Unfortunately, this was not a laughing matter.
It was every nightmare imagined in real life. The big circular spotlight on me, casting my shaking silhouette onto the brick wall. Microphone screeches. A sea of sunken, sullen eyes staring back at me, already unamused. I eked out a flaccid punch line. An eerie stillness hovered in front of me. I rehearsed that joke for weeks, why did it sound so bad this time?
As my hollow words appeared to fall on deaf ears, I found myself asking that age-old question:
Is this thing on?
I felt embarrassed by the thought that the microphone wasn’t on and that no had heard me this whole time. The thought that the audience heard my every word loud and clear petrified me. I didn’t know If I’d ever recover—if I’d ever even make it off the stage.
Maybe this sounds a bit dramatic. Looking back, my catastrophic attempt at stand-up comedy is one of those funny embarrassing stories to laugh off. But at the time, when I actually stood on that small stage, nothing in the world seemed more serious. This event taught me a great deal about myself and led me to a life lesson I won’t soon forget.
I was always a goofy kid, a bit of class clown, I guess you could say. In elementary school, I always raised my hand, trying to get a word in so that I could say something funny for the whole class to hear. Sometimes everyone laughed! Sometimes I sat in the hallway for disrupting the class. Sometimes this happened on the first day of sixth grade and Mr. Dillon made an example out of me in front of everyone and I had to eat lunch alone in the principal’s office.
Even though I hated getting in trouble, I couldn’t stop trying to make jokes. Maybe I wanted attention. Maybe I was just bored. Or maybe, there was something a little more significant going on.
Honestly, the part of all this that made me the happiest was just making people laugh. I should also point out I had a slightly inflated ego as a kid, but still, I really felt like I did something significant when I got my classmates crack up.
As I got older, I kept this spirit with me. I remember seeing my first stand-up special on T.V. by a guy named Mike Birbiglia. In my basement, back flat on the carpet, tears streamed down my face from how hard I was laughing. From then on I got hooked. I became fascinated with stand-up comedy and continued to watch a ton of it to this day.
Fast forward to my freshman year of college: Everyone I know endlessly told me that college is a transition and moving away from home can get tough. You’ll be around all new people, blah, blah, blah. I didn’t buy any of it. Why should living away from home be so bad; I’ve always been independent. I’m not a baby, I don’t need my hand held through some apparent “transition.” It’s just school. I’ve done school before, and it’s always fine. Maybe some people struggle when they get to college, and THEY need to hear that everything’s going to turn out alright. But that whole speech wasn’t for me.
Maybe that inflated ego stuck with me more than I’d like to admit.
As it turns out, college is a transition and living away from home can get tough. And it was really hard for me. I could never quite shake this feeling of feeling lost. I never knew where to go, where I should be, who I should talk to. This feeling became especially potent whenever I’d finish my last class for the day.
All day I’d sit in boring classes, begging the clock hands to move faster. Every tick felt like I inched closer to freedom. The time would crawl past, and in my last class of the day my teacher would wrap up. Then I’d pack up my bag and rush outside so that I could finally go…or do…well, nothing.
I had nowhere to go and nothing to do. This thing that I looked forward to all day, that was supposed to be a huge relief, always ended up becoming a reminder of how lost I felt.
Eventually I had enough. I needed to find something to do, some passion, some dream to chase. I needed something to do after class. So I fell back on my love of comedy. Once it hit me, it seemed so obvious—I needed to do stand-up.
As a kid I fantasized about going into the big city, with nothing but a dream and my best five minutes of material. I dreamed about how I’d have to start at a dingy night club or a small local bar. But I saw myself becoming a local legend. From my humble beginnings, I’d build a following and do bigger and bigger venues. Eventually I’d be able to make more and more people laugh. Maybe even Mr. Dillon would see me and laugh this time.
Even though I’d been having a rough time at school, it felt like it was happening for a reason. It was leading me to pursue a childhood dream. I knew I wouldn’t find success right away, but I really felt that if I could make just ONE person smile, it would change my life. I believed that getting even a single chuckle from my audience would feel so amazing that nothing would ever feel the same. This one momentous occasion would light a fire in me forever. I KNEW that I needed one single laugh.
Turns out, no one laughed.
I was really bad. It didn’t make me feel good. And my life didn’t change in the way I thought it would. But that’s ok, because this isn’t a story about being a comedian, not really. It isn’t even really a story about chasing a dream. It’s a story about having a purpose.
The night where I stood on stage went pretty awful, but the weeks leading up to it weren’t. I finally had somewhere to go after class and something to look forward to. I got so excited to run to library and write more material, edit what I already wrote or practice different deliveries. It may have amounted to nothing, but it’s about the journey, not the destination. I didn’t have that nagging feeling of being completely lost in this new, scary environment.
They say all good jokes contain truth, but as it turns out, sometimes the bad ones do, too.