I come from a family of teachers, PhDs, and scientists. Telling them I wanted to do a little open mic stand-up comedy—just on the side of my full-time job—did not yield the most favorable response.
“Does your boyfriend know about this?” my mom asked in horror.
Of course not, mom! I wouldn’t dare tell him about such a deviant activity. My mom had no idea what stand-up comedy means, except that she thinks comedians only talk about topics related to sex and drugs. I comforted her to not worry about what my topics will be because I will never show a set to her anyway.
Otherwise, I have an honest relationship with my family. They have been very supportive throughout my upbringing, never pressuring me to do anything I didn’t want to do. To most parents, leaving an Ivy League college for a public state university during the first week of college and choosing to switch my major from chemical engineering to English during my last semester in college would be acts of failure—if not career suicide! It really is liberating to be part of a family that fosters happiness and independence.
It was fitting to begin my side stand-up comedy hobby now. I say “hobby” because it would be presumptuous of me to think that I could have a full-time career with this. It has been a New Year’s resolution for awhile. You could say that I’m getting a jumpstart on it—or, you could just as well say that I have been procrastinating, given that this was the same resolution last year….
On Christmas Eve, I was prompted by holiday stupor to sign up to do an open mic at Topaz Hotel, located in DC’s Dupont Circle (http://standupcomedytogo.com/). To my surprise, I got a reply the next day to perform at the venue the following Thursday. They required newcomers to bring a minimum of five friends to the free show—I needed more for moral support. I sent out a mass text to many people on my cell phone, including, I later learned, people who had my number deleted on their phones. The more people said they would attend, the more nervous and obsessive I became over my short, 3-minute act. I went through some days with little sleep. I practiced in front of the mirror, using a brush as a microphone, playing around with different inflections. I was sick of my act before my performance.
The open mic was held in the Enlightment Room, the basement of the hotel. The small space created an illusion that my friends took up half the audience. Disregarding the maximum occupancy of the room, other performers and I added more chairs the audience.
When I got on stage, I wasn’t nervous because the spotlight nearly blinded me. I had my set recorded— but not for public viewing on YouTube!—so that I could criticize my act: why did I move my hands so much, why did people not laugh at moments I thought they would, etc.
I still have a lot to learn about stand-up comedy. When I talked to other comedians backstage that night, they shared their insights over the course of their X amount of years in the industry. One comedian told me to feel the pain on stage. Feel the pain. (I didn’t really like that advice because I really didn’t want tomatoes thrown at me.) But there is that other pain, that pain where you don’t recognize anyone in the audience and your set is a complete flop. I’m not sure when I’m ready for that leap to a completely foreign and new audience, but, until then, I’m still just enjoying the fact that I have the opportunity to perform stand-up in front of people.