The Misfits

People talk a lot about community. Friends are your chosen family. Find your community. Birds of a feather. All that jazz.

My best friend is a water skiier and a jet pilot (and, clearly, a badass). When she’s around jet pilot people, she clearly fits in. When she’s around military, she’s one of them. When she talks about water skiing, she uses all the jibber jabber and knows all the terms and competitions and whatnot.

My mom loves to quilt. She has friends at all the fabric stores in Indianapolis. She goes with some of her friends to quilting shows. Her friends will discuss their latest projects and patterns and exciting quilting news. For them, there is such a thing.

I used to be somewhat envious of people’s communities. I’m a floater- and happy to be one. I never really had a set community. I’ve always had a few good friends who are clearly part of different set communities.

Then it occurred to me. I clearly do have a community. I’m one of the misfits. I’m a comedy misfit.

When I go to read thrus for the sketch show I do regularly, I’m with my people. I’m with a bunch of goofballs who make big character choices and are excellent at making words come to life for the sake of comedy.

When I go to the Groundlings for shows or workshops, I’m amongst a bunch of hilarious people who are all writing their own work and creating shows and characters. These are people who want to work in the industry and have successful careers. But also, they just want to make people laugh. Be silly. Be outrageous. Have fun.

When I’m at UCB, I’m with people passionate about improvising. People who speak the same jibber jabber lingo that I do. We admire the same actors. Know the origin stories of different improv philosophies. Talk about them nonstop. Love to perform even if it’s for three people in the worst place ever.  And- the good ones at least- listen more than they talk.

And especially when I’m at stand up mics, I’m with my people. These are a bunch of comedians who are thoughtful about their days. They look around and observe the world. They take note of interactions they have with people. They write down ideas they think might be funny. They’re willing to be brave and vulnerable in front of audiences. Even the douchebag assholes who yell at you for not thinking they’re funny- they’re my people because they want to make you laugh. They’re as insecure about their works as I am, they just show it in a different (more aggressive- less likeable) way.

In fact, comedians are quickly becoming my favorite people. They’re the loners who are willing to show up to an awkward space with a bunch of strangers and say “HEY! LISTEN TO ME!” They’re willing to be terrible because they know it’s a long-term investment. They want to meet like-minded people to work with. They want to bounce their ideas off people but are willing to say “Nah, I wanna do it this way. Thanks though,” if they don’t like what you say. They craft their voice carefully. Every word, every movement, every intonation matters. They’re willing to say the same thing over and over again until it’s perfect. And every time they say it, they pretend it’s the first time they’re sharing it with an audience. And they’re excited to be sharing it. It’s as magical as anything else.

But most importantly, all these communities are filled with people as obsessed with making people laugh as I am. They’re not interested in being the funny friend in their group of friends. They’re interested in their group of friends being nothing but funny friends. And making people they’ve never met laugh.

It’s the best.

And I call them misfits because, let’s be honest, when your passion and self worth are dependent on the feedback from total strangers, there’s something wrong with you.

Plus, if you met most of the people I hang out with, you’d agree there’s something wrong with all of us. And we would agree with you.

They’re my wonderful little funny misfits.

And I love them.

Please let the teacher teach

I went to a workshop the other day for stand up comedy. I’ve been becoming obsessed with it lately, and this workshop was just a one-time fundraiser taught by a guy who’s been doing stand up for over 30 years. I was hesitant to sign up at first because I don’t think you can “learn comedy” in a classroom setting, (despite the fact that I’ve literally spent thousands on improv classes…) but I figured even if I learned one thing from this guy, it’d be worth it.

And I was so glad that I went. I learned a lot of things from this seasoned pro. He didn’t treat it like a super-serious class where we all needed to walk out as professional stand up comedians, he basically just talked about the history of stand up in Los Angeles, gave us a ton of helpful industry and technical tips, and discussed how he comes up with and works on his material. It was fan-freaking-tastic.

The only drawback were some of the other people in the class. I do not consider myself an expert by any means at stand up comedy, but I was the only person in the room who even had done open mics, let alone a couple stand up comedy shows. Everyone else seemed to be there to get the courage to start doing open mics, or to hopefully hear that there is some loophole around having to do open mics in order to become a better stand up comedian (hint: Unfortunately, in this day and age…there is NOT. Do open mics. Learn to love their suckiness).

Let me be clear- I’ve got nothing against people who are at different places in their career or what they goals and motivations are for taking any class. We’re all there to learn and make new friends and connections.

My problem comes from people, like the ones in my class, who wasted my and everyone else’s time by arguing with the teacher on minuscule and meaningless points. For example, at one point we all approached the mic and held it as if to start our set. A quirky girl approached it in an odd way. Granted, she was all-around quirky so she wasn’t going to look like your average person no matter how she approached it, but our teacher said he didn’t buy it and had her try it again.

Immediately, several people in my class started arguing with him saying they thought she was funny and quirky and was being true to herself in her approach. Our teacher said he understood that, but his argument was that unless you’ve got a whole set about how quirky you are in place, it’s  a weaker start than the more “average” approach with confidence. And then a small amount of chaos ensued where students were arguing with the teacher about the issue.

Part of me gets it. Comedy and entertainment are arts, not sciences. If you back up any choice you make with total confidence, most audiences will buy it. As one of my favorite improv teachers says, “If you sell it, they will buy it.” I could see how you could think that one man’s opinion of how you walk to the microphone stand is too minuscule and that you didn’t see any problem with it and you should always and completely be true to yourself and audiences will love you. I’m empathetic to that perspective. I get it. And I sort of buy it.

What I don’t get, however, is why a bunch of 20-somethings who’ve never even done three minutes of stand up comedy at an open mic, would waste everyone’s time arguing with a teacher who was already a seasoned vet before they were born. I didn’t pay for this workshop so you could get in an argument on comedy theory or philosophy. I like to discuss those things, but only when it’s two people who have actual performance and life experience under their belt. Besides, you don’t know how to be true to yourself onstage until you’ve spent thousands of hours onstage. Spoiler alert- your stand up persona is not actually you. It’s a persona. So choose wisely.

Eventually, our teacher just shut down the argument by essentially saying, “I hear what you’re saying. And I’m not saying it’s wrong. But I’m just saying, there is a part of me right in my gut that tells me it’s not a great move to make. I can’t give you logic or explain it further than that. That’s just it.” And since you can’t argue with a feeling, the other students shut up. Finally.

My point is, the teacher was there to teach us. If you disagree with him based on a huge amount of your own experience otherwise, then discuss it with him in a productive way or maybe during the break. Don’t waste my time trying to be told your ideas are right. I didn’t pay to listen to you talk. I paid to listen to the pro. Besides, if you really disagree, just don’t do what he says! Like I said, it’s an art not a science- so you could be right. Then again, you could trust that the 30+ year veteran comedian who has stood before crowds of thousands and thousands of people and has thousands of hours of experience might have an idea of how to help you when you’re first starting out. Once you have his experience, you can make up your own rules. Until then, maybe try his out.

You did, after all, pay him to teach you. So shut up. And let the teacher teach.

My Dearest Stand Up Comedians,

Hi. Briana here. Your friend and colleague. Your peer. Your buddy. Your fan.

I’ve been hitting up a few open mics in a great effort to get more involved in the stand up community and challenging myself. So far, I’ve done a handful and it has been a really great experience. I wanted to take a moment to dispel a little idea people seem to have about stand up comics once and for all.

Stand up comics are supportive, nice, open, kind, and funny people who love to laugh.

I’m not saying when you go to an open mic, immediately expect to have a room of people who are going to guffaw at you like a bunch of drunk non-comedians. That’s unrealistic and unfair. Comedians have a higher standard. Everyone who wants their 3-5 minutes on that stage spends a good portion of their free time studying, breathing, and practicing jokes. We’re going to have higher standards to get a laugh. We can’t help it. It’s what we do. If we think your joke is obvious- even if it would kill for a crowd of drunk hillbillies on a Saturday night- it’s not going to make a room full of comics laugh. And that’s not because they don’t want to. It’s because you have to do better.

If anything, comedians are people who love laughter more than the average bear. (And if I’ve learned anything from the Muppets, bears love to laugh) We’re trying to make a living out of laughter. We desperately want to laugh. We love laughing. We want you to make us laugh. Please. But in order to do so, you’ll need to do your homework.

I’ve been at a few open mics now where I see comedians start to get frustrated at the crowd. They make snide comments like, “Isn’t it great how supportive comics are to each other?” or “Great, a room full of comics. This should be great…”

Well, guess what, snide-commenters? You’ve got the worst attitudes ever and I hope you take some time to work on it before you go back onstage and blame me for your lack of preparedness. Because here’s the reality check: Comics are supportive of each other. I’m sitting in a podunk coffee shop sipping an expensive latte and quietly listening to you, aren’t I? I’ve left work early to make sure I can sit at the club and listen to you try out your material. Sure, I’m waiting for my time to get up, but in the meantime, I’m listening to you. You’re a comic. What more could you ask for than someone to listen to you? So don’t waste your or my precious time by blaming me for not being supportive. What more do you want from me? A back-rub and Hallmark card thanking you profusely for getting up and doing a rambling complaint about your insecurities with no foreseeable punchline or original observation in the entire tirade?

And sometimes, I’m smiling. Or chuckling. And that’s the most you’re going to get from me. No, tears are not forming in my eyes. I listen to and write tons and tons and tons of jokes every single day. I see the 1’s and o’s in your matrix pattern. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy it, it just means know your audience. And by knowing your audience, you can curb your expectations.

I’ve seen comics blame a crowd of comics for being a tough crowd after the person in front of them had everyone cracking up hysterically. How can a crowd be that tough if moments ago we were all laughing? Maybe you’re just not doing as well as the guy before you. Ever think of that?

The second a comic makes a comment about how tough the audience is because it’s a bunch of comics is the second I want them to get offstage and stop wasting their time so I can get a chance to get onstage and practice the jokes I’ve been writing diligently at home, hoping I could get three minutes on a microphone in front of anyone to see how they do.

I’m certainly not saying people who don’t kill at open mics should give up immediately. Not at all. In fact, I think it’s really exciting and fun to be there while people are brainstorming their ideas out loud. It’s thrilling, in fact, to be there the first time a comic realizes a joke works. And it’s even fun to hear how the same jokes told every day can transform and hit differently in different rooms (because we all know the same comics frequent the same places to work on their set).

Maybe you had more confidence delivering that joke today. Maybe you were really nervous yesterday. Maybe you were having a great day. Who knows! Hopefully you can figure out the choices you can make onstage that will get you the highest percentage chance of getting laughs the entire time and eventually you can build your set with that. That, to me, is what makes open mics genuinely exciting and fun.

So don’t worry if you bomb. Don’t worry if you screwed up the wording of a joke. Don’t worry if you forgot something. Don’t worry if nobody is keeling over with laughter. Don’t worry if you don’t get a standing ovation. Just enjoy your time onstage and see what happens.

If you need everyone to laugh loudly and hysterically at your every breath, go do five minutes in front of a bunch of seven-year-olds, have a bag of candy with you, and promise them the person who laughs the longest and loudest will get the most candy.  I promise you’ll get a great response.

So for the love of god my dear sweet fellow up-and-coming comics, stop saying other comics aren’t supportive of each other. Just keep working on your jokes and your voice, grow tougher skin, and relish in the fact that you’ve got a room full of people listening to you.