Of all the choices I have made in my performance career, the one that has been most surprising to friends and family (and, frankly, to me) was a few months ago when I dipped my toe in the Chicago comedy circuit. The most frequent question I am asked these days is: HOW did you end up doing stand up? So, for those who are curious, here is the rather long story as to how I decided to step into this new world.
A few months ago I was looking on Amazon (I don’t recall what I was looking for…hmm…likely something for my kids or some new attempt at organization for myself). Anyway, I do know that I was not looking for clothes, but the Amazon gods who make suggestions as to what else I might like, had different plans for me. At the bottom of my screen, I saw a suggestion for a dress (please keep in mind that I don’t think I have ever bought myself clothes on Amazon) and I felt compelled to click on it. Those Amazon gods really know what they are doing so, of course, I LOVED the dress. It did not look like anything I had in my closet, as it was full of pattern and color (I typically wear black, white, grey, and if I am feeling wild, I may throw in a splash of navy or burgundy). I clicked through the various fabric options and stopped when I got to the black dress with giant purple flowers (please see the blog post entitled “Purple Flowers” to understand the significance). Obviously, that was the dress I was supposed to have, so I bought it. For $22, I figured it was worth discovering why I was supposed to have this particular dress.
Two days later (thank you, Amazon Prime), my dress arrived. Unsure if the dress would fit or how it would look, I tried it on. I turned to the look in the mirror and was so excited that my super random, $22 dress, fit me like a glove: sleeveless, boatneck, flared skirt, and a thin black belt around the waste. I felt so happy seeing the big purple flowers, knew my Grammy Fay had sent it to me, looked in the mirror, laughed, and said out loud, “I look like Mrs. Maisel.” I hung the dress in my closet, unsure of when I would wear it, but certain it was meant to be mine.
The next morning I checked my phone and there was a message on Facebook from a woman I had not seen nor spoken to in over two years. We were friends on FB, so I would see what she was up to from time to time, but we had not connected in a very long time. I knew she was a set painter for theater and that she had started performing stand up comedy on a very regular basis.
Steph: When are you gonna try stand up?
Ummm…..WHAT? I read it a few times before responding with something I have never said out loud to anyone before:
Me: It is my most secret dream.
Steph: You’re hilarious. You have great stage presence. Do it. Why are you waiting? I can go to any open mic you want to go to. I will be your buddy. You can do it.
After a bit of back and forth, I agreed to meet for coffee because that felt harmless. After all, I did commit to trusting the path and doing scary shit this year (a blog for another day). This felt like a sharp right turn that I did not see coming, but it would not have been honoring my commitment if I ignored the idea. We met at a bar a few days later and Steph asked what questions I had. I laughed and said I had no clue what to even ask. She started talking about stand up comedy – the people, the open mics, the successes, the failures, and why she thought I would be good at comedy. – and then I had a million questions. Then she dropped this bomb on me:
“I am hosting a show at the end of September. I am giving you ten minutes. You better get to some open mics to practice before that.”
I wish you could see my face while you read this because even in retelling the story, my jaw is dropped and my chin is basically on the floor as I recall the series of events.
Steph: How are you feeling?
Me: Honestly? I feel excited and terrified and kind of angry.
Steph: Why angry?
Me: Because if I am truly going to trust that what the universe brings to me is meant to be, then I cannot turn this down and I feel kind of angry at you for putting it in my path.
You can reread that last part and imagine me laughing while I am saying it…that will be a more accurate interpretation of the moment. Like, fuck you and your believing in me, but with a smile.
The truth was I could not come up with any reasons to NOT try that outweighed the benefits of trying. Other than a little loss of pride and some late nights out, I truly had nothing to lose. I set a goal for myself to go to one open mic each week
until the show at the end of September. I wore my dress with purple flowers to the first open mic to remind me to trust. It was unlike anything I have ever done in the performance world. I expected other theater people like me, but that was not at all what I found. It was wildly male dominant, mostly mid-20’s white men who liked to talk a LOT about their penises. I know more about Chicago penises than I ever wanted to know! Though, in fairness, some of them were not terribly interested in the musings of a suburban mother.
My first few open mics were pretty successful, as far as I was concerned. I got some laughs, some good feedback from other comedians, made adjustments to make stories land better, and I enjoyed myself. Then, it happened: I bombed. BOMBED. It was the longest three minutes of my life. Standing on a stage, hearing nothing but….well, just nothing. I finished my set and left the open mic feeling way more defeated than I thought I would if that were to happen. I messaged Steph to let her know that I had totally flopped and her response was: Congratulations! You are now a stand up comedian.
I considered backing out of the show the following week, but knew I would be disappointed in myself if I did not follow through with my goal. I forced myself to go to one more open mic (Monday night at the Logan Lounge, hosted by Lia Berman), hoping to have my last one before the show be a positive one. You know what? It was my BEST open mic to date. Was it the people in the room? My delivery? My stories? I don’t know and will never know, but it gave me the confidence to know that I could do the show a few nights later.
The night came for my ten minute spot in Steph’s Darling Parlour. I told Steph how nervous I was and she said if I bombed she would hug me and buy me a drink, and if I killed it, she would hug me and buy me a drink. It was a good reminder that
there was truly nothing to lose. I invited friends to come watch, which was terrifying. The comedians in her show were the best I had seen in my limited experience and I started to feel nervous that I would not fit in. Turns out, I did fit in! I got laughs and applause and a hug from a woman I had never met before. I felt great about what I did and felt like I really found a rhythm to my set. I was proud of what I had attempted, learned, and accomplished.
Doing stand up has helped me look for the funny in the moments that may otherwise just feel overwhelming. There is so much humor in day to day living that we overlook because we are constantly moving or just preoccupied with life. Basement flooding with inches of water? Frustrating and disgusting. Opening the door to find the plumber standing with a roll of paper towel? Fucking hilarious.
Trust the path. Find the funny.