For the past few years, I’ve really been getting into standup comedy. It all started in a rather circuitous route, thinking about what I might do once school wrapped up. Communications — both verbal and written — has always been a core part of my roles and I thought about adding speech writing to my toolkit. (This may have been because I was binge watching The West Wing on Netflix at the time.) And in order to improve both my own ability to present, and assist with speech writing, I started consuming a lot of standup.
At first it was just watching a few comedians sets on Netflix or listening to albums on Rdio (miss you, Rdio!). But then it got into looking for more and more. Searching out comedy podcasts, clips of standup routines and interviews with some of my favourite comics, and then, finally, going out to see standup live. While Toronto does have a number of comedy clubs (Comedy Bar, Yuk Yuks, Absolute Comedy are a few of the dedicated spots), they all involved enough travel that I didn’t want to do them frequently on weeknights.
That’s when I discovered an open mic night at a local dive pub, the Groove Bar. It definitely wasn’t as polished as what I was watching on Netflix but it was raw, fascinating, and, at times, pretty funny. And it made me want to perform standup even more.
I went out a number of weeks but just watching wasn’t enough for me. So, being an über-nerd, I, of course, ordered a book, The Comedy Bible: From Stand-up to Sitcom–The Comedy Writer’s Ultimate “How To” Guide. As can sometimes happen, it took me a while to work through the book. I thought about the formation and structure of jokes (bits) but didn’t really work on the exercises.
I did start using my task manager to start jotting down ideas though. And thought about the funny stories that I’d often tell at parties, my go-to ones that would bring lots of laughs, and how I could start altering them into standup.
Telling stories and jokes is very different, as the former is definitely more about the storyteller and the latter is more so about having the listener being able to relate even if they don’t know the comic.
Reading the book and having a better theoretical understanding of the craft of standup also made me a more discerning audience member when out at the open mic. I could see why something was working, and perhaps why a joke wasn’t. Whether a comic was telling jokes in preferred style or not, I thought the mental notes I was giving were incredibly insightful. (Perhaps its the INTJ in me but I do give great notes.)
Watching a lot of local open mic and reading a book wasn’t enough to feel comfortable with the idea of getting on stage. That said, having watched a lot of open mic comedy over a period of a couple years was immensely helpful for my own eventual foray into standup.
I’ve watched a number of comics improve over my time hanging out, and learned a lot by watching a number of jokes evolve over time. Watching amateur comics and semi-pros work out material made me think I could do it in a way that watching a pro with decades of experience perform their special (a la Netflix) felt unattainable. I still go out frequently to watch, and very occasionally to perform.
If there’s an open mic near you and you’ve been thinking of going out, I’d recommend you do it. It won’t be what you see on Netflix but it will still (hopefully) be funny and a good time. And if you’re out at the Groove Bar on a Thursday night, perhaps I’ll see you there.