Have you ever wondered what it would be like to get on stage and do stand-up comedy? So had I. It was never a dream that consumed me, nor was it a lifelong aspiration; it was more of a nagging curiosity. I’ve had my share of moments of accidental comedic brilliance in private; I was itching to know if I could make people laugh, on purpose, in public.
Or would I bomb? Would I stink up the joint so badly that some drunken heckler would yell “you suck” to impress his buddies, then launch into his own impromptu comedy routine –at my expense – and show me what funny really was? On this night, I was determined to find out.
Actually, a recent recurring theme in my life has been the conquering of uncharted territory, so I felt I was ready for this. Having publicly tried my hand at open mic poetry for the first time two weeks ago, then at rapping semi-freestyle the following week, I was feeling myself and looking for my next challenge. Almost instantly it hit me: I must conquer the domain of stand-up comedy.
Through Culturocity’s Managing Editor Dacia Hooks, I learned that Wednesday is open mic night at the Loony Bin comedy club in Oklahoma City. As it turns out, an ex-boyfriend of hers was a stand-up comic who had performed there numerous times. Now I had no choice but to do it. He was pretty good, according to her anyway. I was going to try to be better.
I called the Loony Bin and got one of the owners, Terri Libby, on the phone. Terri was cordial and very thorough in her explanation of what I needed to do in order to get on stage that night. All comedians had to be at the Loony Bin at Northwest Expressway and Rockwell by 6:45 pm. There was to be a sign-up sheet for prospective open mic participants. If there were ten comics or fewer, we would all get on stage; if there were more than ten, a drawing would be held at 7:15 pm to determine which ten would make the line-up for the show that started at 8pm. She explained that there was often a line of comics in excess of the maximum allowed on the roster, all at the club and jockeying for position prior to 6:45.
I didn’t believe her. It was a Wednesday evening. People had jobs, lives, kids. 6:45 was prime family time. 6:45 was time to decompress, unwind, grab dinner, prepare for mid-week Bible study. There might be one or two sad fellows lined up, I thought. Three or four at the most. And 6:45 on the dot was merely an incentive to try to drum up participation. It was open mic comedy, for crying out loud. There aren’t many people who would even have the balls to give it a shot.
I was wrong.
Once I reached the city, I ran into the worst traffic imaginable. Well, not really, but my lack of foresight made it feel that way to me when faced with the possibility of missing the cut due to arriving on CP time. I got to the Loony Bin at 6:48pm.
I was promptly told by the woman at the window that I had arrived too late and that the list was full. Tonight would not be my night. I was devastated. I had driven from Norman to Oklahoma City. The following week was Thanksgiving week, a bye week for open mic stand-up at the Loony Bin, meaning that failure to get on stage would mean carrying this pent up anxiety for another two weeks at the least. Surely I could persuade this woman to squeeze me in. Here goes:
“I’m with Culturocity dot com. I’m actually writing about my experiences at several cultural arts venues, and was hoping to write about my open mic stand-up experience at the Loony Bin.”
Yep, I played the Culturocity card.
“That’s nice,” the woman replied. “Come back in two weeks and try to get on the list.”
Damn, damn, damn, I thought in my Florida Evans voice in my head. I proceeded to plead further but immediately felt three apparent bouncers near me tense up as if ready for combat. One of them, an incredibly massive Caucasian dude with no trace of a smile, looked as if he was ready to do battle with a grizzly bear. Another one, a short scrappy fellow, looked about a quarter of the size of his comrade, but tough enough to give anyone a run for his money. I looked at the other one, a tall, semi-scruffy, muscular jawed Black man in a camouflage Army jacket. It was worth a shot.
“Brotha, is there any way I can get on tonight?”
Nope, the race card didn’t work either. “That’s not up to me. But we’re here every Wednesday. You should come back.” Come on my brotha, don’t be like that.
The woman at the window chimed in again. “You can wait around and talk to the owner. She’ll be here around 7:30.” I held fast to my hope. It was worth a shot. I was told I could go to the bar and mingle with the other comics while I waited. I was also told that if I wanted, I could try to persuade one of them to give up his spot.
At the bar I met comedian Brett James, known as the Halfrican American, an obvious comedic nod to his mixed ethnicity. Brett schooled me a bit on the comedy scene in the city and gave me a brief who’s who of most of the comedians in the room. One of them needed no introduction. I had seen Oklahoma City comedy veteran Stan Silliman in action on YouTube. He was a very funny guy. Now he was standing right next to me. Maybe it was a good thing I didn’t make the list after all.
Then it happened. All of the comics, on the list or not, were summoned to sign up again. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who didn’t get on. I learned later that Silliman wasn’t on the roster either. As fate would have it, the powers that be decided there would be another drawing. We were given the rules of the drawing and of open mic etiquette by the big corn-fed bouncer dude, who I later learned was also a comic.
The drawing rules were simple. We would each blindly retrieve a wooden chip from a Crown Royal bag. On the chip would be written the word “Yes” or “No”, determining whether we made the cut or not.
Performance rules would be something a little more challenging.
There is no profanity. We could say “ass”, “damn” and “hell”, but not any of a litany of other colorful words that our enforcer more than willingly rolled off his tongue as examples, including the infamous N-word, a no-no at the Loony Bin, and some graphical terms representative of intercourse, genitalia and such.
We have four minutes to perform. At thirty seconds remaining, one light would flash indicating it was time to wrap it up. At four minutes, another light meant you were done, and get off the stage now. A flashing light meant you’re a selfish, disrespectful degenerate and were probably gonna get your ass kicked. Well, the guy didn’t say that, per se. He just strongly emphasized respecting our fellow comedians and our audience. With that, the drawing was underway.
When the bouncer figure brought the Crown Royal bag before me, I reached inside and pulled out a chip.
On the chip was the word “Yes.”
Somehow, miraculously, I was going to get my stand-up shot that night. Stan Silliman did not draw a Yes. Neither did Brett James. Those who were lucky lined up to select the order in which we would perform. When it was my turn, several slots were available. I elected to go on sixth. Soon afterwards, it was showtime.
One by one, the comedians went up to the mic, some amusing, some not so much. I try to be very positive in my commentary as a rule, but in amateur comedy, there is sometimes just no way to put a spin on it, you either have it or you don’t. Some clearly did not. I didn’t know yet if I would be one of them.
One guy, whose name I will not mention, stepped to the mic and nervously told the crowd it was his first time. Then he let us know he hadn’t prepared any material. Then he proceeded to flat out bomb, for four long minutes. He even apologized for not being funny. Most of his routine was dead silence, nervous laughter and mouth breathing. Brett James approached my seat, knowing I was also a first-timer, and semi-whispered “this right here is how you don’t do comedy.” I was determined not to embarrass myself like that.
Maybe a bit too determined.
Finally, it was my turn. The emcee jokingly introduced me as a caterer on the set of some obscure movie, in keeping with his style of introducing each comedian as a person working behind the scenes (key grip, best boy, etc.) on a random film. I seized the moment, asking why I had to be the caterer, and suggesting racism with mock indignation.
The audience laughed.
I continued, successfully winging it about many of the comedians before me telling borderline racist jokes, and my uncertainty about how I should feel about that. Indeed, secret White societies and Black men being arrested for no apparent reason were popular themes with my Caucasian comedian counterparts. I chose to dive in head first and mix it up with them.
On Black women: I love Black women. You just can’t win an argument with a Black woman. She has one argument – “you trippin” – that trumps any logical reason you can offer to plead your case. By the end of the argument, you will be thinking “you know what? I was trippin.” They laughed.
On White women: I love White women. White women have some good … credit. I can’t date them, though, because I’m freaky, and it causes problems. One of them hit me with a whip while playing a game and it prompted flashbacks of my ancestors and sent me into a fiery discourse on 400 years of systematic oppression, which I mimicked. Again, they laughed.
Somewhere in there, I missed the light. I started my final joke, on big women. “I love big women.”
Then I saw a bright flashing light. The adrenaline was flowing, and I was honestly confused. It was the first light I noticed. Did it mean I had thirty seconds to wrap it up? Surely I can finish in that time.
“Big women can cook.” I heard someone in the audience say “Is he really going to tell another joke?” Why yes, yes I was. I still had a few seconds, right?
“The only thing about it though is by the time they bring you your plate, there’s no food on the plate.” And with that, I thanked the audience, who applauded graciously, and returned to my seat.
Afterwards, Brett James approached me and congratulated me on doing a good job. Then I asked for pointers.
“The only thing, man, is respecting the light. Other than that, it was great.” As it turns out, the flashing light was my final warning, and the next step might have been Big Hoss and Co. kicking my ass, or trying to anyway. I had somehow obliviously plowed through my other lights, completely in the zone.
I apologized to the emcee, who told me “yeah, she’ll probably have something to say about that”, referring to Terri Libby. She did. As I approached her and shared my regret about missing the light, she looked me sternly in the eye and said “don’t let it happen again.”
Then it was on to Hoss. “Man, I apologize for missing the light.” I extended my hand. He reluctantly shook it and said “it’s not me you have to apologize to.” Then he repeated it for good measure.
I know, Hoss. I know.
Open mic night is every Wednesday at 8pm at the Loony Bin, at Northwest Expressway and Rockwell in Oklahoma City. But if you plan on trying to get on stage, be there no later than 6:45.