Sunday, May 19, 2019

MAKE 'EM LAUGH

S. Lee Manning: So when was the last time you tried something completely different? Something a little scary?

Me and my cat Xiao contemplating something scary.
You’re probably thinking skydiving or alligator wrestling, but no, I mean really scary. I mean really exposing yourself. Well, not really exposing yourself, the zippers stay up, not exposing yourself physically. I mean trying something that took you completely out of your comfort zone.

Something like standing in front of a group of strangers and trying to make them laugh. I’m doing that right now. (Actually, right now, I’m typing my post for Rogue Women Writers – but generally speaking –right now.)

It all started sometime last winter. In the throes of winter boredom and looking at another year until I finish writing and editing my current novel, I nevertheless was wasting time instead of working, surfing the net for things to do in Vermont. (Yes, there are things to do in Vermont besides hike and
ski and hunt and campaign for Bernie Sanders.)

I found that Burlington – about an hour away – has a comedy club - the aptly named Vermont Comedy Club. A very well-regarded comedy club. Big names like Michelle Wolfe play there.  And, the club offers classes in stand-up comedy.
Last winter in my neighborhood. No good reason to show this, except it's kind of a cool shot.

I have always loved comedy. I have always thought I had a good sense of humor, inherited from my Dad, perhaps, but my books aren’t comedic, at least not intentionally, although my characters do have a certain level of wit and quite a few of my blog posts are on the humorous side.  Still I didn’t think of myself as a comedian.

But then I had just watched Mrs. Maisel – an Amazon Prime show about a Jewish woman in the early 60s deciding to do stand-up -  and I loved the show. I’m Jewish – and female. If she could do it, so could I. Why not give it a try?

So I signed up for the six-week class. At the end of six weeks, we would each have a polished act that we’d perform for anyone in Burlington interested in attending. 

I figured I’d go in for the first class, and the instructor’d explain to us all about writing jokes for stand-up. I’d have another week to absorb that information and prepare myself. I was wildly off in my expectations. A few days before the first class, I received an e-mail – informing me to be ready to perform a five-minute gig the first day.

Panic. Real panic. Wrestling an alligator suddenly looked good.

I have some issues with anxiety. Yes, yes, I know – I have anxiety and I signed up for a stand-up class. I have anxiety –AND I’m a little impulsive at times. I spent several days wandering around the house, moaning to my husband – why did I do this?

Then I decided to put the very fact that I have general anxiety into the act. The first class, I slumped down in my seat, making last minute notes – and then finally, at the very end, I dragged myself up in front of the rest of the class and began my bit. And everyone laughed.

At the end of that first session, the instructor informed us that now we were now all budding young comedians. It’s been so long since I’ve been a budding young anything – that getting that description alone was worth the price of the class.

So I’ve had four classes now, and I’m almost to the point where I don’t feel like throwing up when I perform.

And I am liking it more every week. 

The good thing about doing stand-up: it maybe takes a day – two days – to come up with enough material. Then another day – maybe – to practice and hone the jokes. And then, there’s instant feedback. People laugh – or they don’t. When they don’t, you know you have to change up the routine. Shorten it. Punch it out. Or just cut it. 

It’s not like writing a novel.

It takes me a minimum of a year to write a novel. I have to have the idea. I have to work out the plot, and my plots are pretty elaborate. Then the writing – the editing and rewriting.

Those of you who are writers know the drill.

Stand-up cuts most of that out. Writing is fast. Instant feedback. Wham, bam, thank you ma’am. None of this agonizing over a book for a year or so. 

So I’m looking forward to my performance. (Vermont comedy club – two weeks. If you’re in Vermont – be there.) I’ve also signed up for another class – and I’m eyeing open mics.

Mrs. Maisel – watch out.

8 comments:

  1. What an "ambitious" undertaking! Love this story about the humor challenge. So now -- you MUST share some of your jokes with us....consider your readers here to be the same as your audience there, S Lee -- how about it? (Thanks for a great post!)….Karna Bodman

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  2. Wow, S. Lee, what a deep dive into another world! Good for you. I particularly love that you put your anxiety into your act. Yep, you've always been funny and witty, and now ... as I said, wow! Good on you!

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  3. Impressive, S. Lee! I love Mrs. Maisel, and while I know she's fictional, it still takes guts (esp during that era). But to do it in real life? This sounds incredibly fun. Congrats!!!

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  4. Oh no no no. I’d rather wrestle the alligator! Comedy is WAY too scary, and you are way braver than I am.

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  5. My agent used to do stand up and she said it's brutal and exhilarating all at once. I'm in awe-so frightening! Congratulations!

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  6. Ha!!!! Love this post!! I think I would rather wrestle an alligator.

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  7. Great post. It's almost worth a trip from California to see you make your debut!

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  8. So wish I lived closer to Vermont. I'd love to see you perform. Braver than I, my dear!

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