‘My life as a stand-up comedian.’
Words by Ben Squires.
Why do I do this to myself?
Like unwanted body hair, comedy appeared out of nowhere to become part of my life. And now that it’s here it’s hard to imagine my life without it.
I was 24, roughly two months into a 12-month lease and working a job I didn’t especially care for. I found myself really looking to try new things – but was all over the place in terms of what activities I was choosing (in the same week I signed-up for the Sydney marathon, I also completed two eating challenges).
In retrospect I probably should’ve kept running marathons as my hobby.
Comics typically have a story about their first gig going really well. Not me, mine was all sorts of terrible (and wasn’t helped by the fact that I had a this-guys-been-in-the-sauna-for-hours level of perspiration). Aside from pretty much reading my set word-for-word from a huge sheet of paper (I still haven’t seen anyone else do this) my jokes weren’t just terrible, they were bordering on depressing.
But despite the fact that it was pretty rough, a little part of me found the experience exhilarating.
So I stuck it out. And after two years of hard work, grit and determination, and a deal with the devil, here I am today… roughly the exact same level I was at two years ago.
Basically what I’m trying to say is that stand-up comedy can be pretty demoralising. But by the same token, if it’s an itch you’ve contemplated scratching there’s never been a better time to try it in the major cities. In the dark old days (2012) a three-month wait between gigs was pretty standard. But now, thanks to the emergence of new rooms and a bunch of “sign up on the night” open mics, comics can expect to get up at least once a week to entertain/confuse/horrify audiences with their awkward choice of words, strange observations, offensive language and general lack of self-awareness.
Comics tend to hang out downstairs or out the back when another comic’s show is on, which is definitely the smart thing to do – watching open mic comedy is downright bad for you. There’s only so many times you can hear, “Am I right?” before your soul is completely destroyed. Hanging out with other comics before, after and during the shows is pretty much all of the fun. There’s a sense of camaraderie between comedians that makes the victories tangibly sweet and the defeats a little less crushing.
And there will be defeats. Many, many defeats. My worst one-liner? “My Dad has a Platinum record. The most platinum consumed in a 45 minute period.”
… Just let that sink in for a little bit.
But unless you’re the reincarnation of Louis CK, or some sort of comedy savant robot, bombing is an unavoidable part of being on the open mic scene. You could bomb for a variety of reasons. It could be the fact you mentioned Hitler eight times in your set. It could be the fact that your fly was undone. It could be the fact that you opened with the line, “Look, I’m not a misogynist, but…” Anything!
I sometimes wonder when the exact end-point of my relationship with comedy will be. At times I feel as though I’ve already got what I needed to from it (that free drink was pretty good that one time I got paid with a drink token). At others I feel like I’m on the precipice of doing something worthwhile. And other times I’m like, “Geeze, did they really have to throw furniture?”
But one thing is for sure – for some reason, I keep coming back.
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