A few years after I first moved to Los Angeles, I began “performing” stand up comedy. To be honest, I don’t know if you could call it comedy. More of a mix between poetry, performance art, and therapy. I think I got laugh for the sheer tragedy of my lost, forlorn state. But that’s what open mikes are for…flailing in a sea of your own existential confusion.
I met a lot of comics. A lot of them were soulful, forlorn people like myself, and, yet, extremely talented. Many are on television and in movies today. It was the late 90’s and even though my comic role models were people like Janeane Garofalo (who seemed more “cool” to me than funny), it now seems like a great time to have been a comic. I stumbled upon a community that allowed me to develop something akin to a comedic voice.
I remember my first traumatic experience of “bombing.” I went up with some ridiculous confidence in my material that was met with dead silence from the audience (of mostly bored comics who probably were all just thinking about their own sets). I ate it. Hit pavement. It felt like that elevator ride at Magic Mountain that falls in two seconds. Humbled.
A comic named Andrew Lederer pulled me aside and, in Mr. Miyagi style, schooled me on the ways of the warrior comic. He explained to me how the bad sets were the best thing for a beginning comic. “It’s how you build the emotional resilience on stage.” I thought I had never heard anything so crazy. Surely, the point of stand up – as with everything in life – is to kick ass…? Oh, to be so young again! (Hell no).
I was a mere 23-year-old fetus and probably too young to be trying something so insanely crazy as being funny by myself on stage. I didn’t exactly have support. My parents were confused. I even had a Teacher of Comedy tell me that while my “smile was poetry,” I simply would never be a stand up comic. Fucker. But I didn’t quit.
Most of the comics I hung around were in their thirties and forties, jaded, bitter, and very funny. I also met a lot of female comics, many who encouraged and supported me including Maria Bamford, Jackie Kashian, Cynthia Levin, Judith Shelton, Alex Karova, Rena Zager and many more. But mostly all women showed me that women could be funny and feminine, rageful and sad, but more importantly, it was ok for a woman to speak into a mike. The men in the room wouldn’t go running out the front door like someone had set the place on fire. They inspired me.
Eventually, I hit the walls of my youthful bravado. After three years, I got seriously depressed. A lot of things contributed to my depression, like my grandmother’s death and a general lostness…so I left on a mission to “become normal” through therapy. That never happened. I realize that weird people can be found in other walks of life beside comedy, like dentistry and insurance. Comics just let there weirdness out and, as a result, seem a lot less scary to me now.
Three months ago I came out of retirement. see a lot of the same people and am happy to see how much stronger everyone has gotten. Stand up is about logging in hours on stage.
However, what shocks me is how male dominated comedy the open mikes have become. Usually, I’m the only woman or one of two or three. What happened?!
It sort of confirms my fears that women’s progress has been going in reverse. Women want to be “hot,” rather than express their souls. I feel sad for women who want to try to find their voice in that environment. I feel like I’m on the front lines of the feminist movement in 1965.
I never thought I would return to this art form, but now I feel obligated to stay to pick up the slack.
Just for today, I’m a comic.