I have a bit in my stand up routine that could very well be THE bit that defines my whole act and place me among the greatest stand up comedians who’ve ever walked the face of the earth. Ok, I’m overshooting by about 100,000 comedians but hey, you got to have a dream, right?
This bit has an original slant, it’s clever and most importantly, it’s just plain funny, a key ingredient when it comes to stand up comedy. But as a stand up comedian you have to work very hard at continually building on your set and add new material as much as you can. And since I’m not filling coliseums with rabid fans who can’t get enough of me telling them how my wife somehow runs our relationship, nor have I ever been on Conan O’Brien or The David Letterman show, it’s a labor I must endure.
So last week I’m in my office and I am desperately trying to add to this wonderful bit I have, this bit that will catapult me to stardom. I’m going through my usual routine to somehow mine within the contents of my topic, some gem I can polish and present to an audience in hopes of at least a chuckle. Enough of a laugh to let me know I am on to something and to keep polishing.
This joke that I finally was able to mine was so good that it actually scared me to tell it on stage. The reason it scared me is simple. I’m not a famous comedian…yet. I know if I tell this joke anywhere other than television, I would not receive proper credit for it because word of this joke will spread like wild fire among the comedy scene and eventually get back to a famous comedian who will then claim it as their own. And since I’m not on television the worry monster was awakened within me. But this joke is so good it was a risk I was willing to take.
So it was decided. I had to go to the mountain top and tell the world this joke. Or at least the open mic Thursday night. Good start I suppose. Even though I was scared to tell the joke for fear of it being stolen, at the same time it was so good, my peers had to hear it and hear it sooner rather than later. So did the audience who will be fortunate enough to be there and behold my greatness. It seems rather unfair to deny the public of such unparallel entertainment, don’t you think?
I’m delivering my tried and true jokes like FedX. The crowd is loving me. I get more and more excited because I know in about 2 minutes my life is gonna change forever. I will be carried off the stage like Rudy. The crowd is attentive and we are connecting. Everything I say is generating bigger and bigger laughs. I could have said anything at this point and the crowd would love it. I launch into my bit, my whole reason for being here tonight and I deliver my new joke with great poise and confidence and I see it land on the crowd. I then brace myself for the eruption of laughter and awe of what I just said.
It is such a great feeling when you tell a joke that people love enough to tell you about it after the show. It’s nice to be appreciated for all the hard work you put into putting together a stand up routine. and when people act as though you’re a genius it feels really good. However that was not to be the case tonight. Have you ever felt so awkward that you couldn’t breathe?
I could see the faces of the people in the audience but I couldn’t hear their laughter. It was very strange. Then I realized, there was no laughter. How could that be? This is the greatest joke ever told. It went from admiration and appreciation for me to stone cold silence. It’s so quiet in here now, I think they can hear me thinking. The joke bomb so bad, even the crickets were quiet.
Palms are sweaty, my heart is racing and I may have peed a little. I don’t even remember what I said after that. I’m sure I ended with an applause because when I think about it rationally, I did exactly what I was supposed to do. Tell proven jokes in the beginning, sandwich new stuff in the middle and close on more proven jokes.
I walked away feeling like the night was a failure because of one joke which didn’t work. Most likely no one else thought my night was a flop but me. And as the night went on I realized my night wasn’t a failure. I learned something this night. I learned I need to rework that joke. That’s the nature of stand up comedy. You never know what is going to work and what is not going to work. The ONLY way to know for sure, is to get your ass on stage and try it out. Not only do you need to try it out. You need to try it out several times. A good rule of thumb I was taught, try out the joke three separate times. If it doesn’t get a laugh, bring it back to the lab, rework it and try it three separate times again. Sometimes you have to put the joke away for awhile and revisit it later. But you have to constantly be writing and performing then rewriting and performing. It’s all worth it when a crowd appreciates your work.
I love being on stage and making people laugh at the things I say and when I get this new joke worked out, I hope to one day be making people laugh from the studios of Conan or Letterman and maybe Leno. We’ll see.