In their shoes: One man, many jobs
Jeff Martin exercises his funny bone at The Loony Bin.
A brisk Wednesday evening. Like every Wednesday, it’s Open Mic Night at the Loony Bin Comedy Club across the street from Woodland Hills Mall.
I arrive just before 7 p.m. to meet Corey and Dan, the guys handling the show and comics. Rules and regulations: no cursing. No potty humor. No working the crowd. Just three minutes of material.
It’s not just my first time doing stand-up, but my first time ever in the club. Tucked inside a strip mall, it’s not especially pleasing aesthetically, but it does have a cozy charm and the feeling of respite for a certain crowd.
New and regular Open Mic comics have to put their name on a list a week in advance and show up that night not knowing if they’ll make the lineup. A little before 7:30, slightly more than a dozen gathered around a table to take part in a lottery of sorts. Pick up a piece of paper with a “yes” and you’re in. The final lineup featured nine comics (myself included), followed by an opening act and a headliner from Louisiana known as the “Rajun Cajun.” My short set would be the last of the Open Mic list.
I soon met Zandria (rhymes with Andrea), a Loony Bin regular. She told me about the thriving comedy scene in Tulsa, a supposed mecca of humor compared to her native Montana, where the only outlet available to a budding comedian was “going to a karaoke bar and singing a ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic song.”
I’d been mentally working on my routine for a few weeks, bouncing material off my wife, co-workers and basically anyone willing to listen.
Trying to steer away from the traditional set-up/punch line style, I decided to have more of an arc to my routine. At least as much of an arc as you can get in three minutes.
I’m not typically a nervous person when it comes to speaking in public, but there were a few times my anxiety got the best of me.
What if they don’t laugh? It’s within the realm of possibility.
As last on stage, I was able to see the good, the bad and the “what the hell was that?” from my preceding comic brethren.
A few of my friends were kind enough to come along, giving me at least some assurance of a soft landing. Soon enough, the emcee was saying my name and welcoming me to the stage. I promised myself I wouldn’t use any notes, praying that I’d remember not only the jokes, but also the flow.
It was over in an instant. I remember laughter. Perhaps not belly laughs, but good, solid laughter nonetheless.
More importantly, I didn’t break any rules. I didn’t use a single swear word or talk about poop. Mission accomplished.
Could the goodwill from the audience have been mere sympathy for an obvious newbie? Sure. But when it comes to laughter, I’m no cynic. It is, after all, the sneeze of human emotions, an unstoppable force.
Noting a study on fears and phobias indicating that fear of public speaking ranked higher than fear of death, Jerry Seinfeld once joked that most funeral attendees would rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy.
Seeing this group of Open Mic comedians, I couldn’t help but appreciate their bravery. Some looked scared. Some looked uncomfortable. But they all got up on that stage.
After all, as Woody Allen famously remarked, “80 percent of success is showing up.”
I’ll take those odds.