In mid-2017 I decided to try my hand at stand-up comedy. Why? Did I hate myself?
Did I like putting myself in stressful situations?
To be honest, it was probably ego-driven, so I could say I’d bravely gone where many fear. It was also an idea I’d been toying with for a while because I love making people laugh. Being the clown at a BBQ or during a night out and being the one who makes everyone laugh over a few beers gives me a real buzz. But could I actually write a joke and get up in front of complete strangers and make them laugh?
I had visions of standing in front of a captivated audience in a cool Melbourne hipster bar, my face on a poster on the wall. The crowd would be in hysterics at my witty anecdotes. However, the comedy scene for the new guy is a far cry from my dreams.
When I told my colleague, and arguably Australia’s number one comic, Dave Hughes that I was terrified I’d suck, he said, “You will! You might not get a single laugh. But just by getting up you’ve already won! You’re living!”
This advice was echoed by pretty much every comedian I spoke to for my podcast Sit Down to Stand Up, each with tales about their own experiences of dying on stage.
I wrote my first five minutes of material and was proud, even surprised with the jokes I’d come up with. I practised it over and over; each joke perfectly timed, even adding a few seconds as a ‘pause for laughter’ which was probably a little optimistic.
As soon as I felt ‘ready’ to step up to the stage, I found my first obstacle. I assumed in Melbourne, I’d be spoiled for choice for a venue, however I quickly learned comedy venues don’t just let any idiot on stage who thinks they can tell a joke in front of a paying audience. I eventually found an open mic venue where you turn up, write down your name and they call you up. Simple, it was on!
The big night rolled around and, being new to Melbourne, I didn’t have a large contingent of friends to ask for support, apart from my poor suffering wife who’d heard my five-minute routine about a hundred times already.
I arrived an hour early and saw the venue start to get busy. Soon the room was full! The crowd was ushered downstairs into a small, dark basement that screamed Josef Fritzl but with a hipster’s flair. The basement was packed to the rafters, standing room only and I was hit by the frightening realisation of what I’d gotten myself into.
There was no going back.
The MC informed us that the night would be broken up into three blocks of comics. “That’s a lot of acts, I wonder where they all are?” I thought. Looking back now that was pretty stupid, especially as I was one of those ‘comics’ and I was sitting in the room.
Yes, you guessed it; this packed basement was filled with all the OTHER comics that had put their names down to get up for their five minutes.
Not only was I about to do my first ever stand-up set, I was going to do it in a room full of other budding comics.
“Might just duck upstairs and grab another drink.”
The night rolled on and, as each comic finished their set, the crowd began to thin. What had been a fully packed room was now more empty seats than people.
The time was approaching midnight and my name still hadn’t been called. All my nerves had disappeared, replaced by irritation and a desire to just get it done so I could go home. Finally, the MC called the last comic of the night and his name wasn’t ‘Jack’.
” You’re kidding me!”
In a room of now six people, I went up to the MC and asked what happened to my name? Sadly, it appeared I had been overlooked; but I was given the opportunity to get up onstage. I must admit, if my wife hadn’t said “There’s NO WAY we’re leaving till you get up on stage!” I would have quietly left the building and gone home, deflated.
Finally, I jumped up onstage in front of six people and smashed out my first five minutes. Luckily the tiny crowd was extremely enthusiastic so I came off the stage on a high I hadn’t felt since I won my first boxing match (another of my one-off pursuits).
I was going to be a stand-up comedian! My vision of the prime-time spot in front of a paying crowd was going to become my reality.
Over the next few months I found a couple more places that had open mic nights during the week. My wife was no longer holding my hand and I was flying solo. I’d finish up at work, walk to the city and straight into a bar to grab a beer, sit alone in a dark corner and wait for the night to begin.
I saw the same faces, heard the same jokes and usually found myself getting on stage towards the end of the night to tell the same jokes to the same people who had heard them all before.
Jumping off stage late at night to catch the train home to a quiet house because everyone had gone to bed, heating up leftovers and watching some terrible TV was not the high life I was expecting.
The worst part was that most of the time, I was feeling like shit because I didn’t get a laugh on every joke. I remember thinking, “Why am I doing this to myself?”
One night, walking home at 11pm in the rain after a particularly crap set, I decided I was done with comedy. Sure, It wasn’t all bad, I’d won a couple of amateur comedy competitions and I competed in the first round of RAW Comedy during the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. But the stress, anxiety and depression of watching so many other people trying to ‘Make it’ as a stand-up, for me at least, just wasn’t worth it.
The experience gave me a massive appreciation for not only the big comic names like Hughsey, but all the others out there trying to succeed. You truly have to be passionate about comedy to push through those low nights to crawl up to the top.
I take my hat off to all comics!
Hopefully the next time you’re at a comedy night you’ll remember this and think ‘That poor Bastard!’ and laugh even harder for them.