When I went to University, I was distracted by my desire to have a go at standup comedy. During lectures I would be scribble down jokes instead of paying attention. Eventually I had fleshed out my ideas into a five-minute set. Was it funny? There was only one way to find out, so I arranged my first open mic booking.
Influence and style
I was influenced by one-liner comedians – Mitch Hedberg, Anthony Jeselnik, Milton Jones and Michael Redmond. My logic was with quick jokes, if the audience didn’t find it funny you could move onto the next and unlike monologues, if you forgot a part of it, it would not mess up the routine.
“a lot of people say to me – get out of my garden” Michael Redmond
I still remember my opening gag
“Don’t you hate it when you have to do a five minute comedy set and you accidentally shit yourself”
When I first thought of that line I couldn’t stop laughing. If only the audience could share that feeling.
When you’ve done the same gags a dozen times, you notice the change – less enthusiasm telling that great joke, the pacing of delivery or that the audience doesn’t seem as into you:
- Perhaps they don’t like one liners?
- Or the compère didn’t warm them up properly?
- Or most likely my jokes were crap.
The comedy society
During the first week of University I came across leaflets for the comedy society. They were having rehearsals for writers and performers. Because I was an introvert I decided I would focus on the writing side and leave all the performance to the attention seekers.
There was a massive que – most of them didn’t really look like they would be funny, I assumed that it was just drama students looking for a wide range of experience for their acting CV incase a role in a sitcom came up.
They were pretty, witty and full of confidence. I slumped at the back of the line and a few of them turned around to look at me and laughed – perhaps I was a natural comedian.
I felt insignificant, like I was back in high school and the cool kids were at it again. I cheered myself up, envisioning them crying in as they get rejected at another rehearsal for some crap soap, imaging the disappointment that they would have to continue waiting tables.
I caught a glimpse of a rehearsal. Some skinny guy, doing over the top, camp body movements, doing stupid voices and having a gurning face. The panel lapped it up.
I realised this was not for me, I was not one of them. And then I thought
So I left to pursue my stand-up dream, alone.
Open Mic Night
I live in a place where finding open mic gigs was not always easy. I paid to perform during a charity talent show, which was a terrible mistake as I was the only comedian in a night full of hopeful singers the usual karaoke fare.
I died on my arse and to add further humiliation to the lack of laughs, they did the X-Factor style panel giving me some constructive criticism abmicout why I was shit for two minutes.
There were some horrible singers, but silence does not necessarily mean you can’t sing for shit. Silence for a standup is death.
I persisted with my 5 minute set, keeping the stuff that got a reaction, trying to get the stuff I liked to work and adding new ideas along the way. I practiced in front of a mirror with a brush.
Practicing without the ‘mic’ never felt right
Because of the lack of open mic nights I went to other places in the country, crashing on friends couches. My choices were limited as I could not drive, so I was stuck on public transport.
One Christmas I stayed at a friends, in a small, remote seaside town. I spent a 2 and a half hours on the train, got lost trying to find the venue and when I finally arrived I found the gig had been cancelled due to their only being one paying punter.
My friend has also forgot I was coming over and gone to his parents for the Christmas holiday. I was stuck in the middle of nowhere, so I found the nearest hotel and had to pay the last minute, holiday season, booking price.
This was an expensive experience, so I made the decision to focus on my studies as my grades were slipping. Standup would still be around afterwards.
During that break I built up a lot of anxiety and stage fright, so when I did return, it went crap.
The mind of a funny man
Perhaps it was something in my psych, but it was difficult to accept that I would not always be universally loved and admired. Despite having some good gigs where I got a few laughs or said a funny line off the cuff, I could never forget the humiliating experiences were I was met with a deathly silence.
And that is why I quit being an open mic comedian.
With the news that Robin Williams committed suicide, his (and other comedians) history with mental illness, it made me think of my own experience with comedy. Comedians seek approval. When I got laughs I felt unstoppable, when it went bad it put me in a depression.
I don’t quit easily, I probably would have improved with further experience but stand-up was a unique situation for me, I needed to stop, because for the sake of my mental health I did not have a thick skin to cope with the rejection.
My need for approval is an illness – behind the laughter there is a darkside – I simply could not cope that not everyone would love me.