Neither the first nor the last time I was a jerk to someone.
So, in the past week, I've gotten to sample what it's like to have a crowd and lose 'em, and to start at a loss and win 'em over, I've done surprisingly well at some very small shows, and I've continued to appear in a venue where I have never done well. My theory is that if there were more than 15 people in the room which seats 100, or if they were near each other, this would be different, but then again I've almost never seen an act at that show I enjoy, so who knows....the real lesson may just be to stop going there. But tonight was, maybe, the first time I was dismissive of another would-be comic to their face. There are some I don't like, some I don't want to watch, some who do the same 3 minutes so often I could do it for them, and some that make me want to start a booked show just so I can not book them, but many of us are trying and learning and experimenting with this new toy and why not be friends and share any good tricks we happen to find? Tonight I got off and a guy came over and mumbled something to me that I missed, and then asked if I'd be around after the show. I would be, since there were only a couple acts left.
Turns out, he wanted to go over the information I imparted in my set, because he didn't quite get it all. Now, I do present some info you can take home, and I'm thinking of and looking for ways to do more, but an important note on these "facts" is that I feel the need to put the word "facts" in quotes. Because many of them are lies. Probably, the correct thing to do in the future may be to refuse to do an encore for 1, but we went over the ways to say goodbye, and I tried to point out that it's not worth committing them to memory since most of the things I say about them on stage are either outright jokes or subtle lies to build up my argument.
This guy, who smelled strongly of something, or maybe a few things, told me he didn't do well with his improvised set because he couldn't see the faces of the handful of people left in the crowd.
"That's because of the lights. We need the lights so that we can see the performers," I told him.
"But then how do I know if the audience thinks what I'm saying is funny?"
"You'll hear laughter."
"That's not going to work," he said.
"Well, then maybe you need the courage of your conviction that what you have to say is worth hearing. One way to get that might be through writing," I said. That felt pretty condescending, but it seemed fair. He had just wasted nearly a man-hour with his five minutes of rambling and answering his phone on stage.
"I can't do that. It's like talking on the phone. I don't have the courage of conviction when I talk to someone on the phone."
"That's probably because the person on the phone is talking to you. You're not having a conversation with the audience."
"Yeah I am."
"You might be speaking conversationally, but you're not interacting with the crowd. That's a monologue."
"Yeah I am, they answer with laughter."
"So you can listen to that to see how it's going."
"What part of what I just did up there did you like the best?" he asked.
That's dangerous territory, because he'd tied for last place in my mind with the set filled with tired racial epithets, which someone had at least taken the time to commit to paper. "Something in the middle, I think," I hedged, "I don't remember the whole thing."
He questioned me on specific lines, which I'd have to admit I didn't like. Eventually he asked if he was holding me up.
"Maybe a little," I said. I often make that kind of jokey comment. I rarely mean it.
I've only been at this a couple months, been on stage a couple dozen times, I wouldn't say I've really earned the right to feel particularly higher-status than any fellow open mic'ers. But then, with each mic, one notices the time that will never be regained during the truly horrible sets, the painfully unfunny, the obviously ill-prepared, and so many genuinely hateful racists who fail to mask their feelings in anything comedic (or, those that are so inept at the craft that they give this impression through a misapplication of irony. Or something.)
A different, better way to give that context may be with something improvisers talk about from time to time, which says you go through 4 stages of competence. (Briefly, from unskilled and unaware, to unskilled and aware, skilled while aware, and unconsciously able.) I think most open mic'ers are solid level 2s, flickering their way into the shallow end of 3. (And for that matter, many or most professional comedians are strong, high-end level 3s. Truly honestly effortless brilliance is rare and hard-won.) They have taste but not skill, and if they're lucky they're discovering the tools and skills. When those of us struggling to get good see the unskilled and unaware, who it would seem have never seen a comedy show, who can't distinguish between themselves and a successful comedian, who get angry at crowds they've just stunned into silence, we get angry at them for wasting our time and taking up limited, valuable slots on stage. And yet, it's not legal to kill them.
I've been listening to a lot of comedy albums lately, to remind me what can be great about this. I'm actually liking stand-up more and more, the deeper into it I get.