(Photo of me, as Nigel Nitro, circa 1980)
I really have worked as a Stand Up Comedian in Hollywood and around in small venues in Southern California when I was a teenager… I was very popular and got paid… OK. That’s not exactly true. I wasn’t a teenager, I was about 21 or 22 years old when I was a stand-up comedian; and it’s probably a bit of a “stretch” to say that I was “popular.” I did get paid a couple of bucks each time too (which was often more than I got from being in the punk band!)
Months before I became a Stand-Up Comedian, I was playing in a punk band and, from that, I got to see how the stage set-up was done for concerts. I saw an opportunity to be able to go on stage, tell off-color jokes and actually get paid a little bit (plus it was a great way to meet girls!) I figured that, in between the bands – while the Roadies were changing equipment on the stage – I could go up on stage and entertain the troops. (I wrote about my punk band in: The White Stripes Jack White and Me (A True Story) (robot55.jp/blog/jack-white-and-me-a-true-story/)
I actually went to clubs and owners to sell myself and my routine. For a while there, I got jobs; a lady from the department store I worked at actually got me lots of jobs too. She got me jobs at some sort of social events! She could have been a good manager! At that time, I was telling jokes in front of crowds of 50 ~ 200 people one or two weekends a month for a short while!
Sometimes I did so well, and the crowd liked my jokes so much, that the fans were crowding the stage and throwing coins at my feet. This time I am not exaggerating!
Other times, with the very same act and original jokes I wrote, even the next night in front of a different crowd, it was like I was giving a speech at a fricking funeral; it was dead. I definitely am not exaggerating about that either.
I was always confused as to why I was such a hit one night, then the next night, it was terrible! Like night and day!
The first time people threw money at me, I was mad because I thought they were throwing stuff at me to get me off the stage. That was until a friend told me, “Wow! You were great! People were even throwing money at your feet!”
Getting up on stage, by yourself, is much more difficult than people can imagine; you are completely alone. If you are in a band, that’s scary enough, but, in a band, you have your band members and instruments to hide behind. Being a stand up comedian is just you, naked (figuratively speaking), on the stage with a few dozen or, even hundreds of people just staring at you. Their eyes pierce you and their expectations are quite high (or incredibly low – which can be a problem too!) Their eyes and faces are saying, “Entertain me! make me laugh or get off the stage.”
Being a Stand-Up Comedian is a very rough job.
I did this gig, off and on, from 1979 until early 1981 or so.
My very last stand up routine was at my university at a talent show. People were roaring with laughter. I couldn’t figure it out. They were laughing in all the wrong places! I later asked a girl why people were laughing so much and she said, “Your facial expressions were hilarious!” I couldn’t figure that out. If anything my facial expression were of confusion because I couldn’t figure out why people were laughing at my jokes in weird places! It was then and there that I decided that I wasn’t good enough and didn’t have what it takes to be a Stand-Up Comedian.
But I’m very glad I tried my luck as a Stand Up Comedian. Being a Stand-Up Comedian is a great way to become a great public speaker. It is also a good way to overcome inhibitions and to learn how to control a crowd’s behavior.
How and why did I ever first become a Stand-Up Comedian? Let me explain further…
In about mid 1979, a few months after Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols died, my punk band broke up. I was quite disillusioned with the entire “Punk Thing” by then anyway. Sid dying (he was my hero) was the last straw for me.
But, I had loved being on the stage as a Punk band vocalist and wanted to stay and hang out in Hollywood. So I decided try try my hand as a Stand-Up Comedian. It made sense to me at the time.
Being the front of a punk band was powerful. It was also a lesson in crowd control. When my band ended, at first, I wanted to start another punk band but everything I tried just didn’t work out to my liking. Also, I had learned a lesson from playing in a band with other people who weren’t so dedicated; having to depend on other people sucks!
Being a Stand-Up Comedian is really just you against the world, it seems. It’s a great experience and, no matter your age, I think everyone can benefit from having to stand up in front of a bunch of strangers and give a speech.
After all, giving a speech and doing stand up comedy are first cousins in the public speaking world.
In Japan, you can sometimes see young people standing at a busy train station and giving speeches. I hear it is a kind of initiation at some companies to make their new young employees overcome their inhibitions and become better representatives and salesmen. I think it is good.
I will always fondly look back to my 20 or 30 times as a Stand Up Comedian. Sometimes I was the funniest guy! King of the hill! Other times I was a pathetic little loser standing butt-stark-naked in front of a crowd of people without a friend in the world!….
Both are great learning experiences.
Everyone can benefit from public speaking exposure like that.
Like they say, “Don’t dream it. Be it.”
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