The Inconsequential Comic

All alone with a microphone

By Traci Loper

“Shine bright like a diamond,” I began in the dullest way imaginable.

“Shine bright like a diamond.” I looked around at the audience flatly. I hear a few chuckles.

“Shine bright like a diamond,” I sing blandly, followed by a long, deep sigh.

The crowd lost it. More or less. I committed to the most cynical version of Rhianna’s then-popular song to kick off my first ever stand-up comedy show at an off-off-off Sunset comedy club in Los Angeles. It was so “off” kids colored with Crayons there during the day. That may have been the only big laugh I got during my five minutes of rocking the mic that night, but honestly I can’t remember. It’s a pretty big blur, and not because it was five minutes of bliss. It was five minutes of dread, regret, embarrassment, effort, and carefully planned talking points with jokes mixed in that crashed and burned.

OK, fine . . . looking back, the topics I chose for my first night of stand-up weren’t that great, but they were mine.

I’ve been entertaining for as long as I can remember. From the moment I could string sentences together, my mom would usher me into the center of a room and I’d just ramble. People would laugh and laugh, I’m guessing mostly because I was a child, I wasn’t shy, and nothing I said made much sense. (So, what’s changed, you ask.)

It was mostly at family gatherings, but she would occasionally take me to work with her at the Hammond Nursing Home. It was there where I found my most captive audiences. Surprising, I know.

I’d chat with the elderly through my mom’s entire shift. I’d go room to room doling out hugs and humor. Maybe that was the first sign of my desire to entertain. I think it’s fair to say, I didn’t really know what I was doing or what they were laughing at — but I haven’t stopped since.

When I finally made the move to L.A. in my mid-20s to pursue an acting career, I naturally gravitated toward comedy. Perhaps that was a mistake. My friends didn’t help. They were constantly on me to do some funny voice, or character I had come up with.

And every time they asked, I delivered. “OMG, Trace, you should be on SNL.” I, of course, thought this was ridiculous. Making your friends laugh was easy, bringing laughter to the world, not so much.

As a kid, I loved SNL and was in awe of Steve Martin, Gilda Radner, Jane Curtin and so many more. If I could follow in their footsteps, sign me up.

And sign up I did . . . at the Groundlings — that famous improv school that has churned out many comedic celebrities, like Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig. I enrolled in regular acting classes for TV and film. I even joined a local sketch group that some of my theater friends started. I had a sharp wit, but now I had finally — and I suppose mistakenly — accepted that I was seriously funny. Look, if everyone around you is telling you the same thing, you eventually start to believe it. And confidence is never bad. Especially for an entertainer. Especially in Los Angeles.

The first rule of improv is to “Yes, and . . . ” everything. You have to agree to what your scene partner says, no matter what. If they say, “I see your pants are on fire,” then your pants are on fire and you better start jumping around like crazy. The moment you say “No,” the scene is over. The most important person in the scene is the person playing opposite you, not yourself.

But with stand-up, it’s just you. And your solitary goal is to make the audience laugh. That’s pressure of a different magnitude. Even though diamonds are formed under pressure, it takes a ton of polishing to make them shine. I’ve learned I sparkle best with spontaneity. I’ll leave stand-up to the pros.  PS

Traci Loper is an actor, writer and dreamer. After 20 years she ditched the Hollwood Hills for the Sandhill in search of less traffic, off-street parking and a slower pace of life.

Mom Inc.

You Gotta Move

Working out in the Age of Corona

By Renee Whitmore

I had to do something. Working from home meant a lot of sitting. The heat outside made jogging miserable. The endless recipes of chocolate chip cookies and banana nut muffins — perfected during QT (quarantine time) from an old cookbook — were turning me into a sloth diva.

YouTube to the rescue. I combed through home workouts, pulled on my too-tight leggings and classic running shoes and, armed to my triceps with 5-pound dumbbells, I planted myself in front of a laptop in the middle of the living room. Let’s do this.

As soon as her disturbingly enthusiastic voice — so high-pitched only Bailey, my 100-pound Rottweiler, could understand the vowels — blared through my speakers, I wondered what I had gotten myself into. I started the squats, the lunges, the running in place, the jumping this way and that, all in an effort to keep up with the 20-something brunette who just walked out of an Olympic fitness competition and into my house.

Gasping for air, I took a water break and told my YouTube mistress to go on without me — I would catch up in a minute. Bailey, excited from all the jumping, looked at me as if I had personally let him down in the most profound way. That’s when I saw my teenager, David, sticking his head out of his room. If he was trying not to laugh, he wasn’t trying very hard.

“Seriously? You think this is funny?”

“No, not at all,” his voice said, but his eyes were howling.

Sweat dripping down my forehead, I checked the AC to make sure it was still working, gulped some more water, and rejoined my YouTube fitness führer, who was now trying to make me do a minute-long plank that lasted a month and a half.

I took a few more “breaks,” popped some ibuprofen, slathered Icy Hot all over my shoulders, and didn’t move for the rest of the day.

The next morning, I reached out on Facebook. “Does anyone know of any workouts from home that won’t embarrass me in front of my kids and my dog?” I posted.

People mean well, they really do — I suppose. Some suggested fitness apps. That was a maybe. A few more mentioned YouTube videos. No thank you. Then I got a private message from one of my colleagues who teaches fitness classes. She was offering daily Zoom workouts — cardio mix, Pilates, yoga, and so on. Fitness in real-time with someone I knew. Yes, please.

I joined the workout at 4:30 p.m., but this time I set up in my bedroom and put a note on the door that said:

Workout in Session

Do Not Enter

(Dogs only)

Eight of us lined the screen in our little Zoom boxes. Bailey and I began the squats, the lunges, and all that other stuff. It wasn’t so bad because my colleague told us what we were doing and what was coming next, so there weren’t any surprise three-day planks. Our little Zoom squares all moved in unison.

As the weeks went by, I looked forward to my workouts and even moved myself back out to the living room. I’ve completed three months worth now, 4-5 days a week, balancing out my newest baking recipe: Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, chocolate chip brownies. The exercise sessions have been largely uninterrupted — except for that one day. It went like this:

Two minutes till Zoom.

Me: “I’m gonna do my Zoom workout. All of y’all leave me alone for 45 minutes. That’s all I ask.”

Five minutes in.

Kevin, the 11-year-old: “Mom, I have a question.”

Me (doing jumping jacks, breathing hard): “It can wait.”

Five minutes later.

Kevin: “So, am I or am I not starting back to school in the fall? And, I need a phone. All my friends have phones.”

Me (doing squats): “I’ll talk in 34 minutes.”

Less than four minutes pass.

Kevin: “There’s someone at the door. I think they may have the coronavirus.”

It was our beloved UPS delivery woman. Amazon trumps Zoom. And so does an open gym. PS

When Renee isn’t teaching English or being a professional taxi driver for her two boys, she’s working on her first book.


All’s Fair

A ride on the wild side

By Bill Fields

Anticipation is  — or at least, was, in simpler times — a big part of childhood. And there wasn’t much of anything to look forward to more than the Moore County Agricultural Fair.

It was an annual tradition to ride up Highway 15-501 toward Carthage, hang a right and pull into the field that served as the fair’s parking lot.

When I heard that the county fair was being canceled this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it struck me that, even in these much different times when entertainment is on demand instead of on-site, kids would be disappointed their families weren’t making the same trip mine did a long time ago.

This would have been the 74th Moore County Fair, it having been held each year since World War II ended.

I must have attended more than a dozen growing up. We weren’t a “state fair” family. We went to the amusement park at the beach, and took a special trip to Six Flags Over Georgia in the early 1970s — log flume! — but the county event was a staple.

For a small-town boy, the Tilt-A-Whirl was a big deal. For that matter, so was cotton candy, corn dogs, Sno-Cones and candy apples, which, to my memory, were the four main food groups in the years before any vendor had sold his first giant smoked turkey leg or microwaved some nachos.

With a warning from Mom to keep the vast sum of money in my pocket safe, I would be off for an adventure — choosing a rubber duck, riding the carousel and Ferris wheel, shooting at balloons, pitching nickels. I ate applesauce and drank juice from the “china” my nickels settled in.

Even though it wasn’t too far from home, the fair seemed exotic and full of things that didn’t populate our daily lives. These many years later, I still don’t know if it was a “Hoochie Coochie Show” or “Hootchy Kootchy Show” that lurked in the shadows away from the rides and games. Whatever belly dancing or other entertainment happened in the forbidden tent I never knew. But regardless of the spelling, they were five syllables to speak and ponder each fall.

A year ago, when I happened to be in town during the fair, I went for the first time in decades. Many things from childhood seem physically smaller than they used to. Things seemed more spread out, too, as if socially distanced before we knew what that term meant. The rides and games conjured memories, and so did the carnival workers who sold chances or clicked the safety bar down on your waist before the Ferris wheel spun into action. In the exhibition building, blue ribbons spoke of things cooked or sewn well.

I investigated all corners of the grounds for evidence of risqué entertainment, but saw no tent or heard any crowds. The fair seemed to have survived nicely into the 21st century, but the same couldn’t be said for the Hootchy Kootchy Show.

Riders shrieked while spinning through the air on the “Yo Yo.” A little girl carried a large stuffed bunny toward the exit. I did not observe anyone heading for their car with dishes or glasses.

I stayed away from the fried dough but capped the night with a cherry Sno-Cone. There were three places in my world where you could get such a treat: the fair, the beach and the concession stand at the Little League field.

The fair looked and felt a bit different than it had but tasted pretty much the same. A year from now, folks will be eager to return.  PS

Southern Pines native Bill Fields, who writes about golf and other things, moved north in 1986 but hasn’t lost his accent. Bill can be reached at

Freddie Woronoff + Jack Mcalhany


Photographer: Sayer Photography

Wedding Planner: Maggie’s Farm

Wedding Coordinator: Shenika Smith-Gibson, CCNC

When the coronavirus prompted Jack and Freddie to slash their guest list by nearly 300, the idea of the celebration they both had in mind shifted — along with the date. Rather than saying “I do” in May in front of a crowd of hundreds, the couple shared an intimate September ceremony on the back patio of the Country Club of North Carolina’s Clubhouse. Light-up tambourines the couple purchased as party favors flashed across the dance floor in the hands of guests, who moved to the eight-piece Adrian Duke Band under a clear-top tent.

With invitations narrowed down to family and the bridal party, the couple had time to connect with each guest on the dance floor; and to renew their perspective on what was important. As Freddie said, though shaking tambourines are music to her ears, they “don’t mean as much without family and friends there to help you celebrate.”

Ceremony & Reception: Country Club of North Carolina | Video Streaming Service: Professional Party Rentals | Dress: Nitsa’s Apparel | Shoes: Loeffler Randall Hair & Makeup: Beautopia and Bamboo | Bridesmaids: Jenny Yoo | Flowers: Maggie’s Farm | Cake: The Bakehouse | Invitations & Programs: Reaves Engraving | Transportation: Kirk Tours & Limousine

Kailee Craig + Nirmal Choradia


Photographer: Tamtopia Photography

Wedding Planner: Vision Events Wedding & Event Planning

Wedding Coordinator: Four 26 Events

With days full of karaoke, games, golf, and bourbon tastings, this marketer-doctor duo ensured that their music-filled Hindi ceremony celebrated two families who had truly become united. After meeting at an ultimate Frisbee tournament, singing to the Zac Brown Band and getting engaged on a mountaintop, Kailee and Nirmal would spend the next nine months planning a ceremony that combined Indian tradition and bluegrass culture — one that centered on family and the importance of a future filled with music and laughter.

From the traditional Mehndi ceremony to a rehearsal-turned-Sangreet featuring Indian line dances and fusion dishes by Chef Prem Nath to a soundtrack provided by a dhol player, violinist and DJ, each event of the multi-day nuptial were filled with vendors and decor that, like Kailee and Nirmal’s families, blended beautifully.

Ceremony: Sandhills Horticultural Gardens | Reception: Forest Creek | Videographer & Video Stream: Morgan Scott Films | Dress: UTSAV Fashion Hair & Makeup: Chelsea Regan | Henna: Henna by Neena Jain | Flowers: Jack Hadden Floral & Event Design | Catering: Forest Creek | Rentals: Greenhouse Picker Sisters and Ward Productions | Music: Dhol player — Jagdeep, Violinist — Susie Shortt, Reception — DJ Randy Bunn

Judy + Eric Duggan


Photographer: Pinehurst Photography & Pictured in the Pines

Wedding Planner: Vision Events Wedding & Event Planning

What do you do when a crowded cruise ship deck throws a hitch in an expertly planned New Year’s Eve proposal? If you’re Eric, you improvise, and move the moment to a private cabin. If you’re Judy, you relish watching your love pour out his heart on one knee — and then you convince him to do it again, in front of cameras that captured the act for all to see.

Though each had their share of military travels, picking a location in Pinehurst was a no-brainer for this active-duty bride and this golf-loving, cybersecurity analyst groom. Nine months spent perfecting logistics with the help of a wedding planner culminated in a day that flowed as easily as the coffee on their first date, and meant as much to the bride and groom as each picture-perfect proposal.

Ceremony: Sacred Heart Catholic Church | Reception: Carolina Hotel, Pinehurst Resort | Videographer: Jonathan Hornby Productions | Dress: David’s Bridal | Shoes: White by Vera Wang Hair: TeeAnnd, Stylist on the Go | Makeup: Astrid Carolina Makeup Artist | Wedding Attire: Men’s Warehouse | Flowers: Jack Hadden Floral & Event Design | Cake & Catering: Pinehurst Resort | Music & Rentals: Ward Productions | Transportation: Kirk Tours & Limousine