Courtesy of Tyler Davis
“And the next comedian to the stage is … where’s our next comedian?”
A stream of varying curse words run through my mind as I raise my hand like a kindergartner and make my way to the stage. All I can think is how I shouldn’t have eaten those wings and how I’m not drunk enough for something like this.
I’m at Scarlet and Grey’s open mic stand-up night and this is my first time being on stage by myself with jokes I’m not even sure are funny. I’ve seen grown men come up on this stage, forget what they were going to say, and mumble something generic like, “So, the weird thing about sex is… um,” shake violently, scared out of their minds, looking like they are going to cry.
Besides the solitary microphone stand, I will be the only thing on the stage. This is it, I tell myself, the moment of truth: Do I have what it takes to be funny?
“James Garcia everyone.” Applause.
I shake his hand when we slide past each other as I climb onstage. Every eye is on me and every second is dragging painfully. I grab the microphone and it feels heavier than I expected. The stage lights are bright and warm, but most frightening are the 50 people all staring at me, waiting for me to entertain them with my wit. I am aware of every thunderous heartbeat in my chest and every surge of blood through my veins.
“Um… Hi,” I say shakily into the microphone. My voice is loud and it sends goosebumps up and down my arms.
“I don’t have friends,” I say. At this I can tell the crowd isn’t sure whether to laugh or whether I’m being serious — in which case it would be sad and awkward, an awful combination for a stand-up joke. There are a few chuckles though — out of pity, maybe.
“It’s not because I’m awkward. It’s not because I’m nervous. And it’s definitely not because I eat people. It’s because I divulge way too much information to people when I first meet them,” I say. “So, I guess that is kind of awkward.”
Then actual laughter. Thank God. Cannibalism jokes work apparently. Who knew?
Here’s the thing about telling jokes, and remember this is coming from a complete amateur: You’ve got to not only come up with something unique and creative, but also deliver it with confidence. I’ve seen people with excellent jokes ruin their set because they didn’t deliver with character. I’ve seen classic racist, sexist and druggy jokes kill, simply because they were told with finesse.
But I refuse to tell a joke that reinforces the stereotypes of minorities, involves any kind of genitalia reference, or a story about airline food. But you should write jokes based on what you know. So, I tell jokes about being an awkward person, naturally.
“Do penguins have knees?” I ask. Pause. Let it sink in. And there it is: laughter. It feels good, but I can’t acknowledge the fact I just told a funny; it’s not in good form. It makes comedians seem pompous, like they know they’re funny. Just keep moving the jokes along.
“I consider being awkward an art form. In fact, I think I’m the only person who can out-awkward people with a God-given right to be awkward — like homeless people,” I say. “Are there any homeless people here, tonight?” I ask.
An attractive and obviously not homeless girl up front says, “Wooo!” I point at her and say, “Congratulations, you have a God-given right to be awkward.”
Then I continue, “A homeless man approached me the other day and asked me for change. I said no, but he wished me a safe trip home anyway. And I said, ‘You too!'” Pause for effect. “Yes, that’s right, I actually told a homeless man to have a safe trip home … awkward.”
This went on for about five minutes and then I was done with my routine. And just as suddenly as it had begun, it was over with. Overall, I wasn’t a crack up — didn’t win the $10 bar tab for the night — but I didn’t wet myself either. So, that’s something, right?
Be funny or get off the stage. The comedy world can be a savage one.