Saturday, June 18, 2016

Get Up, Stand Up: The Night I Tried Open Mic

Cross doing stand-up off the bucket list!

First, the back story.

I've always had a secret desire to try stand-up. I thought about how for every good stand-up comic, there are about 1,400 crappy ones and I would never want to be on that list. When I thought about what it would feel like to try it, my stomach would twist into knots and I would almost feel nauseous. For a long time, I figured that if something made you feel that way, you should avoid it. But there's something about being in your 40's that changes your perception about so many things in life, so I changed my view and decided that if something makes you nervous, unless it's trying heroin or jumping off a building without a rope, maybe that's exactly the thing you should do.

It didn't hurt that fate got in the way to give me the extra push I needed to make it happen. Several months ago, Tim was working outside when he found an employee badge in the street by our house. Most people would see it and either leave it there or throw it away, but Tim is not most people. He took the badge inside, looked up the name of the employee, investigated his email address, and reached out to reunite the badge with the proper badge holder, a guy named Manish.

Manish happens to live a few houses away, so Tim connected with him to return the badge, and during the course of the conversation, learned that he's a Ph.D. candidate living temporarily in Austin. He just so happens to be a Ph.D. candidate who does stand-up on the side.

One of Tim's many gifts is that he loves connecting people, so he told Manish that I wanted to do stand-up, and introduced us. The first time I met Manish, he was walking behind Tim, coming in from the back yard, and the scene in itself was just hilarious. Tim's a big guy in every sense of the word. He's 6'2', balding, super loud, and has a laugh you can hear 15 miles away. Manish, on the other hand, is under 5 feet tall, has a ton of hair, is seemingly serious, and rather quiet. I've always said I wanted a "little man" to be around to help me with things I don't feel like doing. When Tim came in the back door with Manish, I honestly thought he was just making my dream come true.

Manish goes by a few names - Manni, Manish, and in the comedy world, "Big Manni." Born in India, Manish has a keen sense of the world around him and his writing is really funny as a result. He strikes a great balance of being self-deprecating about his height, but to me, his most hilarious stuff is his keen observational humor.

I think the mere fact that Tim found Manni's employee badge and was so thoughtful to return it to its owner, Manni felt he owed Tim a favor back. Without realizing what he was getting into, Manni became my official comedy coach.

Manni will not let me call him my comedy coach, but I do it anyway. I'm bigger than he is so he just has to deal with it. From the first time we met, I grew an instant appreciation for how very hard comedy actually is. When your comedy coach is a Ph.D candidate, you get the added bonus of some deep analysis. I won't give away his secret sauce but there's a lot going on behind the scenes to make it work. It's a LOT of work. Manni is out there several nights a week hustling his material at Austin stand-ups. It's exhausting. I tagged along to a few shows and felt nervous for everyone going on stage and putting their material out there. The first time Tim and I went to see Manni at Capital City Comedy Club's open mic, he warned us ahead of time, "There will be a lot of dick jokes." He wasn't kidding. Every open mic I've gone to, I've tallied up the penis jokes. There are a LOT of them. For that reason alone, I wrote a vagina joke just to balance things out a little.

Through this process, I have started to envision a pie chart of comedy. It's not just walking up to a mic and talking. It's creating good material. It's timing. It's a hell of a lot of preparation. It's stage presence. It's confidence. It's not easy, and it's a LOT of work.

Manni patiently worked with me as I read him my material. I was so nervous I would have to leave our house and meet Manni at a coffee shop for fear of my family hearing me and telling me I was awful at it. After several months of writing material, crossing out entire bits and starting over, Manni got pushy.

"You have to do this," he said. "If you don't get up and just do it, this is never going to happen."

He was right. I was finding excuse after excuse not to just give it a go. Every single time I thought about approaching an open mic, I would feel nauseous.

So we set a date. June 17. 17 is my lucky number, and since Manni will be returning back to San Diego by the fall,  I needed him to be my safety net.

I've always been big about imagining what a moment will be like. That can be good and bad, because the vision of a future moment is often much better than what actually happens. When I imagined what it would be like to try stand-up for the first time, I was going to be on a dark stage indoors at a small comedy club. There would be more than 12 people present, and I wouldn't be perfect, but there would be enough laughs so that I would survive it, and it would be fun.

This entire time, I've been telling Manni and anyone who knew I was going to do this that I wasn't going to do it more than once. One time. One and done. I wasn't posting an announcement to invite friends, and the only other person who would be invited was Tim because Tim has the biggest laugh on the planet and that's a really good asset when you're going up for the first time.

So last night, I did it.

The venue was a cute East side restaurant/coffee shop called Cenote. Manni had warned me ahead of time that Friday night open mics in Austin are pretty bad, and that there would probably only be about 6 people there. There were 29 (not that I counted). We were outside, and the sound equipment was pretty terrible, but there was a mic and a speaker and a really fun guy announcing people who made it feel legit. I was #12 on the list. There was a giant piece of yard art in the form of a frog, and I decided he was going to help me get through it.

The open mic rules are pretty simple: You get a 4 minute set with a flashing light warning at 3 minutes. I knew going into it that if I dawdled, I would be over 4 minutes. Anyone who knows me wouldn't be surprised. I'm not exactly short-winded.

Manni went before me, which was great for calming my nerves because he has a really funny bit about a fat stripper in Vegas, and I needed the laughs.

When they called my name, I thought I might faint. I grabbed the mic and immediately wanted to smack myself for taking my note card up there with me, but it's a good thing I did because I think without it, I might have forgotten everything I practiced no less than 80 times over the past week.

I did my thing, and I heard laughter. Never mind that the laughter I heard the most was Tim's. I looked out into the faces of the people watching, and some people were laughing. A few people were on their phones, which I found to be pretty rude given that I paid 100% attention to everyone before me, but with millennials, you kind of have to expect that. Those whippersnappers!

4 minutes flew by, and it was over. The woman behind me who later got up and did a hilarious bit about peeing in front of her two sons said, "You did great!" I loved her.

I'd asked Tim to take a picture, but bless his sweet heart, he was too busy being my Main Laugh, he forgot. Manni did the honors. There is no video. You're welcome!

Okay, enough about me because wow, I just spent a LOT of time writing about myself. If you've gotten this far, I want you to ask yourself what you're afraid of and why. What makes you feel like you're going to vomit with fear, but it's also a mix of excitement? Think about when you're a little kid and you pull up to Six Flags or whatever nearby amusement park, and you are so excited to ride the roller coaster that your body fills with adrenaline. Again, if this feeling is associated with heroin or unprotected sex with a rock star or joining the Trump revolution, just run the other way.

Otherwise, think of that thing that you're afraid/excited about and go figure out how to make that happen. I want to hear about it! Tell me in the comments section what you want to do, and if I can help encourage you, I will.

As for me, I haven't decided if I will keep it up, but the feeling of fear and adrenaline is still there when I think about trying it again, so perhaps I'll let that be my guide. Manni is very bossy and insists that I'll go again next week. We'll see.

No comments:

Post a Comment