In January 2022, on a cold and dreary winter evening, I drove to Red Top Hotdogs to participate in my first, of many, comedy open mics. The story of how I got into comedy is honestly long and rather boring. What has surprised me more about my experience is what I have gained from comedy, and what keeps me coming back.
The first thing comedy brought me is new friendships, and ultimately a chance to escape my “bubble” of similar-minded people. I see countless memes on the Internet about how hard it is to make adult friendships. If you’re looking for an easier way, try comedy. Comedy brings together an offbeat group of individuals who have learned to interact with the world through humor. Through comedy, I have made some of the nicest – and weirdest – friends who both celebrate my successes and call me out on my flaws (that good old-fashioned “roast”).
Comedy specifically has been a unique way to build friendships outside of my standard circle. Comedy brings together a group of people with differing views on politics, faith, and our world. Do we get into deep philosophical conversations about these differences? Not really. But through our friendships, we come to see each other as dynamic and gifted human beings — as opposed to the black and white stereotypes that the media perpetuates.
Another great benefit of comedy is it emphasizes the importance of laughter in my life. I try to expose myself to comedy at least once a day and this has freed up my childlike ability to laugh out loud. Our lives are filled with a myriad of tragedies and struggles. Comedy has given me a tool to elevate myself from these challenges. I often return to this quote from Cardinal Timothy Dolan: “A sense of humor comes from faith, faith that everything is in God’s providential hands, a faith that frees us up to laugh.” This doesn’t lessen the experience of grief, but it helps remind me that it is okay to laugh in the midst of it.
Recently, four people in my extended circle passed away within a period of two weeks. While I was grieving these losses, I found consolation in laughter. For example, after I received the news of my 38-year old co-worker’s death, I (somewhat randomly) played some Enya songs to calm my spirit. Instead of feeling calmed, my tears of grief quickly started flowing. The timing felt especially inopportune, as in that moment, I was en route to a comedy mic. I suddenly heard my deceased co-workers’ voice in my head, “HA! Don’t be crying over me while listening to this cheesy sh*t.” It made me laugh again, despite my sadness.
The biggest thing that has kept me in comedy is it has become a safe space to learn about failing. I have a bit of an ego problem, so when I first started doing comedy, I thought I was an instant star. (I would say foolish things like, “I didn’t bomb, the audience just doesn’t understand humor!”) Now that I am nearly two years into comedy, I have come to understand when I’m bombing, and appreciate it as a great lesson in humility. As Stephen Colbert says, “You gotta learn to love when you’re failing.…The embracing of that, the discomfort of failing in front of an audience, leads you to penetrate through the fear that blinds you.” There is nothing quite like “failing” in front of a live audience. It has helped me overcome my fears, like, “What if not everyone likes me?” (They don’t. And that’s okay.)
There are many times that my “bombs” have made me want to quit. But then I remember how much I have come to love this art, and I’ve found new ways to make my mark. Recently I have discovered I have an obscure talent for parody song writing combined with slide show humor. This dynamism has been another surprising discovery I’ve made about comedy: it doesn’t have to be limited to “stand up,” but can be much more creative than I ever expected.
Perhaps my experience has convinced you to try comedy. (I hope it has!) How do you get started?
- Search on the Internet for local open mics. I would highly recommend spending time starting with open mics that are not at comedy clubs. In most towns, local comics host open mics in bars, restaurants, and other casual formats around town. These mics are much more low-key, don’t come with the blinding stage lighting, and will give you a chance to work out your nerves and/or jokes.
- Write your first 3 minutes of jokes. Most open mics will give you 5 minutes of stage time. As you get started, it will be easier to start with a shorter set. In my case, it forced me to cut the “fat” out of my content and highlight the actual jokes. Try to write at least one punchline for every 30 seconds of your material. Write from your life experiences. Most open mic comics focus their jokes on drug-use and pornography; if you write content that’s different from these two topics, you’ll instantly stand out!
- Get out there and do it! If this feels like a calling, don’t get stuck telling yourself you’ll try it “some day.” Prioritize it on your calendar and make it happen. Also, don’t bring your friends with you at the start: this will give you a better chance of connecting with local comics and the overall scene. In my town (and I imagine most places) we have sketch comedy, variety shows, roast battles, and more. Stand-up is one of the more “accessible” forms of comedy, because they have weekly open-mics, but you can quickly and more easily branch into these other forms of comedy once you become connected.