Embarrassingly Old Work: Personal Narrative: I am a Standup Comedian – From 2004

I am a standup comedian.

If you say, “tell me a joke,” I will not. I will instead say something witty like, “your future.” That’s the answer I give almost everyone. Because almost everyone asks me to tell them a joke. But if you don’t ask me to tell you a joke, it will be hard to get me to stop.

I carry a notebook everywhere so I can write down funny things, but most of the time I forget to. When I remember, they’re usually random groups of words that mean nothing to anyone but me, like “who shot the sheriff?” or “cabbage babies.” People will ask to see what I wrote down anyway, and laugh because they think I want them to.

Think I’m funnier than I am. I also think I’m not funny enough. Every six months, I realize how unfunny I was six months ago and forget that in six months, I’m going to realize it again.

Sometimes, people tell me jokes. They say, “use this in your act,” and then tell me a joke I would never ever use. Sometimes, it will even be someone else’s joke. Then they get mad at me for not using it. “Oh,” they say, “that’s not good enough for you?” No. It’s not. Please stop asking.

I get abused by bookers. Not physically, but emotionally. I get cancelled on and bumped down in the lineup and told, “send me a tape” even though they’ve just seen me live and I had the best set of the night. At least I think I did. But it could have been better.

I get abused by agents. Not physically, but emotionally. I get ignored and stepped on and told that life is mine for the taking, but only 90% of life. And after I do all the work to get my name out there, I get kissed up to by various agents, who tell me they were there for me the whole time.

I get abused by myself. Physically and emotionally. I sleep on couches and eat fried foods and book consecutive nights that are eight hours apart. Because I know that I can’t go back to an office job. I’m not suited for an office job. You’d fire me if I worked in your office. But if you came to see me at a club after a tough day at work, you’d want to shake my hand.

When other people say they’re not suited for office jobs, I encourage them to be waiters or morticians. I think that’s pretty funny. I always think I’m pretty funny.

I live for your laughter. I really live for your applause breaks. I spend countless nights telling jokes to three people at a dive bar so that I’ll be prepared for a thousand people in a coliseum.

I have been on TV a few times, in roles that will impress anyone who has not yet been on TV. Anyone who has been on TV doesn’t care. Unless I can help them get on TV again. Then they want to hear all about it.

I once opened for someone really big, that everyone in the industry has heard of and maybe you’d recognize if you saw them. Who once opened for someone with a cancelled sitcom. Who once opened for someone with a successful sitcom. Who once opened for a legend. Everyone has opened for someone.

I love myself. I hate myself. I have a huge ego, but I doubt it constantly. If I was a very well adjusted person, I wouldn’t be funny. Geez, I hope I’m funny. Eh, I know I’m funny. I think.

I have bombed. More than I will ever admit. Not just to you, but to myself. Everybody bombs. But it’s still awful when it happens. I haven’t bombed in a long time. Which means I’m due.

I get heckled by people who think they are helping me, who don’t realize I do not need the help of a drunk insurance salesman from Topeka. If I did, he would be part of my act.

The thing that really separates me most from my non-comedian friends is that I have a mailing list. Half the people on it can’t figure out how to unsubscribe. Sometimes, I send out duplicate copies of the same e-mail, and everyone gets very mad as if I did it on purpose. Why would I do that on purpose? Maybe to be funny. It doesn’t matter ““ you still can’t figure out how to unsubscribe.

I know that in ten years, I’ll either be on Leno or welfare. Or maybe I’ll have been on welfare and then on Leno. Or on Leno and then on welfare. Either way, I really want to be on Leno.

One day, I may be really big, and everyone in the industry will have heard of me and maybe you’d recognize me if you saw me. Maybe I’ll have my own cancelled sitcom, or successful sitcom, or even be a legend. And I will still think I’m funnier than I am. And I will still think I’m not funny enough.

And I’ll meet you after a show, and you’ll find out I’m a legend or I’ve got a successful sitcom or a cancelled sitcom or you kind of recognize me or I’m just some guy you saw telling jokes to three people at a dive bar. And you’ll say, “tell me a joke” even though I just told you a lot of them or “I’ve got this great joke for you” even though you know I have plenty. And as I walk away, I will jot something down in my notebook like, “tell me a joke” or “I’ve got this great joke for you” or “column about what it’s like to be a standup comedian.”

I wonder how that would turn out.

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