Second Comedy Class, Or, Maybe This Was Not Such A Great Idea
Comedy Coach Tim Ferrell gave the guidelines for how the run-through and feedback session would work after each comic took a turn on stage. I thought he got the guidelines from a kindergarten poster. Everyone Gets to Play. Try New Things. Give Your Complete Attention. Don’t Be Mean. Keep Your Hands Off Other People’s Material. The last one was a biggie.
“If you are considering hacking some material from your favorite comic – don’t. I know their material. Even if you move one noun or one verb around, I will know. So don’t even try. You have plenty of your own ideas and stories.”
After each comic shared their material, Tim would respond first so we learned to give constructive feedback. “A laugh is the ultimate feedback for a comic, but what’s really helpful to the comic is understanding why he – or she – got the laugh. Or, why they didn’t. Your job is to be specific.”
The more Tim talked, the more my tummy clenched. The always simmering hot-flash threatened a full flame. The fourth chemo treatment had me on the bathroom floor, so attending class this evening might not have been all that wise. I wrote comedy notes right up until Ramona sat me in the chemo chair, but my funny bone deserted me when the toxins began seeping into my veins. Tim was receptive when I suggested my stage debut happen next week. Now I was secretly glad that I was too sick to stand at the mic tonight.
Christine played chauffeur and got me to the club, settling my shaky body into a rickety seat before heading off to chat up our classmates. She was in her element, asking people about their new material and barely containing her excitement to get up on that stage.
I glanced over at Kim. Flannel clad arms wrapped tight around her chest telegraphed her nerves. Not Christine, though, she practically vibrated off her seat.
The Southern Lawyer Turned New England Mom was first up, since she’d done this before. She was already refining a great bit about trying to get her kid to eat carrots. I didn’t have kids, but even I was charmed by the drawn-out Southern drawl imitating a very intent three-year-old. “I-ahh wee-ill naught eat tha-uht.” She looked so at ease, it was scary.
Tim kept the positive energy going and called on Christine. “O’Leary, you’re up!” He’d begun using last names with some of the comics and it set up a familiar, insider feel for the group. It made me feel like I was already a cool-ass comic.
If Christine was glowing before she got on stage, she was now afire. And she hadn’t said a word. The Southern Lawyer Turned New England Mom let out a low whistle. She saw her competition, even though this wasn’t a competition. But who were we kidding? We all knew we were comparing ourselves to one another. Was she funnier than me? Was he worse? There was no way to avoid this – and for the first time it occurred to me that putting myself in a stressful, competitive environment may have been a mistake. Didn’t stress whack out the immune system?
Christine talked through fifteen minutes of material, most of it about being a girlie-girl who likes girls and getting a mani-pedi in a Vietnamese salon. She wondered what the nail technicians say about the customers when they speak to each other in Vietnamese. It was rough, but we could see where she was headed. Tim suggested she shorten the set-ups to one or two lines, but he was clearly psyched with her direction.
“Can you hear the gems?” he asked, “This is how it works. You share your rough stuff for the next couple weeks and then we start polishing.”
I made it through Christine’s practice before swaying to the bathroom and throwing up. When I returned, Tim was telling everyone to lean into their fears. Apparently, after watching both the Southern Lawyer Turned New England Mom and Christine, the other comics were not as eager to get on stage, afraid of looking stupid. Tim was having none of it.
“This is about taking risks, looking stupid, and making mistakes.” He laughed. “People, comedy is about pain and suffering.”
I leaned over and whispered to Christine. “I thought that’s what the fucking cancer was.”
© 2012 Cathy Kidman