If you’re a fan of the show Louie, you’ve seen the Comedy Cellar before. It’s the club that Louis C.K. walks into at the beginning of every episode. One night last October, I almost lit it on fire with an electronic cigarette.
I’m just a guy who writes listicles about beating off to Avril Lavigne, but my fiancée is a published author and a journalist. Last fall she was working on a story about sober comedians for which Jim Norton agreed to be interviewed.
Kyria and I sat in the restaurant above the Comedy Cellar, the Olive Tree Café, waiting for Jim Norton to text her. As we sat at the bar sipping Diet Cokes, I decided I would leave before Jim showed up. I’m a big fan and was worried that my enthusiasm might cramp his style and ruin the quality of the interview. When we got word that Jim would be back to take questions from Kyria after doing a short set downstairs, I left the restaurant to kill some time.
Meanwhile, in the sling bag on my back, an e-cig that was being charged with a portable battery pack was getting dangerously hot.
A few minutes later as I walked down 6th Avenue I heard a loud pop. It feels silly thinking about it now, but the first thought I had was that I’d been shot. I ran my hands up and down my torso checking for bullets, as if a blogger with a penchant for dick jokes would ever be the target of a drive-by shooting.
Something that looked like a molten-hot charcoal briquette dropped to the ground. A flame shot out of the bag on my back. People dining at the sidewalk café I was standing in front of must have noticed, because their shouts alerted me to the fact that I was about to become a burn victim. Throwing the bag down, I frantically stomped out both the fire and the molten battery that had melted through the bag and rolled onto a patch of grass.
It was a close call. A waiter from the café ran over to me and I naively expected him to express some concern for my safety. The only thing he cared about was getting me and my smelly, burnt-up bag away from his customers. He shooed me away and I obliged him without a complaint. I was just happy that a cop didn’t see me flailing around on fire and shoot me to death thinking I was some new kind of sling-bag terrorist.
I didn’t fully realize what had occurred until I was sitting on a park bench a few minutes later, cleaning my hands off with a bottle of water and going through the bag’s charred contents. I had an e-cig plugged into a USB charger, which was plugged into a portable battery pack. The charger, which was not the one that came with that particular e-cig, was the wrong voltage. So it overheated and became a molten-hot coal in my bag. I’m really lucky that I didn’t get burns on my back.
Maybe I just read too many comic books with time travel and branching timelines, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve run through the alternate exploding-battery scenario in my head. What if, instead of opting to take a walk during the interview, I decided to sit and have a burger in the restaurant above the Comedy Cellar?
It’s entirely possible that I might have caused a fire and burned the whole place to the ground. That would have been the last time anyone saw Louis C.K. doing stand-up with the iconic brick wall behind him. I would forever be known as the asshole who burned down the Comedy Cellar with his e-cig.
If there’s any worthwhile takeaway from what happened that night in Greenwich Village, it’s this: Be wary of leaving things charging with battery packs in your bag. And never, ever charge your e-cig with the wrong charger. You might destroy a New York City landmark and blow up one of your favorite stand-up comedians in the process.