Posted February 14, 2013 by Cooper Point Journal in Arts & Entertainment

First Time Doing Standup

I had five minutes to prove I was funny. I’m pretty sure everyone thinks they’re funny in some sense, but it’s a little different when you have to prove it to complete strangers.

I told roughly a dozen people I would be performing standup on Thursday night at Al Forno’s, obligating myself to actually follow through. The embarrassment of bombing on stage does not outweigh the embarrassment of chickening out.

Thursday night showed up. My jokes were ready, but I wasn’t. Honestly, I don’t think the first time you do anything you’re actually truly ready to do it. You just have to jump in.

Upon entering the pizza place a little after eight o’clock my nerves kicked into another gear. I bought an Oly beer and a slice of pizza, hoping the twisting in my stomach would subside with alcohol and grease. A friend joined me at the bar, making small talk, but I couldn’t hear anything. I struggled to rehearse my jokes internally. They seemed to be MIA.

The host of the show, a member of Generation Friends at Evergreen, stood in the corner of the room—the makeshift “stage”—and introduced the first performer. I began to countdown the minutes, looking at the door incessantly for more of my friends to show up.  I needed back up. I needed the people who I always count on to help my self-esteem.

25 minutes to go… 20… 15…

A guy sitting in the booth in front of me was talking loudly with his companion. I crossed my fingers that he would leave before my time to perform showed up. I didn’t know if I could handle someone interrupting me. I would lose my train of thought and completely derail in front of everyone. Luckily the comedian right before me heckled the guy enough into leaving.

As the comic finished his set to a round of applause, I knew it was my turn. The red painted walls of the room seemed more vivid, my vision became tunneled, and I only had one thought in my mind: don’t fuck up too badly.

With shaking hands, three bites of pepperoni pizza and half an Oly in me, I took the mic out of the stand and started talking. Fumbling only once on the difference between a “nerd” and “dweeb”, and straying slightly from how I originally wrote the stories, five minutes passed in a blur. People’s faces in the crowd melted away. Only spikes of laughter at the precise moments I wanted them to laugh brought back the sharpness, reminding me that I was in front of almost 40 strangers doing standup comedy.

Strangely enough, as I spoke into the mic, I felt at ease. For those five minutes, I was in control. I had attention.

I received the “one minute left” signal from the host and wrapped up my final story. Letting the applause wash over me, I went back to my booth and sat down, hands shaking visibly.  The mix of adrenaline and satisfaction from hearing strangers laugh at my anecdotes led to a high one can only experience by performing live.

There’s a difference between receiving reassurance from friends than from strangers. Friends will encourage you to do things, because they’re your friends and that’s part of the job description. Strangers on the other hand don’t owe you anything. If they think you are a terrible comedian, they will probably let you know and won’t spare your feelings.

By getting support from a room full of strangers as I told stories about how great Jack in the Box is and that reading existential philosophy while high is a bad idea, my insecurities about being able to speak in front of a crowd disappeared. I immediately wanted to do it again, to control the microphone and make people laugh.

It was only five minutes after all.

By Kelli Tokos