Doing standup comedy is a weird thing.
It makes no sense at all because the number one thing you need to be a working comedian - even more than being funny - is persistence. Persistence, and hard work. And that’s the paradox. The real reason we do this is because we’re lazy. Not to say that making people laugh isn’t our greatest joy in life - it’s certainly mine. But most of us are too lazy - too afraid of not being famous - to get a real job, and we figure we can grab the mic and tell some jokes. It’s easy.
It’s this weird business where you’re self-employed, but not in an ideal way. It’s this weird job where nobody fires you if you suck at it. And it’s this weird passion that makes you want to put your shit on the line, face judgement, even drive hundreds of miles, even not get payed - just to do the job.
People often ask me, “What’s it like up there? Aren’t you nervous?” A lot of comics say it’s a rush, or it’s scary. Personally, I have no idea what it’s like. I practically black out every time. Standup is this weird moment of multi-tasking that I’ll never be able to replicate off stage. What am I saying? What did I just say? Are they laughing? What am I about to say? Am I going on too long? Am I looking at them? Am I talking too fast? Is that cute girl in the front row laughing? And I think all this while I nervously play with the mic stand, inserting my thumb into the clip and sliding my foot across the base.
I love comedy. When I walk off stage, regaining consciousness and hearing the sound of laughter and applause, I feel happier than anything I can describe. And somehow, on top of this euphoria, I feel too lazy to make it happen as much as I can. Because it requires hard work. Telling the jokes is the easy part.
It’s hard to promote ourselves. We hate ourselves - that’s why we’re comics. My friend Mikey jokes that headshots themselves make no sense for comics. “I’m a comic, my head is my least favorite part of me”, he says.
The moment I knew I was “all in”, I was huddled over a toilet in the basement of an Italian restaurant in San Francisco. I’m talking about the late, great, world-famous Purple Onion. I just had done my first show, my first real payed gig at a real club. I remember walking off-stage, heading straight to the bathroom, and immediately throwing up. I could hear Tony Sparks saying, “Another round of applause for Wilder Shaw” as I got on my knees. And I remember thinking, in that moment, as I was huddled over that toilet in that basement of that Italian restaurant in that wonderful city - This is the life for me.
In comedy, you can work really hard and put yourself out there, but you might be let down. That’s the real fear of a lot of comedians. It’s the only job where you really lay your soul on the line. Mike Birbiglia jokes about how when people don’t like your comedy, it’s because they don’t like you.
We want recognition with no real hard work. People might be skeptical of that concept, but yes, comics can work hard at their craft. And when I see comics out there working their asses off - like my friends Jabari, Dash, Shanti, and OJ to name a few - I’m in awe.
I do comedy because I’m lazy, but I can’t work hard at it because I love it too much. What a paradox.