Trying My Hand At Standup

My mom likes to tell a story of going to pick me up at school when I was in first grade and hearing a little boy in my class say, “Luci, you’re so funny!”  So for at least the past 22 years I’ve had people telling me how funny I am and that I should do standup.  So two years ago I tried it.  And it will be a long time before I work up the nerve to try again.Like so many similar experiences, standup was something that just fell into my lap.  And because the opportunity presented itself and because so many people have told me that I should try it, I thought I would go for it.  But, instead of being the perfect setup for hilarity, it was more like a perfect storm for failure.

First off, I acknowledge that my brand of humor isn’t for everyone.  I like to tell stories about things that happen to me or people I encounter.  Often, these stories have a substantial self-deprecating component and what I think is hilarious can appear to other people to be “depressing” or “soul-crushing.”  Since I don’t tell one-liners I decided to go with a story about the time I wrecked a shopping cart at The Worst Target In The World.  It’s always a crowd-pleaser when I tell it at parties, but if you don’t focus on the parts that are funny and instead focus on the parts about me crying in Target, it can feel like a little bit of a downer.  Nonetheless, I’ve told the story a million times and it usually has people in tears (from laughing. Not crying, like me in Target).  But, it was a risk, and I knew that.

I didn’t actually do this standup at a standup venue.  I did it at a bar in Brooklyn where a coworker had a standing show where he played guitar every Monday night.  That’s how it all fell into my lap, because he said I could just go ahead and do a set in the middle of his.  At the time, that seemed like a great idea, because I have heard that standup venues are notoriously tough.  I figured a little crowd at a neighborhood bar might be a little friendlier.  And, it’s not like they were rude or heckled me, it’s just that they weren’t expecting some random chick to tell a story in the middle of their happy hour.  But, you know, hindsight being 20-20 and all.

The crowd consisted mainly of my friends, who I figured I could count on for laughs.  I was incorrect.  Halfway through my story I realized that they weren’t laughing at any of the key parts.  Not even at my Alanis Morisette joke!  WTF, guys, help a girl out.  And that’s where things got derailed.  I had practiced two endings to my story, one that was funnier and one that was more “and here is the lesson I learned.”  Earlier in the day I had decided that my Very Special Episode ending was a little too maudlin, and that I should stick to the funnier ending.  But fuck if I could remember that funny ending when I looked over at my friends and was overwhelmed by the wall of faces plastered with forced supportive smiles.  My story ended with me mumbling my final lesson about being where we’re supposed to be or some other crap.

I was so overcome with emotion and anxiety that when I sat down I burst in to tears, much to my embarrassment.  My friends (save one, but that’s another story) were all super supportive and giving me lots of pats on the back and telling me I was really funny.  It was very nice, but obviously insincere and it’s only now, two years later that if I bring it up they’ll admit that it was kind of painful. Well, I guess there was one person who was honest at the time.  The coworker who had set me up with the gig in the first place told me that he asked the bartender what he thought about my standup.  The bartender had one word: Bizarre.

And that about sums it up.  Maybe there is a market for bizarre standup and maybe some day I’ll get the guts to try again.  I probably won’t tell the Target story next time though, and I just feel bad for the masses who don’t get to hear about it.

By Luci Furious

There are no bad times, only good stories.

8 replies on “Trying My Hand At Standup”

Standup is really effing difficult, it really is. Other comedians will testify to that in a heartbeat, usually.

Maybe you could try it on the other side of the pond – we like bizarre over here:) Dylan Moran, Bill Bailey, Maeve Higgins..?

But if you never ever do it again, at least you’ll never wonder what it would’ve been like.

If you substitute “karaoke” for “stand-up” I have a very similar story, right down to the spontaneous crying as soon as I got off stage. Audiences can smell fear. I think to be successful at stand-up you need to figure out your archetype and embrace it %100 before getting on a stage. As far as I can tell, the archetypes are as follows:

The Misanthrope – This guy hates everybody, but has figured out that he can make money being cranky in a funny way, think George Carlin or Roseanne Barr

The Jackass – This is the class clown all grown up. His act boils down to jumping about yelling “Look at me! Look at Me!” in a funny hat, Carrot Top is in this group.

The Conversationalist – This is the comedian who makes you feel like you are just sitting around telling funny stories and chilling out, Like Ellen Degeneres or Bill Cosby

The Shocker – These are the “comedians” who capitalize on people’s tendency for nervous laughter. They aren’t really all that funny, but they can shock a laugh out of almost anyone at least once – you know what I’m talking about Jeff Ross and Lisa Lampanelli

The Guy Who Is Having Fun – I can’t think of a good name for this style, but Robin Williams is its personification. He is having such a good time making you laugh that you can’t help yourself.

I think the other key element is that you don’t try to make people laugh. Eliciting laughter is like trying to feed a wild animal. You have to pretend you don’t care, or it will run away.

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