I always considered myself a funny person, but I always considered people that thought themselves funny weren’t actually funny. I’m not sure where that leaves me. I always admired stand up comedians and envied their ability because I’m awful at public speaking and nervous in most situations, so I’m pretty bad at speaking in general. Around friends I’m fine, but with strangers I lose all my confidence. I was required to take a public speaking course in college, if it wasn’t required I would have never done it. There were 15 people and the class started at 8:00am, more than half the class skipped because it was at freaking 8:00am. I made every class though, I was determined to get better. In the beginning I was nervous and a poor speaker despite a majority of the audience being half asleep, but by the end of the class I was still just as bad.
The best part about stand up is that anyone can do it. After a quick 5 minute search I found listings for open mics in my area, and then a quick 5 months later I mustered the courage to perform. I settled on a dive bar close enough to drive to yet far enough for me to not bump into anyone I knew. I spent the whole day writing “material” and I wore my nicest t-shirt before heading out.
A half hour of driving through the rain later and I arrive at my destination. A large man is blocking the entrance and I assume he’s a bouncer. In my hurry leave I forgot to bring my wallet; I look 17, I always get IDed. The good news was I had memorized my 5 minute routine down pat by talking to myself in the car for 2 hours getting my wallet, the bad news was I was 2 hours late.
Apparently that guy wasn’t even a bouncer, just some fat guy smoking a cigarette in the rain. Why would they need a bouncer for a dive bar? There were about 8 people in the place, all men. It took 10 seconds to search the bar, but I couldn’t find a stage. I also didn’t see anyone performing, maybe I missed it, maybe I came too late. Anxiety made me want to leave, but at this point I was more frustrated than nervous. I asked the bartender if they were still doing the open mic.
Bartender – “Yeah…are you here for comedy?”
Me – “Yeah how could you tell?!”
Bartender – “You look funny.”
She pointed me to the host, he was behind the pool table setting up the microphone and stereo. I swear he wasn’t there before, I didn’t even noticed the pool table earlier either. I’m not the most observant person.
The host had a guitar and sang alternative rock, he was the only performer, apparently the rest of the people in the bar came to drink. What weirdos. This was a music open mic and to his knowledge they hadn’t had a comedy performance in a while. Great, no pressure. He tells me that after playing a few songs he’ll call me up to perform, so I go to the bar and order a beer to calm my nerves, they don’t ID me. 40 minutes later it’s time for me to go up.
Host – “After my next song we’re going to have someone perform some stand up comedy! Wooo! He’s very funny!”
My stomach dropped to the floor. Who cares I thought, I’ll never see any of these guys again, but my body started subtly shaking. I started “performing,” but because the mic was set up for singing volume instead of talking volume the host had to come back and make adjustments before I could start. So the first minute I just stood there staring at the crowd awkwardly. After he was done I continued staring at the crowd awkwardly, but talked this time. There’s about 10 people in the bar and they all have their attention on me.
I introduced myself and talked about random topics like emergency exists, fire extinguishers, Six Flags, rap music, and working in retail. It didn’t flow at all. My closer was probably my worst joke.
Me – “I thought of this joke as a kid, but thought it was so funny I know it would still work now. What did one dog say to the other dog? Hey who let us out? Who, who, who?”
Am I painting a picture of how bad I was?! Because I was that bad! It’s tough writing jokes. It’s even tougher writing funny jokes.
I was up there for 6 minutes and 30 seconds including the audio help, my goal was to go up there for 5 minutes. Win? The host looked annoyed, I think he wanted a chance to finish his drink and was expecting me to last longer, but that’s all I had. One of the bartenders interrupted me at one point, I got heckled for the first time!, and I heard one laugh, but it could have just as easily have been a cough. I could feel that they all wanted me to do well, no one wants to see someone bomb, and I could at least see smiles on their faces.
Honestly it felt pretty great and was somehow felt a lot better than my public speaking class. The whole ordeal was pretty exhilarating on my nerves and this is coming from a guy who went bungee jumping. Before I went up I would have rather leapt off the bridge a 2nd time, but after performing it wasn’t so bad. I bombed, but it was still fun. I talked to three drunk guys that were at a table 5 feet off “stage” immediately after my “performance.” They told me it took a lot of guts to do what I did. I’m sure he meant it took a lot of guts to go up there and not be funny, but I appreciated the compliment and thanked him.
I felt like I could do anything after that. I sat through one more of the host’s songs, he wasn’t bad, and scaddled out of there. It was still raining. Wherever you’re reading this try giving stand up comedy a shot. It’s worth doing at least once.