Tue | Nov 20, 2018

Michael Abrahams | Remembering Elva Ruddock

Published:Monday | October 15, 2018 | 12:17 AM
Abrahams

Elva Ruddock was my friend. After getting involved in comedy, it was inevitable that our paths would cross.

I recall my first time on stage at a comedy show. It was 2005 at the Christmas Comedy Cookup at Backyaad on Constant Spring Road. Owen ‘Blakka’ Ellis and Ian ‘Ity’ Ellis had invited me to be on the production, and I accepted the invitation. I recall walking off the stage at the end of my set, and the first thing I saw was Elva’s teeth and her open arms, just before she embraced me lovingly and told me that I did well and that she was proud of me.

Coming from her, it meant a lot. Elva was one of my favourite comedians EVER. Local, foreign, male, female. My wife is also a hardcore fan and would not miss an opportunity to see her live. She was extremely talented. Stand-up comedy is not just about standing up and telling jokes. It is a serious art form that is not easy to master. It includes the proper utilisation of timing, strong punch lines, facial expressions, body language, energy, vocal dynamics, and the ability to relate to the audience and to be flexible. Elva mastered all that, and then some.

Elva was also present at my second time on stage at a comedy show. It was at the same venue, Backyaad, about four months later, but this time, things did not go so well for me. The word ‘bomb’ is used in comedy when you fail to achieve your main objective, which is to make the audience laugh. Well, I bombed bigger than Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined.

Elva was the MC and was dressed as a nurse for the show dubbed ‘Clinical Crack-up’. I recall saying stuff that I thought was funny, only to receive blank stares from the audience, followed by annoyance and restlessness. I remember hearing a voice shouting out from the darkness, “Nurse! Nurse! Tek him off!” As the boos built to a crescendo, I departed the stage, only to return after intermission while Elva was about to introduce the next act. I took the mic from her and told the crowd that I was not a quitter, and had a song to do, which I proceeded to start.

Elva smiled and danced as I sang, and as I finished the first verse, while the audience was trying to comprehend what the hell was happening, Elva whispered in my ear, “Cut,” meaning, “Leave now while the going is good before they get tired of you again and commit murder.”

That life-saving advice was only the first of much I would receive from Elva. She was unselfish, and would offer me words of advice and encouragement, along with constructive criticism. Elva was brutally honest. If a performance of mine, or parts of it, sucked, she would tell me.

This honesty also applied to herself. Much of Elva’s humour was self-deprecating and side-splittingly funny. “I have a shape like a Coca-Cola bottle … a two-litre bottle,” she announced at a comedy show once. She would joke about her small house in Portmore, and the lack of furniture in it, and appointed herself president of the “Jamaica Weave and Wig Wearers Association”.

As for her wacky observations, I recall her saying, “Other countries have potholes in their roads, but in Jamaica, we have roads in our potholes.” But one of Elva’s funniest stories was about an incident involving her. She had purchased some items at a shop and the cashier was required to give her a handwritten receipt. The person asked her for her name, so that it could be written on the piece of paper. Elva said, “E. Ruddock.” The cashier heard “Hero Duck” and wrote it on the receipt. Not only did Elva find it hilarious, but often used that name in her social media posts, which brings me to what I admired most about my friend.

Elva used social media a lot, especially Instagram. Many people take to social media to complain and whine and elicit sympathy from their followers, many of whom they do not even know. Not Elva. On her Instagram page, the first sentence of her profile reads, “Keep it positive or keep it moving.” She meant it and practised what she preached. One of the reasons why her death was a shock to many is because even as she lay suffering and dying on a hospital bed, she continued to be a source of positivity, inspiration and motivation to others.

During the final week of her life, rather than feeling sorry for herself, she expressed gratitude. Four days before her transition she posted, “I’m thankful for it all. The highs. The lows. The blessings. The lessons. The setbacks. The comebacks. The love. The hate. Everything.” The following day, her post read, “When life gives you every reason to be negative, think of all the reasons to be positive. There’s always someone who has it worse.”

And two days before she took her last breath, as her strength diminished, her oxygen level fell, and she struggled to move and even breathe, her sense of humour was as strong as ever, evidenced by her post, which read, “I’m not really single. I’m dating myself. I take myself out to eat. I buy myself clothes. I love me. I’m awesome.”

Yes, Elva, you were awesome. I would say, “Rest in peace,” but I know that you are somewhere out there, in another dimension, disseminating positive energy and making others laugh out loud.

- Michael Abrahams is a gynaecologist and obstetrician, comedian and poet. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and michabe_1999@hotmail.com, or tweet @mikeyabrahams.