On Sunday night I did a set of stand-up comedy in the East Village. I honestly haven’t been doing a ton of stand-up since the Aspen auditions last October and November, and I don’t know if it’s because those auditions were somewhat exhausting for me, or because they made me want to abandon all of the jokes I’d been working on up until those auditions, or simply because I haven’t been showing my face enough lately. And I don’t know if I haven’t been showing my face enough lately because the Aspen auditions were somewhat exhausting for me etc.
[By the way, I don't think I ever mentioned it, but here's how Aspen shook out. I made it to the finals, and didn't make it past that. It was sort of a crazy and confusing process because, when I first found out I had an audition I entered it with absolutely no sense of entitlement. Since I still consider myself very new to stand-up, it was a complete surprise to me that I was being seen for the festival. Then, gradually, as I progressed through three rounds of auditions, I actually started to gain some sense of belief that, yes, it was actually possible I would make it into the festival this year. So, when I found out I didn't make it – and I found out through the most bizarre means possible – it was just as mysterious to me as being given an audition in the first place, particularly since I think my third-round set was as good as, if not better, than my previous two sets. I think that's part of the mystique of the entertainment industry: it refuses to allow you a sense of certainty. That said, the whole experience was kind of exciting and, more importantly, it actually taught me the value of constantly repeating and refining a finite set of jokes – something I didn't quite value so much before all of this. And God and heaven and blessings on my head and stuff.]
Last night was sort of a crazy evening for me, in that I’d been writing several new jokes and hadn’t really worked any of them out yet. I was sitting at the bar, trying to do just that, knowing I had a little more time before I was supposed to get onstage. Then, suddenly, I heard my name called prematurely because the host simply forgot the order. I had to bolt to the stage and by the time I got up there I was still holding a pen in my hand and a pile of notes. I must have looked like a professor (translation: substitute teacher) who had just shown up late to his own class.
Once I got past my disorientation, and a new joke at the top of my set that was completely lost on the crowd, I had an excellent time. (Seinfeld and Colin Quinn were right in Comedian – no matter how tempting it may seem, it’s often a good idea to stay away from 100% fresh material at the top of your set. It’s a hard lesson to learn, and one that you learn repeatedly because you somehow convince yourself that the new stuff will instantly invigorate you and the audience. In this case, I had spent the previous two hours POSITIVE that there was something very funny about being so lonely that you frantically comb the Missed Connections in Street News. In my head, I heard an audience getting to its feet and embracing me like I’d just won the Indy 500. Onstage, it sounded a lot more like confused silence. I’m not sure Street News – a newspaper distributed by homeless people – still exists. I just know that joke will not.)
But something strange occurred to me after I did my set and had a chance to really examine the room. I saw all these guys in dress shirts tucked into slacks; a large black guy in gold chains and a colorful sweater from the Bill Cosby collection; women who looked like they were on a dress rehearsal for their office jobs at an administrative office for a major Health Maintenance Organization; men with European accents, holding domestic beers; a tiny Hispanic bartender. Basically, I saw a room full of people who, on any other day, would never be interested in spending eight minutes with me. These were people who would probably prefer to beat me up, or stuff me in a locker, or possibly rape me. (Cosby sweater, I’m talking to you.) And, reciprocally, I doubt I would feel inclined to spend any time with them. My natural inclination would be to think they’d bore me, or annoy me.
But last night, because I had a microphone in front of me, and was elevated on a tiny piece of stage built eight inches from the floor, we were all hanging out. And I was totally dominating the conversation.