Sunday, November 28, 2010

"So, what got you started in Standup ?"

It's strange but people always ask a comic "So, how'd you get started in standup comedy?"  Musicians don't get asked this nearly as much, if ever.  It isn't something that people find as unfathomable as getting up in front of a crowd, solo.  "What got you started in the trumpet?"  It's just not something you hear.  This has become the question that makes me cringe.  We comics get a lot of questions/comments that irritate us, that for the sake of being gracious, we just smile ...or twitch.  But the "how'd you get started" one - I can't deal with.  More than that, if I'm on a date, it's a deal-breaker.  This happened recently.  After the question was blurted out, I was seriously contemplating stabbing myself with a fork.  Artists don't get this question either.  I know because I am one.  People might just give a dismissive "oh" when they find out you're a painter.  Or they may say "what kind of painting do you do" out of lack of knowing what else to ask.  But never do they ask "what got you started in painting."  Which got me thinking of how I leapt so audaciously from painting to standup.  Well, since they've asked, maybe I should ponder the question.  Or write about it to curb the twitching.

The transition from one form of expression to the other was not succinct or overnight.  I had done a lot of journaling through college and onward.  I wrote humorous pieces about how I thought I was going through a mid-life crisis twenty-seven years early.  I also wrote about friends' dramas with guys and various other short stories and/or glorified stream of consciousness-getting-out-the-angst writing.  I believe this was just a natural way to deal with being in your early twenties.  I also wrote a couple of one-acts.  So standup really isn’t as much of a departure from art or who I was at the time, looking back.  Standup is all writing. 

Another major factor for my transition comes as a result of being surrounded by friends who were doing it.  I worked as a waitress at Nicks Comedy Stop in the theatre district of Boston.  It was a great job to work while earning a degree.  Two nights a week, Thursday and Saturday, multiple shows.  You had to hustle, but you went home with cash and it was fun.  After eight years, (a lot of clubs in towns in the US - you will find waitresses that have been there forever, ask a road comic) eventually I gave in and got on stage.  I did not however, get on through my own impetus.  This guy..(doesn't that always account for a lot... why you moved to that state or read The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand) - that I was dating told the emcee to introduce me at an open mike one night in a dingy basement in Boston called the Vault, downstairs at Remington's.  Burns was curious if I were to be his Gracie, and I willingly took the challenge.  Without having written anything or ever saying I wanted to be a comic, this just happened, so I went on.  I loved it.  I did three minutes, got a few laughs and got off stage.  Then I was interested.  This was the best possible scenario for your first time.  If you write something, then you have several days, weeks, or whatever to fret about it, until you go on.  Not being prepared is great because your performance is natural - even if it's a sucky natural..(most people's debuts aren't legendary).

Aside from going up a few times as a duo with the guy, (think Nichols and May) I didn't make it to the stage solo again until a year later.  That year's lag time I attribute to my ear, having worked the club for so many years, I would read back on what I wrote the next day and think "that's not funny."  Within that year, I married Burns - and moved to LA.  He was filming an independent that he co-wrote with his writing partner and I worked at a gallery.  We lived in Venice, California in a two-story apartment complex that faced a small courtyard, much like Melrose Place, without the pool and with Far Side characters in the place of hot twenty-somethings.  I was writing away with the notion that I'd be hitting an open mike somewhere.  Meanwhile, my comic husband was on the road working Vegas and other road gigs.  He was already a seasoned headliner and here I was writing silliness.  That silliness became five minutes of characters I felt confident enough to try.  I don't recall how, but I found an open mike at a sushi joint on Sunset.   

My girlfriend Trine (pronounced Trina) agreed to go.  She and I both rented space in a studio in Santa Monica that was fabulous, I must say.  Isn't everything in Santa Monica ?  She was the perfect non-judgmental audience/friend to bring.  She was definitely not of the sarcastic, ball-busting, East coast variety that is most of my friends.  So we went.  I didn't tell anyone but her, not even the husband.  I just did it.  That lead to my going to open mikes four plus nights a week where I embarked on a path to working as a comic.  I do plan to get back to painting more often.  I miss it.  But I love the stage.  So there it is.  Now when people say "how'd you get started in standup ?" I can pass on bludgeoning myself with a utensil and just direct them to this blog.