With DSM Reporter/comedy virgin Daryl Jones, and sage advice from comic master Wil Anderson.
Staring up at the empty stage. There are fake bricks stuck to the back wall. My palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy. There’s the microphone on a microphone stand. I’ll be trying to be funny into it in a moment. It’s a mostly empty room tonight at the HaHa Comedy Club in Los Angeles, California. Other budding comedians are scattered here and there in the darkness. I can’t shake the unnerving feeling that I’ve unwittingly checked into a lunatic asylum, with all of us muttering incomprehensibly to ourselves under our breath, rehearsing the lines that absolutely killed in the bathroom mirror just hours ago. I can’t remember the last time I was this nervous. I can’t remember my first line. There’s vomit on my sweater already, mom’s spaghetti. Goddamit Slim, you’re not helping.
As the first comic takes to the stage I quit practicing my routine and instead repeat the words legendary Australian comedian Wil Anderson told me a few days ago; ‘5 minutes means nothing. Absolutely nothing…’
Most of us have made a bunch of our mates laugh from time to time. On purpose I mean. The time you slipped and dented your family jewels on that troublesome bollard on the way home from the pub doesn’t count. We’ve all whipped out our best stories after a few drinks and had the room in stitches. So I kind of assumed that, if I ever had the opportunity, I could give stand-up comedy a red-hot go. Finding myself in Los Angeles with some lonely nights to fill gave me just such an opportunity. I decided to hunt down an open mic night at one of the many world-class comedy venues the city has to offer and have a crack. Plus, here I have a charming Australian accent. That’s free bonus funniness right there.
Turns out, assuming I could do stand-up because I sometimes say funny things, was like thinking I could work for NASA as a rocket scientist because I know how to change the batteries in my flashlight.
But if you’re sitting at home reading this now and are still tempted to give it a shot, here’s how I did it, in 5 easy steps.
1. Find a venue
To do stand-up you’ve gotta have a place to stand up at… on… in. Here in LA, getting on stage was the easy part. I secretly hoped it would be harder so I’d have an excuse. But a quick google search and a clarifying phone call or two showed me that if you’ve got the balls and are deluded enough into thinking you’re funny, this city will give you the chance to prove it in public.
2. Talk to the experts
I met Wil a few weeks ago after a comedy show he played called ‘Set List’ (check it out here) out the back of Meldown, a comic book store in West Hollywood. He lives in LA now for a good slab of the year, making people laugh and such.
So I decided to ask a fellow Aussie who’s here in the States what I needed to know before attempting my very first gig.
‘The first thing you need to know is that you get a sense of what stand-up comedy is from doing an open-mic that you would from five minutes of brain surgery, but the good news is in stand-up only you have the chance to die.’
‘The best bit of advice is I could give you is that five minutes means nothing. Absolutely nothing. There is nothing on the line. If you want to do it for the rest of your life (as some people like myself choose to) then it means nothing. It’s the next 1000 gigs and the next 1000 after that that count (and almost all of them will be harder than your first one). If you are only doing it once then it doesn’t matter either because you don’t really care about it and no matter how it goes, at the very least, you have a good dinner party story for the rest of your life.’
That’s exactly what I needed to hear to keep me from hyperventilating. Perspecitve. After clearing that up for me, Wil went on to generously share a whole bunch of other amazing tips about his craft, ranging from what to do with the mic and how to deal with the lights, to advice on how to practice and time the set.
‘The biggest trick of all’, Wil concluded, ‘Is letting the audience know that you know what you are doing. They just want to relax. Oh, and btw, make sure the MC mentions it is your first gig; the audience will be much nicer to you.’
No worries. Just got to fool everyone into thinking that I’m not shitting myself for 5 minutes. I can do this.
3. Write something hilarious
This bit was way harder than I thought. There’s a massive difference between being spontaneously funny from time to time and being intentionally funny for 5 allocated minutes in front of strangers. I decided to take the easy road for my first go: work the Australian angle, flaunt my accent, and just tell a couple of stories.
4. Learn your material
‘Learn it so well that you can make it look like you didn’t learn it. There is a time for creativity and improvisation, but this is not it.’
So I grabbed a vaguely mic-shaped bottle of green dishwashing liquid and said my jokes over and over.
I realised how important this step is, for a number of reasons. The first is that when I stood up on stage, after a couple of hours of conversations with people at the club, listening to a bunch of other comics, and having a couple of beers, my mind clicked into ‘flight or fight’ mode.
‘The same brain that, just minutes before, I could rely on for witty conversation and basic bladder control went stubbornly and terrifyingly blank under the glare of the stage lights.’
Secondly, thanks to the other amateur comedians who got up that night, I realised how shitty it looks when you have to look down at your phone 10 times in your 5 minute set to remember what to say next. Know your shit.
5. Don’t be a dick
I found that it wasn’t just Wil who was super encouraging and generous in the comedy world. The other more experienced comics at the venue that night were extremely kind and supportive. One dude especially, Mr Jason Adams, helped a lot before the show with chilling me out and offered some last minute words of wisdom.
‘Just relax, and try not to be a dick. People get up there and panic or something and suddenly get crazy racist.’
So finally, towards the end of the show, after my 7th nervous wee…
‘Please welcome to the stage, for his first ever performance, all the way from Australia, Daryl Jones!’
Like a roo caught in headlights, mind suddenly blank, I got up for my first comedy gig. I forgot most of the advice given by Wil and Jason. I rushed through my set without pausing for breath or laughs, too scared that if I stopped all I’d hear was the chirping of crickets and the gentle ‘paff paff’ of a tumbleweed bouncing through the venue.
But people did laugh. And I wasn’t racist. I did make some incest jokes, and unfortunately two of my cousins who happened to be passing through town attended the show. I mucked up the order a little, despite all my practice, but recovered ok. In what felt like a few seconds, it was all over. And I loved it.
I realise now what a dick move it was for me to ask Wil advise on doing stand-up, and how patient and kind he was with me. No one would go up to a professional violin player and say ‘I’m going to play violin for one song at a show soon, tell me how to be great.’ We all know what it really takes to do something so complex and difficult. It takes years of discipline, practice and study and huge amounts of of commitment and sacrifice on the part of the performer.
But I’m super glad I gave it a shot. Playing to an almost empty room for 5 minutes of standup is the most adrenaline fuelled experience money can buy. I have already written my second bit. And it’s freaking hilarious.
To see Wil click here!
To see me or Jason, go here!
Some pics by cousin number two, Dael Kingsmill. Check out her awesomeness here!