Richie’s sweating under the stage lights, but he could not be having more of a blast. He’s doing a bit about eighties horror movies that has him bounding up and down the stage, screeching like the movie monsters that he’d loved as a kid and talking a mile a minute about terrible CGI. God, this is so much better than doing other writers’ material; this is stuff he actually thinks is funny. This is fun.
He delivers the last punchline (“So logically I scream at my closet door, ‘Go to hell, you evil-lookin’, eyeball-monster motherfucker!’ and I hear my dad’s voice from downstairs going ‘Richard! Is that any way to talk to your mother!’”) and the audience collapses into laughter. Taking this opportunity to catch his breath, he slows to a walk and heads back to center stage, grinning hugely. “Speaking of eighties movies,” says Richie, once the applause has died down, “I grew up in the eighties.” There are a few scattered cheers at this, and he grins. “Hey, look at that, a few of my fellow old guys still hanging in there!
“Anyway, I grew up in the eighties, right, and you know what? Kids in the eighties could just do whatever.
“I remember hanging out with some of my friends back then, there was a squad of seven of us when we were like, twelve, and you would not believe the shit we did totally unsupervised. This one time we stole some handsaws out of my friend Bill’s dad’s workshop, and we went out into an empty field and dug a hole in the ground, shored it up with wood that we cut ourselves, and we made a clubhouse. At the time it seemed like a great idea, but looking back, I’m like, ‘What the fuck?’ Last week I almost lost a finger trying to hang up a picture in my living room, and I was throwing saws around in an abandoned lot when I was barely in middle school?
“My one friend had a mother who would never let him climb trees or play baseball or anything, and we were like ‘Dude, your mom is way too strict.’ But she still let him just kinda wander around town getting into shit with us, like the time we tried to melt some coins using a blowtorch—a fucking blowtorch, guys, ‘cause that’s a great toy for an unsupervised middle-school dipshit—or the times, plural, that this big mean douchebag we went to school with came at us with a knife. Yeah, our town bully was not above ripping us a new one, literally. And at the same time, people started to get worried about child kidnappings, and despite this multitude of dangers, all the adults around us were just like, ‘Wander off into the woods, kids! It’s okay as long as you stick together and your friend Big Bill brings his slingshot!’ A slingshot, guys. They were worried about child kidnappers but we were safe if we had Bill’s slingshot.
“So yeah, kids in the eighties could just do whatever. If I’d wanted to run around in the woods with my dick out while sniffing glue my parents would’ve been none the wiser. This is not to mention the fact that we decided to let my friend Beverly into the squad because she was always good for a cigarette. If I saw a twelve-year-old smoking today, I’d be like, ‘Whoa there! Go inside and play Pokémon, young man! You gotta wait until at least high school to give yourself cancer!’”
Richie paces to the left, thinking about Bev’s face crinkling with laughter when he’d tried that joke out on her and launching into the next line. “About a year ago, I actually went back to my hometown and met up with these friends that I mentioned for the first time in like twenty-five years. And you know the first thing I’m struck by is how different they all are. I mean obviously, twenty-five years will change a kid, but like come on. My friends are all hot and successful now, and I showed up to this meetup with soda spilled on my pants all worried that it looked like I’d pissed myself. So I’m an absolute disaster as usual, and I’m trying to kick it with my friend Bill who I mentioned earlier, who, get this, is William fucking Denborough, as in the most famous horror writer on the planet. And then there’s my friend Ben, who was the mastermind behind our clubhouse and grew up to be an amazing architect, and is incidentally smokin’ hot now. And Bev, she’s got her own clothing line now and she could absolutely model it herself if she wanted, she’s gorgeous. So my friend Mike, who’s a research librarian and a credit to his community, asks what I’m doing with myself these days, and I’m like ‘Well, I’m still being an annoying dumbass, only now I do it on stage.’
“But the thing is, as much as all these years changed these guys, they’re still the same old Losers I grew up with.” He knows the capital L is there even though the audience doesn’t, and smiles to himself. “Like my friend Eddie was this high-strung chaotic little shit as a kid, and now he’s got a boring office job. But as soon as we met up again, he’s constantly elbowing me, blowing straw wrappers at Bill, and one drink in and he’s yelling ‘Come at me, Tozier, let’s take off our shirts and kiss!’ while he’s trying to get me to arm-wrestle him.”
Richie takes a breath. “Will you guys let me get serious for a minute?” Some guy in the crowd yells “YEAH!” and Richie smiles. “Thank you, random dude. Anyway, so these Losers and I met back up, and I realized that I’d literally never been as happy as when we were friends. Which is a depressing realization when you haven’t been friends in almost three decades and you’re supposed to be a successful adult now.” He pauses. “Too personal for you guys? Sorry, I told you I’m writing all my own material now, so you all signed up for the Richie Tozier Personal Issues Train and there will be no refunds!
“Anyway, these friends and I went through some shit together, like being terrorized by the knife-wielding jackass I mentioned earlier, and, y‘know, more seriously, my hometown actually used to have the highest rate of child murder in the country. So we spent a lot of our time together terrified, and I’m not joking when I say that I’m probably only standing here today because of those six people.” The crowd is deathly quiet. Richie lets the discomfort sink in, lets himself think of the one who isn’t standing here today. Stan, he thinks, if you’re anywhere, thank you. Thank you for everything.
Okay, get it together, dude, this is a comedy show. Richie’s grin is sudden. “I know, I know, you guys are like ‘Hey, bring back the dick jokes! If I wanted depressing comedy I would’ve gone to see Hannah Gadsby!’” That gets a nervous laugh that breaks the tension. “Huge fan, by the way, I met her at a party once and I almost passed out.
“Anyway, at this dinner when we met back up, I walked in and I was suddenly like fuck, I used to have an absolutely incurable crush on one of these Losers, didn’t I? I mean, back then, this friend I had a crush on was incredibly annoying, constantly told us how any given thing we did was gonna get us killed horribly, and wore not one but two fanny packs, and somehow my twelve-year-old brain was like, yep, that’s the one I’m gonna pick! That’s the one I’m going to have an absolutely catastrophic crush on for my entire adolescence!
“So I did the only logical thing.” Richie waited a beat. ”Which was to keep my feelings bottled up and never tell this friend how I felt. The only thing I actually did about it is that one day I carved our initials on a bridge outside of town, just because I couldn’t keep it to myself any longer.
“So I get to this meetup, twenty-seven years later, right, and I see this friend and my feelings for this friend are like ‘Ding ding ding, we’re still here, dumbass! You still love this person!’ And I’m like ‘fuck,’ and I do the only logical thing, which now that I’m forty is to get absolutely trashed.
The audience laughs at this, but Richie’s smile is slipping away. He hopes they don’t see his hands shaking, but by the way the laughter is dying down quickly, they probably do. “Some of you might have noticed,” he says quietly, “that I’ve been playing the pronoun game talking about this old crush of mine. And you’d be right to pick up on that, because this person who I was absolutely gone over was my best friend Eddie.”
There’s silence for a beat, and then a whoop. Richie’s grin comes back, shaky but genuine. “Yeah, I know! But it’s still me up here, the same dipshit who spent my whole last tour telling the same joke about jerking it to my ex-girlfriend’s friend. I know when you hear the word ‘bisexual,’ you think, like, Janelle Monae or someone young and hot and edgy like that, but psych! Sorry to disappoint, but we can be weird-lookin’, forty-year-old, your-mom-joke-making motherfuckers as well.” There are scattered but sustained cheers at this. Richie takes a deep breath in, thinking of Eddie smiling at him from the wings.
“Okay,” he says into the mic, and the audience quiets down again. “Okay, back to Eddie. So I always knew his neurotic ass was not a model of unassailable heterosexuality, but I mean. It was a small-town in the eighties and I was a twelve-year-old dipshit who never thought he could like me back, I wasn’t gonna make a move. But the next time Eddie visits me, after that meetup in my hometown, I finally say something to him. And that thing is”— Richie puts on a nervous voice—“‘Hey, uh, Eddie, since you’re newly single, and I’m always single, would you maybe wanna . . .’” and he does an awkward little full-body wiggle. The audience cracks up, and he sees one lady in the front row cackle and lean over to whisper something to the woman next to her. “Yeah! I’ve been in love with this guy since Walkmans were still a thing, and this is how I decided to tell him!
“So of course he’s like, ‘Dude, what?’ And I go”—Richie mutters this very fast into the mic—“‘Uh Eddie since we’re both single do you maybe wanna’ and he goes ‘Maybe wanna WHAT!’ So I say, y’know, the model of romance that I am, ‘I’m trying to ask you on a date, you jackass, work with me here!’
“He’s quiet for like fifteen full seconds, and I’m like oh shit, oh christ I fucked up, and then Eddie says, ‘Richie I thought you were saying we should go to a strip club or something, if you’re asking me out after thirty fuckin’ years you have to use your words!’
“So miraculously, Eddie and I are engaged now, by the way.” There are real cheers at this, and Richie laughs, a little shaky still. “Thanks guys, but don’t be too proud of me, it took me three fucking decades to make a move. I’m thrilled now, obviously, but as I mentioned earlier, my fiancé is a ridiculous human being. I asked him if I could make fun of him in one of my shows, and he said ‘Yeah, but don’t you fucking bring up the gazebos incident,’ and I was like, ‘Babe, dude, I’d forgotten all about that but you know I’m going to bring up the gazebos incident now.’ And he threw his sandwich at me, because like I said, he’s secretly still twelve sometimes.”
Richie goes into his closing bit, still jittery but content, knowing that Eddie will be there to congratulate him as soon as he gets offstage, knowing that the rest of the Losers are pulling for him at home. And when the final round of applause rises to the rafters of the theater, Richie smiles.