Last night, I spent three hours waiting around a friendly open mic, Lucky Jacks, with comics I recognize. I got 8 minutes onstage in-between music acts. My new material went better than I expected since I was just trying to phrase things in a unique and unexpected way. The next morning I listened to my set enough times to transcribe it. I marked the laughs and cut words I didn’t need, I also did some free form writing when I saw unexplored concepts or comparisons. I tried to ask “could you make that stronger with an act out? A stronger attitude? A longer pause?” I’m supposed to do that with every set I record, but I don’t. About once a month I sit down with all the sets I’ve recorded, it’s tedious but enlightening. I like being able to articulate why a joke worked one night, when the same bit didn’t work the night before. I’m forcing into consciousness an ethereal process.
I’m also supposed to join a gym, supposed to be continuously keeping my “instrument” healthy enough for this schedule I keep. I gave up alcohol for endurance. But too often I’m tired and lethargic because I fill my body with cheap food and I’m not moving enough. I let the stress of my day jobs, and the running around, distract me from what I came here to do. Too often I succumb to the ceaseless temptation to stay at home curled up in a blanket with Nutella and a good book.
A normal day for me would be 8am-2pm at Starbucks, meet with a comic about the “The Pink Collar Comedy Tour” from 2:15-3pm. Jump on a train and go to a tutoring assignment from 4pm-6:30pm, jump on a train to go to a show 7:30, then….either go home to build a relationship with the man I’ve fallen in love with, or go to a mic. The open mics are the only place for me to work out new material, and I do my best writing on stage. But it’s hard to justify hours of sitting around listening to other young comics work out new (read- mostly bad) material in front a bored and jaded crowd. When my five minutes come, I’m equal parts terrified, and irritated. I stay, on principle to give the other comics the benefit of my warm body and ear, if I hear something funny, I laugh. I have to make hard choices about how I spend my time, do I spend 4 hours sitting in a basement for 5 minutes of questionably effective time with a microphone? Or do I stay at home and bond with this amazing man who materialized in my life suddenly?
The truth is that the five minutes I spend on stage isn’t the whole, or even the primary value young comics get out of these mics. Stage time at this level comes from relationships with other comics. Friendships and professional contacts are borne out of frequently being trapped in the same room listening to the same people many times a week for months in a row. Comics talk about comedy and you learn things; like who’s booking what, what the difference between a premise and set-up is, where to get the cheapest [insert anything], etc. Comedy buddies are like work out buddies, you tell someone you’re going to be there, and that gives you the extra motivation you need to put your scarf and mittens on and trek out in the cold for more of the same. And much like going to the gym- it hurts. And no matter how many crunches you do, you can’t get rid of a pot belly in one work out. But over time, if you keep going, keep trying, keep pushing yourself, you get better you discover you can do things you didn’t know you could do….and that’s when the magic happens.