New York Stories: Catie Lazarus shares a New York memory

Guest blogger Catie Lazarus remembers the time that a chance 4am subway encounter ended up helping her career.

Catie Lazarus

Catie Lazarus

Welcome to "New York Stories," in which some of our favorite New Yorkers tell a story—funny, heartwarming, sad, whatever—about this great city. This week, Catie Lazarus reflects on the importance of talking to strangers…sometimes.

Riding the subway at 4am is usually more surreal than unsavory, depending on the cast of characters, but I never expected it would change my life for the better.

One unethically humid Saturday night—technically Sunday morning—I headed home on the 1 train from my shift bussing tables at Blue Ribbon Bakery. I was immersed in this cheesy how-to-do-stand-up-comedy–type book, when a guy shouted across the car, in a thick New York accent, "Stop! I'm a comic. Don't read that crap." I ignored him. Evidently my stone-cold silence served as an invitation to come sit next to me. He started to talk my ear off. I didn't respond. That is, until he revealed he'd studied ballet at the American Ballet Theatre, only he pronounced it as, "bull-AYE." I burst out laughing and, by doing so, I'd broken whatever boundaries I'd vainly tried to establish.

I figured we'd share a genuine, yet contained, moment. So I shared that I'd be performing stand-up comedy for the first time that upcoming Thursday at Stand-Up New York. (I'd only seen stand-up once, 11 years earlier, and had just dropped out of my doctoral studies and moved to New York six weeks earlier to pursue comedy writing.) Everything seemed okay, until he got off at the same stop. Disturbed, I averted eye contact and picked up my pace. He followed. I couldn't get rid of this subway stalker.

But he did it again. My subway stalker deftly joked about the lunatics in my seemingly genteel building. I laughed. We ended up hanging out on my front stoop and rehearsed my upcoming set. I shared the first jokes I'd ever written, never mind uttered aloud. He shook his head disappointed and swore I'd bomb onstage.  He told me to accept failure as inevitable, and wandered off as the sun rose. 

When I showed up at the club, the booker said I'd "maybe" go on after midnight. I asked if I could go up earlier in the lineup, as my aunt and uncle had driven in from Connecticut and needed to get home. The booker told me to—in less polite language—goes have sex with myself. As he proceeded to warn me I'd be lucky if I got in at all and to get out of his sexing face, my subway stalker sauntered in and gallantly intervened. Thanks to my subway stalker, I got onstage. It was magical.

The audience gave me a standing ovation. I won a stand-up contest I hadn't even entered. The New York Resident, a local paper, put my mug on their next cover and awarded me a trip to San Francisco. The club booker swore I'd have my own sitcom within a year, claimed I was a "sexy Tina Fey," and offered me spots at what he called my "home club." I celebrated my new career with a couple friends and subway stalker at French Roast.

A couple days later, I went to collect my loot. But the booker couldn't distinguish me from a hole in the wall and the New York Resident claimed "transportation" was not included in my trip package. The editor stated in an e-mail, which I saved, that the word trip was ambiguous. When I shared this with my subway stalker, he laughed and said, "Welcome to showbiz, baby!"

Catie Lazarus hosts Employee of the Month at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre tonight at 8pm; the show is sold out, but there will be a standby line.

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Editor: Marley Lynch (@marleyasinbob)

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