Performing Comedy in a Pandemic

Creamed cornsicles. Oof, that would be absolutely disgusting. It’s crazy how if you change a word or a phrase just a tiny bit, it can really go off the rails. I mean creamed corn… delicious. Creamed cornsicles… vomit inducing, at minimum. It sounds so disgusting I honestly want to die just thinking about it. It’s also weird how much texture has an effect on whether we enjoy a certain food or not. For instance, raw onions make me want to hole punch my cranium, but grilled onions… not so bad.

Crap in my ass, the Dodgers just pulled ahead again. What a wild game. Wild I tell you! “Oh my godddddd, you’re watching baseballlllll? It’s soooooooooo boring!” That’s you. That’s what you sound like. I’m kidding. You don’t sound like that. But you could… I think I just got triggered by something that didn’t even happen. That’s fun. Fun times. Good talk. Happy day.

Oh! I performed stand-up comedy the other night. WOW. Talk about awkward. I got there nice and early with a couple of friends of mine. Absolutely beautiful new club, low lights and a homely red tint to the walls. Intimate seating and a low stage. It really looked like dream to perform at. Sadly, that was the inside room, and since we are in a pandemic, we had to perform outside.

The presentation of the outside area was nice. They put in a lot of work to make it presentable and it was a treat just to be there, hanging out at a comedy club. The less fortunate part, which is quite a common theme these days, is how far away everyone was. Not from each other in this case, but from the stage. The closest tables were about twenty feet from the stage, and they were pretty much empty. It was a closed show to only the performing comics and their guests, so most people were there to perform, not to laugh. Thus, they sat in the back. And of course, they were wearing masks.

I felt very comfortable before I had to go on stage. I was to perform right in the middle, either sixth or seventh out of twelve comics. Very few laughs were had during the night, but it didn’t really bother me. I didn’t actually think of the audience before I went up there. I wasn’t thinking about much, honestly, which is a huge step for me. I’m usually over-thinking, but I’ve been working on quieting my mind and trying to focus on the moment.

Anyways, my name gets called and I hand my phone to my friend Clayton to record and head up to the stage to perform. I get up there and I cannot see dick. The spotlight they installed was so blinding that even the blind guy couldn’t see. Wait. That doesn’t make sense. He couldn’t see anyways. There was a blind comic. That’s what I’m saying here. No, what I’m saying here is that the spotlight made it impossible to see the crowd. There was also a blind comic. Both of these things are true.

So I get up there, and I can hardly see. It’s outside, so the laughter doesn’t carry. Everyone has masks, so you can’t tell if people are smiling. And as I’m telling my jokes, it feels like I am absolutely BOMBING. I lost a little bit of confidence, but I kept going and hit all of the jokes I had planned and all of the punchlines.

I started off pretty well, telling an absurd story about how I told someone to “smoke my ass,” after they told me they weren’t going to stop smoking a cigarette outside the gas station. More on that later… I told a new joke about cigarettes that needs some work. Shit I just realized I didn’t hit two of the punchlines on that joke. Whoops. I knew I was missing something. Well, mystery solved. CALL OFF THE SEARCH PARTY!

So, I was doing okay, and then there came a moment. A moment where I completely lost the crowd. This came at the precise time when I spoke the word “Mexican.” I was making a joke about how sometimes I get obsessed with random words simply because I enjoy the way they sound, and there was a time when I got obsessed with the words “Mexican” and “Jew” at the same time and I would say the phrase “Mexican Jew” for no reason at all. The humor is in the absurdity of the situation, and I had some funny punchlines like “Mexican Jews are basically like Bigfoot, except nobody’s looking for them.” But it was too late, I already lost them.

I learned a lot just from those few minutes. First of all, comedy is hard. Well, I already knew that. But, I learned it again. I learned that it’s even harder to make jokes around race in 2020 as a white guy. But I also learned that it can be done, and I like the challenge. The first mistake I made is that I didn’t set up the joke properly, because it’s not about race at all. It’s about words and me being ridiculous. By not setting up the joke properly through giving the audience more background and examples of other random words I’ve been obsessed with in the past, it came off as a joke about race. I realize that I obviously understand the context in my head, but the audience does not. My friends thought the joke was hilarious because they know me, but the audience does not. So, I have to do a better job of setting the joke up next time by showing the audience who I am.

I also learned a lot about the element of surprise and how to use it. For the most part, comedy is just surprise. You’re expecting one thing and you get another and whoa, you laugh! In this case, I could set this joke up by using a lot of my more innocent material before it, slowly showing the audience how my brain can get more and more ridiculous, and then wham! I hit them with the ultimate level of ridiculous, where I’m theoretically walking around uttering the phrase “Mexican Jew” for no reason at all.

Timing. Wording. Set-up. Background information. It’s all key. Learning the audience as well. That was the hardest part for me. I couldn’t connect with the audience because of the set up. Since it will probably be awhile before we can do indoor shows, I need to figure out how to better connect with the audience in these kinds of situations. No point making excuses when we can find solutions, right? Hmm, the microphone was wireless so I guess I could have just walked off the stage towards the crowd. 6 FEET OF DISTANCE OF COURSE I’M NOT GONNA KILL ANYONE WITH MY COVIDY ASS FACE.

Yeesh, that caps lock was aggressive. COVID – bringing out the anger in all of us! That should be the slogan for COVID. “Think you’re angry? Try COVID! You won’t be disappointed.” Anyways, these are the things I learned. Ooh you know what was really helpful? Before I left for the comedy show, I told myself two things: Learn and have fun, and the result is meaningless. That took so much of the pressure off. I’m going to try and take that with me to any experience now, simply focusing on learning from the experience and enjoying myself rather than focusing on whether I deem the experience a success or a failure. The weird thing about life is that we often don’t know if something is a success or a failure until days, months, or years after it happens. Perceived failures become successes and what we thought was a success becomes a burden. Crazy stuff. Good times. Happy day. Thank you.

Jason Brendel
Jason Brendel

Jason Brendel is an author, poet, and comedian living in Austin, Texas. Navigate the buttons below to follow him on social media, make a donation, or purchase his collection of laugh-out-loud poetry on Amazon.

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