One of the goals that I had for 2015 was to write and perform 5 minutes of stand up material. I’m not sure where I got the notion that this had to be on my proverbial bucket list, but there it was.
Maybe because my humor column often starts out with me musing aloud, and then I write it down and adapt it for the reader. Maybe it’s part of my quest to be Carol Burnett, and I figure learning to stand alone on stage and talk just strengthens every other part of my humor experience. Maybe it’s because I tried and loved improv and need to up my investment, the way people start out using marijuana and end up addicted to heroin.
Whatever the reason, last summer I met with a local comic named Allish that I know from improv, and he walked me through some of this methods for writing jokes. He even convinced me to come and watch an open mic night. It was intimidating but not completely impossible for me to imagine doing it. I never took the extra step to write and perform but I kept thinking about it.
Stand up is different from improv in that with improv, you’re not alone on stage. You have partners and a team who are there to support you. Your job is to work with your partners, and while it’s all off the cuff, you know that you’ve got each other’s backs. There’s no wrong answer, no judgement, all support.
Stand up? While there might be support before and after, you’re on your own on stage, with no one to step in and pick up the ball if you fumble.
I was still hoping to get to open mic, but life, such as it is, got in the way at the end of 2015 and beginning of 2016.
Then last Friday I ran into another friend from improv, Keith, and he told me about a local open mic night that was actively recruiting women to perform. It was the same open mic I’d gone to watch before.
For whatever reason, on that day, I told him, “I’ll be there.” Like may things I’ve experimented with lately, I just said yes and thought about it later. I had no material written, and I had four days to prepare five minutes of stuff to say onstage.
And that’s how I found myself at the Firehouse Saloon last night, getting ready to perform my first stand up routine.
I wasn’t nervous in the days leading up. I worked out material the same way I work out a column. I practiced it over and over and over. I found clothes that felt comfortable. I was ready.
Then I got there, and people started showing up to perform, and I saw my name on the board, and I started to get nervous. The fact that I had to use my inhaler didn’t help; it makes me jittery and I was afraid if I took a Xanax I’d get foggy.
My dear friend Linsay had come out to cheer me on, and there were two other women that also know from improv, Andrea and Colleen, who were also there that night. My very funny friend Andrea regularly performs; Colleen’s been talking about doing it and planning for a few weeks. She was just there to watch last night, but I talked her into taking the plunge last night with me. Allish and Keith were there, too, so there were lots of friendly faces in the crowd.
The good thing about this open mic is that people are working out material on stage. Some of the comics actually say things like, “OK, here’s a joke I’m working on” or “Hmm, which joke should I do next?” No one was judgy or rude. It’s a room full of other comedians.
Which was good, because I’d gone outside a few times to sort of refresh my memory and my mind was a total blank. I couldn’t remember my jokes, ran the bit in my head and missed the major lines. Uh oh. My stomach hurt, my hands shook, I kept taking my pulse just in case I was having a heart attack. I don’t which would have been more embarrassing – bombing on stage or going out on a stretcher because I’d died of fear.
I seriously considered just going home the closer we got to my time, but Linsay had ridden her bike to the bar…in the rain. And sat through over an hour of other comics. I wasn’t going to back out on her now.
Finally, it was my turn. Woody, the host, called my name – I’d forgotten to write my last name on the sign up sheet, oops – and there I was. On stage! AAAHHHH!! And without a hitch, I started talking and intelligible words came out. People laughed; it helped that Andrea has a loud and contagious laugh, and she used it freely.
All of the support from my friends helped. Linsay was amazing; she even remembered to take a photo! I remembered the routine, I didn’t rush through it (which I have a tendency to do when I start talking), and then it was over.
Wait. What just happened?
Maybe they were just being nice to the newbie. I don’t even care. I did it. I got up on stage and did it. I did it!
When I was done, I went out into the open bar area and my girlfriends came with me. And I cried. It was a bit of emotional overload. I joked that this must be what it’s like to do drugs, have a big high and crash.
And that was it. I did it. Will I do it again? Maybe. Woody said he hopes I come back. It might only be because they’re seriously recruiting women for their last show of the month, where they are having an equal number of men and women on the bill.
If I never do it again, that’s OK too. I had a good time and my brain got a workout. I needed material for my column and this experience definitely helped. I’m kind of proud of myself for getting up there. But now, it’s back to real life.
And it must be noted that Colleen was incredibly brave last night, too. She hadn’t prepared anything, since she wasn’t planning to perform. She got up and did a monologue ala improv and it was hilarious. I’m so proud of her, and so glad we got to have that “first stand up” experience together!