Next week, I will take the stage at PTE for my first stand up set. I have jokes, ways to say them, but will not know if they will get laughs until the closing cabaret. I know in the end, seeing a stand-up special will never be the same for me. Cristela Alonso in her special ‘Lower Classy,’ told a long-form joke that took her fourteen years to write. In a tweet not only did she disclose the time it took to write, the special marks the one and only time the joke gets told. Louis C.K. built his reputation on taking the time to write his set, tour it, then scrap it all to begin again. In the end, it’s all in the writing, and like all writing gets revised again and again and…again.
On the opposite side, I watched Amy Schumer’s Leather Special on Netflix. I gave it 3 stars but went back in to give it two, and even two stars proved generous. I liked Inside Amy Schumer, but her book and now this special left me cold. The Leather Special has Schumer in a leather outfit in much the same way comedians like Eddie Murphy strutted the stage, in his red leather outfit in Delirious. The jokes fell flat, the spark of her earlier specials snuffed out, and with an influx of female comedians does not step up her own game. Something tells me Ali Wong’s special ‘Baby Cobra’ not only meets the bar but raises it, pregnant and all.
Stand up specials represent people at the top of their craft, experience and resilience in every joke. For our final class, we watched the documentary ‘Heckler’ about, you guessed it, hecklers. Why would people shout insults or shout their own unfunny punchline in the middle of a show? For some hecklers, like Twitter trolls, they want attention. They feel hey, I can do better than the person on the stage. Well, let me tell you, what happens up on stage represents the hard work off it. It’s sharpening observations, writing down ideas, taking those ideas into funny stories, creating three tightly-connected ideas, or stringing the set ups and punch lines as part of a single idea. Then take those things and say them, with the right pauses, the right actions, preparing for silence or waiting for the laughs to die down, to keep that momentum going. It’s taking the stage under hot lights to make people laugh who are not your family or friends.
Why do I want to do it?
I want to laugh and don’t want to do it alone. Because laughter tells the truth if done right. Maybe I want to it as if to hold out my hand as if to say ‘the world has gone nuts, let’s laugh for a little while and pick ourselves back up.’ Most of all to say yes to something scary and new, maybe I will surprise myself. Maybe I will learn from it and try again, the way most things in life happen.