making a killing
I remember when I was younger thinking that I’d spent years bending but it would only hurt a second if I broke.
So I broke.
So now I’m sitting here reflecting for the umpteenth time on the value of a human life when compared to such things as humor and celebrity. Maybe I should start at somewhere in the middle. Starting at the very beginning would be time wasted so let’s just say I broke and left home and was broke and joined one of those traveling improv groups that move from college to college like locusts making kids laugh and reminding them why it’s so important they stay in college. I never ventured out on stage; I was behind the scenes making sure the actors and actresses had everything they needed each night. Props and such, not emotional needs. None of them would bother with improv if their emotional needs were taken care of. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few so they put on their Spock outfits and I made sure the stage looks somewhat like the bridge of the Enterprise with a few well-placed flashing and beeping things that look like control panels but are in actuality old microwave ovens.
We had this one bit that I always thought was brilliant. It could happen any time in the show and sometimes it never happened but more often than not it did given that the college crowds were often sprinkled with either drunk or obnoxious hecklers. It was simple actually. When someone in the crowd started spouting off, there was a cast member who had a gun hidden on his person and when the heckler started in he would stop the show and pull the gun and point it at him and threaten to kill him if he didn’t shut up.
So off course we used a real gun. A real big gun actually. We needed to. The audience needed to see what it was immediately in order to be in on the joke. It was gold. This little suspension of reality always had the audience going crazy. They would turn on the heckler and plead with the cast member to pull the trigger. The nights without a heckler you could almost sense a certain disappointment amongst us so in the end if there wasn’t a heckler we planted one. We would ask someone before the show and tell them what to say and when to say it and each time we did it we improved upon the idea a little and the reaction got better and better.
Near the end we would end with the cast member shooting a blank at the heckler and the loud noise would send the audience into a tizzy. It became the highlight of the show. When the trigger was pulled and the shot rang out it defied expectations to such a degree that anyone who didn’t know it was coming was sure to crap themselves for just a second.
So then one night I put in a real bullet.
I made sure that I had no part in recruiting the volunteer to be the heckler that night. That would have been wrong.
I’d been giving it some consideration, the idea of comedy and tragedy and how in the big picture there really is no difference. I think they made a movie about giving someone the opportunity to press a button and have someone somewhere that they’d never met die and then they’d get either some fabulous amount of money or some wish granted. We sat around a few times after the show and talked about it and there wasn’t one of us who wouldn’t take that deal. My wrist would be sore from how many times I’d hit that button.
So I put in a real bullet and even though the actor had never actually fired a real weapon before, he shot the heckler/volunteer right between the eyes. Dumb luck I guess. The back of the heckler’s head exploded in a red mist and the audience went crazy. They ate it up. Even as they wheeled his body out the college kids still believed it was all a setup.
By the time it went to trial the actor who had pulled the trigger was already making his first feature film so he was cleared of any responsibility for the killing. I say it like that because once he got rich and famous enough there was no way that anyone would make him accountable for simply pulling the trigger. The only thing he was accountable for was living up to his newfound fame. He now has a talk show in addition to other upcoming movie roles.
So in the end I created another celebrity and all it cost was one nameless, faceless person taking one for the team. Mel Brooks once said “Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die.”
Someone has to remove the manhole cover.