I've never told a joke at a coffee shop. I'm not saying that to sound like some kind of cool guy; I don't know if a person would ever say a thing like that in an effort to sound cool. What I mean is quite the opposite. I've never been brave enough to tell a joke at a coffee shop.
Here's the thing: It's not that I've never considered it. I did go to an open mic at a coffee shop, again, in San Francisco. I arrived with plans to rock the mic, but was immediately put off when I walked in to find that someone was doing just that, except for real. It was a rapper, with dreadlocks and an Army jacket and everything, just like the ones who took over Detroit in the action classic 8 Mile.
Unfortunately, they lost.
This would have marked the third time I'd ever done comedy in my life. At the time, the heart of my material was based on my articles about unintentionally gay rap lyrics. It was a confidence-rattling start to the night.
Things momentarily got less intense when the kid who was rocking back and forth in his seat (wearing the exact same Army jacket as the rapper, because strange is a branch of the military in San Francisco) jumped up in response to a name being called and headed for the microphone. Up to that point, I'd assumed he was planning to detonate a bomb vest of some sort. Fortunately, the only bombs he brought were in the form of the nonsensical phrases he'd strung together in the name of "poetry." If I remember correctly, it somehow involved him being born a crab, and I am not fucking making that up.
I was sure I'd seen the worst live performance of all time when, much to my dismay, the next four or five people to take the stage did the exact same thing. Johnny Crabcakes wasn't even the worst of the lot. At least his ramblings seemed like the result of a drug problem. Everyone else was just probably into poetry for the sake of it, and that's scarier than any drug issue by a wide margin.
Dear God, does she even own a television?
While I'm being an asshole about it, as the terms of my contract say I must, I will admit that it was kind of a cool thing. There was a lot of acceptance in that room. I just couldn't imagine that what I do would be accepted in that room (or any room like it). I don't know if I'm even able to write a joke that's not offensive to someone in some way. That's not a brag -- that's a glaring deficiency in my joke-writing process. So much so that I was sure my stuff would not go over in a room like the one with the rapper and the superficially menacing poet, so I never even bothered trying.
I should have, though. I haven't been doing stand-up long enough to give much in the way of advice to anyone, but if forced to come up with something, I'd say try your jokes in places where laughs are hard to come by. If something hits there, keep after it.
My only other advice is to make sure you're less funny than me, even if people tell you it's not possible.
#1. Your Exhausted Co-Workers
I invited my co-workers to an open mic once. Four of them, to be precise. Dan O'Brien, Soren Bowie, Kristi Harrison, and Robert Brockway. Well, I invited all of them, I'm no asshole (citation needed). That just happened to be the configuration that was available to accompany me at the time. I knew it was a risky proposition in that this open mic determined the order of the lineup by randomly drawing names from a bucket. Every time I'd been there, my name was pulled in a reasonable amount of time, but there are always a lot of names to get through, usually 20 at least. Each of those people gets five minutes on stage. If your name is drawn at or near the end, it can make for an excruciatingly long night.
Naturally, my name was drawn at or near the end. Third to last, to be exact. When we arrived, there were maybe 50 people in the club. By the time I took the stage, the only people left were the people who worked there, two comics, my girlfriend, and three of the previously mentioned four co-workers. Brockway left at the approximate point where "Old Time Rock and Roll" would have been played if we were at a Seger concert (meaning he stayed for a long damn time) because his motorcycle gets harder to see as it gets darker out, and what's the point of riding a motorcycle if people can't see it? I understood, while also wondering to myself why he didn't like me anymore.
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Pictured: The list of possible reasons.
The other three stuck it out, though, and Kristi was even nice enough to laugh at every single thing every comic said the entire night even if it was the opposite of funny. I was equal parts grateful and horrified. On the one hand, it was super nice of them to even consider showing up at all, and I'd like to thank all four of them for that again right now. On the other, holy shit it was like 1 a.m. before we got out of there and my friends and co-workers had to sit through a whole lot of bad comedy in the name of listening to me tell jokes. I never want supporting my dreams to involve supporting others also. I resent it, in fact.
Don't worry, I repaid their patience and kindness by absolutely killing it that night. I was really great, you guys. Seriously. Unfortunately, I don't have video to prove it, you'll just have to take my word for it.
Or, you could come see me try to recreate that magic in person! Starting March 5 (that's Tuesday!), I'll be co-hosting a stand-up show at Westside Comedy Theater in Santa Monica. This time, my fellow Cracked workers Dan O'Brien and Michael Swaim will be performing too, along with people way more talented than us, like Blaine Capatch and Laurie Kilmartin. It will be a rocking good time, and tickets are only $5. But they're only $2.50 if you use the promo code CRACKED. You may remember all of this from the opening paragraph.
And just so the last impression you have isn't that video of my very first open mic, this is me doing a marginally better set at a club called The Stand in NYC (order the tater tot nachos and tell Cris to answer my goddamn emails if you see him) over Christmas.
I'm the one telling jokes behind the giant woman in the stocking cap. I hope I see you this Tuesday!