Bit of a long one today, so grab a cup of coffee and sit back for this one boys and girls.
On top of doing my webcomic, The Frumps, I also do Open-Mic Stand Up comedy. And as you guys can imagine, getting up in front of a room full of strangers in the hopes of making them laugh is one of the SCARIEST things you can do. My first time going up I was unable to sleep the night before. I couldn’t focus at work. I wanted to throw up. And I kept hoping the pub where the Open-Mic was happening would magically shut down for the evening. But despite all that, I somehow got up on that stage and gave it my best. Since then, much to my surprise, I’ve come to enjoy doing Open-Mic Comedy.
Now, don’t get me wrong, IT’S HARD! Coming up with jokes to tell a room full of strangers is an arduous process. The first time you tell a joke it might fail. That doesn’t necessarily mean the joke is bad. It just means your delivery could be off or the wording wasn’t quite right. So you go up again and again, in different rooms, to different strangers, until you find that magic combination that actually might work.
Several months ago I was trying to get through my set but froze on stage. I couldn’t remember ANYTHING. Usually, I can fish out my notes and continue from where I left off, but tonight I was caught like a deer in headlights. I stood there on stage for full minute with people staring at me. I tried to have some fun with the awkwardness, and ironically enough that was the part that got the most laughs. But I didn’t want to end it like that, so I threw out a simple joke that is relatively common and well known: “How do you get a dog to stop humping your leg? You pick it up and suck it’s cock”. That got a HUGE response and the people cheered.
That joke quickly became my goto joke when I couldn’t think of a closer or got stuck. It was a cheap, school playground joke, but it was something to end the night.
For the last month I’ve been crafting a new set which was actually showing some real promise. People were laughing where I was expecting them to laugh, and I didn’t have to resort to the dog joke. Good times. But I was still trying to come up with a strong opener. Something to get the audience to agree to follow me on this five minute journey.
So last Monday I decided to open with the dog joke. Why not? It always got a good response and I could use the laughter to carry me through the rest of my set. I did my set, poorly, but it’s Open-Mic. Sometimes you’ll just have a bad night. It happens. Unfortunately my night was about to get a lot worse.
It was time for another comedian to go up on stage and he started laughing at me. He said that he once did a gig 2 years ago to a room full of drunk people and a guy came up to him after the show and offered THE EXACT SAME joke that he could add to his set. The comedian thought it was the absolute worst joke he ever heard and promised he would never use it in his set. And here I was using it right in front of him, two years later. He then went on to rip on another comedian for telling “a shit joke”, and then went on to rip on the night as a whole, all the while while laughing his ass off. The room had a mix of awkward silence and laughter from the audience. I was in the quiet camp.
After the show I felt, well…. humiliated. So I grabbed my stuff and left. The emcee of the night apologized for what happened, but I wasn’t in the mood. I took off. Half way back to the Tube Station (London Underground Subway) I stopped and went “Fuck that shit!”. Turned around and went back towards the pub where we had our Open Mic.
I walked back into the room and confronted this guy. He smiled, said he was sorry and held his hand out to me. I rejected it. He smiled, shrugged and was about to leave. I stopped him and told him that I’m still new to comedy, and more importantly getting used to talking in front of people. So if I have to use a dumb joke to help me through this growth process then I’ll use a dumb joke to help me through this growth process. He shot back “If you practice telling shit jokes, you’ll turn into a shit comedian”, and walked off.
The room went silent. People quietly left. And I found a corner to sit in.
That hurt. That hurt really fucking bad.
The other comedian, who this guy ripped on, stayed behind and tried console me. He gave the usual “Fuck that guy. Who does he think he is?” And then he hit me with the big bomb: “We’re a community, we’re supposed to help and support each other”. Then I froze. This is the EXACT type of commentary I hear in the webcomic community after a troll shits on our work, and we need to feel good about ourselves. Only I got it right to my face. My mind started racing a mile a minute at that point. Was that comedian right? Does practicing shit jokes turn me into a shit comedian? Sure it feels good to have someone tell me “hey keep at it buddy, we’re here to support you”, but I realized something very important: My long-term goal ISN’T to continue to play to a room of other comedians working on their craft at open-mic nights, or only being a well known amongst others in webcomic community. I want to entertain people OUTSIDE of these circles. I wanted people who don’t know what it’s like in these inner circles to enjoy what I have to say.
And you know what? He was right. He was still a dick, but he was right. I was using that shit joke as a crutch. I was cheating myself from forcing myself to be the best I could be if I had that joke in my back pocket when things went wrong.
All the coddling, and pats on the back, are fine for the short term, but the only way to get good, I mean REALLY good, is to risk it all and put myself out there into a world that would hurt me emotionally, time and time again. The community is great, but it’s a safe haven that will keep you from looking outside of the bubble at the big bad scary world.
I knew what I had to do and stood up. It was time to step out of that bubble.
I went outside and found the comedian who openly shat on me. I held my hand out to him and said “One day, I will make you laugh”. He accepted and said “I hope so, mate”. And you know what, he sounded genuine to me.
I went home. Feeling like I came out the bigger man in the situation. But I won’t lie. It still hurt.
That next night I was going up again for another night of Open-Mic comedy. I wasn’t looking forward to it. Not at all. But I needed to get back on that horse. Then I spotted HIM in the audience. SHIT!!! He was there. The same guy who ripped me apart was in the audience. I became very uncomfortable and wanted to go home.
But you know what… fuck that guy. He might have had a point, but still… fuck that guy.
Then it was my turn. I stood up. Did my bit, went through my set, and gave one of the best performances to date. I got some laughs, but not as many as I would have liked. But you know what, that’s okay. I got through it. I heard what worked, I heard what didn’t, and I’ll adjust it for the next time. I didn’t even resort to the dog joke.
The two emcees from the previous night were there and congratulated me on a job well done. I felt like I somewhat redeemed myself, and supposedly even got one laugh from HIM. Although to be honest they couldn’t tell if it was a real laugh, or one of those “oh please” type of laughs. Probably the later. But you know what… I doesn’t matter.
I got back up there. And I feel a little stronger because of it.