Thursday, May 5, 2016

Stand Up. Sit Down. Shut Up.

The origins of Stand Up comedy are sometimes disputed. There are those who believe it has its roots in the United Kingdom as early as the 18th Century and then there are those like myself that believe it began when Mort Sahl began performing at the hungry i in San Francisco. I don’t really believe that, but WikiPedia mentions him a lot tied to Stand Up’s beginnings and I have always adored the name “Mort”. You must have to be really fucking funny if you have a name like “Mort” because there are very few scenarios where a chick would want to get naked for a dude with that name.

“Hi, gorgeous, my name is Mort and…” She’d have her lady bits in lock down before she even glanced down at the sweater vest.

Stand Up comedy-and more specifically the comedian’s themselves-have always fascinated me. I have written in the past about the admiration I have for the truth they expose through their work, the fears, flaws, insecurities, and sometimes perversions (see: Jim Norton) but it’s not only their truth that intrigues me, it’s their lies. Comedians-especially the exceptional ones-are brilliant storytellers that can craft an epic tale out of even some of the most mundane experiences we human beings are involved in, often filled with fabrication and exaggeration. I once watched a middle aged comic in San Diego tell a seven minute story about opening his mail when he was laid up with a shoulder injury that was one of the funniest bits I have seen yet was filled with obvious bullshit. It’s the method comics employ to inject fantasy into reality that differentiate the good comic from the geniuses. Colin Quinn, in my slightly biased opinion, is the most talented comedian working today and blends these elements of reality and fantasy perfectly. Before those who know me bitch and moan it’s because he’s my best friend* let me elaborate…

Colin has no trouble accepting the label he’s often given as a “Comedians Comedian”, which essentially means he’s been around so fucking long that he sort of gets that title based on age and experience alone-the pseudo Godfather of the Stand Up comedy family. In truth he deserves the title as he’s one of the best there is for reasons well beyond age and achievements. Colin WORKS at his craft. He is always writing and performing and is unafraid to expose his newest work to a live audience.  I saw him at the Village Underground in NYC earlier this week and he had more notes on stage than I bring on a first date**. He bounced around, in his typical manic, mumbling, rushed fashion, between topics as diverse as Greek Philosophers to the “Asshole” friend we all have that takes pride in being a shithead. I won’t reveal the specific details of the bits as I plan to steal them all and use them in my own act but there were some real gems in there. One of the highlights of the night was that he billed the show with the theme “The Impermanence of Things” but then proceeded to tell the audience when he first hit the stage that he did so to dissuade dummies from coming out to the show, as it was possibly too cerebral for them. Colin has never enjoyed performing to an audience of beer swilling tough guys and inebriated co-eds as his act is more for the “thinking man” anyway, but Monday night at the Comedy Cellar he went on stage for about an hour in front of myself and other beer swilling dolts and we all loved the shit out of it. A comedian like Colin Quinn, in truth, could perform anywhere. His timing, charm, quick wit and sharp mind can adapt to any environment he’s performing in; he’s like a Chameleon of Mirth.

So recently I started performing Stand Up comedy myself, or at least decided to revisit it after a few feeble attempts over ten years ago. Sure, it’s primarily been at Open Mics and I haven’t ever been on stage more than about seven minutes at a clip but ya have to start somewhere. I am one of those assholes that (as Colin hilariously pointed out Monday night) that occasionally likes to be a shithead just for sport but entwined within my ball busting is a decent wit, a versatile mind and a dash of charm. I am at least funnier than all my friends and family and ninety eight percent of the people I meet so venturing into Stand Up comedy was really a no-brainer. Here’s the problem though: I kinda stink. Oh I get laughs, I have even had a decent amount of praise after getting off stage several times which is always appreciated, but I know I am not a great comic…yet. There have been countless times over the years with friends, coworkers, at parties, social events, in bed-whatever, where I have been the funniest guy in the room and told “You are hysterical!”, but that fact does not automatically mean I will be a great Stand Up comic. The art of Stand Up is just that-an art. It takes a tremendous amount of discipline, work ethic, creativity, perseverance and patience and not simply talent alone.
A comic like Colin Quinn is brilliant because he works at his craft and doesn’t rest on the fact that he’s naturally funny. He is always writing and working through newer material and performing to new audiences. He has developed an almost infectious sense of timing that although at times can be disorienting is unquestionably humorous. He’s developed an ability to mumble-talk his way around three or four different topics at the same time so well that now that itself has become a bit. When you blend that with the material itself, which is equal parts Irish asshole/wannabe tough guy and intelligent commentary on all facets of life, you have the recipe for an excellent Comedian-and to me at least, the guy is the best of the best. There are others I love in the business-none of which I will mention here as CQ prefers to be the only star shining in the sky-but Colin is at the top of the food chain, undoubtedly.

I plan on making a serious go at Stand Up but it’s going to be a long and arduous journey, as the path to anything rewarding always is. I am talking way the fuck too fast, like a used car salesman after speed balling coke with a Venti Caramel Macchiato , and I don’t pause for laugh breaks; it helps when you actually do make a funny observation if you allow the audience to react to it before you race into a joke about your balls, etc. I am also terrified and overly cautious of not doing material that may have been done in similar fashion by other comics so I am forced to perform only my own original material, which is flat out horrifying. Truthfully, I am a decent writer and can put together a good amount of humorous anecdotes and "jokes", and the way I tell a story is amusing but transferring that to the stage in front of a strange audience is a different animal. It takes constant practice, alone and on stage, and the ability to survive those cold moments where a bit you lay out for the first time is met with stone silence. As audience members, comics always hope you at the very least will allow them to spit out there witty observations and one liners without having to talk over you while you show your buddy that some chick liked your shirtless Instagram pic or while you bark at the waitress for another Orgasm shot-if you enjoy live comedy, sit down and shut the fuck up, that’s all we’re saying. XOXO

Stand Up is also a young person’s game, I realize this. Most of the comics I perform alongside at these Open Mics look like Baristas at Starbucks and could be my kids, and they are better than me. They have sharp and relevant material and generally solid timing. I take solace in the fact that I could kick all of their asses but eventually I am sure I’ll end up performing alongside some dude that kills AND can do that split that Van Damme did between the 18 Wheelers. Douchebag. I am a forty six year old Insurance salesman with a good sense of humor and a fearless attitude about performing in front of other people and a voracious appetite for stage time. That’s either a recipe for incredible success or the final piece of evidence that I have totally lost my shit.

Either way, the show goes on.

*Colin’s ranking of our friendship may be just a tad bit lower :(

**I like to be prepared with several “ice breaker” questions and conversation prompts

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