Have you ever done something extremely stupid like, oh, I don’t know, try to make a room filled with total strangers laugh until their sides hurt?
Totally dumb, right?
Well, that’s why my humble story is going to start with some pretty yucky tension—plus a little heavy-duty drama (and, hopefully, a few funnies so we don’t all go nuts).
Okay, so how, exactly, did I get into this mess—up onstage at a comedy club, baking like a bag of French fries under a hot spotlight that shows off my sweat stains (including one that sort of looks like Jabba the Hutt), with about a thousand beady eyeballs drilling into me?
A very good question that you ask.
To tell you the truth, it’s one I’m asking, too!
What am I, Jamie Grimm, doing here trying to win something called the Planet’s Funniest Kid Comic Contest?
What was I thinking?
But wait. Hold on. It gets even worse.
While the whole audience stares and waits for me to say something (anything) funny, I’m up here choking.
That’s right—my mind is a total and complete blank.
And I just said, “No, I’m Jamie Grimm.”
That’s the punch line. The end of a joke.
All it needs is whatever comes before the punch line. You know—all the stuff I can’t remember.
So I sweat some more. The audience stares some more.
I don’t think this is how a comedy act is supposed to go. I’m pretty sure jokes are usually involved. And people laughing.
“Um, hi.” I finally squeak out a few words. “The other day at school, we had this substitute teacher. Very tough. Sort of like Mrs. Darth Vader. Had the heavy breathing, the deep voice. During roll call, she said, ‘Are you chewing gum, young man?’ And I said, ‘No, I’m Jamie Grimm.’ ”
I wait (for what seems like hours) and, yes, the audience kind of chuckles. It’s not a huge laugh, but it’s a start.
Okay. Phew. I can tell a joke. All is not lost. Yet. But hold on for a sec. We need to talk about something else. A major twist to my tale.
“A major twist?” you say. “Already?”
Yep. And, trust me, you weren’t expecting this one.
To be totally honest, neither was I.
Presenting me. Jamie Grimm. The sit-down comic.
So, can you deal with this? Some people can. Some can’t. Sometimes even I can’t deal with it (like just about every morning, when I wake up and look at myself in the mirror).
But you know what they say: “If life gives you lemons, learn how to juggle.”
Or, even better, learn how to make people laugh.
So that’s what I decided to do.
Seriously. I tried to teach myself how to be funny. I did a whole bunch of homework and read every joke book and joke website I could find, just so I could become a comedian and make people laugh.
I guess you could say I’m obsessed with being a stand-up comic—even though I don’t exactly fit the job description.
But unlike a lot of homework (algebra, you know I’m talking about you), this was fun.
I got to study all the greats: Jon Stewart, Jerry Seinfeld, Kevin James, Ellen DeGeneres, Chris Rock, Steven Wright, Joan Rivers, George Carlin.
I also filled dozens of notebooks with jokes I made up myself—like my second one-liner at the comedy contest.
“Wow, what a crowd,” I say, surveying the audience. “Standing room only. Good thing I brought my own chair.”
It takes a second, but they laugh—right after I let them know it’s okay, because I’m smiling, too.
This second laugh? Well, it’s definitely bigger than that first chuckle. Who knows—maybe I actually have a shot at winning this thing.
So now I’m not only nervous, I’m pumped!
I really, really, really (and I mean really) want to take my best shot at becoming the Planet’s Funniest Kid Comic.
Because, in a lot of ways, my whole life has been leading up to this one sweet (if sweaty) moment in the spotlight!
But, hey, I think we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
We should probably go back to the beginning—or at least a beginning.
So let’s check out a typical day in my ordinary, humdrum life in Long Beach, a suburb of New York City—back before my very strange appearance at the Ronkonkoma Comedy Club.
Here’s me, just an average kid on an average day in my average house as I open our average door and head off to an average below-average school.
Zombies are everywhere.
Well, that’s what I see. You might call ’em “ordinary people.” To me, these scary people stumbling down the sidewalks are the living dead!
A pack of brain-numb freaks who crawl out of the ground every morning and shuffle off to work. They’re waving at me, grunting “Hul-lo, Ja-mie!” I wave and grunt back.
So what streets do my freaky zombie friends like best? The dead ends, of course.
Fortunately, my neighbors move extremely slowly (lots of foot-dragging and Frankenstein-style lurching). So I never really have to worry about them running me down to scoop out my brains like I’m their personal pudding cup.
There’s this one zombie I see almost every morning. He’s usually dribbling his coffee and eating a doughnut.
“Do zombies eat doughnuts with their fingers?” you might ask.
No. They usually eat their fingers separately.
The school crossing guard? She can stop traffic just by holding up her hand. With her other hand.
Are there really zombies on my way to school every morning?
Of course there are! But only inside my head. Only in my wild imagination. I guess you could say I try to see the funny side of any situation. You should try it sometime. It makes life a lot more interesting.
So how did I end up here in this zombified suburb not too far from New York City?
Well, that, my friends, is a very interesting story….
I moved to Long Beach on Long Island only a couple months ago from a small town out in the country. I guess you could say I’m a hick straight from the sticks.
To make my long story a little shorter, Long Beach isn’t my home, and I don’t think it ever will be. Have you ever felt like you don’t fit in? That you don’t belong where you are but you’re sort of stuck there? Well, that’s exactly how I feel each and every day since I moved to Long Beach.
Moving to a brand-new town also means I have to face a brand-new bunch of kids, and bullies, at my brand-new school.
Now, like all the other schools I’ve ever attended, the hallways of Long Beach Middle School are plastered with all sorts of NO BULLYING posters. There’s only one problem: Bullies, it turns out, don’t read too much. I guess reading really isn’t a job requirement in the high-paying fields of name-calling, nose-punching, and atomic-wedgie-yanking.
You want to know the secret to not getting beat up at school?
Well, I don’t really have scientific proof or anything, but, in my experience, comedy works. Most of the time, anyway.
That’s right: Never underestimate the power of a good laugh. It can stop some of the fiercest middle-school monsters.
For instance, if you hit your local bully with a pretty good joke, he or she might be too busy laughing to hit you back. It’s true: Punch lines can actually beat punches because it’s pretty hard for a bully to give you a triple nipple cripple if he’s doubled over, holding his sides, and laughing his head off.
So every morning, before heading off to school, just make sure you pack some good jokes along with your lunch. For instance, you could distract your bully with a one-liner from one of my all-time favorite stand-up comics, Steven Wright: “Do you think that when they asked George Washington for ID, he just whipped out a quarter?”
If that doesn’t work, go with some surefire Homer Simpson: “Operator! Give me the number for 9-1-1!”
All I’m saying is that laughing is healthy. A lot healthier than getting socked in the stomach. Especially if you had a big breakfast.
Of course, my new school gives me all sorts of terrific opportunities to test my “anti-bullying” theories.
Because once I make it through my Imaginary Zombie Zone, there’s another drooling demon for me to deal with. A real one.
Meet Stevie Kosgrov. Long Beach’s Bully of the Year, three years running. All-Pro. Master of Disaster. Inventor of the Upside-Down Shanghai Shakedown. Kosgrov puts the cruel in Long Beach Middle School.
As I cruise across the playground, he’s busy making change with a sixth grader and gravity. The poor kid’s in serious trouble. I know because I’ve been in his position before: upside down, with loose change sprinkling out of my pockets.
I roll right up to Kosgrov and his victim.
Inside, I’m trembling. Outside, I try not to let it show. Bullies can smell fear. Sweat, too. They’re also pretty good at picking up on involuntary toots.
“Hey, Stevie,” I say as calmly and coolly as I can. “How’s it going?”
“Get lost, Grimm. I’m busy here.”
“Sure. Say, did you hear about the kidnapping?”
“Don’t worry. He woke up.”
The upside-down kid losing all his lunch money laughs at the joke. Stevie does not.
“And how about that karate champion who joined the army?”
“What about him?”
“Oh, I hear it was pretty bad. First time he saluted, he nearly killed himself.”
Kosgrov’s victim is totally cracking up. Kosgrov? Not so much.
Desperate, I try one more time with what I think is some can’t-miss Homer Simpson material: “Yesterday I asked my teacher, ‘How come I have to study English? I’m never going to England!’ ”
Stevie still isn’t laughing, but he does, finally, loosen his grip on the small kid’s ankles.
The little guy drops to the ground—and takes off like a race car at Talladega Superspeedway.
“Thanks, Jamie! I owe you one!” I think that’s what he says. He’s running away very, very quickly when he says it.
Meanwhile, Kosgrov redirects his rage. At me.
He lurches forward, grabs hold of both my armrests, and leans down. I’m basically frozen in place. Petrifying fear and locked wheel brakes will do that to you.
From his hot, steamy breath, I can tell that Stevie Kosgrov recently enjoyed a bowl of Fruity Pebbles (with milk that had hit its expiration date, oh, maybe a month ago).
“What?” says Kosgrov. “You think I won’t lay you out just because you’re stuck in a wheelchair, funny boy?”
“Yeah,” I say. “Pretty much.”
Turns out I’m pretty wrong.
This is so awesome!
Kosgrov decks me. I mean, he socks me so hard I end up flat on my back like a tipped-over turtle (minus the kicking legs). I’m down for the count—well, I would be if Kosgrov could count. He’s about as good at math as he is at reading.
Lying on the ground, staring up at the sky with parking-lot gravel in my hair, I feel that I have finally arrived.
Stevie Kosgrov punched me just like I was a regular, normal kid.
He didn’t call me gimp or crip or Wheelie McFeelie. He just slugged me in the gut and laughed hysterically when I toppled backward. He even kicked my wheelchair off to the side so I’d look more like an average loser sprawled out on the black asphalt.
This is progress.
The world just became a little better place.
I’m not the kid in the wheelchair anymore (and not just because Stevie knocked me out of it). I feel normal, and normal feels absolutely amazing.
You see, once you’ve been labeled a “special needs” kid, being “ordinary,” even if it’s being ordinary sprawled out flat on your back, is the most incredible feeling in the world.
So, thank you, Stevie Kosgrov!
I can see why you, sir, are the champ. You bully without regard to race, religion, creed, national origin, or physical abilities. You are an equal-opportunity tormentor.
Fortunately, my two best friends, Pierce and Gaynor, come along and help me back into my chair.
They’re both supercool. Good peeps.
“Hey, guys,” I say. “Did I beat the count? I want a rematch! I was robbed. Where’s Kosgrov? Let me at ’im! Yo, Adrian? We did it! Adrian!!!!”
Yeah, I’m a huge Rocky fan. I liked Real Steel, too. And The Champ.
“Are you okay, Jamie?” asks Pierce.
“Never better. Was that great or what?”
“Seriously. Come on, Jamie. Quit goofing around.”
“I’m fine,” I say. “Nothing is broken—that wasn’t broken before.”
“Positive. I wouldn’t lie to you guys.”
We head into school. Pierce and Gaynor don’t grab hold of the chair’s handles to push me like I’m a baby in a stroller. They just walk beside me—like wingmen.
Like I’m a normal bud.
I think somebody once said that friends are the family we choose.
You don’t know how lucky I am that Pierce and Gaynor chose me. These two guys are awesome. The best.
You look at me, and I know what you’re thinking: “Zac Efron without the hot legs.”
Okay. Maybe not. But I do have a pretty good set of guns. Check out my bulging biceps. Those mosquito-bite bumps on my arms there.
Girls look at me and think, “Oooh. Take me to the mall or the movies or Taco Bell!” They probably figure we can park in a handicapped space close to the doors.
Now, I’m guessing you go to school, too. So you know what that’s like. All the bad stuff, like rubbery pizza in the cafeteria and pop quizzes in social studies, and let’s not even get into that sawdusty stuff the janitor sprinkles over the occasional puke puddle.
So let me just tell you the good parts about my school.
There’s cold chocolate milk in the cafeteria. Every day!
And, of course, I’ve got my two best buds. You already met them—Pierce and Gaynor. Pierce is a total brainiac. He can tell you everything you ever wanted to know, like how you mark a baseball scorecard with a backward K for a called third strike and a forward K if the batter strikes out swinging.
Gaynor is a little more edgy. A little more “out there,” if you know what I mean. He actually has tattoos and a nose ring.
I don’t think I’ll ever get a tattoo. With my luck, the guy working the ink needle would get the hiccups and I’d end up with a squiggly butterfly instead of a fire-breathing dragon.
My friends are both excellent squatters. When I started using the chair, the whole world seemed to grow three feet taller, and everybody was always looking down on me. Literally. But not Gaynor and Pierce.
If we’re just hanging out, they’ll both hunker down into a deep knee bend or find something to sit on so we’re all talking eye to eye. They’re not just thinking about themselves; they’re thinking about me, too.
Anyway, another good thing about my school? The science lab. If you stare out the third window just the right way, you get an excellent view of the ocean and the beach. Well, it’s only a tiny sliver, but if you squint real hard, you can see the surf and my Uncle Frankie’s diner.
Then there’s this frizzy-haired girl who’s in a couple of my classes. She’s definitely another good thing about school. She laughed once in math class when I cracked a joke about parallel lines: “When all those parallel lines finally meet in infinity, do they throw a party?”
The frizzy-haired girl has a very bubbly laugh.
She’s also extremely cute. But who am I kidding? She probably doesn’t even know I exist. I’m just the jokester sitting in the back of the classroom. Other than that, I’m totally invisible to her. Which reminds me of this awful joke (what I call a “groaner”) that I read in one of my giant jokelopedias:
A nurse goes into a doctor’s office and says, “Doctor, there’s a man out here who thinks he’s invisible.”
“I’m busy,” says the doctor. “Tell him I can’t see him right now.”
Pretty corny, huh? But I figure the frizzy-haired girl feels the same way about me.
That I’m invisible.
I guess all the cute girls do.
I also have a feeling they always will.
The final bell rings at school, and I’m off like a shot.
I’m the first one out of the building every afternoon.
I zip down the sidewalk and head to my Uncle Frankie’s diner. I love spending time with Frankie.
He owns the oldest diner in the whole New York metropolitan area. It’s so old, I think when it opened, Burger King was still a prince.
Even the jukebox plays nothing but oldies, mostly doo-wop tunes from the 1950s and ’60s. Uncle Frankie isn’t just the owner; he’s also the head chef.
And, get this: He’s the former yo-yo champion of all of Brooklyn, a place famous for its yo-yos. Uncle Frankie is always doing yo-yo tricks, even when he’s working the grill. He can Hop the Fence, Walk the Dog, Loop the Loop, and go Around the World with one hand while flipping griddle cakes and two eggs over easy with the other.
“So how was school today, Jamie?” he asks once I’m parked in the kitchen.
“Not bad. I took out a bully today.”
“Yeah. He was picking on this sixth grader, so I pulled a Chuck Norris and did what needed to be done.”
“You stood up for this other kid?”
“Well, I didn’t exactly stand.”
Excerpted from I Funny by James Patterson Copyright © 2012 by James Patterson. Excerpted by permission.
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