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Monday, June 25, 2012

The Circle of Life: A Guest Post by Brooke Van Poppelen

Hi there. My name is Brooke Van Poppelen and I will be put up to the task of making you laugh on Wednesday as a performer on Get It Out There: Comedy by BAM & IFC. I feel nervous in a good way about the show considering not too many years ago, I was waiting tables close by. Business would slump off at 10pm on a weeknight and just as you thought it was safe to start breaking down the restaurant so you could clock out and blow your money on booze, the calls would start at 10:50pm: “Hi, is your kitchen open until 11? Our show just got out and we’re in a car racing over there.”

“Back off, ladies. He’s mine. I’ll put a cocktail fork
through your eye.”
Dammit. We just got BAMmed.

For a long time I faulted BAM for forcing me to have to stay an extra hour at work and wait on model/actress types who I would overhear say things like, “We had so much fun that one evening with Tom Waits. He’s just so down to earth.” I never knew whether to be annoyed over staying an extra hour to watch two 23 year-old models “race over” to split a shrimp appetizer, or green with envy because they were apparently hanging out with Tom Waits on the regular. I did my best to embrace both emotions with great enthusiasm.

It’s a weird and wonderful thing to be a comic but it takes a long time to start making steady income. I’ve worked so long and hard at performing and writing while working full-time in the service industry to stay afloat. I’ve been on the service end of almost every situation and looking back I really wouldn’t change that. It’s an honest profession and a great way to make money. Also, it’s a never-ending wealth of people to make fun of and hate—all great stuff for the purposes of fanning a comedy fire.

“Yes, let me get those files out of my briefcase.
My first job was at a greasy spoon Coney Island (that’s Detroit speak for diner) and I started a rumor that my boss “Sparty” carried around a briefcase full of glistening, uncooked hot dogs that he referred to as “his business.”

I still imitate customers from waitressing jobs in Chicago. Two older women who had thick, German accents would always sit down and tell me “there would be a ‘turd’ joining them any minute.” When their friend walked through the door, I would tell them that the “turd” person had arrived.I love to recall Daryl*, a customer with extreme OCD who every day would pay for his bill using only Sacagawea coins that he’d line up in perfect rows on the counter. He’d become upset if you tried to take the money before he was done arranging them and would start over again no matter how long the line was behind him.

I’ve had forks thrown at my head and I’ve thrown drinks at bar patrons. In Manhattan, at a vegan restaurant I worked at I had to tell a man to take his giant, open jug of raw goat milk out of the restaurant despite his protest that it was part of his parasite cleanse. Tough break, pal but you’re gonna have to go pass your worms somewhere else. Not on my watch.

There are so many great war stories from these 12 years in the sh*t.

That’s why I hate to admit it, but the past two years have been service industry free for me. Can you keep a secret? I’ve been getting paid to write. Like, for television and cool websites and stuff. It’s hard to know how to deal. As much as my natural, feral instincts tell me to throw a salad at someone when I am unhappy, I have to remind myself that I work in an office and there’s HR and possible firing instead of a high five from the dishwasher.

Part of me fears that my humor will or already has become depleted by working with happy people who are having their dreams come true. Where’s the fun in that, right? Now I completely get why Andy Kaufman kept a job as a busboy.

So if you can understand, performing at BAM is definitely a rite of passage for me. The disgruntled server becomes the BAM-er. The circle of life will be complete and I hope that you can come by this Wednesday to see it. And after the show gets out, I will definitely go to a restaurant five minutes before they close to annoy the hell out of a disgruntled waiter. Sometimes you’ve got to pay it forward.

*His name was Alan, and screw that guy.

Brooke Van Poppelen is a comic and writer based in Brooklyn. Check her out at and follow her on Twitter @bvpcomedy. She hosts her own show at Freddy’s Back Room in Park Slope on 2nd and 4th Mondays of every month at 9pm.

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