Notes On Stand-Up Comedy

The past two months have involved a lot of stand-up comedy for me. Firstly, I decided to finally try and write some stand-up with my friend Kate. I’m basically trying to overcome the stage-fright that has plagued me since my teen years. When I was fifteen, I decided it would be cool to learn how to play the guitar despite having oversized fingers and a sub-average white-person sense of rhythm. This resulted in a guitar recital at the end of the year where my only task was to play the song Drunken Sailor, a song that an ironing board could probably play if it developed opposable thumbs. I froze on stage after the fifth note, shaking so badly that I couldn’t play anymore. My father, by all means a lovely man, took me out for pizza afterwards and, after I had calmed down, finally sighed and said to me “so maybe you’re not the next Jimi Hendrix.” I would have done better had I tried playing with my teeth. I later starred (and by starred I mean they gave me a made-up role titled “The Lively Lad”) in a high school production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolored Dream Coat. I had one line. It was, and I still remember it to this day, “I know of a bloke in jail, who is hot on dreams, could explain old Pharaoh’s tale.” I coughed three times in the space of this sentence and then mumbled the last part. Then there was when I starred in a theater production of Twelve Angry Men, playing juror number eight, which, you may remember, is the Henry Fonda role. My acting was as about as natural as Paul Walker being dubbed in German (which is actually more natural than Paul Walker speaking his native tongue).

My yearbook picture.

Similar to the way that I’ve been using this blog as a sort of confessional, I hope that my stand-up ends up being a window into my insecurities and most personal thoughts.*

This month I’ve also gone to see a good amount of stand up comedy. I went to a stand-up comedy open-mic night last week. I researched it online, and convinced two of my friends to come with me to the back room of a dive bar in the East Village of Manhattan. We arrived at six o’clock on a Wednesday, ordered drinks, and walked into a room filled with people who all seemed to know each other. The only seats still free were in the very center of the room, right in front of the stage. Upon sitting we were immediately approached by a guy who identified himself as the “emcee” of the evening, and then asked if we were all stand up comics looking for some stage time. When we responded that we were not, the room went suddenly silent. The emcee shook our hands excitedly, and then announced to everyone in the room that they would tonight have an audience. It was then that we realized that everyone else in the room was a stand-up comic. They all smiled at us, referenced us in their acts, and asked us over and over if we were doing okay and enjoying the show. It was like we were royalty, marooned on an island of jesters wandering listlessly with no audience, telling airplane food jokes to the sand and asking the palm trees to take their wives, please. Eventually, we had to craftily sneak out. I was the last to leave, as every person in the room had a good seven minutes of material. While I didn’t like much of the comedy itself, it was refreshing to see people put themselves out there so openly and bravely. I wished that I had invested more in my public appearances as a teenager. I wished that I had given The Lively Lad of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolored Dream Coat a back story of some kind, like he was a renegade motorcyclist Israelite, hell bent on revenge after his parents had been given fatal epileptic seizures upon first glance at Joseph’s gaudily over-colored coat of dreams.

Thus far I can say that the most fun thing about the stand up comedy process (and I say this as someone who has still not performed) is the writing. Any bizarre musings that come to your head, you just jot down. And like when I write for this blog, these often come late at night. Writing when you have had a bit to drink is fun as well. Writing under other influences however, is not quite as productive. For example, I like to smoke marijuana (what the kids call “suckin’ down on the ol’ Tandoori vacuum”) and then write myself little helpful notes and doodles. These are less constructive the next day however, and more just amusing, like when I wake up to a notebook with the emboldened title “SEAHORSE DIVA!!!!” (so many exclamation points) and a collection of poorly-drawn seahorses wearing eyeliner and using their tails to throw small crustaceans at their band manager, who has booked them as the opening act to a music group called Blowfish and the Hooties.**

Anyway, my hope is to be performing some time in the coming months. At this point in my life, I’m through with being nervous. There’s got to be a time when you do in fact act like a seahorse diva, and just pee into the wind, or, if you’re a seahorse, excrete ammonia through your gills into the ocean (thanks Wikipedia!). With any luck, you’ll be able to find me on YouTube some day if you search “redhead+comedy+fart jokes.” Or, if I’m a failure, search for “wicker hat maker+alcoholism+pigeon family.”

*I’m sorry for using this blog as a confessional. I am a lapsed Catholic, and confession is the thing I miss the most. Besides the free wine.

**If you didn’t understand this sentence, just to clarify, I didn’t either. I was really, really stoned.

3 responses to “Notes On Stand-Up Comedy”

  1. Thanks for using the blog as a confessional — that’s the kind of behavior I’d like to see more of… Hilarious story about the open mic. I play fiddle at open mics, and yes, it is not usual to see non-performing audience there unless it is a friend of one of the performers.

  2. Ivy says:

    well, flatulence may be disgusting, but it is always funny… good luck.

  3. LP says:

    Go, Seahorse Diva! I too am putting myself into a situation that’s not entirely comfortable in the name of learning something new (possibly about myself): I’m taking an 8-week improv course. What I’ve discovered so far: When I’m with people I don’t know, I like to hang back and see what others will do / say before inserting myself into a situation. Which is pretty much impossible in improv, as you have to just jump out there and throw out your ideas, even if they sound dumb. It’s hard, but also fun. Jury’s out on whether I’ll actually be any good at it — I’m definitely not now!