You’ve probably heard the old saying, “everyone wants to be a comedian!” No? Well, there’s a chance I just made it up in order to serve my own purposes but be a pip and indulge me! Think about it: whether it’s the 4th grade cut-up crying out for attention in the form of a laugh from his peers, or the middle-aged office drone reciting old jokes by the water cooler, the validation of a chuckle in day to day life can be a much needed respite from the ills of life’s monotony, and it is an interaction that knows no cultural bounds.
Despite the broad reach of humor into our everyday lives, few (sane) people would ever consider taking on the “art” of stand up comedy in a professional manner. Everyone has heard the old Seinfeld joke concerning the common fear of public speaking: “Death..is number two. That means that at a funeral, most people would rather be in the casket than delivering the eulogy.” There’s no question that the crushing silence of an audience is enough to send most people slipping on their own flop sweat in a beeline to the door. However, the few brave souls that do find the gall to walk onto a stage with the attitude it takes to command attention will eventually discover an invigorating and powerful experience that is unlike any other. I’ve never tried my hand at erotic dancing but that might come close. All you need to actually get paid for this singularly amazing euphoric mind-gasm is a stage, a mic, a paying audience, and about five to ten years of stage experience. In between you’ll most likely spend a decent amount of time consuming penises (industry term.)
No comedian worth his salt was ever seasoned, (ha), without logging in countless hours of slaving away on new material at different bars or coffee shops. These wondrous and softly whispered about gatherings are called “OPEN MICS.” It’s all in the title, but in case you’re an alien (cosmic or otherwise) and you need a little more clarification, an open mic is open to any Tom, Dick, or Sherry ballsy enough to think he or she can win over the highly mythicized “Crowd.”
1.YOU AIN’T SHIT (DON’T WORRY, NEITHER AM I)
The folly of a person trying out stand-up for the first time is usually that the beginner in question is:
A. Cocky enough to stand on a stage and demand attention
B. Too cocky to realize the insignificance of their own efforts.
Hitting the grind of open mics has humbled me to the truth of my own station, not only in the pyramidal race of rats that is the entertainment industry, but in the world as a whole; however, while pivotal in developing new talent, open mics can still feel bitterly inconsequential when the audience does not feed on the energy of the show, or worse yet when the audience doesn’t exist at all save the five to seven comics still eager to perform for their own incestuous little pack of wannabes. WHOA! That’s right, I said it. Don’t get me wrong here though: we’re all wannabes, myself 100 percent included. Unless you’re getting booked, even somewhat inconsistently, you’re a wannabe. We all wanna be stars rising past the astronomical odds of a career this lucrative and engaging being viable, but who among us has the stones big enough to start making the moves? Until you fully realize your place in the pecking order of this carnivorous industry, and are able to accept the truth that you probably haven’t even left the Shire yet, then the shit you will never be my friend. Always be honest with yourself about where you’re at.
2.NO YOUR JOKES AREN’T THAT FUNNY (DON’T WORRY, MINE AREN’T EITHER)
It doesn’t take you many swings past a local bar or coffee shop to do some comedy before you start getting a sense of the comic scene in your area (unless you happen to live in a huge market but we’ll get to that in a second), and more than that, a sense of the comedians that hit, and those who don’t. And even MORE than that, for me anyway, was that I started to get a sense of other comic’s jokes that hit but that still maybe just possibly weren’t even that funny. But what’s funny, anyway? If a joke gets a laugh, that should automatically indicate that it’s a “good” joke. Right? Right?!? Answer me, reader!
It’s no secret that low-hanging fruit can often provide for most of an audience’s entertainment needs. A joke that’s really relatable is obviously something that the audience is already kind of tuned in to: relationships, race, Kardashians. And what a surprise that these types of universal topics, sucked dry of possible angles after years and years of comics searching for material, have shriveled into a fruit that once was supple and called Mazunny, but now after many moons has (d)evolved into the yucca-like desert flower now referred to as a Hackus. The point of this wonderfully constructed metaphor, future comedy star, is as follows: learn the difference between the joke that gets the easy laugh, and the joke that you’re actually going to be proud of even after years of cashing it in on the road. Keep writing and don’t settle for the first line that gets a reaction. You might be able to skate by on stage presence or crowd work at bar shows, but without learning to wield the mighty Pen, you’re a shrieking monkey hopping around on a stage: full of sound and fury, but signifying nothing.. nothing memorably funny anyway. Don’t get me wrong though, people do generally think monkeys are funny. But a monkey never elevated the discussion, which is what the best comedy does. Don’t be a monkey. Be an anthropologist.
3.YOU’VE GOTTA PRACTICE, BITCH (I’M A BITCH TOO AND I NEED TO PRACTICE MORE)
Comedy is the performing art that seems like the most discouraging to practice on your own. This is obviously only an approximation insomuch as I’m not cool enough to play an actual instrument. I’m not even cool enough to be a mime. But the point I’m making is that for a musician, the majority of your practice takes place either in your room, in the garage, or maybe at the studio of whoever is teaching you if you’re still early enough on in the process of learning. If you’re a poet, your days will be spent scribbling down in a notebook (which is fairly close to the process of developing an act in stand-up comedy) in a fairly autonomous manner until you get to grad-school maybe. Stand-up is unique in the sense that the most nourishing practice you get is actually performing in front of people. Imagine you were a singer, but the only time you could get in actually practicing your own singing was in front of an audience of people? What if you could sit at home all day studying music theory and rehearsing your songs in your head, but the only time you were physically able to sing was at some bar or coffee shop until you got good enough to get paid? That’s stand-up. You can slave away on premises or ideas until you develop arthritis, but the only time that you really are able to practice in a way that moves you forward as a performer is to fucking perform. Of course there’s someone right now raising his computer lit in finger in protest: But can’t you perform and practice in front of the mirror? Oh hell yeah. Will you? Hell no. I’ve probably met maybe three comics who take the time to give themselves a comedy workout in front of the mirror, and yeah, they’re all absolute monsters on stage. It’s one of the few things that will take your experience in stand-up to lightspeed and NO ONE fucking does it. Why is that? WHY? WHY WON’T YOU ANSWER ME?! Stand-up depends on a tangible reaction between you and an audience, and even I know that’s not somethin’ you can find just around the corner.
4.YOU PROBABLY HAVE A HOMETOWN ADVANTAGE
There’s a huge chance you probably won’t get your start in a hub like LA or New York. And no matter how magical such a scenario might seem, you’re honestly better off starting in middle America as an open micer than in a major city. For one, if you’ve ever been to an open mic in LA, you know it’s easily one of the most insanely discouraging experiences you will ever undergo as a comic, simply because no one gives a good goddamn about your free comedy set. In a sprawling city that’s already absolutely saturated with industry quality comedy every night of the week, why would anyone (other than a comic) want to spend their evening at a bar watching amateurs when they could instead see a show that actually promises a modicum of return on their investment of time? People in small towns who happen upon open mics aren’t necessarily the gold standard for audiences but it definitely beats performing for jaded LA open micers 90 percent of the time. People in smaller markets are simply not as analytic about their comedic entertainment as those in larger pools. You have more of a chance of getting laughs as a newbie in front of more casual spectators as opposed to the all-seeing, all-judging Eye of industry. Your first few years should be more or less an attempt to find your voice. And do you want your voice to sound like a Gap model trying to land a sitcom? This is obviously a sweeping generalization of a hugely diverse and illustrious market, but the point still stands. You’ll find the grit of your onstage persona with more decisiveness if you start in a place where comedy isn’t horrifically over-saturated. I could have just written that sentence and saved you time but I likey the typey and I wanta to be teachy you da comedee. I’m Italian! Look at me teachy da jokes,yes. Yes, yes, yes. But yeah, don’t move to New York or LA until you’re ready, capiche?
Now, I know my amazing insights are probably going to make you want to get on stage with the most dire quickness in order to start fulfilling your comedic destiny, but come close little one and hear these words I whisper: I don’t have all the answers. But I do know what it takes to get started: ABC. Always be comedy. ALWAYS be comedy. You know what it takes to do comedy? It takes brass balls to do comedy. Or a brass..uh..I don’t know. Take your pick of a gender neutral equivocation. And make haste. There’s bits in them there hills.