Confessions of a Stand-up Addict
Hi, I’m Glenn and I’m addicted to stand-up. Not watching it but performing it and the truth is that up until about a year ago I had no idea about my addiction. I’d been watching stand-ups all my life, memorized routines when I was much younger, and spent a number of years as a regular on the Los Angeles stand-up circuit, but I never thought of it as something that I had to do, it was just something I did, like an internship in the comedy business that would lead to a real job, whatever that might be. Besides, it was fun.
I also that during the 20 plus years since I stopped performing I would often watch others and think about how they were missing the best line, how they could make their set stronger, how they left out a perfectly good call back, or even worse, they just weren’t funny as they relied on old tired bits and dick jokes. But I dismissed those thoughts as just Monday morning quarterbacking, as I was perfectly content writing comedy scripts by day and staying home with my family at night. No thank you, my days of hanging out in bars till one in the morning, playing can you top this with other up-and-coming or down-and-going stand-ups was a think of the past.
That is until I got a Facebook friend request from one Franchie San Pedro. Franchie was one of those comics I hung out with all those years ago, whose act I actually enjoyed because it was nothing like mine. No standing almost motionless on the stage and calmly trying to entertain an audience with political or socially relevant material, no stand-alone pieces strung together by segues to fill a 20-minute set, basically nothing like my little act. He was loud, outrageous, would get off the stage and roam the audience, often berating them but always making them laugh at material I couldn’t even comprehend doing. I remembered how on week nights, when almost anyone with common sense would be home, he would make me stand with him on Sunset Boulevard in front of the Laugh Factory, verbally assaulting anyone who walked by with off the cuff humor and demand that they go to into the club so that we had an audience for the show.
For the most part, Facebook requests from people you haven’t seen in years is like going to your high school reunion. It’s unmasked voyeurism where you get to find out whatever happened to that old gang of yours, without having to re-engage in any kind of actually personal relationship. You take a perverse sense of pleasure in finding out just like you, they aren’t doing what they’ve dreamt about doing, that the cute girl you hung out with but never had the nerve to ask out, is no longer that young cute girl that you still picture in your mind, but like you has also aged, and after a few short exchanges with old acquaintances spark none of those old feelings, you realize that while you’ll friend them, it’s more out of morbid curiosity to see what they done from here on out, rather than any desire to keep in contact.
I thought it’d be the same with Franchie but over lunch as I discovered he still doing stand-up as were a number of our other friends, he asked if I missed stand-up. I hemmed and hawed looking for the right words to show him that I’d moved on, and while I was always writing with jokes about what was going on in the world, I didn’t miss the actual performing. Not convinced by my answer he said he a gig later that week and that I should come by and do some time. I feigned a complete lack of interest which didn’t fool him for a second, which is why a few nights later I found myself with new material I had just written that day, walking to the stage for the first time since the Bush administration, and we’re not talking W here.
I flashed back on the first time I performed comedy in front an audience. I’d been on stage before performing music, a little bad acting, and speech or two, but had never done comedy. Oh, I’d thought about it, but I was sure that comedy wasn’t for me. In fact, one summer in the mid 70s, I was working on a U.S. Senate campaign with Jimmy Brogan who doggedly suggested that I needed to join him at a club in Manhattan and try my hand at comedy, rebuffing my continuous assertion that comedy wasn’t in my future. Needless to say, not only did Jimmy get his start that summer, but it’s also where he became close friends with Jerry Seinfeld and Jay Leno, which will be part of a future piece I write about missed opportunities. But there I was, a few years later in Los Angeles and this time I was cajoled into participating in an improv class, and when it was my turn, I got, listened I was working with say something, and without much thought, I responded, and the room burst into laughter. While I have no recollection of what I said, I can still remember the feeling that engulfed me as I heard the sound of people laughing to something to something I said. The more I said, the more people laughed, and the more began to realized that there was something to this comedy stuff.
After improv I moved on to actual stand-up and there was always the same feeling, good nights, bad nights, didn’t matter, there was just something about that instantaneous response, even if it was just briefly. That’s not to say writing for others isn’t a cool way to make a buck, and watching a famous actor say a line you wrote and hearing an audience laugh was great, but the laugher was directed at them and not me and I’d have to resist the urge to shout, “Yo! Over here! My joke!” As often happen in life, you’re pulled in directions that you weren’t planning, and between writing and raising a family and other incidents of life, by the time Franchie got me to the microphone on that small stage in front of just a couple dozen people it had been so long, I had no preconceived notion of what to expect, but when that first laugh wafted over me, I immediately understood what former addicts feel like when they fall off the wagon after years of sobriety.
I also understand the problems facing someone whose fallen off the wagon. No, not how to get back on, but rather where do I go to get my next fix. The crack dens of comedy I knew way back when have closed or gone elsewhere, the booking dealers haven’t seen me around these parts before so there a little specious of me, and then there are the small occasional comedy rooms where I don’t quite trust what they are offering. Of course Franchie is still there, but as any self-respecting dealer would do, he’s let me know that the first one was a freebie, but now I’m paying. No running in, doing a set, and heading home, no not with him. Like the old days, we’d be the first to arrive and the last to leave, and if I need to be out in front of a club begging for patrons, I better be prepared to it. Oh, and if the club is a distance, I’d be driving.
I’m okay with that though, because truthfully, I’m not hooked on stand-up like before. I’m not interested in doing it fulltime. All I need is just an occasionally set, here and there, maybe a couple times a month just to get that feeling. If I can’t find some stage time one month, I’m good with that. I got other things I can do. Family, friends, maybe a movie, no problem there, I don’t need a constant fix like some of the comics I’m I know, so don’t... oh, that’s Franchie on the phone, he’s got a set for me, got to go!