5 years ago today…
July 2nd 2011 will always be a special date for me. Ironically, I spent most of the day scared to death. You see, that night I would make my stand-up debut. I was excited, but I was also insanely nervous; probably the most nervous I’ve ever been about performing. For the first time, I couldn’t hide on stage behind a silly wig, redneck teeth, or bike shorts. This time, it was me, a stool, and a microphone. I would be completely vulnerable on stage. If they liked me – awesome; if they didn’t – it would be the longest 6 minutes of my entire life.
And it never would have happened had I not met Michael Malone…
I’m jumping ahead of myself.
For the longest time, I thought being a stand-up comic was just standing behind a microphone saying jokes. Every night just the same thing. To me, that seemed incredibly boring for a performer’s standpoint. But also, I thought it would be incredibly difficult. As I previously typed, I knew I could be funny if I had an audience member on stage with me to ask questions to and get responses from. I knew that in a jam, I could always lift my leg up onto the front tables at Vaudeville, and with those short shorts on, I would get a response. But here, I wouldn’t have those things (although I won’t lie and say I wasn’t tempted to wear the short shorts under my jeans that first night just in case things didn’t go my way), it would just be me. And that terrified me because I didn’t think I was that kind of funny. I admired guys who could perform that way, but I just didn’t think I was one of them.
And then Michael Malone changed my mind about stand-up.
It’s no secret that Malone is one of my best friends; it’s also no secret that I became a HUGE fan of his the first night I saw him perform. It was the first night of stand-up at Vaudeville. The opening acts hadn’t been the greatest (save for my boy Malachi Nimmons). The feature act that night, Dave Stone, was hilarious and I thought for sure he would be my favorite after the night was over. Then Malone came on stage and blew away all the preconceived notions I had about stand-up. Here was a guy, roughly my age, who had so much energy and engaged the audience in a way I didn’t think was possible in stand-up. Remember, I just thought you stood up (duh), told your jokes, possibly dealt with a heckler now and then. But here was a guy who was actively seeking out audience members to engage in conversation with, and making it funny. I was blown away; but also, I knew that I had to try it at least once for myself.
I started writing after that weekend. I tried to take things from my life and make it funny for everyone. It was some of the hardest stuff I’ve ever done. The first few jokes were godawful; thankfully my poor roommate was the only person who had to suffer through them (you’re the best, Big Al). After several edits and rewrites, I felt like I had a decent six minutes and felt like it was time. I let Chris Hampton know I was ready to try it out, and we set a date of July 2nd. I mentioned this to Malone and he replied, “Cool. Hillary and I will come down and see ya”
I’m sorry, what?
Here’s this guy that I look up to, my Obi Wan of comedy, and he’s going to drive down from Indianapolis with his girlfriend to see me perform for the first time? Yeah, no pressure there.
Side note: It also shows you what an amazing guy he is. He and I had only hung out once, and mostly talked online since then. For him to drive the 7 hours just to come see my show and hang out meant the world to me then, just like it does now. Enough kissing Malone’s backside, back to the story.
You know those lyrics from Lose Yourself by Eminem?
His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy
Yeah, that was me. The whole day, I went over my jokes in my head. And most of the time, in my head, the audience laughed. But sometimes, they didn’t, and that terrified me. I had two dinner shows before comedy and tried to focus on them. Thankfully, they were great. It was summer, and Vaudeville always had tremendous business in the summer. So it was easy to make two sold out shows laugh, especially when you’re in bike shorts. After the second show was over, one of the actors who did announcements introduced me with the following,” and if you liked this guy tonight, he will be making his stand-up comedy debut in the next show. Stick around for free if you want to see him.”
And sure enough, a lot of them stayed. We had our biggest crowd to date that night.
Again, no pressure (insert scared emoji)
I can’t tell you anything that happened before I got onstage, and I can’t tell you anything that happened after I got off stage. What I can tell you is this: Once I got that first laugh, I knew this was something that I had to pursue. This was something I had to get better at. This was something I needed to do for the rest of my life. Those six minutes were amazing…that’s the only word I can use. Laughter is an amazing gift, and to be able to make people laugh and forget their troubles for however long I’m in front of them is the greatest thing in the world. I was so happy that it went so well I wanted to cry. I didn’t, but man had I been alone I probably would have.
I got a big hug from the headliner that night who told me it was best debut set he’d ever seen. Malone and Hillary also gave hugs and hi fives, as did the whole crew from Vaudeville who had stayed late after two shows to root me on. I feel like you get maybe a dozen or so of those nights in your life, and that was one of mine. I felt on top of the world.
It’s crazy to look back on it and think that 5 years have already passed. Sometimes, I get incredibly frustrated with my career. I wonder if it’s all worth it. When I’m struggling with money or upset at how little I’m working, I think about giving it up, finding a “real” job, and becoming part of the “normal world”. But then I get back onstage and realize that this is what I was born to do. People may not understand it, sometimes I don’t even understand it, but it truly is my passion and my calling.
Stand-up has allowed me to befriend some amazing people. I have wonderful mentors like Malone, Vince Morris, and Spanky Brown who I can go to for advice. I’ve gotten close with great comics like BT, DJ Dangler, AJ Finney (Apparently most comics just use initials) Chris Bowers, Todd McComas, Ryan Budds, Tom Simmons, Stu McCallister, and so many more. I’ve got to perform with amazing local talent like Jim Seward, Tyler Gooch, Malachi Nimmons, John-Michael Bond, Trae Crowder, John Upton, and many more that I could name but won’t since this blog is already too long. I shared a pizza with Bobcat Goldthwait and talked to him about our mutual love for Robin Williams. He also pitched me his next film, which turned out to be God Bless America. I got to emcee a show headlined by Carlos Mencia that drew so many people they were sitting in the floor to be there. I got to talk to Jim Breuer, a personal hero of mine, for hours about comedy and Goat Boy from SNL. Doug Stanhope called me a c*nt for chewing gum onstage, and then hugged me after his show. Even though that sounds like a crude story, it always makes me smile. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting some of the most wonderful people while on the road. People who have become dear friends. Just recently, I got to introduce Ric Flair!
And that all those amazing things are due to that one night 5 years ago where I went on stage, faced my fear, and told some jokes.
Life lesson from this blog: man, don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone and do something you’ve always wanted to do. Take that plunge into the unknown – it might be exactly what you need. You may discover your true purpose in this world. I know that’s what happened to me 5 years ago. And now, I’m still living the dream.
To anyone who I’ve ever worked with, to anyone who has ever come to see me at a show: Thank You. It is always my pleasure to entertain you.
And if any of you didn’t like me when you saw me, well…blame Michael Malone
5 years down, the rest of my life to go.