And not the movie where everyone who isn’t Asian plays an Asian!
In today’s post we reached 9 sets. It’s a HUGE milestone!! (Important Disclaimer: it’s not!!)
In real time, I actually just completed my 15th set, which feels like a good number to strive to hit each month. (I didn’t really set out for a specific pace, but 15 per month has an impressive sound to it, so we’ll go for that.) Despite finding a pace that allows me to both get up regularly and have time and energy to punch up each set, I’m about to take a short break, as I’m going away from April 5th until the 12th for an unexpected trip. Here’s the story:
One of my former campers, and good friends, Jake, plays pit percussion in his high school marching band. (I’ll preface this by saying that, with zero irony, I really love high school marching band. It’s competitive, strangely athletic (?) and for the most part, filled with really good people.) This year, Jake’s band is taking a school trip to Hawaii to perform. (For those of you who are unfamiliar, this is the same state where they filmed 2004’s hit romantic comedy, 50 First Dates.)
For this band trip, however, they needed some extra help. You see, Jake uses a power wheelchair to get around, and so he requires some assistance. (He’s a super awesome kid. You can read about his self-advocacy here.) Having been friends with him for a few years, he and his family asked if I could attend and be a chaperone and extra set of hands. So OBVIOUSLY, with zero hesitation, I said yes because it’s going to be absolutely, 100%, a great time. (And yes, my eyes will of course be peeled for Drew Barrymore, who may still be there, living the same day over and over again.)
So while I do feel like I have a little momentum in terms of becoming slightly more comfortable on stage, and continuing at my current pace would benefit that part of my life, I realize once again that this goal and blog are allowed to come in second once in awhile. If I can’t take a week to hang out with my good buddy and his high school marching band on the same tropical island where Henry (Adam Sandler) and Lucy (Drew Barrymore) repeatedly fell in love, I probably shouldn’t be attempting to write jokes and tell stories in the first place.
I’ll finish this opening with some Birbiglian wisdom from a New York Times piece he wrote last year. His message flooded back to me recently, and it’s something I want to continually remind myself for the next bunch sets and bits I work on. He says:
Now, for me, a part of that focus on “heart” is that I’m not going to spend this week mining for comedy gold and trying to craft joke structures and narratives while I’m out there. (This trip is about Jake, not my future attempts to write the next Fundamentals of Caring, which you all should watch on Netflix.) Instead, I’d like to be present for 6 days, because in spite of how much I love writing down bits and story ideas in my notebooks, the living needs to come first, and that means, being a part of Jake’s amazing, once-in-a-lifetime high school music trip to the 50th state. (It might be the 49th state, depending on which number Alaska is. I don’t know for sure, and I’m not looking it up.)
8. Broadway Comedy Club, 5 Min Mic, $6 and a seltzer
Dating and Starting Comedy
Teaching and Coaching in Scotland
(Batman — went over my time, had to rush it)
Due to a contractually negotiated teacher day off, I was well-rested for the 10pm Monday night mic. It was my first venture up to Times Square for comedy and, unlike some of the mics I do, I felt particularly alert and funny as I waited to get my 5 minutes. The mic was at the Broadway Comedy Club which, to be honest, doesn’t have the world’s most pristine reputation among comics. “It’s a lot of drunk tourists and comics who yell” was one explanation I got. Having never been, I decided I needed to see for myself: the city is a big place filled with opinions, so I figured the least I could do was get a more informed one of my own.
The club felt a bit dusty and old. The photos on the wall were, and this is true, Rosie O’Donnell, Screech from Saved By the Bell, and a blown up disposal camera photo of Jim Gaffigan, dated 11/22/06 (The night before Thanksgiving of my freshman year of high school. I’m 98% sure I was playing Smackdown vs. Raw 2006 on PS2 that night.)
From there, things only got much weirder. The British guy working the door to the club didn’t seem to realize there was a mic until the host, who later revealed himself to be 19, ushered the 6 comics and a few guests into an upstairs room. It cost $6 to do 5 minutes, plus you got a drink, which I expected and tried to forget about. Two of the folks just looking to watch were an older, almost preppy looking woman in her 40’s and a large bearded man in his 30’s who looked conspicuously out of place not holding a boom mic. (He just had a Phillip Seymour Hoffman in Boogie Nights sort of vibe.) They revealed to us, without prompting, that their friend, who was outside, was on a date, and that if he did well at the mic, that the date would go home with him. It was at this point that me and the other comic around my age started looking at each other as if to say “what is happening?” and “is this how dates are supposed to work?” In our mutual confusion, we started talking. Like I promised in an earlier post, even though I don’t know this guy’s name, I’m going to call him “Dan” because that’s what random comics are called in this blog.
Soon after, we realized that these weirdos were attempting to film their own reality TV show using iPhones. (“Can’t this be a normal field trip?”) Then, a dolled up woman entered who I guess was their sadder version of the Bachelorette, and sat right in the front. She was followed by a guy who I guess was the contestant, a short, handsome-looking guy in stylish blue jeans and a tight, dark blue dress shirt. As soon as he entered, he sat noticeably close and put his arm around her.
Despite their mere presence being a small commotion, they sat attentively as the first few comics went up. In spite of the madness, this mic went really well for me. Perhaps it was the previous night’s sleep, or my hydration that day, but I felt really confident and bold. I like to think it was the repetition of the last few sets that allowed my jokes to feel effortlessly rememberable. (I realize that once set ups and premises are clear and intentional, that it calms me down and I do less verbal flailing than when I just get up not knowing what’s coming next.)
Surprise Laugh: Without really intending to bring this up in any sort of meaningful way, I started to explain specific details about what I taught in Edinburgh. (Feeling a heightened and alert sense of comfort, I can only compare it to flirting with a girl at a party. I was trying to impress her, sure, but my focus was on being liked and laughed with. When you talk to someone at a party, you usually don’t follow a specific script — in the same way, I let this information out as if I was telling someone in person.) Since this mic, this feeling has been somewhat fleeting, depending on factors like tiredness and my own excitement at that day’s material.
SO, the surprise laugh came when I was describing how, in Scotland, I taught a class on American Studies where we learned about baseball (their first assignment was to watch The Sandlot,) The Simpsons, and the trial of OJ Simpson. (I’ve since tagged this joke with “So remember, you may not like me or think I’m funny, but somewhere there are 12 Scottish high school students who think I’m the man.”)
Overall: I wouldn’t say I “killed” at this mic. There were probably 9 of us in the room in total, and the circumstances weren’t exactly prime. However, I thought on my end, my material was clear, had some punchy lines, and most importantly, I enjoyed doing it and felt great, most of the time, throughout.
A Quick Post Script: A week later, at a Creek mic, I ran into “Dan.” We chatted about how strange it was to watch people try to make a reality television show, and how it was all sort of sad. (To be fair, they might feel this exact way about watching amateur comedy.)
As that conversation started to end, “Dan” goes, “wait, do you remember the old couple in the back?” I said that I did — the woman was going to perform and made a comment that she’s not used to doing only 5 minutes, and that she prefers 10, which I thought was unintentionally sort of cute. I didn’t get a chance to watch her perform, but before I snuck out, I watched in the back with her and her husband. “Well,” the comic said, “we were talking afterwards and she told me her son was a comic. Do you remember Jon Rudnitsky from that one season of SNL? Well, those were his parents.”
This really made me laugh because of course Jon Rudnitsky’s parents were at the mic, it’s the only thing that could have made it weirder. I then started to imagine his mom texting Jon to explain each comic’s jokes in vivid detail, and Jon being like “great, mom. Hope you’re having fun.”
9. Local 138, Midtown, 3.5 minutes
Coming off the strange mic and relatively strong performance, I was excited to be back on stage. I also wanted to try new material. So far, through my first 8 mics, I mostly stuck with the same stuff. (Largely in the same order, even.) And so for a while I’ve wanted to try a new bit about the black and white cookie, and so I did. At this mic, I also met up with my new comic friend Josh, and we had chicken Teriyaki afterwards. So yeah, it’s all been worth it.
Scotland Bits (to start with something I’m more comfortable with)
Black and White Cookie
This set was in the back room at a small bar on the Lower East Side. It felt almost like a dorm room with small, stiff coaches, a mic, and a bucket for names. I enjoyed chatting with some other Dans (comics) beforehand, and everyone felt supportive.
After using the opening bit to explain how and where I got my statar in stand up, I tried the black and white cookie bit. The idea is that Seinfeld had an old bit about how the black and white cookie represents racial harmony. However, this is from the 90’s, and so now when I see a black and white cookie, I don’t see racial harmony, but instead, see that the cookie part underneath the frosting is in fact vanilla, proving that while it looks like racial harmony, that equality is really just built on a “systemic bed of vanilla, just like our government, and prison system!”
I also had the idea to make the bit not just be about the somewhat obvious racial comparison of the cookie, but about growing up, having friends, and experiencing comedy. So, I tried to put the bit in the form of story about my friends from middles school. The story I tried is largely based on true things, however, I won’t reveal what specifics of the story are 100% true and what aren’t, because I don’t think it matters very much. (More important than the factual accuracy of the story is the emotional truth of what I’m trying to say. Trust me, you won’t care.)
The story, in structure, looks like this. This isn’t so much the exact quote from my set, but what I’m sort of going for: “So I love comedy in all forms and a lot of the time it consumes my life. However, I have a theory that no one can make you laugh more than your friends can. So in that way, your friend Mike is your own, personal, real-life Jerry Seinfeld.” (In the set I said, “And I’m not here to re-litigate old Seinfeld bits from the 90’s…that’s not why I’m here.)
From here, I wanted to transition to having a group of friends who learn about comedy: “So, when a new kid joined our middle school lunch table, and he wanted to quote Seinfeld bits at us, we were like “yeah, whatever, that’s not funny, we’re funny.” He brought up the black and white cookie idea of racial harmony, and, in order to be contrarian and a little bit mean, we were like “that’s not true. In fact, there’s no non-racist way to eat that cookie.” We then, on-the-fly, came up with the idea that no matter how you ate the cookie, you were being racist. “Eat the black part first? That looks like racial purity!” or “Start with the white? Can’t do anything without putting the white people first!” or even “Eat it down the middle? That’s segregation!”
I then continue to say how silly and ridiculous this logic was, but that we used to bust balls. I then explain how literally, years later, that kid ran up to me in high school to say “Gabe, you put the cookie in the blender! And I said, “what are you talking about?” and they said, “The black and white cookie! That’s how it’s not racist!!” The final tag of the joke is saying I how, on my feet said, “And kill the whole cookie indiscriminately? That sounds like ISIS.”
Now — again, this is the first iteration of the joke, and I’m sure it will evolve. However, at this mic, it went pretty well. (Well enough that when I saw a different “Dan” at a mic a week later he said to me “oh yeah, you’re the guy with the black and white cookie bit!”
Overall, I liked this mic a lot, and despite not having been back yet, I certainly plan on it.
As for now, I sort of have to catch a flight from Newark to Honolulu. Yes, that flight exists, and I’m really excited to see who else is on it. (My guess is, besides the 130 high school students, a whole bunch of Carmela Sopranos.)
PS, here’s proof I love marching band and class trips.
I’m @gjmollica on Twitter, Gjmollica@gmail.com for e-mail, and now available in Instagram (mostly to promote the blog, lol) @gabemollica — BYE from the Continental United States!