I remember smoke, lots of smoke. Smoking, I guess I should say, lots of smoking.
Looking out into the audience from the stage, the stage lights blinding me like high-beams from an on-coming truck on a lonely two lane highway, I remember billows of smoke; they would pillow up, fade, and wisp toward the ceiling. The front row, seated lower than than me, would have a straight shot at blowing their carcinogenic commentary right at me. If they liked me, they aimed away.
After a night performing, I came home smelling not just like smoke, but the burnt, acrid, black stench of a heavy smoker. Heavy smoke. Growing up on a Navy base in the 60’s and 70’s I knew smoke. My Mormon family spared me at home, but the minute I walked out the door, I was in a smoking world. There were people who I knew who lit the new cigarette with the short ember of the old cigarette while driving in a car with the windows rolled up. I smelled like that.
Some clubs flirted with non-smoking night during the week which comics generally disdained as being the stiffest crowds and hardest show of the week. When Vegas went smoke-free, the argument was over and smoking was out. Did every crowd become stiffer and we just got used to it? Could be. Comedy is about saying the wrong thing, but today if you say the wrong wrong thing people get very angry, even Christians. Maybe they need a cigarette.
After years of performing in smoke-free rooms, when somehow I did find myself performing in a smoking environment I noticed it immediately. It cut my wind, made my clothes smell again. I didn’t miss it.
The faint smell of a cigarette does make me a little homesick from time to time, remembering childhood days on the Base while I watched real men work on manly things. I am glad to be free of the villainous monster-sized cigarette smoke of the yesteryears of comedy. Couldn’t imagine it without then, can’t imagine it with it now. Life’s funny.