Other Stories: I used to do stand-up comedy, Part II
“One time we were driving to the Grand Canyon, which was, like, the lamest vacation ever. Spoiler alert: It’s a giant hole.”
My joke construction was as God-awful as my ability to tell the difference between a hole and a canyon. My joke writing was cringeworthy, my sets were boring at best and worst of all, I thought I was one of the funniest guys in the room.
“I have to kill tonight,” I would say to myself at open mic night. “The club is counting on me to close out the show on a high note.”
Wrong. The club promoters didn’t care if I killed or if I was killed, so long as my friends bought drinks. They put me last on the list so the 15 people I brought to the club — which was by far the most any comedian brought — would keep spending money on watered-down cocktails and Bud Lights.
The road to my prime as an amateur stand-up comic was paved with hacky jokes, delusion and plenty of friends and family.
My creative process was as follows:
- Write a bunch of joke ideas a week or two before a predetermined performing date.
- Get distracted by TV or YouTube.
- Write three or four bits that sound funny in the car the day I am supposed to perform.
- Keep re-reading those same bits in near-darkness during the hour before I’m supposed to go up on stage.
- Get on stage.
Unlike most comedians, I wasn’t the “write everything in a journal” guy because my biggest fear was someone opening it and saying, “Hey, this would be funny if it didn’t suck.” That was the feedback I’d get. If it wasn’t my brothers roasting me it was my dad taking issue with my use of the word “crap.”
A few weeks after my dad told me that he could handle “a few curse words,” I asked him to review a joke concept I had been working on. I can’t remember what the exact premise of the bit was, but I know that it was about the 2011 oil crisis so you can imagine how stupid it was. Nothing is funnier than a 19 year old speaking out on current events.
Trump is president and now the whole country is trying to fire HIM! — Something I would say if I was 19 years old today.
My dad looked at the card for two seconds before letting out a concerned, “Hmm.”
“What, you don’t think it’s funny?”
“No. Well, yeah, it’s not funny, but I was more concerned with how many curse words are in here. You know, you don’t have to be curse to be funny.”
No, I didn’t know that, I thought. I must have missed the first 100 times you said that.
“Lots of great comedians don’t curse. Look at Bill Cosby.”
That quote aged terribly. My dad always broke out the “you don’t need to curse to be funny” line every time he heard a curse word in my stand-up routine.
I didn’t need to curse but I did because that’s how I spoke. Not in front of my parents, obviously. But in the comfort of other delinquents, I swore like I was David Mamet. Except, unlike David Mamet, all my work was a steaming pile of mediocrity.
Being good at stand-up requires up-and-comers to pay their dues, which is what I learned from other comics at open mic nights. My understanding of “paying your dues” was frequently performing for low pay in small comedy clubs for a few years before getting respectable spots for respectable pay (respectable being like $50-$100 a spot).
My heart wasn’t completely in it so despite me saying to myself, “Yes, I can do that,”, I did not want to do that. I wanted to go to the club when I felt like it, make a few of my friends and family laugh and then bask in the glow of their compliments, be they real or not.
I say that because my friends and family are nice people with some being courteous at the very least. I knew no one was going to walk up to me after a spot and say, “You sucked.” Even though it was true.
Looking back on my past sets is a nightmare. I grind my teeth and curl my toes whenever I watch an old set. It’s so bad I can’t even watch an entire video. I have to shut it off. My stage presence is fine and my octaves and delivery are solid. All that was missing were jokes that were funny.
You know you suck when you actually agree with the negative YouTube comments.
“this guy fukin suxx.”
I agree, FlyGuy69. I agree.