There’s a few reactions I get when I share with people that I do stand-up comedy. Most of it is positive, a bright shining smile and a request to know when my next show is. Then there’s the other reaction, an arms crossed, puzzled look or a raised eyebrow and then this, “Oh you’re a comedian? Then tell me a joke. Right now.” And they expect you to be just as funny as you are when you’re on stage, in a comedy club, with a brick wall and a microphone and a spotlight. But you’re not in a comedy club, you’re at a housewarming party in Seattle with a beautiful view of the Space Needle outside the window and your two kids running around and one of them playing with a dog like it’s just a toy that moves.
So I told this joke: “I was denied a prescription for medical marijuana. I guess I shouldn’t have asked my pediatrician.”
“Oh did you write that yourself?” The woman asked, not cracking a smile.
“Yes, I wrote that myself.” BECAUSE I JUST LEARNED HOW TO WRITE, MOMMY!
Then the woman finally laughed, like I had finally proved to her that I was funny enough to say that I perform comedy. She said, “Do people laugh at you?”
I don’t know any other profession that gets this response as much as comedians do. No one ever says, “Oh, you’re an accountant? Can I go over my tax return from two years ago with you now? Someone told me I couldn’t deduct my Starbucks purchases.” Or “Oh, you’re a doctor? Can you check out this mole on my back, it’s getting bigger.” But when you say you’re a comedian, suddenly people feel so much access and right to measure your skill on. the. spot. And ask you absurd questions like, “Do people laugh at you?” Yes, they laugh at me, why the hell would I be doing this?
Maybe it’s different for women, especially when talking to other women who may have not been in a real comedy club or show and only equate comedy with whatever HBO special they saw in the 80’s. Or maybe it’s not. I know of a lot of guys who get the same, “Hey you should use this in your act!” when none of what was said was funny, or it is funny, but not my style of funny or that would only be funny at a party. Party funny stories are very different from jokes. Jokes have structure. And often, jokes have a punchline that comes shortly after you begin. Funny parlor stories can go on and on and on because it’s a party, you can do that. And you don’t have to be funny and it’s okay. It’s not a show where people pay good money for tickets and two drink minimums and expect you to be a comedian.
I don’t ever go to someone and say, “Oh you’re a pilot? Well I’ve watched every movie that features pilots so I *know* pilots. You have to understand the plane, you have to know how to control the plane…” But when you’re a comedian, you’ll get, “I’ve watched Comedy Central for years so I *know* comedy. When you’re on stage, you have to….” and then fill in with all this advice which makes me go in my head, you’re not a comedian. Tell me something after you’ve dealt with broken microphones and hecklers and dudes who are not looking at your eyes when you’re on stage. But I smile and nod because I know they mean well and say, “You should come out to a show. Comedy on Netflix and YouTube is so different from live comedy.” BECAUSE IT IS. Comedy Central specials are different than a live show at your local comedy club. They have the budget for lighting and editing and promotion and lawyers that will fact check all your jokes. I have the budget for a PBR and a new notebook because my last one is full.
I do this because I love it. Not because people laugh every time but enough people have laughed that it makes the work, the toil and the offers of “here’s something you can use for your act,” like it’s manna from heaven. If you do meet a comedian and you are not one, just say, “That’s great! When can I see your next show?” It works every time.