Last October, I took Amy Tee’s comedy class. November of last year was when I did my first real thing on stage, which was essentially a manufactured “graduation night”, so it wasn’t a gig as such but rather an over glorified open mic.
A couple of things stand with me to this day. There two other students in Amy’s class that made it all the way through to the end. I don’t mean that there was an elimination round or anything, but there might as well have been. If Steve Hofstetter’s success with Laughs leads to his other idea, “Comedy Intervention”, I imagine this will be very similar.
The class began with six students. One of them was a seventeen year-old boy who had a stuttering problem. Amy insisted that he use his stuttering in his act, as your weaknesses are your strengths. The kid was not in the class the very next week.
His problem was very similar to an older gentleman who took Amy’s class in the springtime, in that they did not believe there was going to be any real work involved. It’s when Amy explained the difference between being “funny on stage” and “funny at a barbecue”. When you make people laugh and they say, “Oh, you should be a comedian”, people can often take that as a sign that they are automatically a comedian if they grab a mic and get on stage.
The second guy to drop the class was a guy I’ll call Clive. Clive had some success doing impressions on the road. That was his act, allegedly. He took the comedy class because he was, in his words, “trying to break out” of that. Unfortunately, again, he wasn’t really trying to write any new stuff. He kept falling back on his impressions, which would have been great, except he didn’t want to take any kind of criticism of his stuff. Some of his jokes were very derivative (IE: “Salem, Massachusetts, where the men are men and sometimes so are the women”) and his impressions could be outright frightening. One afternoon, after he had skipped two of the classes, he showed up wearing sweatpants and a sweatshirt and he tried doing an act he had written. Then out of nowhere he began doing his “Linda Blair” impersonation and it was like watching a schizophrenic off his meds if you didn’t know what he was doing. And once again, he just didn’t want to hear any criticism.
Needless to say, Clive was not with us in the end. It was just two guys remaining named Nick and Peter and I’ll post the videos of their sets as well as mine to show you that I’m not just blowing smoke up anyone’s asses.
The three of us spent six weeks honing our sets, writing the jokes and rehearsing. I even had Peter and Nick over to my house (Something unprecedented in my lifespan) where we sharpened our delivery and performance. The biggest advice they gave me was to slow down and allow for pauses.
Well we backed each other up, we supported one another, and graduation night went spectacularly as of course it would be expected as again, it was pretty much manufactured. There were a lot of relatively well known comedians to act as ballast and we were essentially the new kids on the block. Nick went up first.
In the back, I could see three of the feature comedians actually bust a gut at Nick’s set. The jokes he opened with about his cat were new to all of us, which I admired, because I still essentially stick to a script. A year later, working off book or improvising is something I’m still trying to do and he was doing this effortlessly on his first night.
After all three of us had performed, Scott Lombardi came over to our table. I think Peter was with his family and friends at the time, but Scott came to our table to tell us about his open mic at the Tavern at the End of the World in Charlestown. He but his arm around Nick’s shoulder and barely even acknowledged that I was alive, much less standing in front of him. Scott was very much inviting Nick to the open mic and I was just lucky enough to find out about it as I was, invisible, but still standing there.
You could easily accuse me of over thinking this situation, because you, the reader, were not there. You could also misinterpret my view of the situation because you, the reader, were not there. Please understand that I didn’t resent Scott’s actions nor do I resent Nick. He had great stage presence, he owned his act, and at the open mic the very next week, he really outshone the three of us. So it’s no wonder that an actual professional comedian like Scott saw a lot of potential in a guy like Nick and wanted to see more of him.
Now here’s what I will say about Peter. As you’ll see in the video, Peter is obviously a lot older than Nick or myself so he has a lot of experience in the world. He’s a manager where he works, a father of three and when I met his girlfriend I thought the woman was an absolute saint. We all decided to go to the Tavern at the End of the World the very next week, because in spite of my sore throat, we had a great time at Graduation Night and we wanted to try our luck again.
Peter’s girlfriend bought Nick and I dinner and we got to meet his daughter and a few of his friends. The Tavern was a very different atmosphere than the venue where we had the graduation night. So the first thing I think we did wrong that night was when Peter brought his crew as it were, it seemed to me like were trying to recreate graduation night. The assumption being that if we got that audience to laugh we could do the same with this one.
Amy had warned us that it would be a bad idea to judge any future performances by the standards set on graduation night. (So please understand once again that my referring to graduation night as “manufactured” is only the shortened version of what she had already told us and not my being an ungrateful twat) I had her words of wisdom in the back of my head but I deluded myself almost the same way, thinking that if I was at this open mic event, I was already confident that I could wow the crowd.
Here’s the thing to remember at an open mic. Half of the people in the audience are all people trying to do their own comedy. They may laugh at you or they may not. They may force a laugh. Amy had this thing where she would just say, “That’s funny”, not because she couldn’t laugh, but if she laughed at every single joke one of her student’s told her, she wouldn’t get anything done. Imagine that in an entire room full of people. Only a third of the customers there are actual paying customers, who just happened to find a table in the dining area of the bar, which is where the venue was held.
So this was Peter’s second night as a performer. And again, he has a great set, with some stuff that I’m sure would have been gold in front of the Fran’s Place crowd that I performed for in September. But he went into this with the same delusion that I had, expecting this crowd to roar at his every word. He wrote his name down on the open mic list, “Craven Morehead”. Like the entire pub would just buy him a drink at the mere taste of his wit.
Of course he didn’t get any major laughs. Neither did I. Here’s what I’ll say about my first night playing at the Tavern. I really only got one or two laughs. The best laugh I got was my “frog prince” one-liner, that also got laughs at Fran’s Place and I plan to try again on my birthday. And I didn’t choke. I finished the jokes I was going to tell, but at that moment I lost my footing and I had to step outside for air. The emcee assured me I did fine and that I wasn’t the worst, but in retrospect, I was in walking distance of the train station and I’m sure she didn’t want to be the last person to have seen me alive so she was just stopping me just in case. Maybe.
Nick went up and again, he just did some stuff that I think really shined for him that night at graduation, when Scott approached him the first time. He threw a few new jokes he had written. The one that got the biggest laugh was a joke about his ex-girlfriend dumping him after she saw the size of a horse’s penis and decided to get herself a “new stud”. But what was impressive to me to this day, was he saw the same crowd that me and Peter saw, very much unmoved and hard to impress and he just had what I call a “Fuck it” moment. And he trucked out a story from work about a guy ordering a Journey album and making a racist comment while he was doing it. If there was a laugh count contest between the three of us, Nick definitely won.
So why am I so annoyed?
Because I’ve been doing open mic after open mic. Writing set after set. Sometimes I kill, sometimes I bomb. Sometimes I lose confidence before I even get a chance to stand up and I leave the venue before I humiliate myself, but I keep going at it and inspite what the assholes who comment on this blog will say, I know I have a long way to go. I know that it is very likely that I will fuck up quite a few good opportunities along the way, but I’ll be in good company.
Peter’s ego got bruised and he never pursued comedy again. Nick wrote a few jokes, but I don’t think he ever got on stage again. And we tried to meet up recently. He took me out to lunch, but I think I did that thing I do where I say something without thinking about it and he might have been offended.
I had a dream last night where Peter was still doing comedy. I saw him on stage and heard the jokes he told in the video that I have linked. And it just bugs me that in real life, he chose not to take it any further. Same with Nick. Maybe it’s less that I’m annoyed that they didn’t go any further with it and more that neither of them is near at hand to help me with my stuff. Because if they’re not going to pursue their craft, the least one of them could do is throw me a line of support while I pursue mine.