I get it, guys: Being a comedian is a weird choice. Most people don’t spend their free time trying to make indifferent strangers laugh. But for the delusional few who think they could be the next Louis C.K., it’s our favorite way to pass the evenings. I am one of those delusional few who pays more money in gas and tolls getting to standup gigs than I make actually doing those gigs. It’s the life I’ve chosen, and I’m committed to my delusion. Since I have an open forum to
complain about write about stuff here at Wear Your Voice, I decided to call out the ignorant comedy fans in my life. And by “fan” I mean every person ever who learns I do standup. Comics, unite! We’ve all heard some variation of these 7 stupid comments from civilians. (Yes, comics call non-comics “civilians.” Our delusion knows no bounds).
1. “Tell me a joke right here right now.”
Dance monkey, dance! Are you an accountant? Well, I don’t ask you to do my taxes for me the minute that fact comes out. I would offer you money for your services and schedule an appointment at an appropriate time, like during your office hours. Just like it would be awkward to do my taxes in a bar, telling a joke out of context to a one-person audience is also really weird. At least I assume it’s really weird and awkward, because I refuse to do it. When I was a child, my father was a weatherman for a local TV station. When he was recognized in public and people oh-so-cleverly said, “How’s the weather?” he would give the brilliant response of, “I don’t talk about it for free!” Unfortunately, I can’t use that clever response, because I absolutely tell jokes for free. I just insist on doing it on a stage of sorts, not the sidewalk. (Though if anyone is booking a sidewalk show, I’m available).
2. “You have a real job, too?”
Um, yeah. I’m not famous or even kind-of-a-tiny-bit famous. I tell jokes at bars for tip jar money and pay rent to an internet radio station to do a weekly podcast there. I don’t live off my comedy except in the spiritual sense (totally kidding. And also totally not. It does make my soul happy. I just don’t know how to say that in a funny way. Yeah, I tell sarcastic jokes and I’m a sappy hippie. I’m complicated). To be fair, my “real job” is as a freelancer working from home so that I have the flexibility to do comedy. But yes, shockingly, the $0-150 I pull in each month from comedy does not pay my rent. As I mentioned earlier, it barely/doesn’t cover my tolls and gas to get to my gigs. But it’s still my favorite feeling in the world to be onstage making people laugh. I even like it when I bomb, because I always learn something. There’s something empowering about telling jokes in front of people who aren’t laughing, maybe because they have to keep listening to you anyway. Shout-out to all the patrons in sports bars in the Bay Area who don’t get my specific brand of lesbian-who-looks-straight-making-lots-of-jokes-and-telling-lots-of-stories-about-that-conundrum brand of comedy. I will joyfully bomb in front of you any day of the week.
3. “You were kind of a shitty host.”
This isn’t about being the host in a show, because that would be fair feedback if I hosted a show and did a shitty job. This was said to me by a friend who showed up at a gig last year. I hadn’t seen her in a while and it was nice that she came to the show. But I was also distracted by the fact that I was at work. Yes, doing comedy is a career choice and other comics are my colleagues. This career involves alcohol and swearing, but it is still a (somewhat) professional environment. I was focused on my set and on networking with the other comics. (Ok, fine, I’ll admit I was also a little focused on the person I was dating who was seeing me do standup for the first time). It was not the time or place to catch up with a buddy. When my friend left toward the end of the show, she gave me a hug and said, “It was good to see you, you were funny. You were kind of a shitty host, though.” Yeah, thanks for coming to see me perform and stuff, but it’s not my responsibility to babysit you. It’s my responsibility to try to make you laugh, which I apparently did, so I did my job. If you want to catch up, schedule a coffee date with me, don’t surprise me at comedy gigs. I don’t show up at your office and demand you hang out with me on the clock. I realize that’s an imperfect analogy, but I’m a comedian, not an analogy-writer. I know, I know, they’re not mutually exclusive. Just don’t expect anything from me except jokes when you come to my gigs. And don’t expect my jokes to be funny, because really, the lower your expectations, the better.
4. “I’m gonna come to your show and heckle you!”
Believe me, that gets so much funnier every time I hear it. It’s just a really unique and fresh thing to say to comics and so, so funny. Seriously, to all the people who tell me they are coming to my shows and are going to heckle me: Shut up. In all likelihood, you’re not gonna heckle me, and I’m tired of hearing that “joke” and my voicebox is tired from using my fake laugh every time someone says that to me. Either follow through on your threat or come up with something more clever to say.
5. “You’re so brave.”
Guys, doing standup isn’t brave. It’s really, really not. Going into a burning building to save people? Brave. Coming out to your homophobic, conservative Christian parents? Brave. Telling jokes in front of strangers for a drink ticket (if you’re lucky)? Not brave. I don’t do standup because I’m bold or brave. I do this because nothing gets me higher than being onstage telling jokes. That might make me a narcissist or that might might make me an idiot, but for now, it also makes me happy.
6. “I have a joke idea for you!”
I mean this with all due respect and politeness and whatnot, but no, you don’t. I write my own stuff, I feel good about that, I’m very specific about my voice and I don’t want to tell a vaguely homophobic joke about a snake bite that everyone has already heard before, stranger. How ’bout you go to an open mic and try out your ideas if you think you’re so funny? (We’re all doing this because we think we’re so funny). I have years’ worth of my own ideas sitting in notebooks and iPhone notes that I haven’t tried yet, do not add to my stress by adding more jokes that I’ll never get around to working on.
7. “I like that guy Jeff Dunham!”
Every time someone says this when they find out I’m a comedian, I know we’re done talking about comedy.