Other Stories: I used to do stand-up comedy, Part II

Other Stories

I used to do stand-up comedy, Part I | WATCH: I review my old stand-up set

“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:

  1. Write a bunch of joke ideas a week or two before a predetermined performing date.
  2. Get distracted by TV or YouTube.
  3. Procrastinate
  4. Write three or four bits that sound funny in the car the day I am supposed to perform.
  5. Keep re-reading those same bits in near-darkness during the hour before I’m supposed to go up on stage.
  6. Get on stage.
  7. Suck

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.

Other stories: I used to work in TV news, Part II

Other Stories

“This boy has no idea what he’s doing!”

There are few things I will take sitting down. Having a seasoned anchorwoman get pissed off and slightly berate me just so happens to be one of those things.

I was running out of time and was no closer to a solution than I was to winning a daytime Emmy.

It was middle of the Sunday morning newscast and I sat in the teleprompter chair. I slowly turned the nob on the controller, scrolling up, hoping that would fix the issue.

Come on, please work, I thought to myself. For the love of God, please work!!

Surprisingly, slowly turning the nob down wasn’t doing the trick, either. The anchorwoman’s eyes were fixed on Camera A, sternly explaining to the producer I wasn’t scrolling correctly.

A few feet away, the meteorologist was wrapping up her two-minute segment. For a minute and 50 seconds, I was caught in a Who’s on First back-and-forth with the anchorwoman about where I should be in the script. She asked me to scroll up, so I scrolled up. No, up! So, I scrolled up some more, then down, then up again, looking for any positive sign that I was at the correct spot.

We were 10 seconds away from returning to the news and I still had no idea what the hell she wanted me to do.

*****

As a “broadcast trainee” for a TV news station in St. Louis, one of my responsibilities was to work the teleprompter, a task that scared me to death in my first days on the job. For weeks, I sat hunched over for three hours with my eyes less than three inches from the teleprompter’s screen. From 4 a.m. until 7 a.m., I slowly turned the nob and tried like hell not to make a single mistake.

One small mistake could derail the whole newscast, I thought. But I was an idiot who thought too highly of himself and the job he possessed. It’s like that time I thought a high ACT score was paramount for my future.

Then 10 years and two low ACT scores later, I realized the ACT is actually worthless. Classmates who scored higher on the ACT are either in the same boat as me or sharing Anti-Vaxx memes and selling plant supplements through Facebook.

But the truth was if I dropped dead in the teleprompter chair, the newscast wouldn’t skip a beat. The anchors would read from the scripts and the janitors would lift my fat ass out of the chair with a cattle harness before we hit the commercial break.

I know all of this now because of hindsight. But when I was in that chair, I felt like I was a part of the actual news team, like they would also introduce me in the TV promos as, Tim the teleprompter boy. Or include me on a billboard — the four-person news team standing back-to-back with one another in suits or dresses, and have me waving like a buffoon in the background wearing dad jeans and a Big Dog T-shirt.

*****

I initially worked weekdays at the news station, but then I did a “solid” for a coworker by covering their weekend shift and I was stuck working weekends for the rest of my tenure. The lesson, of course, is don’t ever do anything for your coworkers.

I never got my revenge because I don’t think I ever worked on the same shift with them again. But to make sure someone paid for that coworker’s transgression, I microwaved steamed broccoli and tuna every day.

The weekends aren’t terrible because there’s not a whole lot going on. The only people in the newsroom would be me and the assignment editor. Aside from robbing my social life and ruining my sleep cycle, the weekend shift wasn’t all that bad.

My first weekend shift was the first and last time I worked with the anchor who scolded me, who we will refer to as Deb. Ol’ Deb was pleasant to me for most of our 3-hour relationship. We could have been great friends had it not been for one mix-up.

By this time, I was two months on the job and I handled the teleprompter like a pro. No issues. No mistakes. Nothing. And while I was taught everything about the teleprompter, no one taught me about teleprompter speak.

Scripts on a teleprompter roll like the end credits of a movie — from the bottom to the top. When someone says, “scoll up,” they mean scroll the script upward, which means you have to turn the nob down. When someone says, “scroll down,” you turn the nob up.

It’s pretty simple to understand when someone calmly explains it to you beforehand; not shout-whispers “go up” through gritted teeth during the weather forecast block of the newscast.

*****

With her arm extended and her wrist at a 90-degree angle, Deb kept motioning upward and repeating “up,” which was just as helpful as her making balloon animals at the news desk. In hindsight, it’s obvious what she wanted. But when you’re cold-sweating in a panic, nothing makes sense.

“This boy has no idea what he’s doing,” she said to the producer through her mic.

In the last second, I figured it out. I scrolled up and got her on the right script block. Like a pro, she snapped herself into a camera-ready face and calmly read the next story. Viewers at home had no idea she was about to spit fire down my neck.

“I’m sorry I was harsh with you, Tim,” she said during the commercial break. “I just needed the the teleprompter on the right spot and you weren’t there.”

Yes, but thank God you mimed! Of course, that’s not what I said. I was two months on the job and as bold as a glass of water. What I really said was:

“It’s okay! I understand! I wasn’t there! Sorry, Deb!”

Deb and I parted ways after that God-awful newscast, perhaps for the better. I can’t really blame myself because it’s never my fault. No other news anchors scolded me since then despite many — and sometimes far worse — mistakes.

The moral of the story is it wasn’t my fault and Deb is a terrible mime.

Other stories: I used to work in TV news

Other Stories

Before I wrote stories as a sports reporter, I worked at a TV news station in St. Louis. I was hired a “broadcast trainee”, which basically meant I was a paid intern. I learned that shortly after I was given my log-in information to access newscast scripts.

The password was “intern.”

My expectations built up by All the President’s Men and How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days were dashed. But this was an entry-level job and in the journalism industry — you take what you can get.

*****

And I was happy to take that job because it was a real job in the industry with a respectable and trusted news station. It also meant I didn’t have to work at a car dealership anymore, so there was added incentive.

Of course, since I am a big, stupid moron, I almost screwed the job interview up because I submitted the wrong resume.

I didn’t realize it until the very end of the interview. Before then, I thought I was nailing it.  Then my interviewer — who would become my boss — asked me to explain why I was a “social media expert,” as it was listed right at the top of my skills section.

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH, I calmy screamed into my big, dumb, empty head.

I realized then the resume I submitted was one of my rough drafts from my professional development class in college. The one my professor told me to change.

“Okay, you might want to rethink the whole, ‘social media expert’ line here in your Skills section,” she said during class. “It kind of oversells your experience with social media. I wouldn’t exactly call you an expert.”

“Will do,” said Tim, who definitely did not do.

Now, I couldn’t admit that I submitted the wrong resume because that would be foolish. Instead, I did the smart thing and doubled-down. I told him I was experienced in several platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter and…..

“Oh, damn. It was on the tip of my tongue. The one that….um…it’s the live streaming one.”  

“Periscope.”

“Right. Ah, I was just about to say Periscope.”

No, I wasn’t. He could have said, “Jell-O,” and I wouldn’t have questioned it. As I write this story, I literally had to Google “live stream apps” because, three years later, I still couldn’t remember the name Periscope because the only people who use Periscope are wack packers from the Howard Stern show.

I was hired nearly a week later because I was very lucky and my boss, apparently, was very desperate.

*****

On paper, my job sucked. I came in at 3 a.m. on weekdays and weekends, ran scripts to producers and anchors four-to-five times a day, ran teleprompter for three-to-four hours a day and loaded all the printers with paper. Then, when all that was done I got to write about all the fascinating things about St. Louis which was almost always crime.

If it wasn’t a car accident or some new animal at the zoo, then it was crime.

Answering the phones was always fun because it was like a game — would the person on the other line be normal or insane? It was a 50-50 split. If it wasn’t a media rep for the fire or police department, it was someone getting WAY too pissed off that we cut out of the Price of Right to air breaking news.

“What the hell? Where is the Price is Right?”

“We have breaking news going on in downto—

“I don’t care. Get it back on. Why would you change the programming?”

“I don’t know if you knew this or not but we’re a local news station so when there’s news going on we usually broadcast it.”

“Let me talk to the president.”

“Of what, the station?”

“Of CBS! Get me through to someone at CBS!”

“Sure, one second.”

CLICK —

The only task I hated was loading the printer paper.

Not loading the actual printers (which I also did!), but the carrying and unloading of dozens and dozens of reams of paper. Every month or so, the paper reams would be delivered in boxes that I had to load on a dolly and unload to the newsroom. Each box was about 40 pounds.

The news station had two or three other broadcast trainees, but I always had to do it because I had the nerve to work out and build a beautiful, muscular body. I hated that job so much. Not because of the work itself, but because it meant I had to pretend I wasn’t profusely sweating for 20 minutes.

I’m not sweating, I just have to itch both sides of my head with my arms every 15 seconds.

That’s not sweat on my shirt, that’s just coffee I spilled in a circle around my neck.

My face isn’t red, it’s just from the sunburn I got walking in here, you know how that January sunlight can be.

When I finished unloading the paper, I would take the boxes outside to the dumpster in the alley behind the news station and just cool off outside. Sometimes, it would be 25 degrees and I’d be outside sweating in a T-shirt, checking my phone for 10 minutes.

More often than not, someone would ask where I went for so long after loading the paper and I would always tell them I was in the bathroom.

“Oh,” a coworker says, putting their head down and getting right back to work. No one questions a 10-minute bathroom break because that means ya boy just took a dump.

Bonus preview:

Reading is bad enough, but reading 1,000-plus words is awful. So, I decided to save my most memorable story from my TV news days for later (a few days or so). Here’s a preview:

There are few things I will take sitting down. Having a seasoned anchorwoman get pissed off and slightly berate me just so happens to be one of those things.