It’s Okay — I’m On the List

This scene is in so many movies and TV shows. People arrive at a hot party or an exclusive club. Don’t worry, one tells the other, I got this. We’re on the list. On the list, like those were the magic words, the abracadabra or open sesame of nightlife exclusivity.

They pull up to the bouncer — a scary looking man usually, larger than them, but also who is this guy? Why is this his job? He was probably kicked out of his hardcore biker gang otherwise he wouldn’t do this, so really how scary is he? But I digress — they approach the bouncer. They say the password: we’re on the list.

The bouncer checks the list. “I don’t see anything here.”

“We know the owner,” one of them might say. Or the performer or the most famous person who is already on the guest list. Whoever they are, they know them. Or one of them does.

“No way,” the bouncer insists.

And then somehow, as if by magic, the person appears.

“It’s okay, they’re with me,” they’ll say. Or: “they’re good.” Or some variation of that. Then all is forgiven. The minor discomfort with the bouncer melts away as the people enter the party and feel the fate of the night before them.

Oh, the sweet, cool privilege of saying “I’m on the list.” Anything and everything feels possible when you’re on the list. The party is sweeter, the drinks stronger, and the flirts hotter. You feel hotter when you are on the list.

Let me tell you from experience that the privilege of being on the list is such a powerful feeling. It feels like you are wielding the biggest sword among such little peasants in a village.

My very sweet boyfriend works as a VJ (and a super good one, too, so talk to him if you want visuals — oh, and don’t ask me what a VJ is, just google it and know that I let him inside of mine). He works at clubs and events, so he has given me this privileged experience a few times. I get to walk straight up to the door and say “I’m on the list” and, reader, I am. It feels amazingly cool to brush my hair off my shoulders and walk right in, sometimes with extra privileges like free drinks and hanging out in the DJ booth while mi novio works. I look like the coolest girl at the club and I don’t have to pay a dime. Fuck your bottle service. I was on the list!

Once my friends and I even went to the high-end club he was working at during a blizzard. It was a very spontaneous decision, so we arrived in turtlenecks and snowboots while the other women in line still wore heels and minidresses. We clomped right up to the front and were admitted, no questions asked, while others were screened. We were looking like a couple of Yukon Corneliuses about to turn UP in the club while everyone else was dressed to pretend it wasn’t wintering in Chicago.

I love this new privilege of being on the list. I even got to be “on the list” at Riot Fest this last year and ducked into the press tent that I was allowed entry in to treat me and my cousin to free beers before we saw Bikini Kill. Ah, one could get used to this!

But there was a time when I was not on the list. I’ll never forget it. I once had the exact nightmare scenario I detailed above.

Let’s go back in time to my infamous days living in New York City before I became broke and miserable and had to move back home to figure myself out. But that’s another story (another story or everyone’s Farewell To All That story? You decide).

My dear friend Matt and I were living it up in Brooklyn by having (yes, of course) a rehearsal for a sketch show we were trying to put on. I no longer remember the details of the sketch show, but I remember it was very fun and filled with talented people whose names I no longer know. Anyway! Matt went to college with an amazing woman named Amber who worked on a television show. This was 2015 in New York City, people, and let me tell you this was a popular show!

Side note — remember 2015? What a simple time. It was the last year before hell arrived on Earth in the form of a racist reality-show president and Jennifer Lawrence was still a revered ‘cool girl’. Ah, those were the days.

Anyway, back to our regularly scheduled television show party. They had wrapped season two and were going to have a party to celebrate. She asked Matt if the two of us wanted to go to the party. Um, want to go? Yeah, doy, but how? I can’t imagine this would be as chill as someone’s birthday at a bar.

Amber told Matt we’d be “on the list”. Ooolala! On the list?! This would be my very first time being “on the list” (cast lists excluded, of course. Shout out to my high school teachers for posting the most dramatic cast lists in history that caused jealous classmates to hate blog about me on Livejournal after I was cast as Maria in West Side Story over them). I was so excited and I had no real time to go home between work and rehearsal to change. I was not dressed to impress, but maybe that would be okay. Maybe that would make me somehow cooler? Oh, look at that strange normal girl! How quaint she seems! She doesn’t care about impressing anyone here! She must be a rockstar’s daughter!

(I obviously knew that no one would ever think I was a famous person’s child based on the fact that I tower barely over 5 feet tall and famous people produce off-spring of 5’7” and above and that’s simply a biological law!)

I imagined all the scenarios in which we schmoozed with celebrities. Maybe we’d become stars?!?! IDK! Anything could happen! We were ON THE LIST and that had certain privileges and connotations that I could only assume would launch me and my dear friend into stardom.

That’s a lot of pressure to put on a party, I know, but up until then, my only party experiences were house parties in Chicago filled with improvisers where maybe someone made Jell-O shots. And, honey, those parties did not include a LIST.

We didn’t tell anyone at rehearsal where we were headed or why we needed to end a few minutes early. As soon as we were finished, Matt and I darted outside for an Uber. No time for small talk, people! The stars await!

As we made our way to the warehouse in Red Hook (or DUMBO? Honestly, it’s hard to say as all warehouse events in Brooklyn take place in the same cinematic universe), Matt turned to me in the car and said, “wouldn’t it be so funny if we weren’t on the list?”

Funny? Yes. The horrible truth? Of course or I wouldn’t be telling this story.

We approached a cool bouncer who, in my memory, was wearing sunglasses at 10pm. He probably wasn’t, but memory is funny like that. Did you know that you remember the last time you remembered an event? I heard that once on a loosely researched podcast about murder, so it’s probably VERY TRUE.

“We’re on the list,” Matt informed him.

“No, you’re not,” we were told. Okay was he gaslighting us or…?

As he was telling us this, Carrie Brownstein and St. Vincent exit the venue together. I repeat CARRIE BROWNSTEIN AND ST. VINCENT EXIT THE BUILDING AS THE TWO OF US GET TURNED AWAY AT THE DOOR. Dear sweet Satan, why? Why must the two most AMAZING rockstars to grace my ears witness my personal embarrassment? Remember, this was 2015!!! A big year for both of those musicians and there they were witnessing our rejection. We tried negotiating, insisting that we were on the list, as Carrie glanced in our direction. She’s probably seen this very scene a million times. It felt like they were the queens looking at the plight of the village peasants. Poor things.

“But we know Amber,” Matt told him. What more did this guy need? We know Amber, bruh! Let us in.

“Amber?” The bouncer sneered. “She’s running this whole event.”

We nod like little cartoon rabbis. Uh-huh! That’s her! We know her!

Right then — just like in the movies — Amber showed up behind the bouncer looking like a fresh, smiling star. She waved gracefully, in that gorgeous way a hostess/comedy producer/boss bitch does.

“Guys! You made it!” she said. Then she turned to the bouncer and said, “It’s okay. They’re with me.”

He stepped aside and let us through. No apologies or nothing. How rude.

This moment felt SO much like the movies that I could hardly believe it happened, but I could also hardly give a damn. We made it. We got in! The list? It worked!

Once inside, we did not know what to do with ourselves. Amber was busy making sure everything was running smoothly. That left us to fend for ourselves in a room filled with several celebrities of varying degrees of coolness and fame. Before she left us, we commented on all the famous people there and Amber said, “Don’t be nervous. Everyone will just think you’re both writers.”

Finally, people will recognize us as writers?! This was a weird dream for two actual aspiring comedy writers. We got to cosplay as our real aspirations in a room full of people in the industry like the world’s weirdest Comic-Con.

With the confidence of TV writers (read: none), we ventured to the snack table. Or I did. Matt was nervous to touch the snacks, but I went right for the hummus and pita chips. Damn, those snacks were fire. I turned to Matt with a piece of salami hanging from my mouth and told him how amazing these tasted. Who did this catering? Exquisite! Only in New York, right, buddy?!

He looked at me nervously which I did not understand. We love snacks. We made a tradition of getting ice cream and watching SNL together. What was the deal?

Speaking of SNL, it was about that time that an SNL cast member walked up to the snack table to eat.

With a real TV actor’s approval, Matt had the go-ahead he needed to dive into the snacks. He told me he just wanted to make sure the famous people were eating before he ate. I didn’t really care about that. I figured no one here would remember me. I wasn’t wearing anything glamorous. I didn’t have that clear skin glow that people with money have. You know that kind that looks like they rub their face in a form of illegal-baby-placenta the rest of us don’t have access to? I was 26 and had only just learned how to moisturize, so I may as well be a shadow at this party.

Matt and I then lined up for the photo booth where I was delighted and surprised to find that we were behind Alia Shawkat. THE Alia Shawkat! I’m dropping her name because I’m sure she doesn’t mind or remember me, so excuse this name drop. She was with a friend and the two of them were joking about what to do in the photo booth.

“Oh, yeah, you gotta plan it,” I shockingly said. Who was I to interrupt? I guess I was suddenly emboldened with famous-people’s-snack-table confidence.

“Right?!” she laughed. She smiled and laughed in my direction like we were at all on the same level.

Then — and I still can’t believe this — she and I joked for a solid minute about what poses we’d do in the booth. It was about a minute, but it felt like the length of a gorgeous episode of Arrested Development. We joked about the do’s and don’ts of photobooth etiquette and then it was her turn. She excitedly said “wish me luck!” and went in with her friend.

I turned to mine and said, “Oh my GOD! I can’t believe that just happened.”

“Is she a friend of yours?” Matt asked. Sincerely.

“What?”

“Is she your friend?”

“That’s Alia Shawkat,” I said. He stared at me. “Maybe. From Arrested Development.”

“Oh, I’ve never seen it. You guys were getting along, so I thought you were friends.”

First of all, very cool. This TV writer disguise was working. Secondly, how could we passably pretend to be TV writers or comedians at all if Matt had never even seen one of the most pivotal comedy shows of the early 2000s? It was something I’d definitely chastise him for later, but it was photo booth time.

We took our photos and joined the dance floor for a while. It was a mix of star’s of the show and randoms like us who, because of what Amber said, I assumed were writers. After I nervously danced with the coolest people in the room and their writing staff, people started clearing out and I wasn’t sure what to do with myself. Like literally what do I do with my hands? Where do I stand? The snacks were cleared, so now what? I knew I could just keep dancing with the stars of the show, but there was that weird part of me that felt like I should be networking. I didn’t yet know that that WAS networking. Networking in comedy is basically just going out and having fun. Oh well.

I had a weird feeling like I had already crashed this party and shouldn’t overstay my welcome. Plus my bed was so comfortable and I felt like it was telekinetically calling to me. More than anything, I didn’t want to be found out as a fraud at the party. I was barely even on the list after all! So Matt and I left, reveling in the weird taste of comedy fame we had for a night and hoping it all wasn’t a dream.

That’s the thing. All parties end the same. Whether you’re on the list or not, you leave feeling like it was vaguely all a dream before heading to your bed to have one of your own.

Stephanie is a writer and comedian whose work has been featured on Reductress, Slate, The Weekly Humorist, The AV Club, Mental Floss, Atlas Obscura and more.

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