July 26 1995. The first time I got up on stage and performed Stand Up Comedy.
I was terrified. I was just new to Vancouver, making a fresh start. I had gone down with a friend to watched amateur night at a few clubs, to see what it was all about. After the second night she asked me, “Well? What are you waiting for”?
What indeed. I had just started working at a locksmith in one of the Bentall towers (Yes, of the Barney Bentall fame, for those of you in the know) and I just picked up the phone and signed up for a spot on the Wednesday Night amateur show. It was all women, so it might have seemed a little less intimidating, I’m not too sure. It’s a bit of a blur.
It was a funky little club in Gastown, Vancouver. It was on Water Street. I liked that. The night of the show, I arrived about two hours before the club even opened. I paced and paced and paced in the parking lot next door for so long that someone came out of the restaurant, then The Old Spaghetti Factory, and asked me what I thought I might be up to, I guess they thought I was casing the joint. I was talking to myself, a lot. I was rehearsing and rehearsing and trying not to to throw up or crap in my pants.
Once the club opened I went backstage and practiced walking out, fiddling with the mic, freaked out I would trip, or not know how to adjust the mic or that something horrid would come flying out of my nose. Someone finally asked, again, what the hell I thought I might be doing and the young lad who booked the show said “She’s cool”. Thanks. But I was anything but cool.
As the room started to fill in and the other comics arrived I swear I nearly begged off about a bazzilion times. The only thing that stopped me was that I would have to go through it again, albeit, in a new city. I would have to move. The show was about ten minutes from starting and someone came back to tell us that there was a group of fifty and another group of thirty. They were all men. The larger of the group were in Vancouver for some car race. I wondered why would someone feel the need to tell me this. It did not help.
The woman who was emceeing went out and did pretty well. She was a lovely young thing with a year or so under her belt and made me feel pretty comfortable. I was to go out first, they do that to you when you are new. When she introduced me, I walked out in a dream. I was actually doing it! Being present in the moment of realising a life-long dream is such an incredible experience.
I remember ad-libbing a joke right off the start, making reference to the young woman emcee and then made a joke about it being my first time. I think most people do, as I went on to see many comics have their first time. Many of those their last, as well. You usually get five minutes, which may not seem like a long time, in particular if you equate it to a lunch break or sex but to stand on stage alone and tell jokes you wrote to a roomful of people can seem an eternity.
But the first two ad-lib jokes got laughs, and I continued on. And the most miraculous thing happened. People laughed. Some times they laughed really hard. It was the most amazing thing to me, it was so emotional and so wonderful I could have just burst. I wrapped up my five minutes, which I rehearsed and timed another million times, and said thank you and walked off to applause. I was so relieved and so excited I wanted to weep. I actually may have. Another of the comics waiting to go on said, wow, you did really well for your first time and I hugged her so hard I may have cracked a few ribs.
I came down to the audience to join my friend there but barely remember much. I floated all night night and the next day. I was so happy. I continued to sign up for the open mic nights and it wasn’t until about the forth or fifth time on stage that I tanked so hard my teeth hurt. It was devastating. For about an hour. I am certain had I bombed the first night I would have had a hard time going back. As it was, with at least four good sets under my belt I couldn’t believe I didn’t have my own sitcom.
I continued to perform Stand Up for many years after. It gave me a great deal of satisfaction, heartache, joy but mostly just pure pleasure. I met some wonderful people, some who moved on to bigger and better, some who are still close friends and some who vanished into thin air. A few names I could drop, but I’m not that kind of girl.
It was one of the few things I ever did that gave me so much. I grew as a person and I enjoyed the challenge of it every single time. I wouldn’t change it for anything, even the shows where you wanted the stage to open up and suck you through to oblivion. I actually think the shitty nights are what keep a comic going. Anyone can kill. It takes a real pro to fail and get up again.
One of the greatest compliments I ever received was, after being told I had been a Stand Up Comic, he said, “Well. Here’s someone who’s not afraid to fail”