Merry Dickmas! I mean Christmas. Dick Butkus. I don’t know. It’s been a crazy year.
Last post I talked about getting kicked out of a comedy club, which was really weird when it happened but actually turned out to be good timing. I’ve been trying to get on the live podcast “Kill Tony” ever since I came to Austin. If you’re not familiar with the show, the basic concept is that a hundred or so comedians will sign up for a chance to get pulled out of a bucket and do one minute of stand-up comedy in front of Tony Hinchcliffe, Brian Redban, a guest (who can be anyone from a standout local comic to Ron White or Joe Rogan) and a live audience. After your minute of comedy is over, Tony and the panel will interview you and make fun of you for ten minutes. Only about six comics are chosen each show, so your chances are pretty thin.
If you’re not funny or interesting, you’ll probably get roasted into oblivion and embarrassed in front of the three to four hundred thousand people who watch the show every week. It’s definitely nerve-racking, but if you’re too afraid of embarrassing yourself then comedy probably isn’t for you anyway.
So, I had been going every Monday for six months or so without any luck of being chosen. If you’re a comedian, you get to watch the show for free, but you have to stand in a designated boxed-in corner with all of the other smelly comedians for two hours. Sometimes it’s fun, sometimes it stinks. Literally. Anyways, I was standing in the stink pit just a few days after the comedy club incident, and sure enough I was finally chosen.
I had been preparing my set for a long time for this specific moment, and when I was chosen I wasn’t nervous at all. I’d like to think it was because I was prepared and confident, but it might have just been because it was a new moon. I don’t know. I’ve also been doing a lot of really shit open mics that make me want to claw my eyes out with a garlic mincer, so this was really exciting. I knew my jokes were good, I just needed an actual audience.
And would you look at that, Jimmy! I was right! My jokes were good. I told four short jokes in a minute and they all murdered, which calmed my nerves substantially for the interview. If you’d like to watch it all unfold, well we can make that happen captain! Click here, you buffoon. (I come on about 41 minutes in.)
It was a pretty amazing experience to be able to perform under pressure in front of so many people. Those moments almost make it worth getting beaten down for months at a time. It’s hard to explain to people who only see this video, or who only see the finished product of any comedy performance for that matter. Unless you have a deep understanding of stand-up comedy, the performance is an illusion. The person on stage doesn’t just happen to be funny, they’ve worked at it. They’ve told their jokes hundreds of times, crafting and altering them until they’re just right.
Often times, this “crafting” process can be brutal. At least when you’re a nobody, like me. Most days I tell my jokes in front of a nonexistent audience. I walk into the comedy club, I sign up for the open mic, and I tell my jokes in front of a few other stand-up comedians who are only there to do their set. I’m not going to lie, it fucking sucks. I tell myself, “it doesn’t matter if they laugh, they’re not even paying attention.” But even if you tell yourself that, it still gets to you. You start to question yourself. “Am I even funny?” “What am I doing up here?” “This is so hard.” But you learn. I hate the feeling of telling a joke and the room being dead silent afterwards. I tape all of my sets. I write new jokes every day. I’m constantly asking myself “how can I be funnier?”
I was talking to another comedian on Christmas eve, and I was saying that my process since I’ve been here is to do comedy for a month, start to gain some momentum, fall off a cliff and die, hate myself for a week, and then repeat the process. Maybe I’m a masochist, maybe I just get bored easily, or maybe it’s both, but every time I start to do well I think, “I’m gonna try something completely different now.” And then I eat shit for a while, start to figure it out, and then say “yeah, but it’s still not quite right.” Then I start all over again. I guess I’m trying to figure out what doesn’t work so I can stick to what does and put it all together.
It’s like going to school by yourself and every day you just walk up to the front of the class and everyone stares at you awkwardly while you talk for five minutes and then you leave and go home. It can feel awfully lonely, but I know that I’m not alone. All of the comics around me are in the same boat. We all bomb together. We figure things out on our own, but we also do it together. We’re the only ones who can truly understand each other.
I didn’t go home for Christmas. I stayed here, and I went to a potluck on Christmas eve at the comedy club and then to a friend’s house with a couple other comedians on Christmas day. Both days were really fun. Most importantly, it helped me understand that this is my family, too. And I really needed that. I feel rooted now. I’m really doing this. I’ve been here almost a year, and this is my life now. It’s hard, but I love it.