Stand-Up Comedy For The Total Neophyte

I am finally coming out of the closet.

…And not in the way you might think.

After debating for many moons whether or not to publicly announce I am doing something completely insane, I finally decided to come out with it and let everyone know that I am going to try my hand at stand-up comedy. I am even completing a course in stand-up comedy and writing my own material.

I have been soul searching for a full year… No, make that thirty-nine years.

Up until now, I have been either unknown or vaguely known in various groups. And if there is a sure path to mediocrity, it is not being specific with who you are or what you do.

The people who knew me in my twenties only knew me as an actor and dancer in musical theater, often in tights. The people who knew me in my thirties knew me only as a gym owner, or a personal trainer, or the “boot camp guy”. Even stranger, people outside my immediate area only knew me as a fitness guru and business consultant and author of a couple of industry-specific non-fiction books. Some of these latter folks even thought I was worth listening to.

Yet who I really am, or at least aspire to be is a thinker and entertainer: A writer, speaker, and maybe even a comedian from time to time. In other words, it is important to push the envelope and use creativity to expand limitations.

Now if you are stumbling upon this and you have known me as one of the aforementioned personalities, you may be pausing long enough to either drop this right here and go about your day (likely), or you are thinking, “Wha?…..” And perhaps this all looks like a major identity crisis and a mid-life one at that.

I assure you I am far past the mid-life crisis!

In fact, I have already done most of the difficult work in my mind. The work of self-discovery and self-mastery. The work of thinking really hard and then trying things and failing. I already know where I have been and now where I want to go, and I have no self-delusions about who I am. This includes my talents, my strengths, as well as my many weaknesses. I think stand-up comedy (for at least part of how I engage audiences as a speaker) is good for me… Really. LOL.

Why write about this in the public eye?

I am writing this because this is a window into my soul and I think it provides value to you too. You probably have thought about what it is you really want to do with your life many times. Are you doing it? Statistically, you hate your job and you aren’t doing it.

Maybe we all need to try something outside of our comfort zone just to expand who we really are.

Therefore, it is my civic duty and responsibility to humanity to open up on this subject and give you some thoughts and ideas that you can use for your own journey of self-discovery and more importantly, to get out of your box!

We can do it!

…Yes, that is super corny and I love it.

And now it gets weird…

I had an experience with someone who has the gift of prophecy.

“Hold it!” I hear you saying, “This guy just got weird!”

Well, don’t sweat it then because I am already weird, and you should already know that if you are reading my writing. So weirdo-alert: If you get squeamish at the mention of anything of a spiritual nature, then you’ll need to look past that to follow along since I have had these experiences and to omit them would not be telling the whole truth.

This man who is a powerful enigma to me was able to explain unexplainable things and show me a vision of myself that he had no earthly way of knowing. This was verified after several meetings over a few years. Upon the most recent visit, he told me some things that really made me dig deep. Now, he did not tell me what to do, but he verified what I had already been struggling with on my own and pointed to the answer. It was and is up to me to take action on that and call that in.

He said, “Entertainment. Entertainment. Entertainment.”

Well, short of God himself coming down and slapping me silly with a rubber chicken, you can’t get much clearer than that. It could go in a lot of directions, but he followed it up with “Like Tim Hawkins,” who just happens to be one of my favorite stand-up comedians.

With this in mind, as well as the many years of searching for my deep passions and interests, I made an about-face. I have now realized that I know what to do and it feels amazing!

Even if I don’t keep doing this comedy thing, I will have blasted through a barrier and a great fear I have had my entire life.

Now, as an aspiring author, speaker, business consultant, direct-response copywriter, dad, etc., I might not exactly be destined to the stand-up comedy stage—strictly speaking. That doesn’t mean I can’t incorporate much of what I learn from studying it to my pursuit of speaking. I figure nothing ventured nothing gained!

Have you really considered what it is that you want to do with your life?

Are you actually doing it? By that I mean are you taking action every week that moves you toward what it is you really want? Not what you think you should want, or what others want, or just what your out-dated image of “who you are” wants. I mean what you really want right now. Who do you want to become? Do you want to do stand-up comedy or something else entirely? Probably stand-up comedy too, right? After all, it’s just talking and it looks so easy. Yeah right.

Here are a few reasons for my new hobby stand-up comedy which I aim to assimilate into my career:

  1. I absolutely love comedy and I go nuts when I see a great comedian perform.
  2. The idea of changing the way people think and breaking down barriers while making people laugh using the unique art of stand-up comedy is fantastic. I really think it can make a difference.
  3. I love how stand-up comedy allows me to write my own material and be original and appeals to the philosopher in me.
  4. Stand-up comedy allows me to perform on stage live, as well as on video.
  5. It’s cool how I am in complete control of my act. When I was an actor, that wasn’t so.
  6. It is both an art and a craft and requires honing amazing skills.
  7. Doing stand-up comedy is extremely rare, compared to other performing arts, and most people are very intimidated by it. In fact, it was the one performing art form that I always shied away from because I was scared out of my mind to do it and I always was in awe of anyone who could do it.

I traveled to Florida this summer for a huge talent contest, where I entered a variety of categories. The stand-up comedy group was the smallest, and I repeatedly had people stunned that we were even brave enough to try it. I had a blast in the group with workshopping ideas and we even tried to help each other improve our material. I had the time of my life!

So I am about to start an (albeit brief) journey and I am going to bring you along.

This was a difficult decision because most of the time when you see stand-up’s putting together websites, they are very careful to only show you what is really good and polished already. What you don’t see are the months and years of work they did to workshop ideas before finding out what actually works and then polishing it before selecting the very best to put on YouTube.

I am going to go through the process here and potentially expose myself to criticism because I want to share my belief that we can do anything. If an only moderately intelligent personal trainer who really isn’t all that funny can become a successful stand-up comedian (or at least a humorous speaker), well, then you can do anything.

To start with, I spent time in several books and a fantastic course. I did all the preliminary homework and writing exercises and have performed at a few open mics.

I have also added some of my comedy to speeches I have done, such as the one I did for a large AdvoCare business training event, where I had ten minutes to talk about a relatively boring topic. It worked. Where there is a will to be wily, there is a way to weirdness.

jesse stoddard advocare stand-up comedy

Jesse adding stand-up comedy to his business presentation in front of several hundred

What you see below is my fifth open mic (or open mike, as some call them). My first was a weird one at a local comedy club, which has since closed down and moved (probably because I was that bad). The second through fifth attempts were all at a small theater near my home, which is populated primarily by musicians. The fourth one was the worst bombing of my life. I picked material that might work for a sketch comedy piece or some other context, and I thought I would try it as stand-up material. It did not work and all I heard was crickets. I felt terrible, and it set me back for a month or more to lick my wounds. I almost quit, and then I remembered to persist without exception, as Andy Andrews says. The course I went through also mentioned that bombing happens even to the best and that I can get past it.

I accomplished my goal and may still get up on stage again…?

I have decided to perform most of my new pieces at the local theater for a number of reasons. First, it is close to my house so I have fewer excuses not to go. Second, I get more time there (eight minutes!) than I would at a conventional comedy club, which would only give me three minutes. Third, the comedy club scene is a bit dirty and blue comedy prevails, and I am committed to doing a corporate clean act for a number of reasons, including but not limited to, my beliefs, and the ability to get more paying work in a variety of places outside the comedy club market. Fourth, the crowd is not really there for comedy and is somewhat small. Therefore, if I can get them to laugh, my theory is that it will be much easier to get a larger crowd to laugh that is actually gathered for the purpose of laughing.

What follows is a video where you see me warming up the audience and going into a routine. I have included this video for a few reasons. I am not saying this is good, but I don’t think it is bad either. Out of the three minutes, the first minute was me improvising (I literally did not prepare that at all), in the attempt to “call the moment” and loosen everyone up. The last two minutes was my actual material. You can see that I am getting a few laughs, even in a small crowd, but my improv might have even been better received than my prepared material!

Another thing I noticed from the video is that I tended to have a manic energy and it is a habit my wife has also pointed out. It may be because of nerves, and I don’t know if it helps or hurts. I tend to rush because of it, which makes me step on laughs, which is not a good thing to do. An audience is either laughing or the comedian is talking. I don’t want them to stop laughing in order to listen, and stepping on laughs is a sure way to reduce laughter. I believe my manic energy or aggressiveness needs to be pulled back a bit and I need to relax better.

Check this out and let me know what you think.

Next up, read the post where I give you the back story, including the four previous stand-up comedy open mic attempts with a big bomb on number four!

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