Everyone has a list of things, either written down, or in their head, that they want to accomplish at some time or other.
Some of these are ones that neatly fit into various milestones of their lifetime. “Visit Europe,” is one that an educated married couple will probably do, as long as they save enough. Even if they don’t save but don’t mind getting in debt, it’ll happen.
Then there are some goals, however, that require a considerable amount of effort, and creativity to pull off. Writing a book is one of them. It can be procrastinated forever. There’s always something in the way.
For me, stand-up comedy was the thing I wanted to do for years, but never got on stage for. As proud as I am for having finally done it, I’m not proud of how long it took me to actually do it.
When I was growing up, there would always be some people here and there that found me hilarious. One of my teen tour counselors at America’s Adventure, Nana, said at a meeting that she thought I’d be the next Woody Allen. If someone told me that today, I’d probably be offended and prefer they said a good looking one like Joe Rogan or Dane Cook, but at the time it felt pretty solid.
I also had an ability to write very funny things. People found my posts in forums to be very funny and witty. I was also a Humor Editor for the school paper in high school, though my material was admittedly often substandard. I had been given enough props to make me feel good, but not enough to really make me confident enough to something with it.
Sometime in 2003, I decided I had it, and was going to go on stage in two weeks no matter what. I kept brainstorming for funny stuff, and had a list of material set for the last week in May, which in turn, was the last week I’d be in college. I even had picked the comedy club that had the open mic night for that week. I called to get my name on the list.
Open mic was cancelled. I finished college without doing the show.
I was really, really disappointed. I had it all planned out. The whole list of funny things to say. I figured, however, that I could do it another time, while I kept track of funny things that happened around me. I figured that the set I’d written wasn’t that great so I could just wait until I had better stuff to really go on stage.
One year went by.
Finally, in 2007, I realized something about having comedic material to perform: it is NEVER going to be good enough. I just had to sit down for a couple hours, compile all I had, and go for it, whether it sucked or not. I checked the listings in San Diego, and there were a couple different time limits for each club. 3 minutes, 6 minutes, or 10 minutes.
3 minutes was definitely all I could do. I’d be lucky if I could fill that much with all the rapid talking. I wrote out my routine list and timed it.
What the fuck??? I was sweating about filling 3 minutes with material when I had all that material to work with?? It shows that it really is never to early to just do something like this. Usually it’s past due. Not too late, just past due, meaning you still have to do it.
I trimmed it down to 6 minutes for the Comedy Co-op. I had emailed my friend Darren the written comedy sheet and he thought it was hilarious. I practiced again, and again, and again. I invited a bunch of friends to come. No one but Darren came, but he brought video equipment, that more than made up for the lack of other people.
When you’re about to perform, you get this anxiety, and a hint of nausea. I’ve felt that way before doing karaoke before. This was much worse than karaoke. While I was pacing, waiting to go on, I heard “Let’s Get It Started” by the Black Eyed Peas come on. That was my karaoke song! How much I wished I could get up there and rap instead of tell jokes. I felt really uncomfortable.
But then the night went on, and I saw some other people get on stage first. Some were pretty good, but I felt a lot better when I saw some were rather terrible. Nothing like knowing you’re not the worst player in the room to boost your confidence.
When it was my turn, I confidently went up and took the stage. I was actually surprised how much better I felt on stage than being in the audience waiting to go up. The light was shining in my eyes, partially blinding me,so it took care of a lot of the stage fright. I went through my set and heard a lot of laughs. I felt like I rocked it. I was sure I’d be voted in the top four, and was easily the best of the night.
Didn’t quite work that way.
Not only did I not get in the top four, but I didn’t even get compliments from anyone after the show! In fact, I got things like “So this is your first time, were you nervous?” or “Your writing was good,” which really means ‘your delivery wasn’t’ . In fact, after I got off, the host said “Now that was great, this was probably Dan’s first time.” I’d never met that dude before; he shouldn’t know that.
See, there’s an illusion when you’re on stage, that when people laugh, they really think your jokes are funny. It actually turns out there are 4 types of laughs you get at a comedy show.
- Genuine laughs from people that liked your jokes.
- Polite laughs from people that appreciate you trying, or just because they felt they were supposed to laugh.
- Nervous laughs from when you make an awkward moment and the crowd just needs to release the tension.
- Laughs from only other comedians in the room, not because your jokes are funny, but because the comedians are just so warped from doing this for so long, they find rather odd things to be hysterical.
I realized this while I was sitting in the audience and watching people perform after. Laughs don’t mean you’re funny. That was a real shocker for me. I later saw my whole performance on videotape and realized that my delivery was off on a lot of the jokes. I didn’t feel bad about this, because it was my first time. I understood was that while my material was solid, I just needed more practice telling the jokes to the audience.
Oh well, there will be other shows to come, but I’m glad I just got the first attempt out of my system.
If you’re thinking about trying stand-up, don’t wait til it’s good, just do it! Most of the time, if it’s your first time up there, your delivery will suck so the audience won’t even know if your material was good or not.