Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Living to Tell the Stand-up Tale


I’ve been told that in times of ecstasy and trauma, essential details can be forgotten.

From my wedding, I remembered faces, the event, the church, the reception, it being 111% humidity and my brother dropping 2 hands full of birdseed down the back of my wedding gown.  
No problem there, and it was a happy occasion.

However, during the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, stand-up session, I did my set, then totally went blank.    

I’m used to speaking in public, holding a microphone or not, and holding someone’s attention.  
I’m used to teaching, informing and delivering humor. 
I’m pretty good at adlibbing and for the most part, usually not nervous.  

So what’s the difference in doing a stand-up set and speaking in public?

The spotlight is on me and I am required to make the audience, or at least 1 person laugh.  
It is an indescribable feeling of helplessness and humbling to know that I'm not a comedian.

At the rehearsal, comedian Sarah Maizes gave us tips and traditional stage information, then answered questions. 
It was my turn to go up the stairs, and she called, “Time.”  
I turned around and began down the stairs thinking I was safe, when she said, “Come up and just do a minute or so.”

I approached the stage, 200 feet above the ground and asked her, “Are you passing out Imodium and barf bags?”   
She smiled and said, “You really don’t need those.”  
My body felt otherwise.

I felt like fainting; I suppose it helps to breathe.  
I was determined to practice my opening, since my traitorous body moved center stage.  
My voice quivered. I began to pant and there was nothing funny about the first 1 ½ minutes of the set.  
I was doomed.  
My son Will, was right, the material wasn’t good, and I wasn’t funny.

I left the auditorium with pterodactyls dive bombing in my stomach and feeling like aliens were eating me from the inside out. 
The only way to get through this was to practice until it was memorized, or become convinced that I needed to drop out.  
After all, there were several others on the waiting list.    

I made it to my hotel room and there sat my roommate.  
I told her my dilemma and made her listen to the fast version of my set, the only time I did  it completely through.  
I can’t remember if she laughed, but she was encouraging.    

I still had time to back out.  
I had to find a quiet place to practice.  
By the time the show began, I would be ready or bail out.

I went to the hallway between the ballroom and the servers’ entrance and thought I’d stand in the corner facing the wall to practice, but another stand-up person was there working on his set.    

The bathroom was out, too many people and the men's room wasn't an option. 

I went to the swimming pool area, grabbed a rolled towel and used it as my microphone.  
Two women walked in, and I was too embarrassed to continue.

I went to the business center and found a corner.  
I got through 2 minutes worth before two people came in wanting to use the computer.   
It ruined my mood.

I didn't think I could eat, but after having chicken for 5 meals, the steak looked good, and I managed to stuff my mouth before thinking of throwing it back up.  
I took out my paperwork, tweaked it and mumbled under my breath.  
Time was closing in.

I managed to get to the stage area 10 minutes before the routines began.  
There were 30 performers, and I was number 15.  
Good stories have peaks and valleys to change up the pace.  
I knew that I would be the valley, no make that the Marianas Trench for the evening, and then all the rest would bring the laughter.  
It was time to pray for being dumb enough to attempt this.

I got on stage and my accent took over.  
Exactly how many syllables should be in North Carolina?  
I think there must have been 17.    

Who knew that Ohioans would be irritated with our claim to the Wright Brothers flying the first plane at Kitty Hawk?  
I was the only person heckled within the first minute of her first stand-up set. 

Will talked to me about not letting hecklers get the attention and to grab it back, so I made some comment about liking our “First in Flight” quarter better and liking our “First in Flight” license plates.  I’m not sure if that helped, and I’m sure it wasn’t funny, but take that you heckler.

I heard the music cue for having 30 seconds left in my time.  
I only finished 1/3 of my material, but ended at a good stopping point, bowed and walked off the stage.  
I felt relieved and happy not to have a heart attack, but I remember nothing.    

I believe I got some laughs.  
I remember hearing Bob Chrisman’s laugh; what a great sport, he laughed all night.  
I guess I should send him a check.  

Other than that, I’m blank. 

I wish I could share my video performance, but my camera malfunctioned.  
Perhaps it got videoed by someone.  
If it ever appears, I’ll share it, after I see it a few times and throw up.


After all that, would I ever do it again?  I think so- sick huh?



May all your days be filled with laughter and not amnesia.  Email me at aitken.helen@gmail.com, I'd love to hear from you.

Have a wonderful day.

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