Standupiversary (guest post)
by Ryan Thompson
This week marks my two year Standupiversary: two years since the first time I went on stage with a prepared list of “jokes” and told them in front of strangers. This seems like a good time to look back at where I started, where I am now, and the time in between. Here are a few stories, observations, and reflections – thrown together, much like one of my sets, in a half-thought-out order.
In the past 2 years, I have been on a stage (of some sort) with a microphone (in front of varying numbers of people) 95 times. I know there are people who have been doing this for shorter periods of time who have been on stage a lot more than me. Living where I do poses a challenge: the closest all-comedy open mics are 1.5 hours away, in Pittsburgh. When I’m home, I’m relegated to mixed mics, which happen in bars and coffee shops, sometimes without a PA system. These consist of acoustic cover songs (I’ve heard Wagon Wheel and Free Fallin’ more times than any human should), the occasional poet, and my standup (sometimes along with my hilarious friend Jimi). These open mics serve as almost background noise for the patrons of these small college bars. If they hear a song that they drunkenly recognize, they half-sing along as they continue to eat their half priced chicken wings (which are, admittedly, quite good).
Sitting at the bar with an Angry Orchard, I nervously jot down phrases on a notecard to help remember the jokes I want these strangers to enjoy that night:
When I walk onto the stage, people become confused. The person who was just on stage tries to hand me the guitar.
“No, I’m going to tell jokes”
“Oh. (pause) So, you don’t need the guitar?”
As I take to the stage, I take a moment to look at the crowd, preparing myself for my time. I loudly proclaim my name and my mission statement, hoping not to startle them, but rather to ease them into my world for the next 10 minutes. It fails, and they continue to eat their food and converse with their potential one-night stands. I stand under the hot stage lights of the otherwise dimly lit back room of Toby Hill. Even though their attention is never fully on me, I tough it out and tell my jokes. Occasionally, one table will pay attention and I’ll get laughs.
This is where I started doing comedy: not under the best circumstances, but I needed to be on stage.
My first trip outside of a 30 mile radius to joke was exciting. I was on TWO shows in one night: one at a skatepark, and the other at a slam poetry event.
I prepare my set almost 2 weeks in advance and practice it relentlessly. I dress up for this. I wear nice pants, a button down shirt, tie, and a sweater vest – even though it’s a lot of degrees outside. I arrive at the skatepark and ride around for a while on the various ramps until the show starts. I’m on first, and there is no host, so I just kind of have to walk up and start. The mic keeps cutting in and out. Thankfully, my experience back home had taught me how to deal with this, and I ditch the microphone completely. After delivering my last punchline, I speed off to the next show.
This one feels a little more… put-together. Four slam poets go on stage before me, spilling their hearts out, emotions and feelings and truth. Then me. Then I get on stage and tell well-rehearsed jokes about Triscuits and Bigfoot for fifteen minutes. This goes surprisingly well. It’s a much needed break from the stories the poets are telling, full of abuse and unrequited loves. It’s a good experience, but I still feel a little uncomfortable, out of place, one of only 2 comedians on a show of 12 slam poets.
Not all of my shows were shoddily thrown together hodgepodges; some were real comedy shows in comedy clubs with people who paid money on a Saturday night to see a show. I haven’t done many club shows in the past two years, but the few I’ve done have been some of my best. The most recent of these shows was in Buffalo this past December. I’ve become friends with my favorite comedian ever, Kyle Kinane, and am lucky enough to be able to do shows with him occasionally.
Sitting in the green room as the host is on stage, I’m told I’m expected to do eight minutes instead of the five I was originally told. This may not seem like a lot, but I’ve got a five-minute set prepared and so I have to scramble to figure out where to put different jokes to fill time. I look like the governor just called to explain that my execution has been moved to five minutes from now and I’m hastily writing my final words.
“Relax,” Kyle says to me from the comfy green room couch. “It’s just jokes. You’ll do great.”
I finish my set list right as the host is supposed to call me to the stage, but he has a forgetful moment, and he brings up the feature act first. I’m super relieved that I have an extra 20 minutes to look over my set. Finally, my name is called, and I walk on stage. Just like the back room of Toby Hill, I stand for a moment and scan the crowd; I can barely see anyone because of the lights. I tell my first joke, and unlike Toby Hill, I hear the crowd and realize everyone is actually paying attention – they’re all laughing. I get offstage and completely forget about the anxiety of having to change my set just minutes before.
“That was awesome, man.” Kinane says to me as I re-enter the green room. He has a beer in hand. He’s ready to get on stage and captivate the audience for the next 45 minutes.
I’m relieved. I’m comfortable. I’m happy. I think, “this is really what I want to do.”
I’m not claiming to be an expert on comedy. I’m not claiming to be funny all the time, though I do try hard to be. I have traveled hundreds and hundreds of miles to get on stage and try to make strangers laugh. It sounds weird when I say it like that, but this is what I’m choosing to do. It’s only been two years, but I’m a comedian, and I don’t plan on stopping.
Photo by Ashley Crowley.
Ryan Thompson is a comedian from Northwestern PA. Leave it to Ryan to show me up on my own blog by writing 1200 words. Ryan’s comedy lives in the space between honesty and absurdity. His whimsy is balanced by a plainspoken delivery and flavored with a dash of cynicism and self-deprecation. Ryan’s comedy smirks and watches you retrace the steps it has already taken.
Find him on Twitter: zerohacker.