"Hey! Rundus is next!” I can hear Leah’s voice through James’ phone speaker. “Where are you guys?"
"Uhhh,” James says, “like right down the…right around - we're close! Almost there!"
It’s my first time to do comedy in the epicenter of entertainment that is The City of Lost Angels. James sets the phone down. I'm in the driver seat doing my best to weave through the endless stream of cars ahead like some hungry snake trying to get through the thorn bush to the coveted egg of destiny. I have a nervous tension that I always have knowing I have stage time coming up, and on top of that, we’re running late, and I'm in Hollywood, not Oklahoma City. As far as mile markers on my life's journey, this is HUGE, and I just might miss it?!
We turn a corner, and I see it! The Hollywood Improv! Lewis Black is on the marquee! This shit just got real! I pull up to the curb. As I get out, James points to a doorway. "You better get in there, dude!"
I jog up to the counter and ask where the stage is only to be told I went in the wrong door – Gah! The ol' one-door-two-places trick! I finally get inside, and I see Leah standing in the hallway. We make eye contact. As we hug, we hear, “And next to the stage… Rundus!”
I've been in the club 7 seconds tops. I rush onstage, greet the emcee, take the mic, exhale for the first time since I got out of James' car, and look into the crowd.
"Hi! I'm Brian Rundus from Oklahoma City. I got lost in your big city last night and pulled over to ask a man where I was. The man said he wanted to fuck me like an animal. I said, 'Excuse me?' It was then I realized I was in the industrial section of Los Angeles. That's right kids, I gots Trent Reznor jokes!"
And then I heard it – a couple laughs. A COUPLE LAUGHS! I wrote that silly joke riding into L.A. thinking of something relative to say on stage about the city, and it's a dumb joke. Totally dumb, but it’s fun and silly, and they got it.
I wasn't there to Lewis Black them or amaze them at my correlations of life's bigger questions. I have them for 2 minutes, so that's it - just be funny. You don't “Totally destroy a crowd" or "Kill a crowd" (terms used for doing well in comedy - in Oklahoma, we say "Show 'em your butthole” and “Don't eat a dick”) on a two minute open mic. You just get some laughs, or you don't. I did my jokes, I got my laughs, my butthole was seen, and no dicks were eaten. Mission accomplished.
The second my set was up, I exited the stage to see Leah and James. We left the Improv to venture to the next open mic. Total time in and out of The Hollywood Improv? Approximately 3 minutes and 45 seconds.
Leah led this comedy troupe to a string of open mics. We hit each one, and I enjoyed the fact that in these open mics, there would be comics who had Comedy Central specials or worked on various shows. I had the sense that I was near "The Biz.” I don't get that sense in Oklahoma. I like this feeling - it feels productive and forward-moving, like you might get seen by someone that likes what you do and could actually put you to work doing what you LOVE to do. Key word is work - you might actually get work out here in entertainment.
As I was walking with my OKC friends in the streets of Hollywood, I couldn't help myself from catching glimpses of them and recollecting back to when we would wait for the sign ups at The Loony Bin years before in Oklahoma, chasing the notions of being comics doing gigs in other cities and seeing that Hollywood sign in the Hills.
And here we are still chasing. But tonight, my friends, we are IN Hollywood, and hey...look over there...it’s the Hollywood sign!
I'm back from this Vision Quest now, in Oklahoma, but I know where I want and need to be to pursue my goals. And as I make the moves to get there, I think back to those earlier Loony Bin days. It seemed simpler then, cuter, more huggable. But I like where it’s going for all of us.
So I’m going to head up to the Loony Bin now, set the green ball near the entrance to where these great friendships and passions for stand up comedy began, and maybe another aspiring comic will pick it up and bounce it while they go over their set before a nervous open mic.
Or maybe someone will step on it, roll their ankle, and bust their ass – whatever. It's still comedy to me.
Bouncy Ball # 186 - The Baldwin Hills Staircase
Five times up. That's all. Just five times up this son-of-a-bitch outdoor stairway to the sky.
It's one of the two daunting tasks in the way of me "finishing" this bouncy ball project.
It's not that I don't think I'm physically capable - I know I can do this. I went up four times not too long ago, so really, what's one more time?
The problem is, Sosa's coming with me, and I have this sickness that makes me psychotically competitive. Today, even though I don't say it out loud, I'm secretly trying to make it up faster than Sosa, one of those wins I can file away in my brain and retrieve when he's shit-talking me during our next competition.
We start our first ascent at 10:30 on the 4th of July, weaving around the slow people in front of us. I break away right off the bat. This is not surprising - every time Sosa and I have tackled this stairway, I beat him on the way up, and he beats me on the way down. The key is to get so far ahead of him on the climb that I don't have to worry about hearing his footsteps tumbling down behind me, always there at my heels no matter how fast I think I'm hopping down.
The third time up the stairs, I'm getting tired, and the heat's getting to me. My thighs are straight up burning. My stomach aches as I clear the third landing and near the top.
On my fourth time up, it occurs to me that I'm far enough ahead to beat Sosa in the end.
On the fifth and last time up the stairs, I pass him while he runs down, and when I get to the top, my bouncy ball tucked in my sports bra, I swallow the puke that rushes up to the back of my throat, and I stare out onto the city, waiting for him.
Less than a minute later, he barrels up the last staircase.
"We did it!" I say.
He smiles, out of breath, and gives me a high five. We both make our way over to a short wall to rest.
"That wasn't as bad as I thought," he says.
"No," I say. "I mean, the fourth was the worst. On the last time up, I pretended I was Frodo carrying the ring."
He laughs. "That's a good idea."
"I just didn't want to stop climbing. I'm afraid that if I do, I won't ever start again."
It occurs to me that he's completely unconcerned that I beat him to the top, that this, for him, is not about beating me. It's about finishing. In fact, there are people at the bottom of the stairs right now looking up, taking that first step to what I've already completed five times. There are people down there who will climb up just once and feel the same sense of accomplishment because it's a challenge they've never faced before, and the number of times they complete it is irrelevant to right now, this moment.
The point of this is not that I went up these stairs five times in a row slightly faster than my friend. The point is, we both made it up here. We're both here, right now, looking out over this city three years after we moved here. I should stop looking at the top as though it's the only important part when really, it's the reward. All the stuff that builds character happens on the way up.
It's about climbing. Because when I climb, I never stop. I just keep stepping, one step at a time, with purpose, moving forward resolutely with nothing to push me but the belief that I'll make it to the end.
And then after that, it's about making it to the end, stopping for a minute or an hour or a day or a week to breath it in, to enjoy it, and then realizing that this, in fact, is not the end at all.
And then looking for more stairs to climb.
Bouncy Ball # 187 - "Relevancy" - Written by one of my very best friends, Dr. John Moring
I’m a worrier. I don’t know if I’ve always been such an anxiety-stricken person, or if this is more of a phenomenon within the last ten (or so) years. In any case, graduate school had a way of fostering, and even applauding, such neuroses. The only thing that has changed since graduating is the content of my worry. Really fucking great. So now I’m 32 years old, relatively fresh out of graduate school, and I find myself searching for relevancy. And what the hell does that mean? I have several guesses, most of which are career-related.
When I received my bouncy ball, I initially thought it was a daunting task. I considered how to do justice by the ball. I would either win the Nobel Peace Prize or speak with the Dalai Lama and discover life’s secrets. But instead, due only to time constraints, my bouncy ball accompanied me on my way to St. Louis to visit good friends that I met while living in San Diego. The Nobel Peace Prize will have to wait…
During one of our nights in St. Louis, I was rather drunk. Ok…I was wasted off my ass after sharing a 24 pack of PBR between three people. Due to the lovely effects of alcohol, I don’t remember the specifics of our conversation. Nor do I remember specifics of the rest of the night, which I was told involves me inappropriately touching a straight man on the streets of St. Louis. (I’m telling myself that he liked it.) I do, however, recall the overarching theme of the conversation. That’s what matters, right?
My friends are pretty much rock stars in their accomplishments, have promising career trajectories, and they’re just awesome people. I'd die for these broads. Drunkenly talking to them, I brought up my own feelings of anxiety, insecurities, and concerns of relevancy.
The conversation led me to think about the definition of relevancy, the subjective nature of the word, and the purpose of such concern. I realized that my feelings of irrelevancy stem from my uncertain future and how I tend to compare myself to others.
As for my future, who the hell knows what’s going to happen? As sad as it is, I can’t control very much in this world. I might choke on a Flaming Hot Cheetoh and die in about 3 minutes. And comparing myself is always going to be a losing battle that just leaves me feeling miserable and inadequate.
Because, “If you want it, you’ve lost it.”
You see, I focused so much on wanting “relevancy” that I lost the meaning and enjoyment of what I do. The concern of being “relevant” so badly minimized the purpose, meaning, and enjoyment of the reason I even went to graduate school in the first place. It’s made the last year less about my true values, and more about the end-goal. It’s de-concentrated my hopes and aspirations into nothing but, essentially, a stupid job.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not like I’m giving up, quitting, and living off the grid someplace in rural Texas. (I hate rural Texas towns, anyway. They truly scare me.) Nor am I changing my goals...yet. Instead, I’m aiming for a more balanced approach. I need an approach in which I can enjoy life, enjoy the challenges that come my way, and notice and appreciate my success. Instead of living a life full of misery, I’m giving myself a fucking break.
I didn’t win the Nobel Peace Prize. I didn’t volunteer at a homeless shelter. I didn’t even donate money to a charity. But I’m not comparing myself to other contributors of Leah’s blog. I am however, noticing my improvement and recognizing that somewhere in St. Louis is a bouncy ball with Leah’s name on it. And maybe that bouncy ball will help someone find their own meaning of relevancy.
"I thought we agreed not to talk about this," Lindsay says. We're sitting on my front porch staring up at the stars.
"Yeah, sorry," I say. "You're right. I'll shut up."
We're both a little nervous about tomorrow's daunting activity, but we're also doing an impressive job of pretending it's not going to happen. That's our strategy - don't think about it until we're in the middle of it.
"Can you believe you're almost done with this bouncy ball project?"
I sigh. "No."
"Did it go by fast or slow?"
"Both. When I was in the middle of it, I hated it so much, I just wanted it to end. But now it's pretty much over." I look down. "I wanted the end to be really good, but it's just an end."
"I think it's a good ending," she says.
"I guess. Really, though, I failed."
"I didn't do what I originally said I would do. It wasn't how I meant it to go."
She shrugs. "You gave away a lot of bouncy balls, Lady. And I think the end will be really good."
"It could be," I say. "But I feel like I need to say something profound. I want to make it interesting for other people to read."
"Oh," I say, laughing. "I was talking about the end to the story. Not the actual thing we're going to do."
She laughs. "Okay, well I thought it wasn't about the story. I thought it was about you. And the thing we're going to do is a good way to give away your last bouncy ball."
"Yeah, that's true. You know, maybe I should stop looking at it as a story."
"Maybe," she says. "Because it's your real life. And you do a lot of things."
Bouncy Ball # 188 - Written by my roommate, LA Comedian Erika Curry
I commute via train to work 5 days a week. The only refuge I have in my 2 hour round trip is the quiet car. Ahh, my safe haven. Train 682, my quiet sanctuary. No talking, no cell phone use, no listening to anything without headphones. It’s the closest thing to peace I can find in a moving vehicle in California.
One Friday, after a particularly bad day at work, I board my daily asylum. A man with flames on his bald head, an open backpack full of what might have been all of his possessions, and a broken left foot is making loud conversation with no one in particular. Topics of his discussion include in no distinct order: pussy, the cruelness of Orange County jails, partying, and drinking (evidently they are different). I put in my headphones and hope he’s getting off at the next stop, or the conductor will intervene. The conductor makes a pass, but walks right by the man. HE SAYS NOTHING! The train car is full of annoyed, oblivious and passive passengers.
I have to do something.
When I was younger, every Christmas day, my entire family used to go to a movie. When I was 7 years old, it changed the way I look at things forever. I told everyone in the family I wanted to see Addams Family Values. Then, my older cousin and life idol, Andrea, chose Mrs. Doubtfire.
So I said, “Me too!”
My dad pulled me aside and gave me a small lecture I can’t forget. He said, “Erika, in life there are leaders, and there are followers. Be a leader. Choose your own path.”
At 7 my life flipped. Had I disappointed my dad for choosing Mrs. Doubtfire? I had to be a leader, but I also wanted to see Robin Williams in a dress again.
From then on, every decision I made came with my dad’s voice in my head. I chose to be a leader everyday to the best of my abilities. I led countless organizations in high school and college, I got a minor in Leadership (really valuable to perspective employers and totally worth the extra $10,000 in student loan debt), and I was on the right path in life.
And then, in 2010, I moved to California. I don’t know if it was the post-college shock or the lack of accountability of knowing everyone, but I stopped inserting myself into leadership positions. I stopped applying my best decisions to everyday life. I quit a job with less than 2 weeks notice. I stopped standing up for the little guy, and I stopped putting other people before myself. I stopped mentally campaigning for Homecoming Queen of the Universe. I’ve noticed a change in the way I view things.
Not today. I have to do something. I have to be a leader today. I meekly approach the loud man in the quiet car, “Excuse me, sir, are you aware you’re in the quiet car? There is no talking.” I point to the sign.
The stare he gives me is full of confusion and fury. “Get the hell out of my face.”
It’s better than I expected. I didn’t fix the problem, but I did something. I stood up for everyone in the quiet car, and I stood up for myself. I put my headphones in, drop my pink bouncy ball in his open backpack and walk upstairs. I get the silent nod of approval from the other regular commuters who chose not to act.
But I did. I tried. I failed to change his behavior, but at least I tried.
Do you hear that dad? I’M TRYING MY BEST.
I can pinpoint the day that I became afraid of heights.
I'm six years old. I'm at Canobie Lake Park in New Hampshire with my Dad, my stepmom (at the time, my dad's girlfriend), Audrey, and my brother.
"I want to do that," I say, pointing above our heads at a ride that's essentially like a ski lift - mini carts hanging on a wire that run from one end of the park to another and back again.
I'm not sure why Audrey volunteers to ride with me. Maybe she doesn't. Maybe my dad suggests it, and she's still trying to impress us kids, to make us think she's cool. Nevertheless, a few minutes later, Audrey and I strap into the car, and as we lurch out into the open air, she sucks in a deep breath.
I remember pointing, leaning over the railing in front of me to wave. "Look, there's dad!"
"Oh my God, sit back!" Audrey says, putting her arm in front of me and gently pushing my body to the back of the cart. "You're gonna fall out!"
Her face is white, pale. For the entirety of the ride, she's so frantic and nervous that it starts to rub off on me, and by the time we get off, the girl that leaned out, unafraid, to wave at her dad below has disappeared. I'm now frantic, tense, paralyzed with fear, and like Audrey, I'm so relieved to have my feet on the ground. Because now I'm afraid of heights.
I'm not saying I wouldn't have been afraid of heights after that point. I'm saying that the fear wasn't in there to begin with - it came from somewhere. Someone taught me that.
That's the thing about fear, about insecurity, about comparing yourself to others, about all that negative bullshit - when it's in there, when we have it, it's there for a reason, and unless we first admit it's a problem, we're helpless to start getting over it.
Before I started this project, I always made the mistake of just letting the time pass without processing all the emotions and feelings and insecurities involved with it. Turns out, I can't skip over the hard part. As much as I'd like to believe myself a superhero, I've done only harm by forgetting to face down what makes me human, what makes us human.
We can't will ourselves to get over something we're afraid of facing from the past. We have to let it run its course. We have to fight it. Or we have to learn to accept it. We're still afraid. That's what makes us human.
We're afraid, but we're standing here saying, "I'm scared of this, but so the fuck what? I'm doing it anyway."
Maybe this is an obvious truth to everyone else, but it's something I'm just now learning, something I just now came to on my own. In fact, maybe that's the sole reason I can cite in claiming that for me, this project has not been a failure. It's a small reason, an inner epiphany, but I can't see how I could've gone on like I did if I'd have known how scary and unpredictable this ride would've been - all of it. The Bouncy Ball Project. Los Angeles. Standup comedy. Pursuing my dreams. Remaining true to myself. Going all in.
Bouncy Ball # 189 - Written by LA Comedian Travis Clark
It’s around 3 AM in the middle of nowhere Arkansas when we get pulled over by the police. I’m standing on the side of the road staring into the cop car’s flashing blue lights. I’m not thinking about Leah or the bouncy ball. All I’m thinking is, WHY THE FUCK DID I AGREE TO GO ON THE ROAD WITH A GUY WHO TAKES HALF AN OUNCE OF WEED ACROSS STATE LINES?!
I didn’t know he had that amount of stuff in the car. Now I’m facing a $2,000 fine and possible jail time for shit that isn’t even mine. Hell, I don’t even smoke weed.
For some unknown reason, the cop decides to give us a break. If the owner of the weed just dumps it all out on the side of the road and throws his pipe into the woods, he’ll let us go. With hesitation, the guy does it. The cop lets us back into the car and says, “I hope you’re better comedians than liars.” I found this offensive because 1) he’s never seen my act, and 2) I never lied to the guy.
The cop drives off while we’re still on the side of the road. That’s when Captain Tokes-A-Lot says, “I’ll be right back. I gotta go get my weed.” Fucking what? We just got out of going to jail for your bullshit. He won’t listen to my pleas, so I threaten to beat him up. I’m screaming and punching the seats in his car. He finally abandons the idea of getting his ditch weed and gets back into the car. That’s when he reveals that he had been shoving weed in his shoe the whole time the cop was watching.
Have you ever wanted to murder another person? That's the rage level I’m at. Keep in mind I’m a recent vegan, and I’m trying to live my life in a way that doesn’t hurt other living things, but this is too much. I try to fall asleep to calm down. I wake up less than 2 hours later to see the guy who almost got me thrown in jail smoking weed and driving.
Let me be clear - I don’t care about pot. You want to smoke it? Okay. You want to drive while high and have enough weed in your center console that I could go to jail for it, too? Super not okay.
For the next 2 days, me and the other guy on tour plead with the Weedmaster to get his shit together. He doesn’t. He continues to sneak weed, get more weed from people at the shows we’re at and pout anytime we tell him he’s acting like an asshole. We keep traveling with this guy because we don’t know what else to do. Everyday, I’m in a panic, and I can’t sleep. I have a house and a wife and a dog that I may never see again. The other guy literally throws up blood from stress, and the potsmoker just keeps not understanding the issue.
We arrive at the hotel, and I Google Alabama pot laws on my phone.
Turns out, Alabama makes Arkansas look lenient. In Alabama, if you have any kind of marijuana “concentrate” it is a Class C felony punishable by a $10,000 fine and up to a 10-year prison sentence. The word PRISON almost hits me in the face when I see it. This guy has two containers of “wax,” and there’s no fucking way I’m going to prison for this bullshit. At 4:40 AM, I walk down to the front desk of the hotel in Calera, Alabama.
The man behind the counter seems surprised to see me up. “What can I do for you this morning?” he asks in a calming Southern drawl.
I tell him I need a cab ride to the airport. He asks me when. I say, “Now.”
I go upstairs to the hotel room and quietly start piling all my things in the hallway while everyone in the room sleeps. I even zip up my suitcase outside the room so no one hears it. I go back inside the room one last time and wake up my only ally on this trip. I tell him I’m leaving. He understands. He says he’s going to do the same in the morning. I say goodbye and head back down to the lobby. I book a flight on my phone as I wait for the cab to come get me.
At 5:15 AM, a handsome older Southern gentleman walks through the front doors of the hotel. He looks a bit like Don Knotts and has the deep soothing voice of an airplane pilot. This is my cab driver.
We talk the entire 45-minute car ride to the Birmingham airport. I tell him I’m a comic, and he lets me know what a fan he was of guys like Carlin and Pryor. We talk about comedy, life, family and spending time with loved ones. He used to be in the Coast Guard and lived in Ventura, California for several years. He had a son that was an airplane pilot.
The more I talk to this guy, the more at ease I feel. I get a little emotional when he asks me where I’m going. My voice quivers a bit when I say the word “home.” Next thing I know, I've explained the whole situation and just how snakebit this whole “tour” had been. I finish the story just as we pull up to the airport. I go to pay him for the cab ride, and I feel the bouncy ball in my front pocket of the hoodie I’m wearing. I had honestly forgotten about it.
“I need to give you something,” I say. I hand him the bright orange bouncy ball. “I was supposed to give this to someone and write a story about it. I could have literally given it to anyone in the world, but I think I’ve been waiting to give it to you.”
He takes it and thanks me.
“Well I sure do appreciate it,” he says with a genuine smile. He adds that he hopes I’ll come back to Alabama some time soon under better circumstances.
“We’d love to have you,” he says as he shakes my hand. He wishes me a safe flight, and I head into the terminal.
By 1:40 PM, I’m finally back home with my wife and dog, both of whom are thrilled to see me.
Bouncy Ball # 190 - Matt
"Okay, so we're all connected now," Matt says into my left ear. "We're gonna go over a few things about the jump."
I like Matt. He's just the right amount of professional and joking. It must be an odd job, tandem skydiving instructor. Not only are you jumping out of planes all day, but you're also trying to calm down a bunch of nervous, unpredictable strangers on the way up. I look over at Lindsay, but she's facing the back of the plane, listening to her own instructor.
"In about two minutes, I'm gonna open this door!" Matt yells. "And then I'm going to put my foot on the step outside. And then you're going to put both your feet on that step and stand up. Okay?"
"Okay!" I thought I'd be more afraid than I am now. Honestly, I'd rather be out free in the sky than trapped on this tiny plane for another second.
I listen, nodding, alert like a soldier taking orders, while Matt shouts instructions. I keep looking at Lindsay, but her eyes are focused forward. Shit, is she even gonna say goodbye to me?
"Okay, go ahead and put your goggles down! They'll be really tight around your face."
While Matt adjusts my Goggles, I wave my arm in front of me. "Hey! Lindsay!"
She turns around, her goggles suctioned to her face.
"Well," I say. I laugh. I don't know what to say. I feel like I'm in a familiar movie scene, and all I can think to say are unoriginal hacky lines. "I'll see you down there?"
She nods, smiles. She seems calm.
Matt puts his foot on the step. I put my left leg out first, then my right. I feel a push from behind, and we're standing, the wind whipping against our ankles, trying to knock us over.
Matt puts his wrist camera in front of my face, and I give a thumbs up sign like an asshole, and then he pushes me, and then I'm spinning, and then I'm flat...
And then I'm flying.
THE BOUNCY BALL PROJECT - PICTURES - JAN.-JULY 2014
All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.
Completed workout plans: