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 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 be a terrible car salesman, Part I

Other Stories

To be a successful salesman, you have to have charisma and knowledge about the product you’re selling. I had neither. I didn’t know anything about cars and I was repulsed by those who had the gall to want to buy one from me. 

Tim Godfrey to the showroom for a customer, the secretary would page on any given afternoon.

An 18 year-old Tim, wearing a wrinkled, purple-and-pink striped American Eagle dress shirt and light khaki pants, sat in the breakroom during the middle of his second consecutive lunch hour.

“Rrr yoooo frrrrkkkkiiinnnggg kudding meeeh,” he says through a mouth full of a Po’ Boy sandwich, crumbs shooting out of his mouth like an open fire hydrant on a hot summer day.

Before I was an above-average writer, I was a below average car salesman.

There were two days that are burned into my memory from my time in sales. Here is the story about one of those days — my first day on the job.