"Guy Walks into a Bar" (a series)
A Guide for Comedians. Stories for Comedy Fans.
My First Time
(On Stage That Is)
“Knock-knock.” “Who’s there?” “Hmmm?”
“A Priest, a Rabbi, and a Pimp walk into a bar.” “The Priest says …” [Sound of crickets chirping].
Now comes the hard part, the punchline!
I think, almost everyone either believes that they can do Stand-Up Comedy or secretly wishes that they could. I believe that this fascination with the craft is why I often get the question, “how did you get into that?” The latter question is more of an introduction to what my call to action was, that they might utilize than it is pure curiosity. For some, it is joke telling and the joy of making folks laugh. For others, it is crucial for verbal therapy. For still others, it is performance art – expression through many forms, such as music, puppets, dance, and so forth. But for all, there is a core reason why they first tried their hand at it or want to. Regardless of the motive, we admire how predecessor Comics took something universal (therefore connecting with the voyeur) and conveyed it in a funny way.
Here are the top four springboards, for doing Stand-Up Comedy, that my three-decade-long observations have led me to choose. This list is by no means conclusive, and usually, the reasons overlap, but the expansion would just tend to be redundant.
· Once, or on occasion, or in every classroom, employment capacity, family party, or social gathering, they (we) have made/make people laugh and think (or are told), “I/You … could/should do Stand-Up!”
· There is pain! If this list were intentionally chronological, according to relevance, this should be number one. They (we) have emotional scars or mental wounds, and comedy is one of many ways, or art forms, to let it out – deal with it publicly. Sure, there’s therapy, journaling, substance abuse, or worse, but since the Comedian who creates “from the depths of their soul” has (or still is) explored those options, making fun of all – this - shit (the pain, the dysfunction, the personal hurdles, etc.) seems a healthier alternative or outlet.
· The individual (we are) is innately introverted in daily life, perhaps overly self-aware or insecure, and the stage allows them to say the things they dare not in personal-intimate settings. Ventriloquists are stereotypically linked to this cliché, but it most certainly applies to shy puppets without dummies … I meant to say … oh never mind!
· Like the introvert, there is a minority group, nonetheless very real and prevalent in the comedy world, and that is the serious individual. Their path in life, in particular their job, career, social status, or simply being raised in a formidable or stable environment (aka normal), leaves little room for their hidden sense of humor. Plainly, their existence is not fun! Comedy will be their dirty little secret, or at least the place where they can try to find some people with a pulse.
Regardless of the reason(s), you should do it! However, if you suck, you should stop!
[Future installments will delve into my opinions on this]
Barring an in-depth autobiography, including family influences, professional inspirations, and psychological trauma, it is only fair to share my reasons for catapulting onto the stage and my first time. I can easily check off three categories from the reasons list above:
1. I always made people laugh, in nearly every social circle (or I pissed them off really-really bad).
2. Scars, wounds, and the need to express suppressed feelings and emotions …insert a huge asterisk, with a bold red Sharpie here!
3. And yes, although not a dominant trait, and many who know me would debate, I do have an intense reserved quiet side,
where Stand-Up becomes my Mr. Hyde to my Dr. Jekyll.
Discovery Of My Passion
From a very young age, I was sure that I wanted to be an Actor. I always wrote prose, even as a boy, and as the acting dream faded, the desire to be a writer took its place. There was a consistent thread during all these formative years and changes – I was making people laugh, getting into trouble, and would stop everything to catch the Comedian who was appearing on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.
This was my thought process in 1989 (at 20 years of age) … Wait, let me first quiet the anarchy that was simultaneously going on in my brain at that time … ok, better. “I’m tired of being the lonely writer (funny how things come full circle), I am going to give this comedy thing a try. But how?” When it comes to having an interest in a career, a hobby, or just about anything, The New School For Social Research, in Manhattan, will have a continued education class in it. Typically instructed by people who are, or have, worked in your predestination. It was helpful to me when I wanted to be a writer, so why not see if they had a class for Stand-Up Comedy. Sure enough … It was to be a six-week workshop, culminating with an appearance on a real comedy club stage (Comic Strip Live, in New York City, to be precise). We were a small group of enthusiasts, and the teacher (a Comedian himself) was a nice man, and I came to find out later, a funny Comic as well. However, the nuts and bolts of instruction in the craft were not his thing. The weekly workshop did force me to write stuff down and bring it into class to be performed in front of our little group. Honestly, with about six of us in there, it was awkward – a real trial by fire. Since a structured approach was not being taught to me, I implored the rules of writing; “write about what you know!” So, being 20 and living at home, I talked about my mother’s pet peeves and obsessive nature. The group was impressed with me, as I seemed to have more of a natural knack for this than them.
Picking My Support Group
After about the third week, I grew ambitious and antsy. I decided to go to an open mic night at the club where I occasionally took my dates, #Pips Comedy Club, in Brooklyn, NY. Comedy was a great first-date ice breaker, but I was also doing covert research for my new curiosity. Plus, Pips was in good proximity to the parking area on the Belt Parkway, where I planned to finalize my evenings!
On a Wednesday night, in mid-January of 1990, I went up on stage. I carefully selected three specific people to be in my audience for support. First, my sister Marie. Of my five older sisters, she was the youngest and we confided in each other about our hopes, dreams, fears, and so on. Her attendance was a “natural selection,” as we knew each other better than our friends and family knew us. Next, was my friend Lenny. Lenny was one of two very close friends from high school. However, I chose him because of his infectious laugh. I knew that if it was going well, Lenny’s laugh would be the loudest. I also knew, that if it was going poorly, Lenny would still laugh (granted at me) but it would be sort of contagious and oddly reassure me. Finally, my friend and Canada Dry soda vendor for my deli, Jimmy. In general, he was an enormous fan of comedy. He was the one who introduced me – coaxed me even – to listen to Howard Stern. Jimmy was ready with a joke when he entered the store. In fact, he was much more jovial than me and you would be much quicker to think, “this guy should do Stand-Up,” before you would pick the more serious me. When I asked him about it, he said that he had enormous stage fright. In recollection, he may have even found that out by trying it once. Thirty-one years later, I still deal with stage fright. Some artists say it makes you better once you get out under the lights. I tend to agree, but boy is it stressful. I digress - Jimmy was to be my expert on the craft, of my three chosen people.
My First Time and Improvisation
There I am onstage, extremely nervous, and frankly, struggling quite a bit. It was hard enough to get these words out, which wasn’t quite polished yet for stage, but right at my feet (this was a small club, tightly packed, including the front row butting up against the stage) were two girls talking to each other. To this day, I’d much rather be heckled, than be “the thing” that inconveniences’ a rude table’s conversation during a show. I stopped my act, looked down at them, no longer struggling to remember my material, and in a very real me-moment said, “look, you wanna get up on stage, you arrive early, you put your name on a list and if you’re lucky they’ll give you a microphone – til then, you need to shut up!” This was Brooklyn, and the crowd blew up! Even though this was my first time, I knew to get off the stage right then … leave em’ laughing! I ran straight to the bar, where my sister Marie was waiting, smiling, and ready with an elated hug. Right behind her, a Comic was seated, who had gone on earlier and killed! I will leave out his name, but to me, he was a real pro. “Great set,” said Tony, the bartender, “drink?” “Johnny Walker Black,” I responded. Then that Comedian said confidently, “you’re gonna be a star kid,” and proceeded to check out my sister. “Thank you,” I said, “and that’s my sister, so watch your eyes!” I’ve always held to the credo, I’m a man first, and a comedian second. Even when I was green, I still had balls.
Yes, I took a workshop to dip my toe into the comedy waters. BUT NO, I DO NOT RECOMMEND COMEDY CLASSES!
[Tune in next issue for more with, “DO’S AND DON’TS”]