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  • Writer's picturecocoy montenegro

Comedy Not Easy

When I was a comedian, I worked at a club called The Funny Stop in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. I don't remember how many years I performed there, but I'm sure it's more than 10. I did at least 6 shows every time I was there, so I became friends with the owners, their staff, and many local comedians. I performed at The Funny Stop thanks to my comedy friend, The Disgruntled Clown. He opened the door for me to perform there in 2007 or 2008. 2 years later, the owner, Pete, gave me a chance to headline there. Born and raised in Cleveland, OH, I had a stronger-than-usual connection with this club. It was the one gig where I could visit my family and write off the trip on my taxes. The owners of The Funny Stop, Pete, his wife Nidal, and his brother Tony are Lebanese. Since I'm also part Lebanese, I felt a family connection with them more than any other comedy club I worked at.

Pete, Nidal, and Tony immigrated from Lebanon, and built their "American Dream" business. Chef Tony was in the kitchen, cooking appetizers. Nidal greeted and sat the guests. Pete, the owner, booked the talent. He was well-known for his thick accent and freely speaking his mind. If a comedian wasn't funny, he had no issues telling everyone, including them, "You not funny." When a comedian screwed up, he'd yell, "Comedy not easy!" I remember many hilarious exchanges between him and The Disgruntled Clown. The Clown would say, "I just want to thank Pete for having me back here at The Funny Stop…" and Pete would yell out, "Fuck you Clown! I hate you!" Neither of them were lying. The audience always laughed hysterically. Yet, as crass as Pete could be, the waitstaff was virtually unchanged every year I returned, with many of them working for Pete 5+ years. You only keep help that long when the owners are doing things right. I felt all along there was a heart of gold underneath that tough exterior.

In January 2016, I drove to Ohio to perform at The Funny Stop. My ex-husband and I had been split for about a year. 2 weeks before the show, I had just gone through mediation for our divorce, and it didn't end as I had hoped. My mother had been in and out of the hospital at least 5 times that year, so leaving her was extra stressful. It was a tough time in my life, to say the least, and my body was letting me know that I was not okay. I did my Wednesday and Thursday shows but noticed a tightness in my chest. It was cold, and I had taken an Ambien following a few shots at the club to help me sleep. Was it the Ohio winter, the Ambien, the drinking, or the extreme stress? I didn't know. I passed out and woke up the next morning very nauseous, and pain shooting through my arms. I was conflicted because I would be on the radio at 9am but was in no shape to go. As the pain in my chest got tighter, I began negotiating with myself. "Maybe I can go to the hospital after I do the radio spot." This was followed by, "What if I have a heart attack on the air?" I realized what needed to be done.

I called the paramedics and went outside to wait for them to arrive. While I was waiting outside, I called Pete to let him know I wouldn't be able to do radio. Pete, in his Lebanese accent," said, "What you mean you don't do radio today?" I told him to hold for a moment while I threw up against the side of the building. If you've never thrown up outdoors when it's so cold, your vomit begins to freeze as it leaves your mouth… you're not missing a thing. I hear the ambulance coming, and then I see it fly past my turn. I told Pete that I had called the paramedics because I had chest pains and needed to get checked out." Pete says, "Oh. You get to hospital, I'll deal with radio. My wife will pick you up." He hung up. The ambulance came, and off to the hospital I went.

My mind began racing. I felt like a failure because I had let down the man that believed in me enough to headline his club. An hour later, I was resting comfortably in the hospital. Nidal came and sat with me as promised. They found nothing wrong with me and discharged me 4-5 hours later. Nidal insisted I come home with her until I was better. She put me on her couch, covered me with a blanket, and fed me homemade Lebanese food that was loaded with fond memories of my grandparents. I napped on and off the rest of the afternoon, sometimes waking to find their dachshund curled up next to me. Around 6pm, Nidal took me to the club and helped me prepare for the 2 shows I had that night. Pete checked in to make sure I was okay by shouting at me. "You scare me half to death! Glad you okay." I was tired, but I knew I had to pull it together. Everyone who knew kept quiet about what happened that day, and somehow, I managed to pull off a standing ovation.

The next year I performed at The Funny Stop. I brought my new boyfriend, Doug. The radio station invited him to sit in on the interview. I could finally open up about what happened the year before. The radio personality shot a question over to Doug about what it was like living with me. His response made everyone go into hysterics. When we got to the club that night, Pete told Doug, "You funny. Next time you open for Traci."

Sadly, I never got to go back. Covid hit, and I decided to change gears and go full-time into hypnosis. I only mention this story because Pete died from a brain aneurysm last week. Nidal lost a loving husband. Two amazing young men lost a father who was super proud of their accomplishments. Tony lost a cherished brother. Fledgling comedians and seasoned headliners everywhere lost an amazing comedy club owner. Thank you Pete, for giving this headliner a chance to shine and for being supportive when I needed it most. May you rest in peace, and ensure everyone in heaven knows "Comedy not easy!"

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