A couple years ago, there was a new theater in a neighboring town who decided to have a big gala opening. They called a theater here, asked if they knew any stand-up comics, and then got passed along to me. At first I said no, I didn’t really do that anymore, I’d quit several years earlier; they persisted; I caved. I’d do a one-hour show, with an opening comic, and a band playing before us.
Why the hesitation?
I hadn’t performed in years. Years. Also, the venue was in a pretty conservative town, but close enough that a number of people I knew bought tickets. On one hand: Great! About 25-30 allies in the audience. On the other hand: What if I was bad? Think about that – none of them had ever seen me perform and if I bombed, well, instead of the guy who used to do this cool, interesting thing… it’d be like, oh, that’s why he quit.
Finally, at that time there where no comedy nights running in town for some bizarre reason. This meant I had nowhere to practice; nowhere to get my timing back, or to try out new material. So all I had for “getting back in shape”, was I would go out to the garage and talk to myself. That’s it. That’s bad.
The band’s first song was Cheap Trick’s “Surrender,” a personal favorite. It was a good omen. Then came the opening comic, and he was the perfect opening act – just good enough to keep people in the mood for comedy, just bad enough to make me look good, and for the audience to know they wanted something different. Perfect.
The stage still had the band equipment on it, and the lighting wasn’t great. Also the stage wasn’t done, so there were some actual physical holes in it I had to watch out for (“I need you all to know that there’s no magic in this show. Just comedy. If I suddenly vanish, it’s not a trick. I have fallen through the stage and need medical attention.”).
I hurried a little at the beginning, until I got the first big laugh. Then I relaxed.
In the end? It would be the best show I ever had. Perfect? God no. Of course not, but who knows, maybe it was because of the time off – I was excited to be there, I was having fun; it wasn’t just a job.
I stuck with the philosophy of “do the show you want, not the show you think the audience wants.” The latter path leads to always aiming for the lowest common denominator, and I wanted to enjoy it. Instead I kept on the humor, but went ahead with the things I wanted to go into as well, like media fear-mongering. Here’s some of it:
The more I relaxed, the better it went. There’s a long section I would always do on religions, not mocking them, but just looking at how they look from the inside vs. the outside. I knew this was a pretty conservative crowd, and I think this threw me a little, so some of the wording didn’t come out how I liked, but it still went pretty well. Here’s about half of it:
Perhaps the biggest relief was how well the new material went. I was a different person than before, and instead of defining myself against the audience, I saw the commonalities, and that made a huge difference.
Sadly, the battery ran out in the camera and it lost the last 8-10 minutes of the show. But when it was over I was elated. It reminded me of all the things I loved about comedy, without the awful parts. I’m working on a live show that would be sort of a hybrid of stand-up and story-telling, but if this was to be my last stand-up show? I couldn’t have asked for a better coda.