Stand Up if You Think You’re Funny

May 18, 2007 at 12:03 am (Uncategorized)

I got an hysterical email from a US-based friend yesterday. He made his comic debut at an Irish pub a couple of nights ago. If the routine was even half as funny as his email about the experience, then his future is assured.

Unfortunately I don’t think it’s quite that simple. And judging from his email, they haven’t exactly invited him back. I might ask him if I can post the whole thing so you can see what I’m talking about – it just kills me. Bear in mind that the subject heading of his email was ‘Lynch mob,’ and I think you’ll start to get the idea.

Which brings me to the shocking fact that he was up there onstage in the first place. I have another friend, Mark, who also dabbled in stand-up, and his act I actually got to see. Mark was damn funny, and I daresay my other friend was, too. But how on earth did they compel themselves to get up there and start talking? I just can’t think of anything worse. Or more difficult. Up you get, that’s the way, and make a roomful of people laugh. It gives me hives just thinking about it.

In high school, I did a lot of debating and public speaking. As a university tutor, I was constantly talking to a generally apathetic and sometimes even actively hostile audience. It’s not that I have a fear of speaking in front of a crowd – as anyone who knows me will attest, I am what is known as a big talker. But the special job of a comic is to make that crowd laugh. Not once. Not twice in five minutes, which I would generally consider a pretty high hit rate, but over and over again. Sustained chuckles. Long-term laughter. Is there anything less funny than the task of making other people laugh? It’s a really, really serious business.

They must have nerves of steel. I doff my cap to both of them. I’m staggered by their bravado, I really am. I am sitting here literally shaking my head just trying to envisage myself in their shoes, and I can’t do it. There is simply no way I would do that to myself. Call me yeller, but that sounds way too scary.

I’ll get back to you on whether I can post his email – in the meantime, “Knock, knock…”

Okay, here you go. My friend has kindly agreed to let me share this with the readers of this blog. Brace yourself, because it’s bloody funny:

Oh, God, Di, the stand up. Possibly the most
hilariously misguided venture that I have ever
embarked upon. Where to begin? I guess it’s best to
explain the venue: it is a badly-lit Irish pub, full
of pretty loaded patrons who want to hear covers of
‘Sweet Home Alabama’. I am the second standup act
they have ever had.

All the rest of the acts were pretty good cover bands,
and people were dancing and having a good time, etc.
Suddenly, my name is announced, and I stumble onto the
stage with a huge notepad and an easel, which promptly
keels over sideways when I put it up, then awkwardly
grope around for it on the floor, muttering about
making allowances for Australians. Crowd laughs as I
mention something about being a slapstick act – so
far, so good-ish.

However, I soon realize that because my act relies
pretty much completely on the drawings that I have on
the pad, there’s a rather huge problem with the
enterprise: most of the punters are standing around
the bar, which is at a 180 degree angle to the pages,
so they can’t see any of them. They are sitting
there, arms folded, waiting to be entertained.

The first thing I go into is a kind of complicated
time-lapse diagram, of the male professor’s
relationship to his female students. This is
incredibly hard to explain even if you can see the
drawings, and downright impossible if you can’t. In
fact, all the jokes are so complicated that they
really requires a lot of explaining, none of which the
increasingly hostile crowd at the bar wants to hear.

Brief description of the professor thing: I cut the
pages down the middle, and dramatized the aging
process of the professor by representing myself as
Marlon Brando on the LH side, and showed how the
female students’ age remained the same, year after
year, by having pictures of Scarlett Johannson et al
on the right hand side of the page. By flipping over
the LH portion of the page, the audience who could see
the pad saw me incarnated as Marlon Brando in various
films, in increasingly bloated form, and in different
costumes, while the bevy of female beauties stayed
poutily young on the RH portion. Interlace this with
self-deprecating comments about the unattainability of
student babes.

As you can probably guess from this highly simplified
description of the gag, it does not translate well to
a crowded bar full of pissed people. The second part
of my act was, believe it or not, about ‘transitional
forms’ in Darwinian evolution; and Darwinism’s
relationship to religion. This would have been told
with a lot of monkey sex/masturbation/Bill
Clinton/bestiality jokes, which were represented in
the diagrams, but it would have, now I think about it,
required a basic knowledge of the process of
evolution, as well as an awareness of the
incompatibility of various religious doctrines with
the theory.

To cut this short, I was basically tarred, feathered
and run out of town on a rail, as you can probably
guess from the above. It all started with a lone
heckler, a babe with fairly spectacular breasts, who
shouted out ‘boo!’ I foolishly decided to try to
humiliate said heckler by saying: “I’m sorry, Madam:
all hecklers must possess a full set of chromosomes.”
Pretty much nobody knew what I was talking about – I
think the accent exascerbated the situation. She
responded, inventively, with “booooooo!”, and I
responded with disparaging & bitter comments about her
intelligence, and possibly (can’t quite remember)
comments about its inverse relation to the size of her
knockers. At this point, she backed down & said that
heckling was her boyfriend’s idea. I turn to the
boyfriend and make a disparaging comment about his
choice of woman, and the originality of his heckle.
Needless to say, he did not appreciate my input.

At this stage, the lone ‘boo’ has turned into a chorus
of bellows. My friends, who could see the diagrams
and liked the jokes, were laughing pretty hard before
this – not out of charity, I tell myself – but I
realized at that point that the crowd were quite
literally becoming actively hostile towards me: the
girl’s boyfriend (rightly) looked as if he wanted to
glass me when I got off stage.

One of the staff handed me a dollar bill as the crowd
became more hate-filled; not knowing that this was a
signal to get off stage, I took it as encouragement,
thanked him, put it in my pocket, and kept going.

This last push lasted for about five seconds, before
someone rushed up to the stage, grabbed the microphone
out of my hand, and started telling a ‘why did the
chicken cross the road’ joke. Applause. I take my
notepad and walk off stage, sort of incredulous at
what had happened.

On my way to the bathroom afterwards, I started to
feel bad about bagging the heckler, so I went up to
her and apologized. But she had taken my chromosome
comment personally: in a brief conversation, she said
that she was a fucking biology student, and I may
think that I was stupid, but that was my fucking
problem. Guilty as charged. This was accompanied by
her sticking her finger up at me, inches away from my
face.

To tell you the truth, it was kind of fun, in a
reckless way: I really started to enjoy the fact that
everyone violently hated my guts. If it had slowly
and drearily bombed, it would have been awful, but
there is something thrilling about having a whole room
of happy patrons turning into a furious mob, and
knowing that you’re solely responsible.

Oh well! Can’t say I didn’t try it….

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