October 31, 2014
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Mr. Adventure: Laugh It Up ... PLEASE

My first try at stand-up comedy? Maybe the joke was on me.

Gary Hovland

 

Know your audience. That’s the first thing they teach you in seminary school. If you preach to the wrong choir, there’s a pretty good chance your gefilte fish will be delivered to the table that ordered the Our Lady of the Lasagna.

Unfortunately, knowing one’s audience is one of life’s more challenging lessons, and it tends to take some time to figure it out. It certainly takes more time than the week or so I was given by my bosses to go to a comedy club’s open mic night and perform. That’s right, Mr. Adventure does stand-up comedy—just one month after doing stand-up paddle- board yoga. Maybe next month I’ll go out and be a stand-up guy ... Ha! Heyyyy-O! (Oh, God.)

From my perspective, nothing says, “We’d like you to quit your job and move out of state” more than a directive from an employer to perform at an open mic night. At no point in my life have I ever aspired to do stand-up comedy. It’s not in my nature. I’ve seen people do it, 
of course, on television and at the occasional Vonda Shepard concert, but, honestly, who thinks of doing these things?

The problem is, when you’re put on the spot like that, funny is hard. It’s all about timing. A decent comedian must fake spontaneity. And faking it is harder than you’d think. (Said no woman ever.)

But even before you get to the “needing to fake spontaneity” part, you need material. And I had nothing. Funny things don’t happen to me, largely because I’m awesome. I don’t even know any jokes. I literally don’t know the ending to a single knock-knock joke.

“Knock-knock” ... Nothing.

A feeling of dread crept over every waking moment of my life, which was fairly inconvenient because I also couldn’t sleep. People kept telling me it would be good for me. That it would help me conquer my fears. But I see no reason to face your fears if your fears aren’t imminent. Ignore them. Walk around them. Have a seat, turn on The Big Bang Theory, say “Bazinga!” once or twice. That would be way better than sticking your hand in a jar filled with spiders or jumping out of a plane or walking into a comedy club next door to a fairly suspect lingerie shop.

Regardless, I Googled “tips for performing stand-up comedy” and “how not to suck at stand-up comedy,” and I can tell you right now that few things are more dull than reading about comedy (a point I suspect I’m already making). What did I learn? Absolutely nothing.

Perhaps I could just retell other people’s jokes. Musicians always do covers. When was the last time you wandered into a coffeehouse and someone wasn’t singing You’ve Got a Friend? Maybe I could do Ellen DeGeneres’ Phone Call to God, Bill Cosby’s Noah or Red Button’s Never Got a Dinner? Those are classics.

Unfortunately, I was told that for some reason that’s frowned upon
in comedy. What every singer does is the absolute worst possible thing you can do in comedy. And time was running out. (And I wasted two full days just to get the timing down for “Sophia Loren never got a dinner!”)

So the more I thought about it, it made sense to go out with training wheels on. I’d take the traditional path, ask, “Anybody from out of town?” or “Who here’s single?” and then riff on whoever said they were from Michigan or how hard it is to be single. Yep, that would be my wheelhouse. I’d take it slow and let the comedy come to me.

I thought about honing the routine at an assisted living center, perhaps throwing in some Paul Lynde references, but there just wasn’t time. I was going to have to just wing it.

On the night of the big routine,
the club (some sort of bar/coffee- house/aquarium-store hybrid) was mercifully low-key. Eight people were there to perform and I got the number five slot, nestled comfortably between a recently retired U.S. Army master sergeant (and you know how funny they are) and a guy who does the worst Keanu Reeves impersonations this side of the actual Keanu Reeves. Whoa.

The crowd was an odd mix of per- haps 30 people, ranging in age from early 20s to early 50s, most if not all dragged by a friend or loved one who was going to take the stage. I brought Miss Adventure and she quickly began praying for a power outage.

The “stage” was a raised platform against a side wall from which you could look out the front window and see traffic drive by. Like my mother’s love, it gave me a strange comfort knowing that the majority of the world didn’t care. But that was all the comfort I got as I learned too soon that wannabe stand-up comedians tend to cut their teeth on the classic “Where ya from?” and “Any singles in the audience tonight?” bits. Oh, God.

It was horrifying. You can totally get away with that stuff if you’re the first person up, but being No. 5 suddenly sucked. Best Buy employee “Chad” was killing it in the No. 1 spot with all my material! Winging it left me with bits that amounted to little more than “So, how many people here spend an inordinate amount of time at Sally Beauty Supply?” and “Does anyone else here have reservations about the Native Americans? Heyyyyyy-O!” Oh, God. (I like to think I can make jokes about Native Americans because I used to date one. Same with Jewish girls, foreigners, alcoholics, cutters and girls who’ve texted Anthony Weiner.)

Maybe I could do a riff on people who complain about happy people...
I dated a girl a few years back who actually complained about people from the Midwest being too nice. She called it “ fake nice” and couldn’t wait to move back East. I should have known that there was something wrong with her, but then again, when you’ve elevated faking it to an art form, I guess you have the right to critique others.

And maybe I could add my bit about women named Rose, who, according to Shakespeare, should answer to anything. Actually, that might be too highbrow for this crowd. Nope, I’m going to open with me pretending to be at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. I’ve been told I do a mean Foster Brooks impression.

“We’re no quitters,” yelled a man named Mitch in response to my AA shtick.

“The more you drink, the funnier
 I become,” I said to what sounded a lot like dead silence. “Seriously, I’d let you sniff glue if I thought it would help.”

“Don’t let him get to you, honey, he’s an a**hole,” chimed in his lovely companion.

“A sober proctologist could make a killing in this joint,” I replied. And then the ice was broken and the next few minutes of attempted comedy came and went like an overweight vacuum salesman (uncomfortable and sucky).

Looking back, position five turned out to be completely innocuous. People had lost steam after the first four comics and were busy refreshing their drinks by the time I grabbed the microphone and introduced my- self as Jonathan Foerster, executive editor of Gulfshore Life magazine.

 

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