When I was considering leaving my job, the girlfriend and I had a pow-wow to discuss my options. Surprisingly, one of the options that was whipped off the table with alarming speed was me lounging at home in my underwear watching the Disney Channel and eating Cool Ranch Doritos, while thumbing through back issues of the L.L. Bean catalog. The girlfriend demanded that I do something with my days, or at least my evenings, and since I couldn’t find any elderly Chinese ladies with whom to play Mah-Jong, we settled on me enrolling in a stand-up comedy class.
Now, I have to admit that this was somewhat of a terrifying prospect for me. In taking a class like that, you are saying loudly and clearly that you think you are funny. Or at least that people have told you you’re funny. Or perhaps, upon further reflection, it means that you’d like to learn how to be funny, which is never going to happen, so you best quit now. Anyway, there’s something so strange in saying “I’m funny.” It sounds conceited, if for no other reason than comedy is SO subjective. If you’re good at baseball, there are stats to prove it. If you’re good at engineering, there are bridges you built that are not falling into the river below. If you’re good at high-end prostitution, there are droves of married politicians who keep coming back for your services. But with comedy, the funny is in the eye of the beholder. Or the behearer. Whatever.
So with that crazy-making mindset, I arrived at my first class. With the exception of two giddy co-eds and a moderately sullen woman about my age, I was the youngest person by 20 years. That’s probably uncharitable. We’ll say 17. There were three men and a dozen women. I’m pretty sure everyone was more than a skotch nervous.
To my surprise, and dare I say the surprise of most of my classmates (with the exception of the one woman who had taken the class about a half a dozen times before) there wasn’t much in the way of instruction. Which is fine because ain’t nobody gonna teach you how to be hilarious. But getting dumped in the deep end before we got our floaties was disconcerting. And ultimately more helpful than learning about the history of comedy or the lexicon of stand-up.
After some pleasantries, our teacher, a local comedian of some renown, gave us 10 minutes to write some jokes and then we’d have a few minutes to perform them. Luckily, I had already been jotting some notes down in my notebook in the event that I ever pulled on my big girl pants and signed up for the class. The notes were scribbled under the heading “Comedy Routine.” I picked through my gut-busting ideas and settled on one that I would perform. It had to do with being gay. Had I known it would become a trope for the rest of the class as they showed off the callback skills (see comedy glossary here), I would have picked a different joke.
When it was their turn, every person in the class gamely stood in front of the rest of us and hammered out whatever they had. Some people’s bits were hilarious. Others were groan-worthy. Some made me embarrassed to be a human. My favorite bit of the first class came from an elderly farmer from the Northeast Kingdom who sported two hearing aids and was bereft of a handful of top teeth. I can’t repeat his joke because then it wouldn’t be funny, but let’s just say it had to do with sagging breasts, a bowl of oatmeal and a cup of coffee. But before he started, he informed us that prior to last year, he thought the word “lesbian” was a disease that horses got. Being that I am an equine illness myself, I found the joke hilarious and guffawed through his entire set.
The farmer was rivaled only by a fellow senior whose nom de stage was Stella Bella Buns, an oversexed septuagenarian with a hip problem. Literally, this blue-hair had a character the very first class. Overachiever. And the character was salty and raunchy as hell. Stella Bella Buns completely ignored the instructor’s dictate to keep the blue humor to a minimum. She unleashed a 10-minute monologue about how her husband doesn’t give it to her when she wants it. And she kept making references to the little blue pill, which made more than a few classmates squirm. I’m kind of glad she got cut off before she launched into a tirade about male strippers and anal beads. Cuz Grandma, I’m sex positive and all, but that’s a little too much info for the first night.
Sadly, over the six weeks of class, the farmer fell ill and Stella Bella Buns, not surprisingly a snowbird, flew the coop for warmer climes. So no more sassy seniors riffing about baggy skin and shriveled wieners.
For my part, class was a weekly battle. I didn’t realize until the end how much I needed to prepare in order to make a bit solid and worth laughing at. I thought I could slide through on my natural comedic chops (evidenced throughout this riveting blog) with minimal practice. Not so, I found out the week that I totally bombed like the Enola Gay over Hiroshima. I started my hilarious joke and when I got to the first funny bit, crickets. Then my voice got stuck in my throat like a huge poop jammed in the toilet. I croaked out a couple of umms and ahhs and shot a stupified glance to the instructor. “Save me,” I tried to relay with my eyes, to no avail.
As my father keeps reminding me, “You’re going to fail as a comedian. All comedians do.” Thanks for the pep talk, Dad. Now go back to screwing companies out of their millions. But I guess he’s right. After my hiccup, I dusted myself off and tried harder to be funny next week. And there’s nothing worse than watching a person try too hard to be funny. But my insane perseverance paid off and last Monday, I performed my very first comedy routine in public. Our comedy recital, as I came to call it, was packed with friends (i.e., plants who would be kind and laugh regardless of the humor factor). The 200-person capacity venue was packed out. Yikes.
After popping a few drugs, including one that would prevent me from shitting my pants and one that would prevent me from throwing up all over my new vaguely bohemian shirt, I was ready to perform. And, in a word, I slayed it. I bent that show over a barrel and rode it like the Pony Express. I mean, if I do say so myself. The rest of my class brought it as well, which was nice to see. Everyone hit their jokes and got some big laughs. A good time was had by all.
Now that the class is over, I’m back to spending my days to watching soaps and Andy Cooper’s new talkie in my unmentionables while eating Cheez Whiz and saltine sandwiches. The girlfriend isn’t pleased about this. So I’m thinking I’m going to try this stand-up thing for real. Fingers crossed.
Photo courtesy of Emily McManamy.