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Standup Standards

Could you stand up here and make me laugh? photo from http://static.guim.co.uk

Ever try your hand at standup comedy? Supposedly, it’s the toughest job in the world. Forget about disarming bombs or leading a nation; get up on a stage and try to make people laugh.  What’s more, try to make people laugh when they know you are trying to make them laugh and may laugh less just out of spite.

Could you stand up here and make me laugh? photo from http://static.guim.co.uk

Monday nights at Wet Willies in City Place is an “open mic” night. Most participants are working on comedic material, but others perform spoken word, sing, or rap. Some provoke wholehearted outbursts of laughter. Others make me incredibly uncomfortable watching them embody a persona no one finds funny. Sure, you get your fill of overdone potty jokes, but you will also hear jokes you haven’t necessarily heard before (even if it’s because they don’t work).

One rude-but-amusing incident reminded me, though, that if you heckle, expect to be heckled back.

The saying can be expanded: If you boo a performer for putting his opposing political views to rhyme, expect the MC to give you a hard time for insulting someone who’s doing what you don’t have the courage to do. Regardless of the fact that the majority of the crowd appreciates both his stance and his style, you wouldn’t want the crowd to boo your talent just because they disagree with your words. Plus, you look like the lone fool when you act like a baby and throw your frozen daiquiri on the ground just because the MC called you out for being rude and immature.

Some say there is no proper etiquette at stand-up shows. But that’s ridiculous. The performers are still people standing up to express/practice/perfect some talent or skill, and you have chosen to attend on such a night. Throwing neither your daiquiri nor a public fit is appropriate. Also, aren’t you old enough to avoid surprise that there are people with differing views out there? It just so happens that some of them are pretty talented at spoken word, too. When I sit through the same performer that makes me cringe with awkwardness each week, I don’t boo him, I just remember how difficult his act is and why he comes to work on it week after week.

Speaking of which, a young person I know mentioned a supreme distaste for public speaking but a comfort in acting in front of others. “Because it’s not really me,” she said. Choosing to ignore the idea of whether or not someone would judge her talent, her biggest concern was that they would judge her.

Stand-up perhaps fits into that fold. Comics joke about venereal diseases they (hopefully) don’t have, push stereotypes they don’t (necessarily) believe, and (sometimes) embody characters wholly different from themselves. Still, most of us won’t do it, regardless of whether we’re any good.

One week, as I was sitting through a moment of particularly awkward half-humor, my friend asked me if I’d ever consider putting my name on the list—not because I am funny, but because he was considering it himself. The challenge does seem to go well with the whole “having strength solo” thing, the “facing your fears” thing, and the “being comfortable in front of strangers” thing. So maybe you’ll see me up there one day spouting some material that probably isn’t very funny just for the sake of saying I did it.

In the meantime, Mr. My-Character-Makes-You-Uncomfortable has gotten a lot better. Now he’s Mr. My-Character-isn’t-the-Funniest-but-has-Potential. He’ll keep improving because he has the guts to be momentarily embarrassed. Well done, sir. Well done.

Samantha Marangell
Blogger As a former Peace Corps Volunteer (Moldova ‘07-’09) Samantha appreciates seeing a new country through the host community and, when traveling, she looks forward to learning key phrases in the respective languages. She has just moved to the Australia after a year in the Czech Republic. She will reflect on making friends abroad and figuring out whether she'll finally stay in one place.

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