting. If the waiting is expected to go on too long, the jury gets to go elsewhere, but I am usually expected to stay. Sometimes I imagine the judge makes us wait because she can, which isn’t fair. The headlines say it themselves: F
UNNY
M
AN ON
T
RIAL FOR
H
IS
L
IFE
, the kind of thing that deserves a judge’s full attention. Well, not exactly my life, since manslaughter is not punishable by death, but enough imprisonment to last the rest of my days is close enough to “life,” in my book.

During these periods of judicial absence, Barry is serene, contemplative without being glassy or glazed, a well-dressed Buddha. Occasionally, he leans toward me as though to speak, his eyes canted up and to the right at the jury, but nine times out of ten he says nothing, or at best, a “how ya doing?”

The prosecutor, on the other hand, is busy riffling through accordion files, flagging things with Post-its, scribbling notes onto his own pad. His tie is almost always askew and there is a stack of poster-sized exhibits resting behind him, some gruesome pictures of the “victim” at the scene and later on the coroner’s table. A team of three assistants sits at an auxiliary table pouring through their own files, occasionally bringing a sheet of paper to the prosecutor’s attention for him to look at briefly before either shaking his head and sending them away, or grabbing it and stuffing it into one of his own files. They are like bees working in the hive.

During the prosecution’s case, which has just ended, this dichotomy between the prosecution’s busy hive and Barry’s Buddha disposition began to bother me. The prosecutor would display one of the oversized pictures showing the “victim” on a metal table under the glare of the coroner’s lights, the small purplish blotch between his eyes where the only bullet that mattered entered, and march back to his table to grab a piece of paper to wave at the witness and ask things like, “Isn’t it true that … ?” And the answer from the witness always sounded very bad, very damaging to my case, a “major setback,” if you will. All the while Barry maintained his look, calm yet alert, centered, speaking only occasionally to object to the way a question was phrased, after which the prosecutor would simply reword to the same effect and there came the damaging information anyway. It was as though a hand was raised to block a blow to the head, only to invite one to the gut. I’ll admit, it was maddening, borderline infuriating even, and finally at the end of one of the days of the trial as Barry and I rode in the back of the car with the darkened windows, being buffeted by the paparazzi trying to shoot us through the front windshield, I exploded. There was a time where I would’ve gladly subjected myself to the judge and jury’s harshest punishment, but I was ready to live and it seemed like Barry was helping them kill me. The car rocked gently as it eased through the mass of reporters, the driver tooting his horn with every inch.

BOOK: The Funny Man
12.35Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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