The Plunge into Stand-up Comedy, Part 1

Don’t be fooled by the title too much.  It’s not so much a “plunge” as it is a “dipping of toes into the cold pool like a bitch” into Stand-up comedy.  I’ve been thinking about this for a very long time and now I’ve put it out there to my public . . . and by “public” I mean the 6 of you that I beg to read this.  If anyone else comes by, then I am humbled and deeply grateful that my reach has gone any further.

When I first started this blog (Holy Shit!) 6 years ago, I briefly enjoyed a regular readership of several thousand people a month.  Over time and multiple ridiculous circumstances and my own laziness, repeated forays into depression and several unsuccessful location changes in an attempt to improve my situation, Opticynicism fell apart and now it’s just the struggling ramblings you see before you now.

I’ve learned so many things over the last few years and most of them have been about myself.  I like to think of this blog as my therapy.  It’s my place to vent, scream and just release all the bullshit in my head so I don’t have to carry it around, and it really, really has worked, but as I laid out in the previous post, it’s time to move onward and upward.

It’s no secret that I love to make people laugh.  Nothing, not one single thing, brings me more satisfaction than making someone else laugh.  It’s an art I’ve worked on my entire life and a skill that has helped me survive things that no one should have to endure.  Unfortunately, it hasn’t saved me from everything, but there is a pill I take twice a day that does the rest.

I lovingly refer to that pill as the “one I take so that my father stays alive”.  (Potential stage line . . . for those of you paying attention)

Some of my favorite and funniest moments come from my interactions with my brother and with my friends that I regularly play games with on one of the game systems.  The laughs come spontaneously and we seem to surround ourselves with friends that have a quick wit and some amazing one-liners have come from it.  Anybody who enjoyed the show Mystery Science Theater 3000 would absolutely piss themselves sitting down to an episode of Swamp People with my brother and I, or an episode of anything for that matter.  A well timed, yet inappropriate “Choot ’em!” is invaluable.

The interactions with my friends online have resulted in many, many nights of crying with laughter at the stupidest shit ever, but damn, does it make you feel like nothing is wrong in the world.  Even text conversations have become the thing of legend.  My buddy  Tom in Vermont is the king of one-liners, and they don’t happen very often, but when they do, they are of epic proportion.

Me:  How did the estimate go with the plumber this morning?  How far up your ass did he go?

Tom:  He’s my dentist now.

Four words.  That’s all it took.  It was probably 5 years ago and just a passing conversation and the boy spit out four words and I’m still laughing my balls off 5 years later.

Here is where things get a little tense for me. . .

I like to tell a story.  A lot of the time, they are actual life experiences and many of those experiences are unpleasant, if not downright shitty.  In the telling of those stories, I make them funny in order to make them easier for ME to deal with.  Some of the most unpleasant experiences in my life involve my father.  The funny thing about that is that the MOST popular posts I have ever written on this blog, and were in fact responsible for my readership going into the thousands at the time, were the stories I told about my father.  The trick was, they weren’t “stories”.  They were shit that actually happened, but in telling it, I made it more comfortable for me and the result was . . . well, funny.

It’s now something I do every day.  It’s a habit and I don’t even consciously do it anymore.  It puts people off quite frequently and I’ve become accustomed to the weird looks I often get.  I am 100% certain it has cost me more than one job.

On the upside, it works in my favor more than it doesn’t.

At the VA hospital while setting up a supply closet early in the process, I once had 6 nurses trap me in the closet and they were all telling me all the shit they wanted me to stock the closet with, some of them talking at the same time and it got crazy in there for a minute and I just stood there, silent and something on my face made them all just stop talking and look at me.  I said, “I had this dream . . . but it wasn’t this aggressive and some of you had hats.”

There was silence . . . then hysterical laughter and I had the best relationship with every one of them after that.

It’s the spontaneous shit that works for me.  I once made Diet Coke come out of Liz’s nose because of my interpretation of what the dog would sound like if she had looked up at us from the couch and said “Go fuck yourself”.

And then Liz says to me after my last post, “Just go up there and ad-lib”.

So there is three to five minutes of me on stage with a microphone demonstrating uncomfortable silence.

As much as I appreciate her confidence in my ability, the reality just won’t allow that to happen.  I have, as I said, three to five minutes to make an impression and while I believe in my ability to be funny, to stand on stage, nervous, self-conscious and just a tad out of my element, I’m pretty sure I’m not going to just stand there and shit funny.

So before I start to get the “so where is the video” questions, I wanted to start this multi-part post to let you know what I’m doing to work toward this goal and that I’m not just talking out of my ass.

I’ve been listening to comedians of all sorts while I’ve been driving for the last year or more.  I’ve listened to the podcasts that some of them do, good or bad.  (Highly recommend Marc Maron’s podcast WTF if you haven’t heard it)  I have scoured the internet for tips, tricks, advice and experiences with starting out and open mic nights, etc from comedians old and young.  There are styles I like and styles I don’t, and at the same time, I want to have my own style and my own rhythm.   I love Bill Burr’s stage work, but his podcast is a rambling mess of “I’m doing this ’cause all the other guys are”.  Jim Gaffigan is hilarious to a point, but the “voice” gets real old, real fast.  Tom Segura . . . love the guy and can’t find a thing I don’t like about his act and the same goes for Kyle Kinane.  I think if I had someone to aspire to, it would be those two.

At the end of the day, I don’t want to be the “new insert-fading-comedian-here”.  I want to be me.  An individual that should an interview ever ensue, I could make a list of influences . . . with my father being number 1.

I don’t want to stroke his ego, so I’ll wait til he’s dead to proclaim that one.  He wouldn’t get the joke.

So here is the plunge.  There is a plan, of sorts.  I have a thousand ideas.  I have a thousand stories.  I have a thousand funny things to say.

I have no idea how to narrow that down to three to five minutes.  THAT is what I’m working on.

So far, my plan for an opening line is . . . “Let me start by saying that I am not (pause) young.”

My only planned response for a heckler is:

To:  “You suck!”

Me:  “I’d like to thank my dad for coming out tonight!”

I welcome your opinions, and for Christs’ sake, send ’em.

I’m gonna do this . . . *breathe* . . . it’s gonna happen.

I used to stand on stage in front of hundreds and not give a single shit.  In high school, I stood on stage and SANG in front of hundreds . . .several nights in a row, and I had no problem.

Now I’ve grown up and learned what a shitty, judgmental, easily offended, sensitive society we live in and for some stupid fucking reason, that bothers me.

But at the same time, I give zero fucks and I’m gonna do it.

Anyone with a couple Xanax to spare, I’ll be happy to give you my address.

In the meantime, I’ll sit here and see if Marc Maron and Bill Burr respond to my emails.

Venues I am currently exploring . . . .

Side-Splitters Tampa

The Improv – Ybor

The Mid-Life Career Change Crisis

Sometimes I feel like I need to sit down and write something on here again and I get an idea.  I ponder it, come up with clever statements about it, form opinions and take in the opinions of others.  I toss the idea around in my head over and over again until finally, I decide I have nothing original to say about it and scrap it altogether.

Wash, rinse, repeat . . . and then days lead to weeks which lead to months and this blog that I have dedicated so many hours to, remains silent.  I get lazy.  I work my ass off during the day and at night sit down and find it easier to pick up the PS4 or Xbox controller than to open up the computer and start to type.

I’ve got plug-ins on the static page that don’t work anymore because of updates to how some sites work, etc and I’ve left them there to just be a reason for people to visit and then decide I’ve abandoned it and they don’t return.  I need to work on them and I’m declaring right here, right now that I’m going to make the time to do it.  Opticynicism needs a face lift and I have to get off my ass and do it.

To answer the one or two of you that might still be around, I’m doing pretty good.  I take my medications as directed religiously and I have had no slides back into depression or otherwise debilitating events.  I work.  I come home, I play games on one of the boxes for a while, I go to sleep and then I go back to work.  Weekends are just extended periods of playing games on the box.  As much as I enjoy that and it keeps my blood pressure and stress levels down in the “green”, it’s not enough and I need to do more.  I’m not “living”.  I’m “existing”.

To this very day, I am still banging on the doors of the VA, trying to get in as a Federal employee at that hospital.  Three years I’ve been banging and three years they won’t open the fucking door.  My stubborn personality is the only thing that has kept that effort going this long, and the anti-depression meds keep me stable so that my stubborn personality can thrive.

In the meantime, I have been working in a menial delivery job.  I’ve been driving a box truck and delivering heavy freight.  I was recently laid off at one company (all of us were, we all came back from our deliveries one Friday a couple weeks ago and they called us all up and said “Thanks, but we’re shutting that office down.  None of you work here anymore.”  and yes . . . that is word for word what they said.)  As luck would have it, my driving record, customer history and recommendations from my previous boss, I was only out of work for about a week and I’m now doing pretty much the same thing but for a little more money working for a better company and had to go through a TSA screening because I am actually contracted through UPS and deal with a lot of international freight.

As would be expected, however, I’ve repeatedly asked myself, “This can’t be it, right?”

I’m working and doing ok, but honestly, without the continued help of, Liz most tremendously, and others as well, I’d still not be doing very well, and at some point, I need to find myself in some kind of state of independence.  I’m not exactly tipping the scales in the salary department and if I were to apply, I’d actually qualify for government assistance.  I’m not homeless based solely on the fact that Liz is a caring and generous human being.  I do what I can to keep her house in order (since she doesn’t actually live in it at the moment after taking a job out of state), but it feels unbalanced to me and that I just don’t do enough.  She repeatedly expresses her gratitude for what I do and does her best to make me feel that I contribute sufficiently, but my own lifelong self-deprecating attitude doesn’t allow me to accept it.

To that end, I’m continuously looking for ways to improve myself, my situation and my life.  Driving freight around sounds like a shitty job, and make no mistake, it is indeed a shitty job, but it does give me something I’ve really not had a lot of.  It has given me a lot of time alone, SOBER, with my thoughts.  Thanks to the iPhone, podcasts, Pandora, Spotify, YouTube and Netflix (before you freak out, I listen to comedy shows on Netflix and YouTube, I’m not watching my phone while I drive), I also get a lot of time listening to others and what they have done to improve their lives.

I’ve had a lot of ideas for blog posts, podcasts, video podcasts, commentaries and even books.  I’ve spent literally days weighing my strengths and weaknesses.  Things I can do and things I can’t.  Can I go back to school?  Sure, I can.  It’ll be a pain in the ass and I’ll have to do all kinds of shit that I neither want nor need to do to complete a degree, but eventually I’ll have a degree and then be a dude in his 50’s trying to get jobs dudes and dudettes in their 20’s are trying to get.  Then the question remains whether I’ll manage to finish school before our current administration destroys any chances of me doing so for one reason or another.  (You have no idea how hard it was for me to type that last sentence without cussing or making blatant anti-Trump remarks.)

So . . .

I’ve busted out nearly 1000 words to come to this point.  This is where I’ve landed and a conclusion I have come to.

Am I looking for your opinion and thoughts on the matter?  Yeah, I kinda am.

Am I going to do it even if you tell me I’m an idiot and I will fail?  Yeah, I definitely am.

Because this is something I feel and I can’t ignore it.

I’ve thought about this since I was in my TEENS.

There is one thing that has always brought me infinite joy.  A feeling that shines a light in my chest and makes me feel that everything is ok in the world.  A feeling that lets me fall asleep at night with a smile on my face and get a long, uninterrupted, satisfying nights sleep.  I’ve been madly in love with someone only a few times in my life and it is an incredible feeling, and this comes nearly as close as that.

I love, more than anything else, to make people laugh.

To me, there is nothing more satisfying in the world.  I will make a fool of myself and beat on myself to make it happpen.  I will paint a glorious visual image of a drab situation to make it funny so that the mundane becomes interesting.  I can take an insult as easily as I can give one and in the same breath, give an incredible compliment to diffuse confrontation.

I have used and continue to use humor to survive.

I am going to take a stab at stand-up comedy.

I’ve found the local “open mic night”.  It’s a bit intimidating because Tampa is not a small town and it’s not a small venue and it has spit out a few pretty damn famous people . . . but why start small.

I have been studying and listening to comedians for . . . hell, forever.  I watched Seinfeld before he had a TV show.  I remember going to see Red Skelton as a kid.  I defied my parents as a teenager to stay up and watch An Evening at the Improv.  I have read the blogs, listened to the podcasts and simply followed the careers of comedians from their early years to the recent ones.

Very nearly all of them have the art of storytelling in common, and boy, do I have stories.

Comedy is timing and emphasis and the ability to be relatable.

Comedy is the ability to take the things that make you miserable, or drive you crazy and make them funny so they are easier to swallow.

To me, comedy is not a job or something I have to work at.  It is a defense mechanism that I have used to survive.

I can tell a story and I can make the miserable funny.  I have done it right here.  I have made you (and others that have probably decided I abandoned the place) laugh at things that made me absolutely miserable.  Do the stories about my father ring any bells?  They should.  My readership went from the hundreds to the thousands on those stories alone.  By my own fault, those are numbers I have not seen in several years, but nonetheless, it worked then, it’ll work now.

Will I have to bash my father to make it happen?  Yeah, probably, but I give zero fucks.

I’ve asked myself if 49 is too old to try to start something like that.  I know I’m not the 24 year old stud I was as a fresh Marine Corps boot camp graduate.  I know the camera adds 10 pounds to the 40 pounds too much I already have.

I have also found that successful comedians are also intelligent, as am I .  They have solid and definitive opinions despite those that oppose them, as do I . . . and the number one, most important feature of all is that every single successful comedian is deeply and profoundly troubled for one reason or another, and if you think I might not qualify for that one . . . perhaps you may wanna read over the last few years of this blog.

If you think I’m looking for encouragement and positive words, you’re absolutely right, I am.  I am virtually incapable of giving them to myself, so I need the outside help to get them.  At the same time, I’m not looking for bullshit either.  If you think I’m an idiot for even trying, then say so.  God knows, I’ve said it to myself and even if I don’t want to believe it, I’m going to try it anyway and I have to be prepared for hecklers.  I’d like your honest opinions and encouragement if you have it.

When I was in my teens, I found it easy to get on stage and speak in front of hundreds of people.  It was easy for me and I loved it.  I haven’t done it since then and my anti-social, general hatred of the public that has developed since then is going to make trying to do it again even more difficult.

It scares the shit out of me.

But, by God, I’m going to do it.

I will not allow this to pass as a regret of something I wish I had always done.

I might fail, but I’m going to try.  Every successful comedian failed at some point, and many, more than once.  But they were persistent.  They had a passion and a desire and they pushed through and they succeeded despite the failures.

Funny thing is, the moment I’m actually successful at it . . .

. . . the goddamn VA will probably call with the job offer.

 

Peace, my friends . . . . please speak up!