Other Stories: I used to be a stand-up comic, Part III

Other Stories

I miss stand up.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my career as an above-average writer and making what some economists would describe as “nothing.” But there are some days where I find myself holding a tube of toothpaste up to my mouth, pretending I’m still doing stand up on stage.

If that sounds pathetic that’s because it is. I live alone in a small town in rural Oklahoma. Pretending to be on stage in front of a blank wall is about the most fun you can have that doesn’t include chain-smoking at a child’s T-Ball game or overdosing.

I still think of bits and write them down in a steno pad that was originally reserved for grocery lists and writing imaginary letters to those who have wronged me. It’s a coping mechanism I learned when I went insane last summer  was dehydrated.

Dear DMV worker

You just have ALL the answers, don’t you? Sorry, we all can’t be the smartest person in this strip mall. I apologize for not knowing ahead of time I had to accomplish 37 other useless tasks before having the NERVE to ask you for help. Forgive me for having you put down your personal iPad. In hindsight, I guess you were right to have a tone with me.

Please drop dead.

Signed,

No. 47

If you felt I was too harsh on the imaginary DMV worker, please let me know so I can mail you a real letter.

There’s plenty I miss about stand-up. But this isn’t a blog about stuff I like. Can you imagine how boring that would be — just weekly posts about eating shredded cheese out of the bag like a snack and flaking on social plans I made two weeks ago.

So, I’m going to discuss the one thing I don’t miss about stand-up:

People asking me to do stand-up

Right here. On the spot. In this place that isn’t a comedy club. Because that’s convenient and not at all stupid.

“You do stand-up?”

“Yep.”

“Cool. That’s awesome, man. Can you do some right now?”

“Right now in this Bread Co. line? No.”

“Oh, why not?”

Is your brain just a wet bag of white bread? I don’t want to do stand-up here because it’s not the proper place. Stand-up comedy isn’t slam poetry. I can’t just break out a bongo drum and start rambling off whatever piece of crap I wrote in the park.

What’s the deal with gender reveal parties? Would you love your baby less if they were a boy or girl or had no knees? *bongo solo* Please squeeze the Febreeze to clear the stink of this capitalistic think and break off from me, WHITE MAN!

Of course, hell has multiple realms so if it wasn’t one person asking me in a secluded area of a setting, it was one person asking me in front of a group of people.

“Hey, what’s up guys.”

“Tim, I was just telling these guys about how you do stand-up.”

“Oh, no way. I like it a lot. Excuse me—”

“Why don’t you do a little stand-up for them.”

Nothing says, “respect”, like calling someone over from the other side of the room and requesting they make you laugh. As though I’m just sitting on the bench waiting to be called up so I can tell everyone a joke about how my dating life sucks.

When I first started doing stand-up, I somewhat welcomed the ambush. It was inconvenient, but hey, at least people were interested in my performance which is what any comedian or college improv performer would want. I was also a college improver but we can discuss that embarrassing chapter in the My Life Sucks book some other time.

The ‘Can you do some stand-up right now’ request got old fast. Like Madonna and Like a Virgin, I began to hate the very thing that people knew me for.

It would be like if someone found out you worked at CVS and then kept asking you where you kept the Sudafed every time they saw you. If you worked as a nurse, imagine going out to a party and every person there asks you when they can speak to the doctor.

If I found out someone was a carpenter, I wouldn’t respond to that by saying, “Oh, cool. Can you build me a nightstand right here and now inside this TGI Friday’s?”

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 do stand-up comedy, Part I

Other Stories

“So, tell me about your standup.”

It was the summer of 2010 and I had just been ratted out. All of the blood drained from my body and I started to sweat. To be fair, I’m always sweating. But this time, I was sweating due to fear because my dad just found out about my new hobby — doing stand up comedy at open mic nights.

“Someone said they saw you last night at the comedy club. Tell me about it.”

With his arms crossed over one another, my dad leaned forward on his desk and delivered his signature glare, eagerly waiting for his son’s answer.

“Oh, I….yeah, I..um…yeah, I do stand up comedy at the Funny Bone,” I said.

“Tim,” my dad said in a monotone voice. “I know that. How long have you been doing it and why didn’t you tell me about it?”

By that time, I had gone to nearly a dozen open mic nights for the last two or three months. I was green, my comedy was blue and the last people I wanted to find out about my jokes were my parents. For years, they lectured me about keeping my language clean and they also hounded me for years about flossing; two areas I still ignore today.

It’s okay, I use mouthwash sometimes.

“Okay, well, your mother and I are adults, Tim. We can handle hearing curse words.”

Also my dad: “Hey, you don’t have to curse to be funny.”

Now, I realize what I recounted sounds like a third act scene from Full House, where Danny Tanner sits on Stephanie’s bed and says that he doesn’t mind hearing the F-bomb in her stand up routine. But my dad calling me on my secret hobby was the day I began telling people I was a stand up comic.

Well, technically I was an open mic comic, which is essentially just a karaoke singer who tells bad jokes. But telling people I was a stand-up comic was easier and a lot less embarrassing.

*****

I got the idea to do stand up after hearing a co-worker tell me one of his God-awful jokes at work. You might think that’s rude to say, but you might also be an idiot, because everybody sucks when they start out in stand up or in anything, for that matter. He was bad. Respect him for putting himself out there. But whatever he said was so bad that it inspired me enough to believe that if he was allowed on stage, then I could get up there, too.

However, I was lazy and a coward. So, instead of getting right to work on coming up with a solid five-minute set for the next open mic night, I procrastinated and kept pushing off my goal date.

A co-worker gave me the idea to do stand up. But my cousin Stephanie and her friends convinced me to get up on stage.

I didn’t plan on doing stand up the night I went to the comedy club. My only plan that day was helping move Stephanie back home after graduating from Mizzou. After I drove from St. Louis to Columbia, I crammed as much of her stuff into the two-door truck without breaking anything.

It was just a thought that rolled around in my head. My only real plan was cramming as much crap into my truck and her car without breaking anything.

“I’m not making two trips,” I said to myself while pretending I didn’t hear the sound of wood cracking.

When we finished, she took me to lunch with her friends as a way of thanking me for the help.  As she and her friends talked, I crammed my face with french fries and a burger as I thought I could sit this conversation out.

“So, what’s new with you, Tim?” they asked.

My instincts told me to say, “Nothing,” and continue feeding, which is my knee-jerk reaction to all conversations. But Stephanie was family and she did let me add cheese to my burger for 50 cents, so I decided to open up after I swallowed a baseball-sized mash of ground beef and potato.

“Uh, nothing really,” I said. “I’m thinking about doing stand up comedy.”

“Stand up? Oh my God, how cool,” one of Stephanie’s friends said. “When will you perform?”

“Uhhhh, I guess tonight after I move Stephanie back home if there’s time.”

“What will your jokes be?”

“I have no idea. I guess I’ll put that together on the way home.”

For two hours, I recorded, listened, deleted, re-recorded, listened, deleted and re-recorded until each one of my four, minute-long bits onto my flip phone.

I recorded each joke as I drove a truck full of furniture from Columbia to St. Louis, Missouri. To make it more challenging, I couldn’t see out of my passenger-side mirror, so when I changed lanes, I did so by faith and a 19-year-old’s common sense.

“Well, it’s been five seconds since I passed that car, so I guess it’s okay to merge over into the right lane now,” I’d say. Then I’d clench my entire body in preparation for the consequences of my misjudgment. I’d only relax when my entrance into the lane was met with silence and not the sound of screeching tires followed by an explosion.

No one died — to my knowledge — and that was the least of my worries. I was more concerned about whether or not I’d die on stage that night in my first ever stand up set at the Funny Bone comedy club.