Cole’s scares the shit out of me.
Being the most densely populated mic in the Chicago scene, you are certain to encounter some of the strongest comics in town at virtually any point of the night. Little is more demoralizing than eating shit in front of those you want to think well of you. Which is why I’ve avoided Cole’s for months after dying a painful death my last time there.
It has been far too long since I’ve mused about the goings on of my venture into the marathon that is stand-up. I would blame a harrying work schedule, but it is also due to an equivalent amount of laziness. Thankfully that lack of stick-to-it-tiveness has not spilled over and kept me from actually going up on stage.
I will try to upload my sets when I get a chance, but it might be hard to blog about them.
Very much and very little has happened in the past six-ish weeks. I’ve co-hosted my first open mic. I’ve spent hours talking to other comics ranging from craft to gossip. I’ve fared better than stronger comics, and worse than newer ones. Most importantly, I’ve become six-ish weeks more improved.
About a week ago, I found myself listening to an episode of the Nerdist podcast featuring Henry Rollins. I had forgotten how awesome Rollins is, but more importantly, it left a motivational impression. So much of that interview was spent talking about staying active in life, always pursuing a passion because everything else is just filler. Very little was spent on the subject of comedy, although there was a calming anecdote about Rollins meeting a mildly insecure George Carlin, but rather focused more on music, and always doing whatever is true to yourself.
For the past several weeks, or maybe even months, I had been improving my material and my performing, but I was disappointed in what I was doing, even if it was working. I tried to write a bit about racism, and it became absurd rather than pointed. What I tried to say about not fitting into societal norms devolved into depression material. I wasn’t getting to say what I wanted to say, and most egregiously, I hadn’t really even been writing jokes.
I decided to scrap the things that failed to express what I really wanted to set out to do. If my ultimate goal in stand-up was merely to get laughs I would gladly keep them. But if that were my only goal I wouldn’t be drawn to harder topics.
I sat down and started working on a piece about the news. It was a Wednesday evening, and I had skipped two different mics in order to try writing this new chunk. I paced my apartment for hours, practicing and scribbling. I wasn’t particularly excited about what I had, I doubted much of its hilarity, but it said what I wanted to say.
It was 1:00am. I went to Cole’s.
I’d like to say I delivered my four minutes on the news to uproarious applause and laughter. Even tepid and lackluster approval would make for a nice first step down a slightly new road. But it was not to be.
The list was full.
It was probably the best thing that could’ve happened.
I hung around for the show’s remaining forty-or-so minutes before heading home with a sense of disappointment coated in relief. While what I had written was true and honest, it was labored and without jokes. I would’ve died and shamed myself out of returning to Cole’s, the ‘it’ mic of this scene’s generation.
Fast forward to Tuesday, May 14th. Someone in the Chicago Comedy Scene Facebook group posed a question about honing material, which led to a posting of a link to John Roy’s Entirely Free Comedy Class. I read the first several lessons, and watched all of the assigned material. Which preceded the realization that I had completely neglected to write jokes. I’ve put in many hours putting my thoughts on paper, and going up and speaking those thoughts into a microphone. Sometimes that stuff was funny, and sometimes I was able to make it funny, but very little of what I had been doing respected structure.
Transcribing my opinions and trying to share something funny about them was not enough. I was actually going to have to put in work.
Several hours on Tuesday, and again on Wednesday, I tore apart what I had on the news, and hammered out some actual jokes. Rough to be sure, but jokes undeniably. After falling asleep on the couch with my girlfriend and waking up again at 10:30pm, there was only one place left to go.
That’s being overly dramatic, I had already texted Ken so I knew I at 6:30 Cole’s was in my future.
But it was still scary.
I opened with my bit on ‘what are you watching these days’?. Which had evolved really nicely in the last few days, thanks in large part to Brian Kelly suggesting ‘crops being picked up every season’ after seeing an earlier version of the bit. It had done well for me on Monday, and I wanted to give the news chunk the best chance I could.
First bit. Good.
The rest. Meh.
I could feel a palpable difference going from a bit I had confidence in to a new chunk of material that made me nervous. I had spent at least three hours working on variations of ‘Kentucky being annexed by China’, seeing how I could make it work. It felt like it might be too hard for people to follow, and even then perhaps a bit dark for people to enjoy. But I said it and it felt better than a laugh at a joke with nothing to say. Which is all I could really ask for at that point.
When I started down the path of becoming a stand-up comedian, I had hopes that somewhere around the six-month mark; I’d turn some sort of ‘corner’ and graduate from a level zero to a level one comic. I don’t know if that’s quite how I feel about it now, but I’m intent on finding out where legitimately trying to write jokes will take me.
Oh, and Cole’s isn’t that scary anymore.