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The Last Comedienne

A Play in 1 Act by Chris McKerracher

Cast

 Brock Benton: Emcee of the contest

Eleanor Brown: Newcomer to the comedy circuit. Needs to make a name for herself in comedy.

Mercedes Ellington: Cynical, jaded, faded circuit star on her fifth straight finale without a win.

Fanny “Granny” Foote: Aged veteran of the circuit but first time in the finale.     

Setting

The setting is a nationally-televised stand-up comedy show featuring the three finalists who will compete for the crown of Ms. Comedienne of the Year. The set is simple, however, with just three chairs behind center stage and a single mic at center. 

Dialogue

Stage is bare except for three chairs behind “centre stage”.  At centre is a single mic. Brock is by the mic as the women take their seats.

Emcee: (Picking up mic) Good evening everyone in our studio audience and all the folks watching at home. I am your host, Brock Benton. Welcome to the National Comedienne Joke-Off.  After a grueling year, we are down to three finalists, one of which will be the winner of the grand prize, One Hundred Thousand Dollars!! This year’s contestants are Eleanor Brown who came from nowhere to make it to the finals in her first year on the circuit. Mercedes Ellington, who has placed in the top three in the last four years without ever winning, and Fanny Foote, or Granny Fanny as she has come to be known, who has finally made the top three in the season finale after many years on the national circuit. Let’s go meet the girls but first, a word from our sponsors. (He then moves off to the side.)

Eleanor: Oh my, I am so nervous! I never expected to be in the green room waiting to go on for the Nationals. How can you appear so calm?

Mercedes: You get used to it. The first time I was over the moon. Not quite so much the second time. Over the rainbow, maybe. By the third time, I felt over the hill and now I’m just so over it all.

Fanny: Now, dear, you surely must realize what an honor it is to be in the final three, never mind being on the best paid comedy circuit in the industry. Millions of people have been watching us all year! What a compliment.

Mercedes: Look, Fanny, I only do this for the paycheck at the end. I hate performing but I’ve never been able to hack a nine-to-five job. If I get a decent payday like the 100K, I can set myself up with a little business of my own and get out of this debasing racket.

Eleanor: Debasing? What do you mean? People pay good money for us to make them feel good... to give them an escape from the routines in their lives... to make them happy.

Fanny: Oh my, you make us sound like hookers!

Mercedes: I agree. My point exactly.

Fanny: Now, now, I was just joking, dear. The only hooking I ever tried, involved making a hideously ugly wall hanging. No, I am proud to supplement my income with circuit gigs at my age. I will admit, though, that my medicine is very expensive and as much as I love performing, the benefits suck worse than a clogged vacuum. If I won, it would be enough money I could retire knowing I could afford my prescriptions for as long as I need them.

Eleanor: I... I feel kind of... shallow. If I win, I would just... like... put the money into my career. I would be able to travel to bigger gigs and get enough publicity to become a household name like Lucille Ball or Carol Burnett. After that, the sky’s the limit. But being a comic is all I’ve ever wanted to do... all I ever wanted to be. 

Mercedes: Very touching but I’m not impressed. Every woman I’ve seen come through here has had some sob story or other. I really couldn’t care less what your problems are. If I don’t win this year, I am going to lose it. You just hit the circuit. You need to pay some dues.

Fanny: Without putting too fine a point on it, what happened in past years doesn’t matter a fig. The audience has to pick one of us and nothing says they will factor in if anyone has paid dues or not.

Eleanor: Maybe we should agree to split the winnings no matter who wins. $33 grand would come in handy, wouldn’t it?

Mercedes: Like I would trust either of you to follow through if I lose. I am going to win this sucker and let you two fight over the crown next year.

Fanny:  (To Eleanor) Maybe they’re right. Maybe you can estimate someone’s trustworthiness by how trusting they are.

Mercedes: Trusting people only gets you hurt.

Eleanor: Never being able to trust anyone hurts all the time, though. The hurt never goes away.

Mercedes: What do you know about being hurt?

Eleanor: No one has a monopoly on pain, Mercedes. Everyone’s been hurt.

Fanny: Try losing your husband after 60 years of marriage.

Mercedes: Please, Fanny, spare me. You even joke about it.

Granny: Of course I do. We humans have always made jokes about failure and death; what scares and hurts us the most. It’s like whistling past the graveyard. Making fun of our fears makes them lose their power over us. 

Brock: Welcome back to the National Comedienne Joke-Off! We will get started right away with our first contestant, Eleanor Brown!

Eleanor: Thank you for that wonderful applause! My name is Eleanor Brown and my spirit animal is deluxe pizza. 

I actually joined a dating site but instead of meeting new, exciting, singles, you hook up with new kinds of pizza.

That’s not to say I'm not into fitness. I am… like fitness giant piece of pizza in my mouth! Oh yeah. I love to eat. You could hardly tell, I bet. But being in love with food instead of fools is no guarantee of avoiding heartbreak.

For example, I discovered the Pringles holder on the stationary bike was actually for a water bottle. That was real heartbreak! Or what about people who say “food for thought” but then don't give you any food. Is that cruel or what?

I love fast food a lot. I love it so much, when I’m at a Subway Restaurant and they ask me if I'd like it toasted, I always say yes then raise my fountain beverage with a, "To my sandwich!"

I have done a lot of research on eating. I know, for example, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. That's why I have several.

I also had a vegan lunch today. It was a snickers bar and an orange slurpee

Of course I’m on a diet. I’ve been on a diet since I was old enough to hate myself. In fact, right now, I am so desperate, I am on two diets. I find one just doesn’t give me enough food

I am also trying to lower carbs. Mostly lowering them into my mouth, however...

I hate to admit it but if you measure me in serving sizes, I'm a family of four.

My last boyfriend tried to help me by locking the fridge at night. I’d get my exercise trying to break out.

Of course my weight isn’t just from poor eating habits. In fact, when I sit around the house on the weekend, I like to wear a red cape because I'm super lazy.

In fact, I was in an accident… I was walking in an intersection and was rear-ended by a guy with a motorized shopping cart. It was at the intersection of house-wares and linens in Walmart. The stupid jerk rammed my knee cap. So I’m at the doctor’s and I’m like, “How bad is it, doc?” And he says, "Well, you'll never run again" and I’m all “So basically the same?”

I mean, I even hired someone to walk my fitbit.

I did buy an exercise bike a few years ago. I almost racked up a kilometer on it until I lost it under a pile of laundry. The best workout I ever got from it was hauling it to the curb during cleanup week.

I decided to get serious about my weight and went back to the doctor about it. He said I was retaining water. He said from the size of me, it might be Lake Superior.

So I joined a gym but it was so confusing. At the check-in counter there was a sign that said “Please wear loose clothing”. I was thinking if my clothing was loose, I wouldn’t even be here. 

Then I got in some kind of exercise class run by this impossibly thin, perky super-positive young woman. You know the type. I hated her instantly. “Everybody form a circle,” she said. I told her I had already formed a circle. That’s why I was there!

I got really motivated from watching the last Olympics on TV, though. The athletes were so inspiring; I decided to try out for the 100 metre dash. Last week I set a new personal record… 23 metres!

I figure if all this exercising doesn’t make me thinner, I’ll just get a head to toe tattoo of a really skinny person.

Or maybe not. There are lots of good things about carrying a few extra pounds. For one thing, pudgy people don’t wrinkle as much. Fat is like Botox for poor folks. And speaking of wrinkles, I also don’t have to iron my tee shirts as the wrinkles right come out when I stretch the shirt over my torso. 

I’m kidding. Like I would ever iron clothes again. Last time I tried, I was ironing away like mad when the phone rang. I got third degree burns on my ear.

I guess I’m just not the domestic type. The only thing I make for supper is reservations. 

Thank you very much, everyone! You were fantastic!

Brock: What a great performance! Let’s have another round of applause for Eleanor Brown! (She returns to the “green room”.) She sure has a great future on the circuit whichever way the vote goes. Up next, however, we have a real crowd favorite you will just love, but first we have to pay some bills with these messages from our sponsors.

Fanny: Great job, Eleanor! What a wonderful act you’ve developed! 

Eleanor: Oh, Granny, you’re so sweet.

Mercedes: (Extreme dejection) Oh, God... it really was good. 

Eleanor: Ummm... Thank you?

Mercedes: I’m going to be another Susan Lucci.

Eleanor: Who?

Mercedes: Remember Susan Lucci from that soap All My Children? Nominated for best actress in a daytime drama a million times without ever winning? At least she was filthy rich.

Fanny: Actually, Ms. Lucci won in 1999 with her 18th nomination.

Mercedes: I am not staying in the circuit for eighteen years. It kills you like slow poison. We roll out our pain for all to see and hope the mob approves. We live and die by the whims of that mob.

Eleanor: Why... you ungrateful...

Fanny: Let me just intercede here, Eleanor. Look, Mercedes, we understand you must be terribly frustrated with not winning for the last four years but how do you think I feel? I’ve been standing in front of the bricks even longer than you. 

Mercedes: You have? I... I didn’t know that.

Fanny: How I envied you being in the final three, year after year, when I would bust my butt for nothing. Enough with the pity party. You haven’t even gone on yet. You still have just as much chance of winning as either of us.

Eleanor: You know what? Making it to the final three and then knocking it out of the park tonight is a memory I will always cherish no matter how it turns out. Forget the hundred grand, I feel like a million bucks right now. Hearing people laugh at something you said is the sweetest sound in the universe.

Mercedes: Well you can have the million bucks. I’ll take the measly hundred grand.

Fanny: Was it ever fun for you?

Mercedes: No. Not Really. People always laughed at my sarcastic comments growing up and when I was getting hard up, it was either trying stand-up or pole dancing and I’m a little past pole dancing. I watched a few circuit shows and it didn’t look that hard. I wasn’t even that surprised with my success, but just because you’re good at something, it doesn’t mean you like doing it.

Granny: “Just because you’re good at something, it doesn’t mean you like doing it.” I have to admit I’ve used those exact words with my husband but I’d rather not say what we were discussing. (Mercedes and Eleanor laugh.)

Eleanor: Granny! Oh my, that was so funny! 

Mercedes: Thanks, Fanny. I needed that.

Granny: I do understand what you’re saying, though. It must be hell for you to do it for the reasons you do. I can’t imagine how hollow the whole experience must be from your standpoint. 

Eleanor: Maybe Mercedes is onto something, though. Have you ever died out there, Granny? Probably not, you’re so good.

Fanny: Are you kidding? I crashed and burned lots of times, especially at the beginning. Going back on stage after the first time was the hardest thing I have ever had to do.

Mercedes: Who cares if they laugh, as long as you get paid either way? We all know sometimes audiences seem more like oil paintings. It’s not my fault they don’t like my material.

Eleanor: Oh yeah. I once did a private gig for the Lions Club or Elks, maybe. Some animal, anyway. And these old fuds... sorry, Granny... were stiffer than a crowd of cadavers, I swear, though, afterward they were very complimentary and said it was all they could do not to laugh at my stories!

Mercedes: Exactly. You can’t measure your own self worth by how much the audience laughed on any given night. That is the road to booze or drugs to make yourself feel better. Trust me, I know. I’ve seen a lot of gals on the circuit take that path. It ain’t pretty. 

Fanny: Oh my gosh, yes. So sad. I’ve been lucky to have had a long stretch of great crowds. The circuit isn’t so bad. People know exactly what they’re coming for and laugh just to make sure they feel they got their money’s worth. 

Eleanor: The two drink minimum helps.

Mercedes: Oh yeah. Drunk crowds are great but not if they get too drunk. Why, one time I...

Brock: Thanks for tuning in once again to the National Comedienne Joke-Off. Up next we have a true legend on the circuit. She is loved by audiences and fellow comics alike. Please welcome Granny Fanny Foote! (Fanny goes to the mic.)

Granny: Hello, everyone. My name is Fanny Foote. I realize that’s two body parts… sort of like bum hip, but you can just call me Granny.
 

I had such a time getting here. I was driving in from out of town and took a shortcut down this dirt road. Next thing you know it got really foggy. Suddenly, there was a tree right in front of me! I cranked the wheel to the left. Then there was another tree! So I cranked the wheel to my right! And then another tree! Then I realized it was just my air freshener.

I know… that’s kind of an old joke I just happened to borrow. Actually, some people say I'm a plagiarist. That’s their words not mine.

So, just to share a little about myself… I am a widow… married for over 60 years. Not that we were all that devoted to each other but we are both terribly forgetful and neither of us could remember to call a lawyer. 

We got married way too early, too. I wish now I had stayed in school, instead. By now, I would be in grade 71!

It seemed the longer we were married the slower Walter would drive. Eventually, even cyclists would pass us. Bugs would crash into our back windshield. They would be like “Woooah! Splat!”

I remember we went to the doctor together just before he passed on. The doctor said, “You know Mr. Foote, although you’re not in terrible shape, you’re getting older now. You may want to make your peace with the Big Guy Upstairs.” “Oh, me and the Big Guy are on great terms,” he said. “When I get up to pee at night, He turns on the light for me and when I’m done, He shuts the light off again.” When the doctor asked me about that, I just told him, “Oh, that old fool. He’s been peeing in the fridge again.”

(Pause)

Sorry! I stopped to think and forgot to start again.

Oh, yes, I was telling you about Walter. He had a terrible addiction to the hokey pokey but he turned himself around.

Walter also had an irrational fear of speed bumps but he was slowly getting over it. 

Poor Walter was so gullible. He once sent a donation to the Salvation Navy.

I remember when Walter would complain because we weren’t having enough sex to his liking. He said he was thinking of hiring a hooker he saw advertised in the classifieds. $150 an hour. I told him I hoped she was good at fractions.

I Iike winter but Walter hated it. When it was snowing like crazy ,it would break my heart to see his face pressed up against the window looking so sad. I would feel so bad for him I’d almost let him in before the driveway was shoveled.

I remember being pregnant with little Oscar, Walter went to prenatal classes so he could coach me. Hahaha like you can “coach” a woman in labour. I can tell you professional athletes sure as heck don't scream at their coaches that way! At least he knew where he could stick those ice chips.

Pregnancy made me crazy for chicken. I couldn’t get enough of it. I ate so much chicken, I almost named little Oscar, “Brock!” Sorry, Brock, I couln’t resist!

One good thing about Walter; I had him trained like Pavlov’s dog. Whenever I’d kick him, he’d stop snoring.

I once told Walter I believed his doubting my beliefs caused my chronic pain to flare up. He said chronic pain doesn’t actually work that way and I’d be like “Ow! Ow! Stop!”

After I lost Walter, I decided to join a dating site because… well, because my voice of reason blocked me years ago.

I wasn’t getting any hits on my profile so I showed it my girlfriend. She said I shouldn’t include a picture… Or if I am going to post a pic, I should put some clothes on. Teeheee! I thought the boys would like it if I showed a new wrinkle now and again. Of course my grandkids hate it when I share my profile on their Facebook.

By the way, speaking of grandkids, if you want to experience what it’s like to owe a loanshark, borrow a dollar from an eight year old.

Yes, lack of money is just one of my problems. I'm not sure how many problems I have, though, because poor math skills is one of my problems.

Anyway, that’s my time folks! You have been so lovely. Thank you!

Brock: That was a real treat from our Granny, wasn’t it? Let’s give her another big hand. (Granny returns to the “green room”.)

Eleanor: Oh, Granny! That was awesome! They loved it! 

Mercedes: Seriously, Fanny? The air freshener bit? Do you know how old that is? 

Fanny: Sounds like it was new to them. What a great crowd!

Eleanor: I thought so, too. You’re lucky going last, Mercedes. We’ve warmed them all up for you. 

Mercedes: Yeah, right. I bet they’re all trying to decide between you two and won’t even listen to me. I wish I would have gone first; I might have had a chance.

Fanny: Really, Mercedes, I don’t think you’ll wow anyone with a defeatist attitude like that. I want to win the dough as much as anybody, but from my perspective, I have a way better chance if you think you’ve already lost. Maybe actually care about this audience for once. Don’t just recite jokes, engage with them. It does make a difference. 

Mercedes: Why the pep talk? If I win, you will still be struggling to buy your medications. Why do you care?

Fanny: Because I will always love the feeling of the laughs and the applause. If I have to do circuit gigs til I die, so be it. Did you ever see Phyllis Diller retire? How about Joan Rivers? 

Mercedes: Those old hags looked pathetic after a while.

Eleanor: Their fans didn’t think so. The love of loyal fans is what kept them going.

Fanny: Those of us on the circuit not addicted to alcohol or drugs, are addicted to the crowd busting a gut. I would do it for nothing. I will manage with my meds one way or another. I just want you to connect with the crowd and see the difference it makes to your own psyche than just blabbing funny things to say. You might even knock them dead.

Eleanor: It might make it more fun for you, if nothing else. Don’t ever underestimate the power of fun. I want to win this thing more than I have ever wanted anything but I also know if I don’t get it this year, I will probably have another chance next season. I genuinely wish you luck, Mercedes.

Mercedes: You know, the other girls all those other years weren’t like you two. I have a lot to think about.

Fanny: Well you better think about it pretty darned quickly. I’m sure the ads are about done.

Brock: Welcome back, once again to The National Comedienne Joke-Off! My name is Brock Benton and we now present our final performer. She has been a popular addition to the circuit for over a decade with her unique, hilarious comedic stylings. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Mercedes Ellington! (She takes the mic.)

Mercedes: Hi, everyone! How you doing? I’m great. You know how I know I’m great? Everywhere I go, people say, “Oh... Great.” So it must be true! Are we having any fun yet?  The first two ladies were amazing, weren’t they? 

I’m Mercedes Ellington and I think the world is moving way too fast for me. How many of you agree? Want proof? Consider this. Future Shop is now in the past. I mean; what the puff? They had such amazing products, too. I heard they even sold a microwave fireplace. You could have a nice, relaxing evening in front of the fire in only 12 minutes. Future Shop had microwave oven so powerful and could cook so fast, if you put instant coffee in it, you would actually travel back in time!

So I’m glad to be here safely. I had to take a discount airline. I know it was a no-frills flight because when the stewardess was doing her safety routine she said, “In the event of lack of oxygen from sudden depressurization, simply reach up and do this. (Make sign of the cross)

It kind of reminded me of my old Chevette which had a manual airbag. Yeah. Manual. It was just a tube hanging down you could hyperventilate into to inflate it if you’re about to crash. (Demonstrate panicked puffing.)

I’ll share a bit about my background.

First of all, I was born into sorry circumstances. Both my parents were sorry the moment they saw me.

I never had a step-dad but I had a step-ladder. That's a ladder you get when your first ladder goes for cigarettes and doesn’t come back and your Mom has to find a new ladder.

Growing up in my situation was tough but then I had a life changing experience. Sadly, I had another one and changed back. 

I have managed to find coping strategies, through.

My favourite aromatherapy scent, for example, is model airplane glue. It’s way safer than sniffing that hot melt glue, for sure. That’s the road to ruin and really super-clogged nostrils.

Yeah, I don't just flirt with disaster; I invite it back to my place for drinks. 

Actually, the Doc says I drink more than my weight would allow so now I'm on a new diet to gain a few more pounds. Pretty smart, eh?

You’d think gaining weight would be pretty simple… just hang around pot smokers. They always have food on them. Always. Unfortunately, with stoners, you can never be sure how long a cheeseburger has been in someone’s pocket. 

I saw two stoners I saw walking along the railroad tracks. One of them said “Man, this is one long staircase.” The other said, “Yeah, but it’s the low handrail that’s killing me.”

Drugs are so bad for you I never, ever, ever, well, hardly ever do them. Except wine. My body is a temple and I have a rule, “No cheap wine in the temple!”. 

I describe myself as an oenologist because the term “wine connoisseur” isn't pretentious enough. “This Merlot offers wisps of oak and honey with a hint of flatulence.” Wine tasting is so absurd.

Even pop has its absurdities. If our nation is so divided by the Pepsi versus Coke debate, they aren't even allowed in the same restaurant together, how can countries hope to get along?

And politicians don’t help. When was the last time you went, “Thank God that guy was elected.”? Have you ever?

Politics is, as they say, show business for ugly people. The word, “politics” comes from Latin. The prefix Poli means many and tics are, of course, blood sucking parasites.

And speaking of criminal organizations, I just read organized crime now has a banking app on iTunes. It’s called Pay Up Pal. It’s so convenient having the guys who have to bust your kneecaps come right to your door!

I love shopping from home. Anybody else? I am so addicted to it, I Tevo infomercials. All those incredible bargains are bankrupting me, though. I’m such a sucker, too. I just bought one of those Hoover SteamScrub machines for hard to reach places. They claim it’s gentle on surfaces but it stings like hell! It’s not as bad as those Lysol wipes, though. 

Thanks to my shopping addiction, I’m flat broke. I’m so broke, I needed laser eye surgery but couldn't afford it so I tried taser eye surgery. Hurt like hell. Now my eye twitches when I get close to electric appliances.

Thank you so much for being such a great crowd! I love you! (Blow kisses.)

Brock: That was fantastic! Let’s have another hand for Mercedes Ellington. Okay we will now have all the contestants come on stage as we call for the vote. (Eleanor and Granny go to the mic.) Okay, ladies and gentlemen, we will now learn, with your help and applause, who will be crowned winner of the National Title and receive the One Hundred Thousand Dollar grand prize. Ladies, as I call your name, please step forward. First of all, let’s hear it for Eleanor Brown! Wow, that was a nice response. Now Granny Fanny Foote. Another great response. And now Mercedes Ellington. 

(Brock may have to adlib a run off vote in the event of an indecisive vote or he has the option to declare a tie but it must be as fair as possible. After the winner is announced, Eleanor and Fanny embrace and then they make a stunned Mercedes join in for a three way hug.

Curtain