Dwight Howard: In Another Life

"In Another Life" is a series in which I imagine NBA players in an alternate universe. Previous editions included DeMarcus Cousins as HR manager, and Ricky Rubio as a teenager working in a new country at a fast food restaurant. Today, it’s Dwight Howard as a stand-up comedian on the road. Illustration, as always, from Mike McGrath Jr., check out his portfolio here

Hitting the snooze button at three in the afternoon is weird. But for several years now, that’s been routine for Dwight Howard. He rolls out of bed to check his phone, just in case the club manager left a message while he was sleeping; because the last thing he remembers before he stumbled home was being told that there might be a spot at midnight at the comedy club tonight.

In just the last three weeks, he’s travelled from Portland, to Texas, to Washington, and after two mediocre sets on Thursday and Friday at the Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut; he decided to extend his hotel reservation through the weekend to try out some new material at the local clubs.

It was almost three years ago when he packed up his belonging in his one bedroom apartment in Los Angeles, bid farewell to his girlfriend of two years, and went again his parents’ wishes and took his comedy act on the road.

In high school, everyone knew Dwight as a prankster. At seven feet, he was larger than life in both size and personality. The thing he liked to do was put love notes in people’s lockers. Many people thought they had an admirer until you saw Dwight laughing at you from the back of the class. He was always up to no good in the school cafeteria. You thought you knew all the fart jokes, until you talked to Dwight.

His humor was par for the course for someone his age. But when high school ended, and his social sciences degree in university interested him very little, he decided to take his craft more seriously.

The first time he sat down to write a joke on paper, his mind was blank. He had realized the difference between making a bunch of high school kids laugh, and the real thing. Finally, after two months and countless hours just starting at the computer, typing something, than pressing backspace to delete it, then attempting to rewrite it, then sleeping it off and coming up with jokes as he sat in class,  he had enough written material, and worked up enough confidence to go on stage for ten minutes at a comedy club far from his campus. Howard didn’t want his friends or schoolmates to see him in case he bombed, and he did.

Even the best jokes, which he thought he had, require a good delivery; for someone that stood seven feet, he was tiny when it came to stage presence. He went home distraught, but also realized this was the challenge he wanted to embrace. This was his career.

He spent hours writing, and when he wasn’t, he studied his favorite comedians. All the great ones: Eddie Murphy, George Carlin, Chris Rock to name a few. He became more observant of his surroundings. Sometimes two or three jokes ideas would come to his mind as he was waiting for coffee in the morning. He had this fifteen minute extended bit on the word barista that worked well enough that he write it down into a cue card and started filing his jokes by category.

When he graduated, and told his parents he wanted to be a comedian, they were taken aback. But they knew that it was hard to deny their son what he desired. Howard tried the local circuit in Los Angeles for two years, but decided he needed to get on the road, and start diversifying both his style, and working that style with different crowds.

He’s about to record his third comedy album in two years, all distributed through an independent label run by a friend he knew in high school. After shows, he’ll get the occasional compliment, but he is still the guy who checks his phone at three in the afternoon hoping that there’s a spot at midnight for him.

There’s still something that irks him in the way he delivers his jokes. Everything feels too borrowed, too inspired by something else, as much as he’s looking to become a better comedian, he’s also chasing an authenticity to his work.

His big break might come, it might not. Life on the road is tiring, it’s lonesome, and your next gig dictates how much money you have to spend for the next two weeks.

It’s three thirty in the afternoon. He’s still in bed, thinking about a new joke about dogs and the afterlife. He’ll wake up and jot something down on the hotel notepad that he’ll forget later on. For now, most important thing is finding a diner that serves all-day breakfast.

In a few hours, he’ll head to a club, maybe he’ll just be a spectator, maybe he’ll get fifteen minutes to work on this new material. He never thought it would come to this, but for Dwight Howard, being funny is the hardest thing he’s ever tried to do, that in itself, makes him laugh sometimes.

Hey, if it doesn’t work, maybe he’ll try Houston. 

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