My Creative Life

Jokes, Jury Duty, and Joyrides: How One Busy NYC Comedian Spent a Week

Wherein Nikki Palumbo comes to terms with the idea that maybe laughter isn’t the best medicine for the flu.

Photo by Hanna Benavides

My Creative Life is a series of diaries that lifts the curtain on the lives of performers, writers, and artists in New York. Here, the very busy week of comedian Nikki Palumbo as she holds down her day job, works on her material, shuttles between gigs, struggles with cat hair, cleans her apartment, and fights off the flu. 

Monday, November 5, 1:25 a.m.: I’m starting this journal entry when I should be ending my day. But I can’t because I’m wired. I’m just getting home from a tech rehearsal for a sketch show I have tomorrow (really today). This one means a lot to me: It’s my last show with my Maude (read: house) team at Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre. I’ve written sketch comedy with three house sketch teams in 3.5 years and I decided I was ready to step away. Regretting it? Not yet. But I do really love these guys. We’re called Archnemesis, but that was really more of an SEO decision than it was a characterization of anyone’s personality.

Monday, 8:42 a.m.: I’m on the train heading to jury duty. Amazing timing, considering how many other things I’ve got going on this week. When it rains, it pours. Speaking of weather—left the house without an umbrella. But what I did remember was my jacket, though I forgot to lint-roll when I left. I just looked down and I’m covered in cat hair. Maybe someone at the courthouse has a severe allergy and I’ll be excused early as a health risk. If not, at least I got a tweet out of it:

Tuesday, 1:45 p.m.: Working from home today (I write on the personality team for the Google Assistant which, essentially, means I write jokes for a robot.) On my way to the gym, and I think I’ve cracked a tweet.

Wednesday, November 7, 11:04 a.m.: It’s already been a wild day/week and there are no signs of slowing down. I have a show tonight at Caveat that I cowrote and am cohosting—called Dyke Power(point)—and I’m pretty sure we’re good to go, but you never know. It’s the first time we’re doing it in this space and it’s heavily reliant on PowerPoint, so if we miss a joke, it’ll just look…sloppy. (Versus missing a graph when you’re using PowerPoint for real in, say, a Q3 sales meeting and then you just look…fired.) Do other people actually enjoy doing comedy all the time? I love it when I’m onstage, but my type A personality ruins it for me literally every other time.

Wednesday, 7:32 p.m.: I meet up with Gwynna (my cohost) at a coffee shop near the theater and we run the script twice. It’s feeling good and ready. Now we just need an audience to show up. What’s frustrating about this show date is that it’s during the New York Comedy Festival and we’re not a sanctioned festival show. Plus, we’re actually counterprogrammed against our own show. We write an all-LGBTQ+ sketch show at UCB, and it’s taking place at the exact same time as Dyke Power(point). To reiterate: When it rains, it pours, ya know? Still no umbrella.

Wednesday, 11:37 p.m.: That went pretty well! It was a lighter crowd than we would have hoped for for our first show in a new theater, but it also could have been way, way worse. Ah, the delicate balance of expectations and reality. At the end of the day—literally, the end of this day—I’m happy with it. We put up a fun show and people saw it. That’s basically the name of the game.

Ah, New York City apartments: always just a little bit illegal.

Thursday, November 8, 8:02 a.m.: The extra-fun part about working full-time and then doing comedy as a second full-time job is that, sometimes, even your home life likes to get in on the “complete disarray” action. Apparently today’s the day for an electrician to basically turn off our heat and pump insulation into our walls because they didn’t do that when the apartment was renovated. Ah, New York City apartments: always just a little bit illegal.

 

Thursday, 9:15 p.m.: I always know I’m exhausted when it takes my brain forever to write a joke. I’ve been home for two hours trying to put together a set for my show tomorrow at Joyride, a sex-positive comedy show at the Pleasure Chest, and all I’ve managed to write is a tweet that’s probably only funny to me.

Friday, November 9, 2:14 p.m.: Having a very productive day at work. Still on the comedy to-do list: reorganize my set for tonight. One of my hacks to “doing it all” is to have a Google Keep doc open on my work computer so that when I think of a setup or half of a punch line, I can just jot it down and flesh it out later. I can’t tell you how many jokes I’ve lost in the middle of a meeting or, worse, in the middle of the night, because I’m so sure it’s too good to forget. You can forget anything if you really put your mind to it. So I’m bouncing back and forth between my set list and work email. Can’t wait to accidentally read a confidential memo as my closing joke tonight.

Friday, 7:56 p.m.: I’ve got an hour to get to my Joyride show on the Upper East Side from where I live on the Upper-Upper-Upper West Side. OK, fine, Washington Heights. It’s raining so…there’s a pretty sweet chance I’m gonna be a little late. (I finally have an umbrella, though.) Insult to injury: I asked to be put up early in the lineup because I have a second show tonight. Nothing like biting the hand that accommodates you. I’ve got my set locked and loaded on my phone so at least I can spend my commute going over my jokes and making the inevitable last-minute tweaks because nothing’s ever good enough/finished.

Friday, 11:20 p.m.: First show went great! One of my favorite reactions is getting a universal “Awww” when I talk about how frequently I’m misgendered and get called “sir.” Followed by the punch line that I don’t mind it, I just know I don’t deserve that level of respect. (I’m a “Yo, buddy,” at best.) Did my 10 minutes and tried to hang around for at least the second comic before I booked it down to the Lower East Side. My girlfriend and I are one of the competing couples on a comedy dating show called Let Me Break You Up. In my brain, I’ve been calling this the Battle of the Same-Sexes because we know the two women we’re up against. And they’re married. This week has crushed me, so I’m grateful this show just needs me to be myself and answer these questions honestly. No heavy joke lifting required.

Saturday, 1:15 a.m.: We didn’t have to break up! So I guess you could say we won. It was superfun and we didn’t say anything too embarrassing. Also, one of our first questions was when was your last fight and we had just talked about this earlier in the night. “Remember that time we were starving in Paris and you kept pointing out things on menus that sounded good to you but that you couldn’t eat…”

It feels insanely irresponsible to try to power through this and potentially give what feels like the flu to a bunch of infants. No matter what they say, laughter isn’t the best medicine for that.

Saturday, 12:34 p.m.: OK, anyone get the number of the bus that hit me? It’s insane how much my body hurts. I have a show at QED in Astoria at 3 p.m. and…there’s no way I’m in performance shape. Plus, it’s a show that my friend Caity Brodnick hosts called Baby & Me, specifically for parents and their young children. It feels insanely irresponsible to try to power through this and potentially give what feels like the flu to a bunch of infants. No matter what they say, laughter isn’t the best medicine for that. I text her, apologizing profusely for having to bail. Luckily, she gets it—because her son Lou is also sick. I make a joke about it being Flou season. She politely ha-has it. And then I immediately pass back out, probably as punishment.

Sunday, 3:40 p.m.: It’s been a lazy day of cleaning the apartment with my girlfriend. My hands have been dusting while my brain’s trying to come up with ideas for a sketch show pitch meeting in three hours. The premise of the show, called The Spotlight, is that we’re catering to the strengths of the show’s star for the month. We’re doing dishes when I remember an old idea I’ve never used—a Disney-esque princess singing about her Prince Charming who’s also kinda mean. I’m pretty sure the actress has a decent singing voice, so this should be a lot of fun, if I manage to nail all the jokes. Whatever, I’ll pitch it at least!

And that’s the mantra that’ll get me through another week of comedy: “I’m sure someone else will think this is funny.” And if not, then it’s going to be a long week of writing, meetings, and shows. Oh my.

Comedy isn’t Palumbo’s only obsession!