A few days ago, I fulfilled a years long dream of doing stand up comedy. I got up at an open mic, nervous as hell, and told my jokes. It was great!!
There are multiple open mics nearly every night of the week in Portland. The first open mic I went to was at Helium, a great club in Portland that bills some top names. I went with my friend Lauren, who is a total whore when it comes to humor (like me, she’ll laugh at almost anything). The quality of the comics was pretty great, with one dude in particular KILLING it within seconds of his 3-minute act. Lauren and I had tears streaming down our faces by the end. Super impressive. Only a couple people flopped. I left feeling pretty intimidated.
Next, I checked out Brody Theater in Portland. Brody is a funky downtown space that holds workshops and classes in improv, physical comedy, and other stuff. They have 3 open mics every week. The first time I went to watch an open mic there I was like, “These guys are a bunch of assholes!” There was hardly any laughter. Several people flopped so painfully I practically cried real tears for them. I left thinking I wouldn’t go back. But, a few weeks later I did.
This time, I was prepared for the stoic audience and was better able to focus on the comedians. I was very surprised to see some of the same folks get up as the last time. I thought, “Why are they getting up again, knowing how tough this audience is?” I also thought, “Jeez, I don’t know anybody here. They’re not laughing anyway… Maybe this would be a good place to try getting up for the first time”.
I went back a third time, with the express purpose of studying the process so I could get up in the future, possibly even that night. Same deal. Mostly silent audience, lots of flopping comics. But toward the end of the night, this guy got up and said, “I didn’t prepare anything, but I’m just gonna run some jokes, if that’s okay. I mean, we’re all comics here, right? Is there anybody here who’s not a comedian?” Two people raised their hands and a light bulb popped on over my head. OH…! They’re ALL COMEDIANS. No wonder it’s so quiet! They’re all too busy studying each other to laugh. Suddenly, the room went from feeling awkward and mean to supportive and friendly. I couldn’t wait to get up.
First I had to work up a set. Luckily, I am dating people from an online dating site, so I’ve got plenty of new material. In the past few weeks, I just happened to have a guy reveal to me, a bit embarrassed, that he likes to hold his own balls. GOLD! I worked up a set about testicles, dating, the nature of secrets, and coveting thick skin. At Brody, each comic is given 3 minutes onstage, which is not very much. I practiced my set when I was driving around town, slowly shaving time off until I got it to 3:08, which I thought was good enough.
I went back and forth about inviting any friends to come watch. In the end, I decided it would be nice to have one friendly face in the crowd, so invited Lauren (she has also made threats against me if I ever considered performing without inviting her…). We arrived at 9:15, 15 minutes before the show. I had signed up online that morning, as instructed on their website. I checked the list, and didn’t see my name. That was quickly remedied, and they put me in at #11. Perfect, I thought.
Lauren and I ordered tea. I stopped drinking a couple months ago, and I knew I would do better onstage without the booze. We watched one comic get up after another, and the quality was much better than I’d ever seen at Brody. I had confidence in my set, though, so didn’t feel too nervous. The nervousness and anxiety hit me in waves that were short and not too intense. I kept getting up to check the list, and I noticed they were adding names before mine, which made me a tad grumpy…
Finally, the comic before me went up. The emcee gave me a little signal, letting me know I was next. I went and stood by the wall near the stage, like I’d seen the others doing. The guy before me was TERRIBLE. He delivered a downright offensive set about the transgender teen who recently committed suicide in the midwest. The only people laughing were his two friends. I know comedy can talk about touchy subjects, and make us laugh about what is normally forbidden or taboo. But this was just pure ridicule of a person who was dead, smashed, and heartbroken by our cruel world. I was surprised he wasn’t made to get down. If I hadn’t been so busy running my jokes in my head I might have booed him…
The emcee asked if he could tell the audience it was my first time. He said some people didn’t like that, but I said he could. After Terrible Comic got down, the emcee gave me a stellar introduction, encouraging the audience to treat me right because it was my first time. The crowd whooped and stomped me onto the stage, which felt amazing. Then, the whole world felt far away. The lights were bright, but I could see the crowd (probably 40 people). I suddenly felt like my body was weirdly proportioned, and I wasn’t totally in control of how the words were coming out of my mouth, or even quite what words.
My first joke got a good laugh. At 2 minutes, the emcee flashed a red light at me to let me know I had one minute left. I had lost track of the timing of the set, and headed into the last bit too late. He flashed his phone at me, the 3-minute warning, when I had just started the set up for the last joke. I knew the joke took about 45 seconds to deliver, so I told the audience I had run out of time but was going to do the joke anyway. In retrospect, I should have cut myself off and told them they would get the joke next time. I got some pretty good laughs during the set, but folks seemed a bit squirmy for the last joke. I think that, once the audience knows you’re going over your time, they feel both annoyed that you’re taking time from another comic, and uncomfortable because they don’t want to see you get in trouble. Because of that, the joke didn’t come off as strong as I’d hoped, but it was fine.
It was really helpful and encouraging to see Lauren cracking up throughout the set. I hadn’t told her the jokes because I wanted them to be fresh for her. I got down, shook the emcee’s hand on the way, and headed to my seat amidst the crowd’s applause. Wheee!! As soon as I sat down, a woman came over and stuck her hand in my face. “That was awesome,” she said. “Don’t stop doing this.” I asked her name, because I want some comedian friends! Several other people complimented me before we left, which felt so great. I apologized to the emcee for going over, before I left, and said I’d do better next time.
I left feeling like a crazy anime creature that spews rainbows from her feet and rides them over the city. Anatoli Brant, the usual host of the night and general open mic hotshot, walked with us for a few steps and said, “You survived! But you went over your time…”
I was awake until 3am with nerves and excitement. Definitely doing it again! I’m going to shoot for 1-2 open mics/week, assuming I can write material that fast. I’d like to eventually incorporate my guitar into the sets, as dorky as that is. SO, moral of this post is this: THERE IS NOTHING LIKE JUST GETTING UP AND DOING IT.