How me & my brother made it in the show at Teddy’s House of Comedy

So sometimes I’m going to need to get all deep on this blog. This is one of those times. But it’s a funny story while being tragic.

Tomorrow is my wedding anniversary. Lee and I got married Jan. 15, 1999.

January 15 is also the day my oldest brother killed himself, in 2003.

J.L, Melinda, Roy at Roy’s wedding in Virginia in 1990

Of course something like that never leaves your heart or your mind and it took a few years for me to be able to celebrate my anniversary on that day. One thing that helped was planning trips to coincide with our anniversary. Therapy helped, too. And time.

Time helped dull the pain, the anger and the sadness that I didn’t notice changes that seemed obvious in hindsight. Time also helped quiet the ‘what if’ questions.

I still think about it on January 15 and other times during the year, especially in the fall. That’s when his birthday was and it was also when I saw him last.

 

The last time I saw my brother was also the best time we shared

It was September 2002. I was in Washington, D.C., participating in the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life Celebration on the Hill. This was the first time an event of this size had happened and I was proud to be a part of it (I was working in public relations for the Heartland Division of the American Cancer Society at the time). It was incredible to see something like 7,000 American Cancer Society volunteers and staffers – at least one person from every state and Congressional district – walking around a makeshift track on Capitol Hill and to see thousands of luminaries around the reflection pool.

Since my brother Roy lived nearby in Virginia, I asked him and his family to come up and meet me in D.C. after the event. His daughters were both in their teens at the time and they came up to go to the National Zoo with me on a Friday because they had some commitments over the weekend. My brother was working on Friday, so he came up Saturday afternoon to hang out with me for the night.

We had THE best time ever. It’s one of those times in my life when I know fate had something to do with making that day happen.

To explain why this was unusual, you have to understand that I never felt particularly close to my brothers: Roy was 14 years older than me, Doug 12 and J.L 7. I have a lot of great family memories as a little kid but they were all so much older that as I got older there was always some distance. In a way, it felt like I grew up an only child because my parents were in a totally different place (they had divorced and both remarried) while I was being raised than they were when the boys were being raised.

Of my brothers, Roy is the one I talked to the most. At one point, we talked by phone almost every Friday night (something that had stopped in the months leading up to his suicide that I hadn’t taken the time to notice).

This was the first time Roy and I had hung out on our own as adults (I had just turned 32, he had just turned 46). Always before, there had been family around.

It was the only time I was drunk around him. Funny story about WHY I was drunk. {Yes, sometimes there is a reason.}

 

Here’s why I got drunk with Roy

I was a little nervous about hanging out with my brother all on my own. I could tell he was too. In fact, he had mentioned bringing someone he was dating along and I found out later that was because he wasn’t sure how it was going to be one-on-one with me.

I’m so glad he didn’t bring her. It turned out to be a gift to be able to have that time, even though it was less than 24 hours, with him all to myself.

Because I was nervous about how it was going to go, I looked for something we could do together instead of sit at a table in a restaurant staring at one another. I decided going to a comedy club would be a great option. The Improv was sold out and the only other listing I found for comedy near the Capitol Hill hotel where I was staying was Teddy’s House of Comedy. So we went there.

If I were to have a son, I think I’d name him Teddy. Not because my first three pet hamsters were named Teddy, Teddy 2 and Teddy 3 … but because of Teddy’s House of Comedy in Chinatown in Washington, D.C. {Of course it’s easy for me to say this cuz I’m not having a kid!}

Roy and I showed up early because we walked from the hotel and we weren’t sure how long it would take. So when we went in to be seated, there were only two or three other tables seated at the time. They took us up to the front, dead center and right next to the stage.

“Oh, I don’t know that I want to sit this close, I don’t want to get heckled,” I told the guy who was seating us.

“These are great seats, and all of our comedians are professionals. You’ll be fine,” he LIED.

The waitress came by and told us there was a two-drink minimum. I remember thinking I’d have one drink and then I’d get the other for Roy because I didn’t plan on having much to drink. I knew he had a drinking problem and I felt awkward drinking around him.

I ordered an amaretto sour and sipped it while we waited for the show to start. It was a good 40 minutes until the lights went down. When the spotlight came on for the first act, I noticed that we were so close to the stage that we were included in the spotlight.

Hmmm, I started to feel a little warm. I started to DRINK the amaretto sour instead of sip it.

I turned around for the first time since being seated so I could see how big the crowd was, and I saw that the place was packed. I also noticed we were two of maybe 10 white people in the sold-out crowd.

And then it started.

From the first comedian’s intro – when he thanked us for being the token white people in attendance – we were part of his act. He teased us about race, about looking like country folk, about whether we were dating and so on and so on.

Ummm, I went ahead and ordered that second drink … for myself. There could have been a six-drink minimum and I would’ve had no problem fulfilling that.

I needed liquid courage to sit there because all three comedians that night included us in their act. Hell, I think the emcee might have thrown in a joke or two about us, too!

 

One of my favorite photos with my big brother Roy. Taken around 1980 at Cosmo Park in Columbia, Mo.

Making fun of us, in the nicest way possible

We weren’t just heckled here or there, we were part of the show. It didn’t help that every time a comedian would ask a general question like “how many of you like to get high every now and then?” Roy would raise his hand or whoop it up. I elbowed him at least three times trying to get him to shut.the.fuck.up! That only encouraged him.

Here’s how much we were a part of the act: we were at the early show and there was a late show coming in after us, so the audience was asked to exit out the back door while the next audience came in the front. When Roy & I came out of the building, the large group spilling out started waving at us and shouted, “Bye Roy & Melinda!” The audience knew our freakin’ names. I think we even posed for some photos.

While it’s uncomfortable being joke material for professional comedians, I will say they were all very nice about it. Well…as nice as one can be when they are asking if you’re sleeping with your brother!

We had such a good time that Roy asked the manager if they recorded their shows. Unfortunately they did not. I wish they did because I’d love to be able to watch it and I know our family would have enjoyed it, too. I don’t remember any of the specific jokes anymore :( Too bad we didn’t have smartphones back then. No doubt I would have had an iPhone full of photos and video from that night.

NOTE: Today I Googled Teddy’s House of Comedy to see if it’s still around and found a profile describing it: “an African American comedy club owned by former HBO and BET personality Teddy Carpenter.”

 

The rest of the night

We were having a great time and it was still fairly early, so we stopped at a bar near our hotel. We had a drink and talked. Really talked.

We talked about how we’d both been nervous to hang out together alone but were glad we were doing it. We repeated old family stories that we loved to remember, I asked him questions I’d been afraid to ask him, I talked to him about my worries about his drinking habits. Yes, ironic that I was talking to him about that while drinking with him.

When we got to the hotel that night, I learned that even in our nation’s capital you can’t get pizza delivered at 2:30 a.m. Wtf.

The next day, we had lunch before he took me to the airport for my flight home to Wichita.

That was the last time I saw my brother.

 

Why he died on my anniversary

The bench is in honor of my mom, the tree behind it was planted in Roy’s honor. Stephens Lake Park, Columbia, Mo.

Sometime later that fall Roy got a DUI. He was a repeat offender. How many, I don’t know for sure but I know it was enough that he’d lost his license for several years at one point. He didn’t tell many people about this most recent arrest – including me. I found out later that he had been meeting with a lawyer who told him it would be impossible to avoid jail time this time around.

He was scheduled to go to court on Jan. 15, 2003. It was a Wednesday. He didn’t go to work; he didn’t go to court either. He shot himself in his garage.

I was in Ft. Lauderdale on an anniversary trip with Lee and some friends when I got the call that night from my Aunt Linda in Columbia. I couldn’t get to Columbia fast enough. I wanted to be with my mom because I knew it would be almost unbearable for her. It affected family members – and me – in ways I could never imagine.

I still have people say they can’t believe he did it on my anniversary. I’m certain he had no idea it was my anniversary; while I know the month he got married, I don’t know the date of his anniversary. It just happened to be his court date.

I miss Roy so much but I’ve gotten pretty good at thinking about our night at Teddy’s House of Comedy to make me smile when I think of him. That helps with not letting losing my brother overshadow a day when I should be celebrating surviving another year of marriage.

This entry was posted in Family.

13 Comments

  1. Holly January 14, 2013 at 10:11 pm #

    Thank you so much for sharing this story about you and Roy. I know it will always be an emotional time for you so it’s wonderful you can remember the best times with him.

    Also, Happy Anniversary to you and Lee!

    • Melinda January 15, 2013 at 2:11 am #

      Thanks for reading and commenting :)
      And thanks for the well wishes. It’s just another year in paradise!

  2. Stephanie January 14, 2013 at 10:23 pm #

    Note to self: Find Teddy’s when in DC! LOL And make sure I sit IN THE BACK!

    I know it’s been many years since that has happened but I’m sure the subject is still painful to write about, maybe this helped a little bit. Thank you for sharing something that is so sacred to your heart and soul.

    • Melinda January 15, 2013 at 2:10 am #

      Thanks for the comments, Steph! It was good to write it and share it with you all.

      And you and DJ would have a great time at Teddy’s!

  3. Mel. January 14, 2013 at 11:39 pm #

    Thanks for making me laugh……and cry! MEOW!

    • Melinda January 15, 2013 at 2:07 am #

      Thanks for reading, Melissa!

  4. Cindy (cousin) January 14, 2013 at 11:55 pm #

    Hi Melinda, Thanks so much for sharing this story about you and Roy. As a kid I had some really good memories with him, I was right inbetween his and Dougs age. At one point in creative writting class I had written a story with him in it about a summer we had spent in Columbia (if I find it ever I will share it with you) he was alway fun, doug was always getting into some sort of trouble LOL …..I wish we had kept in contact somehow :( well, I wish you a very happy day tomorrow – thanks!!

    • Melinda January 15, 2013 at 2:06 am #

      I would LOVE to read that story if you find it! You pretty much pegged Roy and Doug’s personalities!

      I’m glad you and I have reconnected and stayed in touch.

  5. Cindy January 15, 2013 at 12:44 am #

    Melinda, You are just great. That pretty much sums it up.

    • Melinda January 15, 2013 at 2:05 am #

      Thanks, Cindy! Glad you’re reading the blog :)

  6. Elyse January 15, 2013 at 2:21 pm #

    <3

  7. Sushi September 7, 2014 at 11:23 pm #

    I never knew this story.. Come to think of it, as good a friend as I consider you to be, I don’t know much of your story :( I think we were all too young back then to even consider sharing much of our stories. Then I left. Thank you for sharing this, Taco. Wish I could’ve been there for you ❤️

    • Melinda September 8, 2014 at 9:05 am #

      Thanks for the note, Sush. This happened a few years after you came for the surprise visit when we got married. I probably didn’t reach out to you and tell you what was going on so there’s no way you could have known.

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