I was prepared for the jitters beforehand. I’ve been nervous lots of times. This seemed bigger than many of those occasions. I take that back, it was bigger than many of the occasions that made me nervous. When I walked into the Laugh Factory I couldn’t believe the size of the place. I thought it was going to be the size of a place like Zannies, which is pretty small. Nope. The Laugh Factory is pretty big. Not counting the high school auditorium where I performed in the school play or a lecture hall where there were about 150 students, this was probably the biggest crowd of people I’ve ever faced. It wasn’t a class, however, and these weren’t students. The crowd was made up of my fellow bloggers from Chicago Now (Chicago When?) and it was a great, supportive atmosphere. But make no mistake, it was an audience, not a class; I wasn’t lecturing about an area of expertise, I was trying to make these people laugh.
I tend to get laughs from my friends and can make strangers on Twitter chuckle from time to time and I’ve even thought, fantasized really, about doing stand-up comedy once in awhile. When the community director, Jimmy Greenfield, floated the idea of having all who were willing perform a 3-minute routine for our occasional gathering (or as we say in the blogging business, blathering) I jumped at the chance. Then it hit me that I had to actually prepare and maybe rehearse a little, and most of all walk up on stage and be funny.
The aspect of the whole thing that was probably the most nerve-racking was how to start. When I get up in front of a group of people, students, colleagues, what have you, I tend to work my way into whatever I’m expected to talk about at any given time. I never just start talking about history; it’s, “hi, how are you today? Did you see the game?” Then I make my way into the subject at hand. In this case, however, I got 3 minutes. I needed to get up there and get to it and that made me unsettled.
Jimmy Greenfield, also emcee for the night, let me know my spot (8th) and how the introduction would be. I watched the other seven performers with a bit of trepidation, but overall I was thinking of my material. Then it was time.
Jimmy said my name and a little bit of lecture-mode kicked in. I was…comfortable…and hot. Those lights were hot and bright, a lot brighter than I expected. I didn’t dawdle too long and got into my bit. After much hemming and hawing, I decided on a bit I came up with around being an alcoholic. Stick to what you know, right? I won’t give you a play-by-play (I hope a video will be available soon, but the videographer got to enjoy the great flood of 2013, like me.), but I got some laughs, in expected and unexpected places. Before I knew it, my material was finished and while I didn’t see the red warning light come on, I didn’t want to launch into another piece and then have to stop right in the middle. I might not have been the funniest, but I was organized; beginning middle and an end to my time on stage.
I was not expecting the RUSH afterwards. Honestly the red light could have been blinking for 30 seconds, I had no clue. Jimmy came back on stage and he might of shook my hand again, he may have said something, I don’t know. I had a very strong desire to raise my arms in triumph but I don’t think I did. When I got back to my seat, I couldn’t stop shaking. Some of the folks sitting next to me said I did a great job, which was very nice to hear, but I really wasn’t paying attention. I was far more intent on the performers who followed because now I had context. I knew what they were feeling, knew what those worried looks, if just fleeting, meant. I knew how awesome it felt when something you wrote, said and performed made the audience laugh. I can’t imagine what it would be like to do that for an hour, let alone as a career. The stress beforehand was tolerable but that rush afterwards was almost too much.
When the last performer finished it was quite the lovefest between all of the performers as we returned to the stage. It is probably the closest I’ll ever get to being on stage at the conclusion of Saturday Night Live. We took some photos, congratulated one another and shook some hands. I had a strong urge to hug everyone, but I resisted. I’ve never been one to take praise very well, but I managed to accept it, especially from my performing peers. We did something that was a lot harder than it looks and I admire and respect everyone who got up on stage with nothing but a stool and a microphone and bared a little of their soul for three minutes. It was great being told good job and the like, but the two comments that just made my night were these: one audience member simply said, “You killed it!” and the other was from the final performer of the night, an actual comedian. He said of one of my lines, “I didn’t expect you to say something like that.” Even though it didn’t get the biggest laugh, that kind of disconnect was, in part, something I was trying to do. Even if it was a bad joke, I succeeded in just a little bit of shock. Now, if Jimmy could organize a comic book writing blathering, another fantasy-for-a-day will get checked off. (photos courtesy of Chuan D. Vo of vofotos.com)