Thursday, May 14, 2009

On Baptisms And Fires

.:Absolute Respect:.

That is the emotion I felt as I was amazed, impressed, and humbled all at the same time last Tuesday night during my first ever open mic for standup comedy.

Now, I’ll have you know that I would be the last person to ever sell comedy short. It’s not easy to be funny at the drop of a hat, and it’s certainly not easy to make people laugh for a living. If people think magic is hard, I must say that comedy is probably harder, particularly when it comes to a barrier of entry that cannot easily be breached with merely a fat wallet.

Magic as an art form has its own difficulties and challenges, but the sheer effort going into a mere five minutes of comedy for a standup comedian worth his salt is exorbitant, to say the least. We tend to take for granted the jokes that a comedian would chuck at us, thinking that if we were up on stage, we’d be doing just as well, or possibly even better than they do.

As a guy who thought it was going to be difficult, let me tell you already: it’s even harder than I thought.

I’ve been doing magic for years. People know that when I’m in performance mode, I have a completely different aura. I seem to pick up an unmistakable swagger that shows people the kind of confidence I have in what I do. As a guy who has tried his hand in many different forms of magic, I must say that mentalism and comedy magic are the two forms of the art that appeal the most to me, and are also the two forms that I do respectably well in.

Some people might assume that if you can do comedy magic, then the transition to pure standup comedy should be a snap. I’m here to tell you that unless you’re simply that gifted, it’s not. My experience last Tuesday night, with material I wrote and carefully went over for almost two weeks, all flew out the window when I went on open mic in Toyz.

First of all, I expected that the open mic people would go ahead of the actual comedians. I figured that they’d want to save the best for last, but I figured wrong. They saved me for last, which just really took me aback, since Ryan, Noel, Derf, Mike, and Stanley all went ahead of me, and I was even the second of two open mic people.

While it’s expected that they would deliver topnotch observational comedy that night, I must digress for a bit and give my props to Stanley Chi, the birthday boy, who went on, in my opinion, the best standup set I’ve ever seen from him, and I’ve been watching him for almost three years already. Stanley has always been a funny guy, but he was just on fire last Tuesday, and I cannot tell you enough how awesome I found his set to be.

So imagine my trepidation when I came on, and my friends mostly from The Story Circle went there to support me on my first ever foray into standup comedy. I stumbled my way through 2/3rds of my set, as I realized I went too long and rambled on too much. I’d like to think I had competent material, but I flat-out sucked in delivery and timing, as I set my punchlines up for way too long.

Thinking back to Leodini’s lecture about comedy magic, I realized what he meant: my laugh-a-minute ratio was far too low to hold up in a standup comedy setting. I was so used to doing it the way Penn and Teller do it: tell a story, go for some light chuckles that may or may not come, then go for a big laugh around three minutes into your narrative. My 0.2 laughs per minute ratio was not going to cut it, especially not for a 5-minute set.

After listening to some gentle but telling advice from the pros, they simply affirmed what I believed all along: I want to do this, but I have a long way to go. There’s no shame in that. We all start from somewhere, and I’d like to think I have nowhere to go but up from this point.

I think back to my first ever paid show for Richard Merck, and I realize that while I cannot claim to be a great, noteworthy magician, I have come a long way from three years ago when I was just starting out. I still have so much room to improve, but what’s important is that I’m willing to listen and do what it takes to get there. I dare to fail, and whatever rejections and harsh words I may receive, I willingly accept it as part of the learning process for as long as these awesome people are willing to bear with me.

To the Comedy Cartel + Ryan the Cowboy, I thank you guys for the opportunity to give what used to be merely a pipe dream a try. I can’t tell you enough how big of a deal all this was to me.

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