Send in the Clowns
A visceral mood engulfed me as I left a comedy open mic last night. A fact emerged from a theory I’ve been wrestling with for some time now. And that fact is this: I don’t ever want to go to another open mic as long as I live.
I co-founded a stand-up comedy production company almost two years ago called New Blood Ventura. It was born out of frustration over the only two comedy open mics in town being run like utter shitshows.
Hosts hours late, favoritism, trying to please everyone, staying outside all night and not actually hosting, complete disregard for the sign-up list, zero sobriety.
I was going to quit comedy because I was tired of showing up at 7:30 to a mic where the sign-up list was supposed to be out at 8 pm and finding there were already 20 names on the list. Or actually getting to be fourth on the list only to have the host put up three comics before me who drove in from Bakersfield unannounced and give them each 20 minutes.
Being booked on a “show” with literally 40 other comedians, being told I’m going up next for an hour and a half, have comics not on the show just show up and get to go on before me, and finally get to go up three hours later at 1:30 am after almost everyone has left the bar, and slur my shit to the three people left in the room because I rage drank one too many beers.
Doesn’t comedy sound fun?
So I said fuck this to all that, and my partner and I started our own open mic. If the list was out at 8:30, that meant 8:30. Not 8:25, not even 8:28. Why? Because I fucking said so.
Comics go up in the order they signed up. Period. Need to leave early? Better get here early to sign up then. Got a long drive home? Me, too. Get here earlier to sign up. And no, one guy can’t sign in his four friends who aren’t here yet. That fucks over the 15 other comics who got here on time. Got here at 8:45 and are shocked there are already 20 names on the list? Get here earlier.
Of course, we make concessions for people. We aren’t heartless bastards. But we’re also not playing favorites or letting people think they can slip into bad habits of always getting special treatment. We’re fucking fair, goddamn it.
There’s no need to put the list out an hour beforehand. What’s the point of that? What the fuck are you waiting for? And the show starts at 9 pm. At the latest on a slow night, 9:15. Not 9:45, or 10:30 when the drunk and stoned host finally shows up in his pajamas because he just woke up, and then discovers he’s too inebriated to do it and asks someone else to host for him.
Everyone gets the same seven minutes, and we give extended sets to those who want to work on more material. Everyone gets the light at one minute, even if you think you sold out both comedy clubs in town. Good for you. Your seven minutes are up. Get off my stage.
Our open mics went off like gangbusters.
The other hosts threatened comics to not come to our shows and to stop posting such glowing reviews on social media. And within six months, both of those craptastic open mics shut down. Why whoever saw that coming? Sometimes the trash takes itself out.
Why are we so good at what we do? We’re sober. How sad is that? I’ve put away some cocktails and my partner is a fan of the ganj, but we’ve never been so inebriated we couldn’t function. We’re also ten years older than most of the comics and are past the whole “doing drugs and getting shitfaced is fun!” phase. One DUI per state, thems my rules.
This crazy concept helps, too: we start on time. Every time. Weird! We don’t play favorites, we treat everyone equally and with respect. We are fucking monsters.
When I host I stay in the room the entire night and watch everyone’s sets. Another novel concept. There’s nothing more awesome than the host walking out in the middle of your set, or not being in the room for it at all. I put thought into my transition jokes between comics instead of repeatedly saying, “OK, let’s keep this show rolling! Your next comic is…” It’s like I actually give a shit. The audacity.
I took pictures every night and posted a recap every morning, tagging all the comics and sharing across our social media. I make event invites, create fliers, correct everyone’s name I spell wrong, and I always ask the comics how to pronounce their names. Everyone spells and pronounces mine wrong, it is my duty.
And, until recently, ALL OF THIS has been unpaid.
In fact, I PAY to work at these places because I buy drinks, and we have paid comics out of our own broke-ass pockets. Why? Because we’re fucking idiots who think it will pay off for us. We’re almost breaking even now, so… I guess?
Somewhere in the last year the emotional exhaustion of hosting two open mics and a booked show a week has taken its toll on me. Somewhere down the line, this all stopped being fun. I came to dread going to any of these events that I CREATED AND HOSTED. Halfway through the night, I would start to have fun, and I have genuine love for our local comics and most of the comics who come up from LA or anywhere else.
I’ve been largely out of commission for the last two months because of a raging case of diverticulitis. The last time I hosted our weekly booked show and went on to host our open mic that happens after… I forgot how to do it.
I forgot I had to pay attention to the sets. I forgot how to feign laughter at the same unimproved jokes I’ve heard twice a week for over a year. It hit me hard in the head that in the time I’d been gone nothing had changed. I suddenly understood why all LA comics are on their phones all night until it’s their turn to go up, and then get right back on their phones, something I have always vehemently loathed as impossibly rude and self-absorbed.
Last night, suffering through comics doing eight-minute sets, which were seven minutes too long, telling rambling stories that weren’t funny, trying to pass off statements as jokes, awkward timing, incoherent, and just plain boring, I found myself being that asshole compulsively checking social media to keep me awake. Desperately waiting for each comic to get the light, the signal you have one minute to finish your set and get off stage, after what felt like 15 minutes each, hoping against hope that my boyfriend would be up next so we could leave.
Two hours of trying to enjoy myself, willing everyone to have a better night and for the other loud assholes in the back of the bar to shut up, groaning, guzzling the diet Coke I didn’t want but ordered because I can’t drink alcohol with my gut issues, just feeling empty and destitute, and decidedly and definitively OVER IT.
The host asked me if I wanted to go up and I said, “Oh God no. I don’t have ANY material. I have absolutely nothing.” Facts.
I’m not the best comedian.
This is probably best evidenced by the fact that in the six years I’ve been doing stand-up comedy I’ve had about 15 friends and family members ever come see me perform. My very first big show at Flappers in Burbank all 12 of my friends backed out the day of. Rad. All those people who have told me my whole life that I should be a comedian have never come see me be a comedian.
And that’s just it: other people have told me my entire life that I should be a comedian.
Never once, in all my life, in all the hours spent watching Stand Up Spotlight, listening to or attending shows, did I ever point and say, “I want to do that!” Not once. Had I really wanted to, I probably wouldn’t have waited until I was 35 to try it.
I want to WANT to be a comedian. I am funny. But I think I’m more of a Funny Person and less of a Comedian.
I’m a great comedic actress, and that’s something I DID want to be, do, and earned a BA in. I love making a group of friends or strangers laugh, but it’s far different to play off their energy and conversation than it is to stand in front of a crowd and deliver a monologue where’s people’s express expectation is that you make them laugh.
Regular people don’t see a difference between a Funny Person and a Comedian. A very talented local comedic actor was voted Best Comedian in our local weekly rag despite never having done stand-up comedy in his life. If you’re funny, people will think of, and call you, a comedian.
Regular people also don’t understand that stand-up comedy and improv are not the same. I was recently tagged in a social media post where someone was asking for information on local improv groups. I don’t do improv, I do stand-up comedy. If you ever want to try that, give me a call!
Maybe my sense of humor just doesn’t translate to most people. My jokes about serial killers and famous murder sites often fall on deaf ears.
I don’t think like a comedian, I don’t sit down and write jokes. If people laugh at something funny I say, I use it on stage and see what happens.
Could I work at this? Yeah, probably. But why don’t I want to?
I want it to be easier than it is. And last night solidified that I don’t have what it takes to slog it out through shitty open mic after shitty open mic in order to improve my craft.
I don’t have the energy or mental wherewithal to make the hour and a half drive to LA to wait two hours to do three minutes to a room full of LA comics on their phones ignoring me, then drive the hour and a half back home, every night. I barely have the energy to drive the half hour to a local mic twice a week to do the same.
THIS IS NOT FUN.
Bombing is not fun. Friends bailing on you is not fun. And your best friend of over 30 years telling you to your face when you’re just starting out that the reason he hasn’t come to see you perform is that “You’re not funny” is probably the least fun of all.
And you know what? Maybe he’s right.
Maybe he’s been right this whole time. Maybe I’m that American Idol wannabe who no one else had the balls to tell them to find something else to pursue.
I’ve gotten accolades for acting roles; compliments on my comedic timing, standing ovations, and recognized in the streets. But no one ever encouraged me to pursue acting. No one ever said, “You’re really great at this!”
I’ve been told I should be a comedian. And so I’ve been doing stand-up comedy. And a few people have told me they think I’m funny and love my sense of humor. But no one has encouraged me to pursue it. No one has said, “You’re really great at this!”
The one thing I HAVE been told I’m great at and should pursue is writing. Friends, family, strangers, MY BEST FRIEND have encouraged me over the past 35 years to write more. And I have written relentlessly… to myself. For classes, for the odd piece put up on some random blog or website over the years.
And of course, it’s the one thing I haven’t seriously pursued until recently. And I’m still not seriously pursuing it enough. I never knew how to pursue it as a career. That’s the one thing no one was telling me or helping me figure out. Thank God for Medium and the door to possibilities it has opened.
I feel bad that I don’t want to be a comedian. I feel like I have failed.
Failed at something I never even wanted. I like the attention and the rewards when there are any, of course. But I want to be The Best at EVERYTHING I do. THE BEST. It’s hard to accept that I’m not.
It was hard to accept that as much as I loved playing basketball I was not meant to be A Basketball Player.
As much as I love acting it is not what fuels my desire to get out of bed. Currently, only needing to pee does.
Stand-up comedy does not excite me as a challenge to my creativity.
Instead, it hangs on me like a burden, an obligation. And you know what’s super sexy and inspiring? Doing things out of obligation
I said I would do this, how can I not? Isn’t it what I’m SUPPOSED to do? Since when has what I WANTED mattered? Do I even KNOW what I want, or only what I think I’m SUPPOSED to do? I made a commitment, didn’t I? You don’t walk away from your commitments simply because you don’t like or enjoy them anymore, do you? DO YOU?!
Therapy is amazing, I’m headed there this afternoon.
I MADE this. I created it. I built it from scratch and grew it and it became the catalyst for numerous other open mics and booked shows, and the foundation of a wonderful community of people. How can I walk away from something I have created? I feel like I’m giving up, abandoning it, and that other people will think I have failed, or not understand why my heart isn’t in this, and I feel like I owe everyone an explanation.
I don’t. But that doesn’t stop me from feeling like I do. Like most, I put way too much stock into what anyone else might think of me. They’re not thinking of me. And the bottom line is, no one wants someone to continue doing something that makes them feel miserable.
I want to do what’s RIGHT. But what is that? I can’t be of good use to anyone or anything if my heart isn’t in it.
Just like any other relationship, you don’t stay in it for the kids, because you’re not helping the kids by staying where you’re miserable, and you don’t stay simply because you’ve been there for this long.
I’ve never had a career.
In college I could say, “I’m a college student”, “I’m a Philosophy major”, “I’m in the BFA acting program”.
Outside of that, I’ve never had a job or career I identified with. I also never felt I SHOULD identify with one because that shit can be taken away from you. See my cousin who was recently laid off from a major corporation after 15 years.
Despite that, there has always been a part of me that wanted to be able to say, ”I am something.”
When I started doing stand-up I could finally say, “I’m a comedian” instead of floundering over mentioning whatever bullshit office job I hated at the time.
Why hasn’t saying, “I’m a writer” occurred to me?
I probably feel like anyone can say they’re a writer. What are the qualifications? Writing. You don’t ever have to publish anything to consider yourself a writer. You’re only a stand-up comic if you get on stage in front of people and tell jokes.
I’ve been framing “I’m a writer” around how I can prove it to people. And what would prove that to anyone? Making a living at it? I don’t make a living at comedy OR writing, though I have been paid for both. Does it only count when you can make your living off of it? Maybe to other people.
And, again, why do I care what other people might think? Because I’m human and we all do to some extent. But I need to put that aside and focus on ME and who I really am and what truly makes me happy.
And I am a writer. To my core, in my soul.
Two things I’d need on a desert island are a pen and paper. Writing is not something I do, it is who I AM. Always has been.
I am also a Funny Person. Always have been. And choosing to take a break from stand-up, or never return to it again, doesn’t take being a Funny Person away from me.
I made being a comedian my identity and that identity is falling away, and it makes me profoundly sad even while it’s lifting this heavy weight off of me. I thought this was who I am, and it’s not. And that’s OK.
All this time and energy I’ve sunk into dreading hosting my own events and trying to write jokes and doing just alright on stage I could be sinking into who I effortlessly am at heart: a writer who says funny things.
I’m 40 and I’m sloughing off a lot of old ways, mindsets, beliefs, thinking patterns, and identities. As freeing and exciting and hopeful as that is, I’m still grieving the past and who I was, how I was, what I’ve put up with and accepted, and how that affects who I am now. It is a cacophony of emotions, to say the least.
TL/DR: stand-up comedy isn’t fun anymore and I’m taking a break.
If you slogged through this diary entry with me, I thank you for your time. Please enjoy my other, much shorter rants.