Last night, I went to see John Mulaney perform stand-up at Carnegie Hall with three of my friends. Our seats were in a box in the first tier. I have a sort of fondness for those little boxes. I think this is because they’re small, but not really cramped, and each one has a tiny entryway with coat hooks and a mirror, and when I sit down and look out at the rest of Carnegie Hall I feel cozy and grand at the same time, which are two of the best feelings.
The coziness of the boxes means you must sit close to other people. There are eight seats to every box. So, in addition to my three friends, we sat with four strangers, who were the best kind of strangers in that they were very friendly for about thirty seconds and then happily went back to their own conversations. I was seated on the left side of the box, next to the low barrier that separated us from the next box, which meant that I was also very close to the people on the other side of that barrier.
Ten minutes before the show started, a couple walked into the next box and sat in two empty seats next to the barrier. Both were blonde and, I thought, effortfully dressed up. He was wearing a jacket and tie, she a dress and necklace that didn’t quite go. Her hair was braided into a crown around her head. (Incidentally, this is a style I’ve long wished I could master.) She sat in the seat in front of him and they chatted excitedly, seeming in awe of Carnegie Hall.
When they arranged themselves into a selfie-taking position, their backs facing out so that you could see the rest of Carnegie Hall behind them, the guy apologized to us for reaching his arm into our box in order to take the picture. My friend Lee offered to take their picture instead and did just that. We went back to our conversation, they went back to theirs. But then I tuned back into their conversation. Because it was very loud. Loud and actually just the guy speculating about whether Nick Kroll would open and doing his own impressions of characters from Kroll Show, like Fabrice Fabrice.
I find that my patience for others wears thinner by the day. Strangers especially. But I still love observing them, passing judgment from the safety of my own thoughts. I was embarrassed for this guy, with his loud voice and his not-very-good impressions. I wanted to turn to my left, grab him by the shoulders and say, “Stop talking. Or at least control your volume. You sound nothing like Fabrice Fabrice and your girlfriend isn’t even laughing at you.” He deserved to know, I thought. But then, he serves me better as a character if he doesn’t.
The lights eventually went down, everyone settled into their seats, and Fred Armisen walked onto the stage. “Oh my God,” the guy started saying to himself, over and over again.
He grabbed his girlfriend’s shoulders from behind. “That’s Fred Armisen,” he practically screamed into her ear. “That’s. Fred. Armisen. From PORTLANDIA. He does Portlandia!”
“I know who Fred Armisen is,” she said, giggling a little, and squirming around in her chair to get free from his grip.
Ha! I thought. So she knows he’s annoying.
Armisen performed and then Mulaney went on and we all laughed and laughed, as people tend to do at comedy shows. The girl with the crown braid laughed hard at a joke about elementary school grading. Her laugh reminded me of the sounds I make when I’ve just cried for a long time and am not ready to stop, but can’t really cry anymore. When Mulaney did a bit about the changes to the Catholic mass, I laughed a little too hard, clapped my hands a little too loud, and wondered if anyone around me was as annoyed with me as I was for the performance of “getting the joke” that I was giving.
Toward the end of the show, the couple held hands on top of the barrier that separated us. She reached her hand back and he reached his forward and they proceeded to perform that kind of playful handholding that happens when you’re simply happy to be in someone’s company. Their hands moved up and down the barrier, closer to me than I would have liked. I watched them out of the corner of my eye. I suppose there’s someone for everyone, I thought, even though I’m not sure I actually believe it.