So Long And Thanks For the Fish, Man #017: An Oral History Of My Career In Comedy

10 years ago – give or take a year – I toyed with the idea of doing a little stand-up comedy. I knew from the notion itself, it would never be more than a hobby interest, but I figured it would be a good way to determine if I was (as many a friend and coworker would denote) a funny guy. Ultimately, I wound up doing a handful of shows, and called it a day. Why so suddenly serious? I didn’t want to pay for parking in the city, and it turns out I’m hella uncomfortable around drunks. LOL.

Beyond that though, I recognized that to be truly great at stand-up comedy, there is a level of commitment that I wholly accept is beyond my desire to dedicate to the craft. But let me not get ahead of myself. Cue the flashback machine!

My very first set of comedy was performed in the back of a comic book shop, as dared to do by the shop owners. We were all friends at Stand Up Comics in Lansing, IL, and every Wednesday when I’d pick up my books… the shop keep(s) and I would go back and forth about the fake worlds of which we partook. After weeks upon weeks of weekly weak knees… the idea was thrown into the wind: Why didn’t Stand Up Comics have a Stand Up Comedy Night? And with that, I was asked to join a few other shop patrons at an open mic competition.

My first set was short, sarcastic, and overly stuffed full of Jewish jokes and schmaltz. I adopted a “wise guy” persona – easy enough to do in a room full of similarly-minded nerds – and apparently did well enough to be asked to do another set. A far longer set. That set is still available on YouTube (search for it if you dare, cause lord, I ain’t promotin’ it!). I did my best to prepare a wealth of material. Cereal Box Mascots. My problem with the homeless in Chicago. My parents. My Jewishness. I covered it all. And for the most part? I felt like a million bucks afterwards. Enough so that I sought out actual open-mic nights soon thereafter to see if I actually had any chops. 

As denoted, I performed at a few (OK, 2…) open mics in the Chicagoland Area. And I certainly got some laughs. Nothing bombed, and I didn’t overly embarrass myself. But I was (and am) smart enough to have felt my faults. The material was unpolished. Jokes hit, but with no crescendo. I had things to say but held no greater purpose for saying them; save for the live theater of someone desiring to make others giggle. The idea of crowd work scared the living piss out of me. And most importantly… the feeling of imposter syndrome was prevalent. I was funny at parties or in polite conversation. I wasn’t a comedian. I had a sharp wit and a silver tongue… but no point of view or persona beyond angry twenty-something with nothing to be angry about.

Knowing that all my personal insecurities could have been mined, studied, and eventually overcome for the sake of becoming an actual comedian was a safe and handy excuse; that I was quitting the game, not that the game was too hard to win. It’s a nice lie to live by, when you can watch some Netflix specials from your couch and lament that “it’s not as funny as their last material…”

And with that, my little non-existent joke book was retired and I settled into the 40 other jobs I had in my life – what with a full time day job, freelance graphic design work, Unshaven Comics, and not long after I quit telling jokes for no money… a husband and then father. The comedy bug never bit me again.

Until a few weeks ago.

My Unshaven cohort Matt and I were invited to lead a trivia night at a local brewery. A few fun couples came out to partake in the evening, and amidst pontificating on the finer point of The Pro or UltraForce, a live mic was in my hand again. And without preparation – playing literally to a crowd of a dozen or so – my wit kept the room softly giggling for the better part of an evening. Several patrons even told me that the banter shared with Matt on stage was the best part of the evening. Not long after crushing it at trivia emcee duties, I was invited to a short set at a charity talent show. “No one else has the guts to do it!” And to that I merely muttered Hal Jordan! and committed myself to telling jokes again – this time to a potentially packed room of soon-to-be-drunk neighbors. Sounds like fun to me.

Ever since signing up for the “gig”, I’ve done my best to improve upon the craft of jokery;  writing out a complete set of material with a cohesive structure and segues, sharing the work with a few folks whose opinions I respect as being way funnier that I could ever be, and actually scheduling myself a try-out night to attempt to work out the kinks.

At the end of the evening, I’m sure I’ll feel as I always have after a live performance; proud, and hungry for more acknowledgement. Luckily for all of us, I have PopCultureSquad to deliver my bon mots if only in written form each and every week.

Aren’t you all just lucky as can be.