I’m Here Through Sunday… Try the Veal!

My brief, instructive, and torturous bout of standup comedy

Kate Bracy
The Memoirist

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Group picture of eight people in room with writing all over the walls.
Author Photo

In the early nineties, when my life was overwhelmingly intense and chaotic, I did a crazy thing: I took a community ed class in standup comedy.

As if raising daughters, traveling for the state health department, and creating a relationship with my partner out of whole cloth wasn’t enough, I decided to do something that terrified me.

“Standup it is!” said a rebel interior sub-personality who has yet to claim the credit. My inner Ellen DeGeneres.

The first night of class, I circled the snowy block in the warehouse district of Minneapolis about thirty times before deciding to actually go inside. For the next eight Thursday evenings, I gathered in a classroom with a dozen other terrified persons, putting together jokes and stories, and practicing at the front of the class until we each had a good 3-minute set.

We learned the pacing of telling a good joke (“one, two, and twist/three!”), what a “call back” was, and how to get the most out of one. How to bring an audience over to your side, and how to survive when you blew it. The group helped me sharpen my thoughts about my adolescent daughter, who would be in the audience. (“Tell her how much she looks like me. She loves that.”) And whether and how to include my ex-husband’s “five-year refractory period.” (Had to define it for the audience before the joke — “It’s, you know, the time it takes you to recover… between times.” Usually then pointing out a young man in the front row who likely had no refractory period.)

Our instructor was a veteran of the Twin Cities comedy scene. She had chin-length gray hair and wore a cowboy hat, red studded boots, and a sparkly vest. She cheered us on and taught us how to critique each other without scaring us into hibernation.

The “final” for the class was to invite everyone you knew to come and hear your set at the Acme Comedy Club “Open Mic Night.” I, per the orders of our instructor, made a flyer and handed it out to work colleagues, writing friends, family members, and any random person I thought would probably not attend.

I had a nice spot — fifth up. Pacing back and forth at the side, out of sight of the audience, I eyed the exit. Nope, I was going to do this. I prayed not to forget my lines. I thought it might be like bronc riding — hang on until the red light goes on, and then you’re off the horse.

One by one each of us “students” sweated our way through our set. We high-fived and hugged as each brave soul left the stage. Whether we “killed” or “sucked” did not matter. We had conquered our first appearance!

Sitting in the audience that night was Peg Bauer, ex-wife of Wild Bill Bauer who owned a club in St. Paul. She was scouting for an all-woman showcase. After the show, Peg came up to me and said, “Nice job up there!” and introduced herself. She asked me to join her female extravaganza, and several of us moved our sets to Wild Bill Bauer’s club for a couple of weekends. My mom and dad came in from New York for one of the shows, and Peg asked them from the stage, “Aren’t you proud of her?” after my set. (My father nodded enthusiastically, and my mom almost smiled.)

Thank goodness I didn’t try this before I had my kids! I’d have traded married life for horrible road trips to bars in North Dakota and southern Minnesota, chasing that dopamine rush of rooms full of people laughing at something I said. Terrifying and electrifying by turns.

The picture above is part of our raggle-taggle group of would-be comics. The woman in the middle, with all the hair, is Peg Bauer. Such a funny lady!!! She was in her forties, which she characterized as “That awkward age where I could either get pregnant, or break a hip.” One of her jokes was about the bar scene for middle-aged women. “So a guy comes up and says, ‘Can I buy you a drink?’ And I said, ‘F*ck you. Buy me a car!’ [pause for laughter] ‘Make my house payment!’” Her delivery was so perfect, it was a master class in hilarious.

I think the photo is taken in the green room of Acme Comedy Club. I’m the one on the left, wearing a gold lamé jumpsuit. I was “Just Another Mom from St. Paul.” I would say, about the jumpsuit, “This is what I wore to my 20th high school reunion.” People would smile and nod, “When I was shopping for it, I told the sales girl that I was looking for something that said, ‘F*ck you for not taking me to the prom.’” Explosive laughter, especially the women. I’d add, “How’m I doin’?” And turn around for everyone to see the outfit. The place would break out in applause and wolf whistles. Then it was on to my ex-husband and teenage daughter.

I don’t know what happened to most of the folks in this picture. I doubt that any of them went on to have a comedy special on Netflix. I know that Peg has passed away. Personally, I abandoned standup but kept the memory of tackling my terror. I’m out in Washington State now, living on an island making my friends and grandchildren laugh every chance I get. (The grandkids can be a tough crowd, but I think I’m winning them over.)

As brief a period in my life as this was, it helped me realize that taking a risk and sharing your perspective can be its own reward. Standup is as therapeutic as it is frightening.

You can share the experience of being divorced, raising teenagers, or just living in this absurd world. And if you hit it just right, and you don’t lose your nerve, and the drinks have kicked in, you suddenly have a room full of allies — laughing, commiserating, and feeling lucky to be along for the ride.

Microphone with blue backlight
Photo by BRUNO on Unsplash

Thank you to Michelle A. Cmarik for editing support.

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