From Behind the Bar at the UCBT – III
After working at the UCB Theatre bar for almost three years, I’ve discovered that I have an endless amount of stories to tell. The job was offered to me a while back because I needed a little extra income as my relationship with the UCB theatre community was growing. I’ve appreciated my experiences working behind the bar at UCB as much as my experiences performing there. Here are some tales I thought I’d share with you this time around.
I often work at ASSSSCAT, which frequently welcomes some unusual guests whom I’ve had some unusual moments with. For example, one week, I came into work and discovered that someone who had just hit it big was performing in the show. By “hit it big” I mean he jumpstarted to stardom very abruptly and was somewhat unprepared for what came with fame. We started talking at the empty bar before the show, and then I took him back to the Green Room. Backstage he quietly asked me if I had a moment, and I said, “Sure.” He confided in me about how terrified he was of his current fame amidst his gratefulness for his success. He spoke as if he was confessing some dirty secret he had kept hidden for years and was finally getting a rare opportunity to tell. He wasn’t sure he liked not being able to walk down the street; he wasn’t sure he liked that strangers knew his name. He was nervous, scared and well-aware that his current emotions could cause him a great deal of performance anxiety. He feared he wasn’t good enough and was nervous for his future. I reached out to him, trying to sooth his nerves, but I knew he just wanted someone to talk to, and I knew he knew there was no real “problem” anyone could solve for him. He was sweet, and asked me about myself, seemingly genuinely impressed with my own ambitions and encouraging with all my endeavors. Then the ASSSSCAT performers arrived backstage and I had to go, it was time to let in the audience and get to work. He put on a happy face and greeted them all politely, and I knew there was no way he would let the others know he was anything but completely confident.
When he left after the show, he gave a quick smile and timidly waved at me as he walked outside terrified of his own fans. It’s odd how two strangers can bond, let their guards down, share their deep fears and dreams and then walk away and never see each other again.
I see him on TV all the time and I find it kind of beautiful that I of all people know what’s really going on behind those eyes. I know his hands are shaking in his lap as he does the interview and that his stomach turns as the cameras zoom in. And I also know that he wouldn’t have told me any of that if I wasn’t the bartender.
In the book Live From New York, An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live, Penny Marshall says, “[It] was a zoo, but it was fun. It was people getting famous at the same time which is always very scary. We held onto each other desperately because we trusted each other. In hanging out with each other, we knew we weren’t going to tell on each other.” If and when a book was to ever be published about the UCB Theatre, I would probably say something very similar.
There have been many “zoo-like” moments, like a late night wrestling match I instigated between two smaller comedians and one very strong comedian. After that match the very strong comedian made me put my money where my mouth is. The next thing I knew, I was wrestling another female comedian, while a room full of A-list comics, all about ten years my senior, were standing on chairs and tables cheering us on. The match ended prematurely when my head got bashed into a cement wall and we all decided that although I was not hurt, it might be time to stop. I’ve got photos from that night, and looking at them it’s hilarious who was directly involved because they all were “getting famous at the same time.” Penny Marshall was right, I trust these people. I know that nothing ever goes too far, and if and when it does, I’ve got a room full of comrades who’ve got my back and will make sure I don’t get a concussion.
I love the loyalty we’ve all got for each other and when someone attacks that code, they get put in their place quickly. It happens all the time when I’m bartending. For example, one time I rejected these two girls’ fake IDs. Doug Benson was doing a show that night (who I used to work with on “Best Week Ever”) and came up to the bar to get a drink. The two girls said right in my earshot–“Watch out, this bartender is such a bitch, she won’t sell us beer. You’ll buy it for us right? Beware, she’s a total bitch.” To which Doug smiled at me and loudly responded, “Oh, you mean my friend Margot?” The girls’ faces dropped with embarrassment. He continued, “Listen, sorry, if she said she’s not selling it to you, there’s nothing I can do.” I thanked him for getting my back and he said, “Of course, it’s nothing. Plus, if you’re trying to pull a fast one on someone, you shouldn’t do it in direct ear shot, right?” As minor an incident as that was, it still affected me because it was a prime example of outsiders infiltrating our space and trying to break our unspoken code.
THE BITS MUST GO
I’ve mentioned this before in this column, but I’ll say it again–why do so many patrons at the UCB Theatre have the desire to prove to the bartender that they’re funny? Many people are funny, many people are not. But I guarantee that anyone who has an uncontrollable urge to do a terrible bit with a bartender, who has a line wrapped around the corner with thirsty customers, falls under the unfunny category. I’m a nice girl, I usually pleasantly smile at people’s forced humor; I know their intentions are good. However, one time I had to work the bar at ASSSSCAT on a Sunday, after working a private event the night before at UCB where I did not leave until 8AM. I got home at 8:30, slept a few hours, got up and went right back to work that night.
At the show’s intermission some guy came up to the bar and said, “Could I get some cookies?” I said, “Sorry, we don’t sell any food here.” I waited on a few more people, and then that same guy came back up and said, “Do you have oatmeal raisin tonight?” My patience was running very thin at this point. ASSSSCAT is our busiest show and I had many actual customers to take care of. I said, “Sorry, but I just told you we don’t sell any food.” No joke, this guy waited another five minutes in the huge line to get back to the bar to do his hilarious bit with the exhausted bartender. I guess he read somewhere about the rule of threes in comedy and was trying to follow it, not realizing that if something is un-funny, it doesn’t matter how many times you do it, you’re still an idiot. So this time he decides he’s going to “place his order” and says, “I’ll take two peanut butter, two oatmeal raisin, and one chocolate yelled, “I don’t know what your fucking bit is, but I don’t have any fucking cookies!” He said nothing and sheepishly walked away.
After the shows, Amy Poehler asked me if I made it through the night ok, concerned that I was running on empty. I said, “Honestly Amy, I lost it on someone.” I told her what happened and she made me fell less guilty by congratulating me on only losing it on only one person considering the circumstances. I’ve never seen the cookie dude at the theatre since.
Margot Leitman is a writer/performer living in NYC. You can see her LIVE at Mo Pitkins, 8:00 Thursday Feb. 15th as she co-hosts Stripped Stories with Giulia Rozzi. This month’s theme: Unexpected sex stories. Featuring Sean Crespo, God’s Pottery, and producer Rachel Fleit. Margot has appeared on Late Night With Conan O’ Brien, Best Week Ever, Cheap Seats, E!, Style, AMC, Comedy Central and NBC Broadband. She is currently developing her hit UCB show Slow Night into a screenplay with co-writer Sarah Burns, in addition to writing a weekly column for www.hellohilarious.com on sex, dating, and nightlife from a female comedian’s point of view. Margot is scheduled to bartend at the UCB on Valentine’s Day and welcomes gifts of any sort. She won’t get creeped out or curse at you, she promises.