A Mistake Wrapped in Other Mistakes: Trying My Hand at Stand-Up Comedy


Throughout my efforts towards a film degree, I harbored nagging suspicions that upon graduation I would be truly screwed.  I came up with several hair-brained schemes to build my resume so that I would be that one-in-a-million Hollywood success story (the first from UCF since the Blair Witch Project kids made a buck or two back in the day).

As the greatest pre-writer in the world, I always succeed in over thinking absolutely everything I ever remotely consider doing and rarely follow through on it.

Even well thought out ideas can be terrible.

I knew that even if I wrote the greatest words ever to chase a cursor across word processing software, there would still be countless individuals between those letters and the big screen.  I was the only person in my corner so I knew that I had to take charge of my words in order to get them out there.

I decided to just become a stand-up comedian real quick to pass the time until the world recognized my brilliance and showered me with job offers (feel free to kick things off, Jon Stewart).  I had plenty of material to draw from and I was self-educated from hours wasted watching Comedy Central alone in my room Fall Semester.

After scripting everything that I planned on saying word for word and then reading over it a couple of times (you know, to sorta memorize it), I was almost ready to make my big debut at the crappy-sports-bar-in-the-Student-Union’s weekly open mic night.  There was just one last ingredient that I needed:  at least a pinch of self-confidence.  Luckily, I had just the recipe for that.  About an hour before showtime, I measured out 8 shots of my fancy Jim Beam bourbon into a big red plastic cup.  I topped it with Dr. Pepper and drank a big sip every time I realized how much I was nervously sweating.  I found the bottom of that cup pretty quickly.

I would have met up with some friends for a little pre-show support, but I made sure that I told absolutely no one anything at all about this because up until I finished my Dr. Bourbon, I was certain this would be an embarrassing failure.

I scuffed the side of my foot as I dragged it across the sidewalk.  I was wearing flip flops because it was January (which I have been told means something completely different in states that aren’t Florida).  That scrape probably didn’t feel very good but Jim Beam whispered that I was invincible and that it was no big deal, so I staggered onward.

Soon enough, I found myself sitting at a table next to the stage with my name on a list.  A rotation of hit-or-miss aspiring comedians warmed up the stage before me.  My bourbon really started to kick in while I waited.  The bullet points scribbled on my arm that represented my jokes weren’t making as much sense as they did when I originally wrote them.

Booze builds confidence but erodes short-term memory.

I don’t remember actually going up on the stage, but I do remember being grateful that my flannel jacket covered the ever-growing pit stains on my shirt underneath.  For the most part, I recited 20 tips for how to interact with your Pizza Delivery guy.  Literally between each one, I looked down at my forearm to try and figure out what the next smudged bullet point was.  The audience (who hadn’t been shy with their disgust at some of the previous comics) laughed at the lines that I remembered the best.  During the lines that I didn’t really remember, they would either maintain their merciful smirk from the previous joke, or just stare like I was part of the wall behind me.

The bourbon served its purpose and I made it through my 20 tips (I think).  I had an oak flavored squall brewing inside my stomach so despite my satisfaction with myself on some level, I quickly got the hell out of there.

Back in my room, I took a picture of my arm and smudged bullet points with my plastic digital camera and uploaded it to Facebook triumphantly.  Of course, I had to explain what the hell that grey stuff on my arm was, but I was still kinda proud.  It wasn’t until I was sitting in my dorm room that I realized that I had literally never spoken my jokes out loud before I got up on that stage.  My head was buzzing still, but I did manage to take away some very obvious lessons about the importance of rehearsing.

I also realized that my writing only works when delivered with care.  As I humorously captured the universal truths of crappy customer service jobs, my wit drowned in the drunken slur of my uncoordinated tongue as it struggled to remember what it was in the middle of doing.

Just to prove that I had almost zero understanding of my own body, I went for a 2.5 mile run around campus after that.  My sweat was 40 proof and my heavy breathing probably caused nearby breathalyzers to malfunction, but I did finish the long loop around campus.

After a very life-changing month of coming out of my shell, I would return to the stage to try my hand at topical comedy – I recounted a gun control debate between the College Democrats and the College Republicans (who had chosen a man too old to be in college who looked like Yosemite Sam to make their case).  Maybe it was how close I held the notecard to my face in order to read it in the dimly lit room, or maybe it was the fact that I only put 6 shots into my pre-show cocktail instead of replicating the 8 from last time, but nobody laughed.  I cut my set short, tucked my tail between my legs and suddenly realized that I had no interest in the hard work and rejection of being a performer.

I never stepped foot on that stage again, but through my cowardice I learned to respect people who submit themselves for ridicule in the name of entertaining total strangers.

Knowing what you are bad at is as useful as knowing what you are good at.

I still hope to hear my jokes spoken aloud someday, just by a performer with more skill (and a lower blood alcohol content).

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