I don’t do stand up. Stand up does me.
Just over two years ago, I post a blog from a couch in New Zealand. I am homesick, literally sick and three months into what will end up being two glorious years on the road and out of LA. I end the blog saying my forced reflection has caused an epiphany.
Well, after a 2-year cliffhanger, I’ll finally let you in on what my giant revelation was:
I’m an idiot.
Because only an idiot decides to seriously pursue stand up comedy at my age. On that couch I come face to face with the uncomfortable truth that, in every city of every country I visit in the world, I am flooded with ideas for bits. For better or worse, from my perspective:
All the world’s a premise,
And all the men and women act outs.
Stand up. Undoubtedly the hardest, most unforgiving performance medium on the planet. Although I grew up memorizing comedy albums, stand up seemed like something only geniuses and lunatics like Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock and Robin Williams got to do. Like a scary movie, it was terrifying to watch yet safely out of reach.
The learning curve is impossibly steep. It’s more like a learning cliff and you’re a base jumper hoping conditions remain cooperative for that perfectly timed moment your parachute hopefully opens. It usually doesn’t. You fall on your face. You don’t die. You jump off another cliff.
I think realistically it takes AT LEAST 10 years to even get to a point where you can say you’ve given it a good effort. Louis CK is my hero in the world of stand up and he’s been performing for TWENTY-FIVE YEARS.
I’ll be 60 when and if I ever hit that milestone. 60.
Stand up is something dumb you start doing in your 20’s like
drugs and believing you can change the world.
It’s for when you’re full of youthful idealism, energy and collagen. It’s not something you begin when you’re approaching mid-life crisis, feeling insecure
about your poor life choices and uncomfortable with your aging body in an industry
that worships youth; that’s what you can only hope to become after years of getting on stage.
After dabbling in it for a year leading up to my travels, I realize pretty quickly once I hit the road that I need to give comedy a solid shot or look back on my life and forever be doomed to wonder “what if…” The desire is so strong, I nearly go home 3 months into my journey after subletting my place for a year. (I don't--long story) The comic voice haunts me as I sit on yachts, in 5-star restaurants, on beaches, in janky guest houses, tuk tuks--Hell I could do 20 minutes just on India alone. When I run away from Mr. 1% and choose to leave my dreams of teaching English as a Second Language behind, I make sure I KNOW what I am getting myself into:
Late nights, long open mics filled with horrible jokes about women, dating and rape by frustrated, misogynistic comics. (Although it’s true there are more women than ever before joining the ranks it’s STILL predominantly a boys club. Out of 10 performers there are usually only one or two women on any given show.) Sitting in TWO hours of traffic for FIVE minutes of stage time. Subjecting myself to hostile rooms of angry comics, refusing to laugh. The grind of the city. Waitressing. The grind of America. The egos. The jealousy. The competition.
When I think about it, I don’t want to do it at all. Becoming a general manager at Denny’s sounds more appealing than working the comedy grind. I don’t think I have what it takes. I definitely don’t have the chops, the self-assuredness most of my peers exude. I don’t think I have the ability. I don’t think my skin is thick enough. Or black enough. I'm not funny enough. Or Jewish enough. Not to mention, I have such debilitating stage fright I’m convinced every show takes 10 years off my life. I have a million excuses, all of them perfectly bullshit.
For this reason, stand up feels more like a calling than something I’ve necessarily dreamed of doing my whole life, which is why I doubt my ability to endure the growing pains. I certainly have an uphill battle, most of it within my mind. Here is an excerpt from a blog I wrote recently and never posted:
My brain is no good when it’s left to its own devices. That’s why I do my best to keep it preoccupied. Waitressing is the perfect job for me because it’s a great exercise in staying out of my head and in the moment. Unlike most of my friends who go to work yet email me links to Buzzfeed lists and random videos all day, I actually have to work the entire time I’m at work. Imagine that concept.
The only thing I can concern myself with is LITERALLY being of service. Table 6 is ready to order. Table 8 needs water. The guy on 2 wants chipotle mayo. The chick on 1 wants to know if there is gluten in teriyaki sauce (there is). Table 10 needs their check.
Then, on the drive home, it happens. It’s not the small talk, the ridiculous demands or even the news that sends me into overdrive, fantasizing about fleeing the country and teaching English as a Second Language—it’s traffic.
WHAT’S IT ALL FOR????
Lately, traffic almost always kicks in my existential crisis. And it’s not even the actual traffic that bothers me. It’s the feeling of being just another cog in a wheel. Another unknowing slave. Another rat unaware that the race is just to my death.
I escaped this grind. I stepped off the wheel and lived outside the status quo. Now, as I sit in improv class pretending to be a donkey in some sketch—or stand on stage joking about my experience being the other woman or my porn addiction—nothing of any importance or anything that will change lives, I can’t escape the dull pain in my heart, the feeling of suffocation, the anxiety that comes in waves as I chase something I’m not sure I even want any more.
All thoughts aside, my actions tell another tale. A large part of the reason I quit drinking is in service of stand up. Despite being buried at work, getting skin cancer and wanting to quit every week, I see a comedy workshop through that not only changes my life, but also my perspective on why I’m doing what I’m doing. I’m even thinking of moving East of the 405 *GASP* in order to make the drive to the clubs less Hellish.
I don’t do stand up. Stand up does me.
So despite my fears and negative self-talk, still I get up. The last show I do, the first laugh that hits me, fills me with such overwhelming gratitude, I almost cry right there on stage. Holy shit. I get to make people laugh. What a gift! What an honor. Who even cares what the material is about; sure it may not change the world, but if it even makes one person laugh, I can feel good about that. I SHOULD feel good about that.
That being said, I may chuck it all, move to Portland, raise some chickens and write a novel. Or, defeated by the American grind and overcome with the familiar feelings of wanderlust, leave again for the strong pull I feel to South America. But that’s another story, one you’ll probably hear 2 years from now….because it’s still being written.
The good news is—there’s no wrong answer, just more poor choices I can mine for comedy gold.