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Jamel Johnson is the funniest stand up in D.C. and 2x Bentzen Ball alum. He does not have a cell phone plan. See him this Friday at The Wonderland Ballroom for the Romane and Lettuce Birthday Show. -ed.

So this is the time I got booed off-stage. My brother Jajuan hits me up like, “I got a friend at Virginia State University putting on a show. I threw them your name.”

I’m like bet. I got super pumped to do it with no information on the program whatsoever. Hit the girl up trying to figure out the particulars all I found out was when and where. No clue who else is on the show or how much time I’m doing. Which is partially my fault I don’t do a great job of managing myself and kind of just let things happen. I didn’t even ask if I was supposed to get paid.

I’m scrambling to find a ride to Petersburg and nobody’s down. Then I remember I got a nice connect at the train station. I sneak on a train straight up stowaway style. I’m headed down there feeling good then realize the stop is nowhere near campus. I should mention that I don’t have a real cell phone. No voice service. All I can do is send text via Wi-Fi. Usually not a big deal when I take the train. Union Station has Wi-Fi, but this was fucking Petersburg. I get off the train. It’s the middle of damn nowhere. The terminal was one building the size of a post office. With nobody inside. It was like 5 in the afternoon, the sun was out. They had a pay phone. It didn’t work. There’s a couple sketchy looking businesses around. Also empty. I see a restaurant and I’m like, “Maybe they eat food out here.”

Start walking towards the restaurant and miraculously pick up Internet on the way. Text my contact. She comes to get me. I’m feeling good again.

Get to the theater. There’s a couple familiar faces so I’m relieved. Then I finally ask the girl what’s the deal with this show. And she drops the bomb on me. “Oh this isn’t a show, it’s a contest, you get 4 minutes, NO Explicit content. No drugs, no cursing, especially not the N-word.”

I am now fully uncomfortable. I wasn’t prepared for any of that so I start panicking, but only in my brain. Outside I looked pretty normal. I had been doing stand-up about 3 years at this point so naturally I felt I was the shit. I don’t know if this is a common thing, but when I’m uncomfortable in a situation I pump myself up way too much to the point where the confidence becomes full on arrogance like, “Man don’t even worry about it, you’re going to be great. Matter of fact you’re going to be so good you’re going to make your material especially offensive to whatever the demographic of the room is and they are going to eat that shit up. You are the comedy Moses and you’re going to lead these fools to The Fucking Promised Land.”

I come out and I’m like, “You know why I love VSU? Because there’s thugged out looking dudes that will jump you at a party, but they only drink fruit flavored vodka.”

Keep in mind VSU is an HBCU. The line got a few chuckles. In my head I expected it to crush. When it didn’t I froze for a second. The chuckles turned to boos. I react like, “Whoa, I didn’t even tell a joke yet, chill.” Then I hear someone go “Go ahead baby, do your jokes,” then some people clap and I react to that like, “Oh, you guys think this is my first time?” And laugh. Crowd starts to boo again. I try to chorale them and it worked for the most part but I know I have to turn them around fast. I tell a joke about how high school sucks. It backfires. Now the whole packed theater is booing me. Then I called a punt. I was like, “Alright, well I’m done,” and just did the Roger Rabbit until I was out of site.

I blame myself for coming out half-assed but what hurt the most is I had to watch a dude kill after me with the most basic, hack, 90s, ComicView sounding women-be-wanting-commitment ass set.


Then I realize I have no way back home. I was just going to win this shit and get an honorary dorm room to chill in. Luckily my boy Corey Marshall was there (he ended up winning it). He also lives in Richmond proper which is where I was trying to get. I told my friends I was coming and needed to crash. They told me hit them up but I didn’t have a place confirmed for real. Get to Richmond. Nobody’s returning my text. I had one final Hail Mary. Brandon Wardell was in-between LA and VCU at the time. I knew his room was empty. I hit him up get him to clear it with his roommate. Thankfully it worked out. Homie had an air mattress which is always dicey as an overweight man, but I took a chance. Of course I wake up the next morning on the floor. I had to tell Brandon I fucked up his mattress but first I had to get a train home.

I didn’t consider that it’d be harder to sneak on to a train back to D.C. without an employee confidant to sweeten the deal. I had to wait around for like 3 hours but at least Richmond had a terminal with people in it. Got a hold of my people and they’re like, “Shit I don’t know what I can do from here, your best bet is trying to talk to the same conductor from yesterday.”

I did. And homie was pissed, but think he could see how bad I bombed in my eyes, felt bad for me, and let me on. I felt like one of the damn Boxcar Children.