The Portly Stand-Up

This is another in a continuing series of Portly Parables.

It's true -- I was once a stand-up comedienne.

I'm even in a book about women stand-ups (find me if you can!).

I was Teh Funny.

Stand-up is a very weird gig. You go out on a stage, alone, for the singular purpose of making a bunch of people that you usually don't know -- laugh -- either at you, or with you.

In my experience (and with Joni's eminently sage musical validation) -- laughter is a form of release that is next-door-neighbor/cousin/twin/soul-mate to crying.

My humor was mostly socio-political. I liked the way that humor let me get close to the bone with people -- by making a joke about something like lesbian serial-monogamy, I actually got "humorless" lesbians to chuckle (or at least stir in their chairs a bit).

You see -- I was a not just a stand-up comedienne -- I was an out lesbian stand-up comedienne. My mother pointed out to me at the time that this might not be the most lucrative career choice. I now direct her attention to Ellen and Rosie, and almost wish that I'd stuck with it. Almost. In truth, other things occurred in my life that I would have missed if I were still standing up in that way instead of the way I stand up now.

Here are the things that I liked about doing stand-up:

  1. People laughed.
  2. I got to talk about very important, and sometimes, sensitive, issues in a way that people actually enjoyed.
  3. It required a certain quality of presence and spontaneity that I utterly relished, and new material was always getting created via people who thought they were "heckling" me.
Here are the things that I didn't like about doing stand-up:
  1. I attained a marginal level of "famousness", in which people on the street would greet me as if they knew me -- which, in a way, they did, because they had heard me talk about my personal life in very revealing ways -- but I didn't know them at all, and I was often uncertain, when they greeted me in very familiar ways, whether they were someone I actually knew. Awkward.
  2. I found out that the minute the "powers-that-be" begin to recognize and appreciate your work for its originality, freshness and "edge", they generally want to hire you and then tell you how you "should" be doing your work -- which usually involves removing all hints and traces of originality, freshness, and "edge".
  3. Traveling constantly did not really serve the "homebody" that was swiftly emerging in me during my late thirties/early forties.
I will say that none of this experience was wasted. My stint as a stand-up (heyday: 1988-1992, off-and-on dabbling 1992-1998) definitely equipped me with some essential skills that have served me well since I quit "trying" to be funny and just became funny (in both the ha-ha and theweird way). Namely:
  • I'm hard to daunt/embarrass.
  • I'm good with a crowd.
  • I recognize that humor is a very good tool for examining issues that might otherwise be too painful to look at.
  • I don't take myself too seriously.
  • I recognize "hecklers" (aka trolls/asshats) as opportunities for entertainment and education rather than the disastrous, soul-crumbling, humiliating challenges that they would like to think they are.
  • I laugh a lot.
And now -- Joni.

Posted byPortlyDyke at 11:54 PM  

3 comments:

NameChanged said... January 9, 2008 at 11:42 AM  

i think that my admiration for you just grew three fold. i've always loved comedy, and i even have fleeting fantasies of being a comic. how great that you are one of the ones that I will look up to.

pidomon said... January 9, 2008 at 4:00 PM  

Loving the Portly Parable Series!

Bradley said... January 10, 2008 at 4:08 PM  

I attained a marginal level of "famousness", in which people on the street would greet me as if they knew me -- which, in a way, they did, because they had heard me talk about my personal life in very revealing ways -- but I didn't know them at all, and I was often uncertain, when they greeted me in very familiar ways, whether they were someone I actually knew. Awkward.

As an essayist, I get a little bit of this too-- not lately, because I haven't had a public reading in over a year. But it was a little disconcerting, at first, to have complete strangers ask me about my health, or my relationship with Emily. Actually, it's probably a little worse for her-- a colleague whose become a friend of both of ours once asked her about my "persona," and asked how much of the stupidity I display in some of my more humorous pieces of writing was just affectation. Without missing a beat, Emily replied, "Oh no. That's not affectation. He's really an idiot."

Anyway, I never would have expected that you had been a stand-up comic, but I guess I'm not entirely surprised; your blog posts demonstrate that you're quite good at connecting with an audience.

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