Coughing and Comedy: Not Perfect Bedfellows


Cough (Photo credit: Anders Adermark)

There are times in life where it is very inappropriate to sneeze or cough. For instance, one should avoid sneezing in the middle of a eulogy. It is very uncouth, particularly if you are the one speaking. The same goes for in the middle of a wedding proposal or while on a spacewalk.

Then there are times when it is perfectly acceptable. When you are calling in to work sick, a good sneeze will help you out big time. Who cares about a potentially disruptive cough in the middle of a Sylvester Stallone movie? The explosions and poorly written dialogue will definitely drown that out.

When I went to my local comedy club last night, I had a few expectations. Sure, I had a cold, but that shouldn’t really play into an evening of laughs, chuckles, and guffaws, I thought. I did not expect my evening to fit into the first category.

After waiting for an hour, the lights dimmed and the show was about to start. Being the considerate chap that I am, I had gone to the bathroom and put my phone away. I settled in and waited.

At comedy shows, there is a hierarchy. There are the headliners, the comedians people will pay to see. Then there are the openers which are usually lesser known comics that are up and coming. Before either of these people go on, though, there is the MC, a local comedian that no one has ever heard of or will ever hear of.

The MC made his way onto the stage and the audience applauded. I felt confident in the crowd. I was trying to snort mucus back into my nose, but I thought the sound of the applause covered it very nicely. There was a brief silence as he adjusted his mic stand and then began.

“I recently got divorced from my wife…”

I quickly realized I had made a drastic miscalculation. This was not a comedian that was going to make the crowd roar with laughter. There would be no standing ovations or cheering to mask the possible sound of my hacking. This comedian was on stage going through some sort of therapy that we were all here to watch. We definitely weren’t here to laugh.

While I thought this through, he had been telling joke after joke to no reaction from the audience. “Actually, my wife left me on my birthday last year,” he continued. “Best birthday present I could get.”

I don’t know if it is possible for silence to echo, but I feel like I might have heard it right then.

It was about this time that I began to feel an overwhelming tickle in my throat. It crept up from the base of my neck and settled in next to my Adam ’s apple. Fortunately, I had my trusty glass of water there to help. I put the straw to my lips and…

…I received a refreshing puff of dry air into my mouth. It was hardly the throat rejuvenating and cough debilitating drink I had expected.

“So the cops came to the door and asked if they could speak to the owner of the house. I said ‘I don’t think Bank of America is here right now.’”

I did not want to cough while this man desperately tried to get an audience to laugh. Next thing I knew I would in the middle of a brand new routine called “Guy Coughing.”

“Wow, fella. Looks like you got a cough there! My wife used to have a cough like that because of her allergies. Turns out she was allergic to being faithful to me!”

I struggled to hold in my cough much like this comedian struggled to hold the audience’s attention. I hoped for a heckler so that there would be some sort of sound, but several signs throughout the club had clearly stated “NO HECKLING” and apparently there was no one brazen enough to go ahead and give it a shot.

The man’s routine might have been an hour long. It might have been three minutes. All I know is I had slipped into an ultra-concentrated state, focusing all of my energy on containing any spontaneous phlegm-related mouth explosions. Finally, he left the stage to an encouraging but hardly heartfelt applause. The next act went on and I felt free to cough again.

I’m sure there is a moral in this story somewhere. It’s probably something about putting yourself in the correct situation for your current predicament. I don’t know.

All I learned is it is very difficult to make divorce and bankruptcy funny, but it’s even harder to avoid becoming a part of a fledgling comic’s act.


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