I’m my own worst enemy when it comes to stand-up comedy. Not in the performance of it, you understand—been there, done that, bear the scars—but rather in simply being an audience member.
For the uninitiated, stand-up is best described as stripping naked, slathering your body in hot sauce and dragging small razor blades across your skin while being judged by a room full of your parents. And your only salve is laughter.
Which is where my problem starts.
Hi. My name is Randy, and I don’t laugh at stand-up comedians. Okay, perhaps rarely laugh is more accurate.
It’s not that I can’t laugh. Get me together with the right group of friends, and I become a giggling gibbon. Hit me with the right joke or observation at the right time, and you’ll turn me into a hyperventilating tear factory. But for the most part, I only LOL when texting.
If I get where you’re going, I will nod. If I like what you said, I’ll smile. If I really like it, the smile will show teeth. But the laugh is elusive.
At a stand-up comedy show several years ago, a colleague accused me of being a comedy snob, suggesting that I refused to laugh to make myself look cool. Ironically, this made me laugh.
If my name were ever to appear in Roget’s Thesaurus, I can promise you that “cool” would only ever appear as an antonym. (Case in point, I just referenced Roget’s Thesaurus.)
So I knew I was in trouble a couple of weeks ago when the host of The Comedy Store in Los Angeles decided to sit me dead centre in front row, literally at the shins of the comedians.
I sat there. A long-torsoed beacon of attention. I was the Lighthouse of Alexandria (yet another cool reference) to those rolling on the oft-stormy seas of stand-up.
Comedian #1 takes the stage. She’s quickly warming the audience and then, “So, where you from?”. Toronto, says I. Cue the Canada jokes.
No problem. I come from a funny country with a funny reputation. Ask me a question, I’ll answer it best I can. I am more than happy to participate to help the comedian.
[Side note: I do not heckle, anyone. Comedy is hard enough without the drunken asshole. Likewise, I do not interject into someone’s set. The audience is there to enjoy the comedian’s wit, not mine.]
When engaged by the comedian, I will play along and maintain the game. I will not (or at least try not to) be funnier than the comedian.
Only one of the three A-list comedians (Argus Hamilton, Bobby Lee, Marc Maron) paid me more than passing attention, each one more than capable of holding their sets to their own material, addressing the audience with little more than a passing “You know what I mean?” or “How many of you…”
They talked to the whole audience, not just those of us they could see.
Then came the B-listers.
Like any artist, comedians at this stage are less able to roll with failing bits. And even when a bit is working, the big guy in the front row who refuses to laugh becomes the focus of attention.
After the third B-lister, I started to feel sorry for the audience, who quickly learned everything about me and Canada, the information oft repeated as no two comedians paid much attention to anything that happened five minutes before they hit the stage.
Over the five hours I watched the show—I arrived at 8:30 and didn’t leave until 2:00—I swear I was being spoken to or about or was on the microphone for one hour. I literally had more air time than all but one comedian. (Part of my air time included a rousing rendition of Oh, Canada and a duet of Tie a Yellow Ribbon.)
In five hours, I was told that I had an abnormally long torso (I do), I dress like Steve Irwin (I was), I work in maintenance or engineering (I don’t), I have beautiful hair (it is nice), and was asked twice to mimic cunnilingus (I respectfully refused). [Side note: Don Barris is a very very very strange man.]
And all, I am confident, because I refused to be the giggling gibbon.
I wasn’t defiant (except for the cunnilingus part). I never crossed my arms. I tried to be positive and supportive in my eye contact (perhaps that was mistaken as a challenge). And yet, I received a pretty good workout.
So, I think my choices are: laugh despite my personal opinions or ask to be seated in the shadowiest corner of the bar.
Either way, it will be a while before I attend another stand-up comedy show.