I had just quit my job. Not because I had decided that I was going to be a comedian, just because my boss was a jerk. I simply could not stomach working five more minutes with him.
I discussed it with my wife first, as I do all major decisions, and she said:
I love you, I support you, and you boss is a jerk.
She went on to say that if I did decide to quit, then she expected me to get up on stage at “Open Mic Night” a our local Absolute Comedy Theater. We’d jokingly talked about it in the past with friends, so just get up and have some fun.
With literally nothing to lose I signed up and they squeezed me in within a couple weeks.
For an Amateur night, in my mind, I had envisioned a bunch of local big-mouths like me giving it a whirl for a few minutes in front of friends, family, and strangers. And then I started to get a bit nervous. So I researched it a bit more. Perhaps research I should have done first?
It was actually a Pro-Am (Professional / Amateur) night. With professional and semi-professional comedians part of a regular circuit coming and around honing and testing material.
I had made a conscious decision to not watch any comedians or stand-up leading up to event, as I didn’t want to ‘taint’ myself. I didn’t want to find myself copying a style or manner in any way. I thought, well I’m pretty funny in a group, I’ve got some good stories, I’m good with words, with some effort and practice I should be fine. And again, what have I got to lose?
But I was still nervous. So I hit YouTube. I watched the first 30 seconds of a video titled something like: “Tips for your first time doing open mic stand-up comedy” or something sounding equally relevant.
The very first thing they announced was effectively:
The are many people who because they tell a few funny stories at parties with friends and family that they can get up here and do stand-up…they can’t.
Now my nervousness dial was cranked.
But, I got experience speaking in front of crowds and I enjoy word-smithing so I put a pretty solid seven minutes together. (They told me when I signed up to prepare between 5 – 7 minutes of “me speaking” material). I was clocking in somewhere between 6 1/2 and 7 depending on whether I had the courage to try the audience participation stuff when the time came.
When the night came, we showed up early. The host was very kind and showed me where the green room and everything was (Wow, I’m in an actual Green Room). Now, I had been in this venue before for a business function and I was familiar with the overall layout but the stage was much smaller than I recall. Not that I intended on doing any calisthenics while I was up there, but it was more like a gargoyle perch than a stage. The front row was RIGHT THERE.
My wife had invited a few friends and I have some family there as well. As the crowed began to trickle in, I started to wonder what I’d gotten myself into. They were rowdy. They were vocal. And it was soon packed. I decided to sit with my guests while I wait for my turn. Earlier each of the comedians drew numbers to determine where in the rotation that would appear with the exception of the headliner, who would of course go last, and one of the other comedians who had requested to go first. I was slated to go right in the middle, a spot I was told was perfect.
I enjoy having a few beers when I’m trying to unwind, but I dare not take a drink before I had had my turn on stage. I want to remain sharp. My friends and family at the table wanted to engage with with encouragements and congratulations, but I was kind of ‘zoned out’. It sounds silly now, but I was afraid of ‘erasing’ the stuff in my head.
As I do with my sales training and business coaching efforts, I had rehearsed to the point where I hoped to be able to hit all the points in the just the right way, without being overly scripted – if that makes any sense. But in this very new and unique venue and this extremely active crowd, I fretted that I would blank out or lose my place.
In case of emergency, I have scribbled a couple bullet points on the back of a business card and kept it in my shirt pocket. So my safety net was in place.
My turn was coming up and I left my table for the back of the venue and hovered ready to approach and take the stage when I was introduced. When it happened, the MC was very kind in letting the crowd know that this was my first time and I’m sure this helped to buy me some ‘elbow room’ with the room.
I stumbled getting onto the stage as my toe caught the edge, but I don’t think anyone noticed and I didn’t fall. So far so good. I have spoken in front of good-sized crowds before, but not in a dark room with bright lights shining right in my eyes and I was surprised at how little I could see. I could only make out the people in the first row and they were 18 inches away! As went through my set, my eyes adjusted a bit, but I really was never able to see past four or five rows.
When we pulled our number to get our assigned spots, I was informed that we would each have seven minutes, I knew that if I plowed through my material as rehearsed that I would finish in time. A seasoned comedian would have been more in tune with his audience, I was somewhat on auto-pilot. I wanted to make sure I didn’t forget anything and talk myself into a corner. Thankfully I didn’t and I had tremendous fun doing it. If I had ‘wigged out’ and not let myself have fun while I was up there – it would have defeated the whole purpose.
I was very pleased with my performance when I was done. I even had a couple audience members come up to the me after the show and tell me they thought I did a really great job. That was very encouraging!
I think I really held my own up there, which is incredible considering that it wasn’t so much a Pro-am night as it was a pro-pro-pro-pro-pro-pro-am night.
There were some fantastic comedians there that night including Amish Patel who has recently been plucked up by Kevin Hart and the headliner was the hysterical Glen Foster “That Canadian Guy”. Our MC had everyone in stitches all night too and that was Sam Feldman.
My only regret, is that nobody took any pictures or video of my first time. But I’m going to go up again soon, so hopefully somebody will snap a picture so you know I didn’t make this whole thing up!