I love stand up. I could watch Louis CK for hours, and the first record I ever bought was an Eddie Murphy album at a garage sale in 1984. Imagine a little white girl lying in her bedroom in Newport RI, listening to Eddie Murphy on her Fisher Price record player... that was me. This was one of my favorite bits:
That is where it all began. Way back then, a seed was planted. And for the past two weeks, Tuesday nights from 9-11, I have been sitting through an open mic stand up show, trying to work up the courage to even think about maybe someday getting up onstage.
"Why in the hell would you do something like that" you ask?
I have no idea. Sitting through an open mic - any open mic - is at times painful, horrifying, encouraging, reassuring, embarrassing, inspiring and empowering. And all of that without even leaving the safety of my seat. Rarely do you see someone perform at open mic and think "this is the next big thing". I mean sure, sometimes that happens too - but not very often, so you have to be prepared to handle extreme levels of emotional discomfort in the meanwhile. If you go into it with an open mind, all in all, open mics can be incredibly entertaining - until you think about getting up there yourself. Then the entertainment factor dries up almost immediately. Which is why I find myself sitting there letting it wash over me, trying to remain neutral, a casual observer. Watching other people get up and do something you don't have the balls to do is an interesting mind game.
"I could do that," I think as I am sitting there watching someone totally at ease, moving through their routine with casual precision. And maybe I get a little smug. They make it look so easy - too easy. I sit up a little straighter. I start to think "I should just go for it. I have a couple of funny stories to tell. I can pull together 5 minutes. Let's do this thing."
And then I watch someone fumbling with their notes, trying out some new material to deafening silence and I think with my sinking heart and rapidly deflating ego "I could do that," and suddenly I am not feeling quite so fanfuckingtastic.
So now I am sitting there, flummoxed.
I thought I could do it, it didn't seem so hard.
But as I hear the chairs squeaking across the floor, as people stand up and file out, moving on to the next bar, the next drink, the next shot at entertainment, I feel a cold sweat on the back of my neck, and for once it's not a hot flash. The guy up there is dying, slowly and painfully, while we are all sitting there watching - or carefully not watching. Politely clapping when it seems like the only way to respond. A few people muttering "ouch" after a particularly gnarly joke that is so politically incorrect my mouth is left hanging open. He's getting desperate now, no subject off limits, the sweat visible on his forehead, the clock counting down his five minutes that have felt like fifteen. And then he says goodnight and I breathe a sigh of relief and clap loudly as if to encourage him to get off the stage quickly while he still can.
And suddenly another comedian is up there, and we are stuck in that room for another five minute set before I could even think about politely slipping out.
Sam squeezes my hand, because of course he is there with me, to clap and cheer if I ever manage to get up, or to hug me and escort me offstage if I freeze and lose my shit. It could go either way, I see that now.
The next set is smoother, the mood lightens, people who managed to sit through the last round are relaxing, less frantic as they wave for the check. They are done, make no mistake, they are leaving - but maybe they will finish this drink first. Maybe. I focus on the stage again, listening hard. By the second week I am seeing some familiar faces up there, hearing some familiar material, maybe twisted just slightly to see if it will get a bigger laugh. I realize that some of the awkwardness and muttering is part of the schtick. Oh, that's good. It was intentional. See. I could do this. Sure I could. I can play awkward. I sit forward again. putting weight on my toes, contemplating putting my hand up when they ask who's next. Because why not? Why not me?
I sip my drink, scan the crowd, wondering if they would think anything I had to say was worth sitting through. "I don't need them to laugh," I say to myself, "I just need them to not leave."
This is a new low.
I am not even concerned about entertaining them, I just want to make sure they can sit through my five minutes? This is not why people do stand up. Or maybe it is, as the next comedian climbs onstage with a fistful of index cards. Oh sweet jesus, he's throwing an accent into the mix. I don't think I can bear it. "NO ACCENTS" I type into the notes I have been making on my phone for the past two weeks.
I nudge Sam. "Go get the check," I say through gritted teeth. He looks apprehensive. "I can't stand up, this guy is in the mid-"
"For the love of all that is good, go get the check or I will NEVER work up the courage to get up there." I hiss at him through a pasted on smile, my eyes still focused on the stage.
My jaw is clenched tight with anxiety as the jokes move one after the other, as this guy goes through index card after index card, working so hard to develop this material, to hone his craft.
Another comic ends his set by thanking everyone who had the balls - or ovaries - to get up onstage and I clap with relief because YES this is something I can agree with wholeheartedly. And it's also my out. I have neither balls nor ovaries, and as we sail through the door to the parking lot, I remind myself that I might never get up there, and it's okay. I can blame my ovaries - or lackthereof - for that.
10 hours ago