This blog is a continuation of my journey into amateur Stand-Up Comedy. See the previous post.
If you are just now tuning in, let me get you up to speed really fast:
I am a wannabe armchair comedian in small-town Snohomish, Washington. (insert thick Eastern-European accent here) “I am determined for goal at the making of the American big-time dream wonder”… Or something like that.
I have “performed” (stood on stage) at five open mic’s (also known and “open mikes”) at various locations thus far. I generate my own material and I have been rehearsing in my bedroom, using a flashlight as my prop microphone.
My mission is to journal the process of getting into comedy without living in a major metropolitan area like New York or L.A. I do have Seattle within an hour away, so that is something.
My Very First Stand-Up Comedy Open Mic
My first open mic was at Laughs Comedy Spot in Kirkland, which is now in the University District in Seattle. I am pretty sure they moved to rid themselves of the bad taste they had in their mouths after I performed.
Laughs is a real comedy club and my first experience was pretty tough. I was given three minutes in front of the microphone, and I had smashed together a couple of random bits of material for the show. At best, I got a snicker, a sneeze, and a cough or two. It was back on December 16th, 2015, which was almost a year ago now. Needless to say, I didn’t feel like a big winner.
To make matters worse, one of the requirements of getting stage time is to bring people with you who will participate in the “two item minimum” of the joint. This usually means buying two over-priced drinks or some decent nachos. I guess they have to make money somehow because there ain’t nobody paying to see me unless I beg. They wanted each performer to bring two or three paying customers, but I had six guests, so I thought that would make them like me more and give me a good spot. I was also the first person there, arriving over an hour early and standing outside.
They made me the 24th out of 26 participants that night. All my friends had to sit through it and wait for me to do my “corporate-clean” comedy, all the while listening to some of the most atrocious and verbose blue humor rants that have ever been done at any comedy club in the history of stand-up. It made Richard Pryor’s material look like nursery rhymes.
If you don’t already know, “blue” means dirty and vulgar, including foul language, cursing, and sexual innuendo (or “in-your-endo”).
There was a guy (which I think we did actually laugh at) who ended up on the stool with his feet up and the mic going somewhere it shouldn’t while he made all kinds of gastroenterological sounds.
Now, I am all for free speech and I don’t have anything against blue comedy or those that do it, other than the fact that I don’t think it is necessary. I believe the really truly funny comedians don’t need it. Pure genius is found outside of so-called blue humor and I think that many comedians simply use foul language and sex for shock laughter and as a crutch. That same crutch is actually limiting them from tapping into their true funniness.
That, and I always feel bad when I swear and feel naughty when I make naughty-naughty gestures. Tee hee hee.
I got up on that stage and did my time—and I mostly sucked. I think it was the nerves. My material wasn’t absolutely awful, but I swayed back and forth like a very disturbed lunatic.
I am normally not nervous when I get on stage, but something about the comedy club environment, all the wait time, and never having done it made me bonkers inside. I pulled it together, but overall it made me pretty lame.
It really pains me to put the video on here. I don’t want to post it. Most comedians would never bother putting their old bad stuff up, but I am doing it here to be real and authentic and to get over myself and my ego. Besides, I promised to share the gritty side with you and I feel it makes us closer. Don’t you think it makes us close? Yeah, real close. “…How YOU doin’?”
Oh sorry! That must be the vibes from the comedy club sneaking in here! My bad.
Ok here goes… My friends Gary and Amanda (I just went to their coed baby shower last night by the way) luckily taped it for me. Amanda had her cell phone and asked me if I wanted her to record it. I guess I am glad I said yes… Maybe.
WARNING: This really pains me to post here since it is not what I consider in the least bit good! (This was before any training other than reading a book that I don’t recommend now).
…Man, that is SO HARD TO WATCH!
I really didn’t want to post that. I guess I have to so you can see me progress and get better (I hope to God above!)
Overall, my friends were supportive (or didn’t say anything). I guess they were exhausted and drained by the end of the night because all I got was a “Well, it’s a brave thing to do.” That comment made me feel OK… I guess.
Well, I can only go up from there. After going through the Killer Stand-Up course, I always do a self-tape for evaluation purposes.
My Second Comedy Open Mic (after just a little bit of training)
I couldn’t find the nerve to go again for another four months because after the comedy club I was just thinking that it really wasn’t my place. The vibe wasn’t right and I didn’t like the process there. Either that or I was just being a huge sissy-man. Probably the latter.
It was Earth Day, and I heard they wanted to do a special open mic at our little local theater in Snohomish, the Tim Noah Thumbnail Theater. I know Tim Noah from my childhood and I have performed a few times with and for him when I first moved up to the area. He is a wonderful man, and he and Cyndi Elliott were there, which always makes me feel better since they tend to laugh at my jokes in normal conversation.
An advantage of this particular open mic is that they give you two songs or eight minutes. Eight minutes is far more time than I would ever get at a traditional comedy open mic, so I decided to take full advantage and try out more material to sift through and find my good stuff (assuming I have any), based on audience reaction.
This open mic was a very interesting experience for me since I ended up improvising a lot. I had taken a “street joke” and rewrote it, removing a lot of the long-winded and unnecessary setup that most street jokes tend to have.
The idea for adapting common street jokes came from comedy expert and awesome teacher, Steve Roye and his amazing course at KillerStandUp.com. I found out about that course when I tried to contact Tim Hawkins via his website, wondering if I could be a roadie or something. I sent an email asking whether I could be an apprentice or if he taught comedy since I think he is one of the most talented people that I have ever seen in my life. His team just told me to go get Steve’s course. It’s what they tell every nerd who thinks he’s funny and wants to be like Tim. “Then, work at it for a year and get back to us.” I thanked them for getting back to my email and I then decided to actually do it. My goal is to be an opener for Tim.
I used the street joke to help loosen up the crowd so I could go into my regular material. Some of the audience members at venues like this are not used to comedy and may have never even been to a comedy club. All they know about comedy is probably from YouTube or the boob tube.
Although telling traditional street jokes wouldn’t work at a typical comedy club (they tend to be artsier and demand original material), this technique can work in a corporate environment or for a group that doesn’t typically see comedy. Since the Thumbnail Theater is populated mainly by musicians, and the open mic is primarily a music affair, I figured it would work—and it did.
At the end of the routine, I did a bizarre improvisational modern dance performance art piece, which was essentially my impression of what I spent four years in college paying through the nose to learn how to do. So in about thirty seconds I took a big dump on my own college career. Nice Jesse. Way to show respect.
By the way, I had only gone through a little of Steve’s course when I did this, and already there was quite a bit of improvement, although I am by no means at a Headliner Comedian level, LOL.
My Third Open Mic Attempt
The third one was another up and down roller coaster crash test. I was talking about a topic I hold near and dear to my heart: Marriage. I had two different bits I put together to make my time.
Again, I opened with a street joke that I whittled down to the essentials. It was probably the best part of this whole routine. The rest was mediocre at best. The first half actually generated some laughter, but the second half was pretty much crickets. In the future, I will cut the second half (and perhaps more) and stick with the first (after editing) when I hone my material for the hour special (ahhh… Someday…)
My Fourth Open Mic… TOTAL BOMB (I ignored my training and tried something “cutting edge”)
At the time of this writing, I can’t get myself to post a video of the fourth time I went up to try stand-up comedy.
I not only didn’t “Kill” as they say in the industry but I actually severely bombed. I really sucked. They didn’t die of laughter, I died on the vine.
The reason I believe this happened was that I tried out material that I created as a sketch comedy piece. It was a very specific character that would be a good contrast to other actors playing straight and the exaggeration might work in that context.
However, for some weird reason, I decided to try it out as stand-up material. In the course I took, as well as several books I have read, it recommended I NOT do what I did in my fourth routine. Being the smart guy I am, I didn’t listen to them and proceeded to bomb hard into the ground.
By the way, the idea came from when I was at a gas station and a guy came over the loud speaker saying that someone’s “Shower” was ready. That premise alone should be enough to generate laughter, and I was cracking up. I did a whole bit pretending to be the announcer talking about the shower and it then turns into a scene with mud wrestling references.
Because of the way I say it, someone who’s mind is in the gutter might accidentally view it as suggestive in a sexual way. The thing is that there is none of that in it and I don’t mean any vulgarity whatsoever, so it is actually quite innocent. The problem was that not only did the audience not get it, but the MC actually heckled me with groans and reminded me to keep it “family friendly”, even though I never said a bad word or even came close to sexual innuendo.
The bizarre thing is that since he was the one who warned me, it was actually HIM who was thinking those things! Tsk. Tsk. Mr. MC Clean is the one with the dirty mind, not me!
Anyway, since it garnered zero laughs, I don’t want you to have to sit through eight minutes of it.
Perhaps the saddest thing about the whole night was that I had guests there.
A couple days before, I had started up a comedy meetup group in Snohomish, trying to get people together to do improv and sketch comedy. There was a nice older couple there that really seemed enthused and really wanted to get the most out of it. I mentioned the open mic, not thinking anyone would actually come so soon. I actually wished they hadn’t!
It turned out they came, sat there patiently until the end when I got to go up for my spot, and then stared at me with a dumbfounded and horrific look on their faces while I bombed like Hiroshima. After the show, I looked around to see if I could find them and apologize, but they were gone.
They never came back to my comedy meetup group.
I don’t blame them. If you signed up for a comedy class and then realized that your instructor was not only NOT funny but also really weird, would you go back?
This bombing experience was good for me. It really made to me take stock of how far I have come, and it taught me what not to do in the future. After this, I took some time off and almost quit. I read another book about stand-up that did not help me much and then went back to Steve’s course, which I think is amazing. Five stars for Steve. If only he could give me comedy talent too.
In the previous post, I included a bit from my fifth open mic. I am determined to learn from these experiences and create new and better material while developing stage techniques and getting past my nerves.
There is another open mic this Friday, at the Thumbnail Theater again in Snohomish.
On Saturday we plan to head up to Bellingham to meet an old high school friend of mine for another comedy show. Jason Mann was the guy who wrote my jokes in high school for the morning announcements. Twenty years later we saw each other at the reunion and decided to hang out! Wow. Incidentally, I am currently writing a book about my twenty-year reunion that includes some hilarious stories. You’ll have to check it out when I’m finished.
Established in Bellingham, WA by world renowned improviser Ryan Stiles, The Upfront Theatre is a cabaret-style venue that offers live improv comedy every Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. The Upfront is for all ages and continues to attract all walks of life searching for a good time.