Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Take My Wife... Please

It was, for the most part, a blur.

I was told afterward that it lasted about six minutes -- which was idea, because we were told to prep for anywhere between five and ten minutes.

So I don't think I went on too long.

But I can't remember a lot of it... except that my mouth was extremely dry.

It was my debut as a stand-up comedian.

This past Friday, April 17, nine other knucklehead novices and I took the state of Act II Playhouse in Ambler to test out our skills as fledgling funnymen. And women.

The odyssey started in mid-March as a work assignment. The organization I work for, the Valley Forge Tourism & Convention Board, covers many unique things to do in Montgomery County, Pa., and as the weekly blogger, it's my role to root out really cool adventures and write about them.

Often, that means participating in them.

Such was the case at Act II. I had learned that the staff runs a periodic workshop in stand-up comedy. I called and got permission to sit in.

My original intent was to attend the first class only and then show up for the "graduation," a night of performance. But the atmosphere was so inviting -- and, truth be told, the prospect of trying out my own material so interesting -- that, before I knew it, I was in for the entire experience.

One of the things that kept me coming back was the welcome of the instructor, Michael Donovan. From the very onset, he created an environment of openness and creativity that appealed to me. And he was all about the writing. Which plays to my strong suit.

The other hook were my fellow students. This was an eclectic bunch ranging from a 77-year-old retiree to a 17-year-old high-school kid. Various professions were represented, including a onetime traveling jewelry wholesaler and the host of a hyper-local AM radio talk show.

The class comprised a series of exercises that were designed to have us develop a comedic frame of reference. Michael told us that he couldn't necessarily make us funny but that he could sharpen our focus in finding humor in the things we face every day: The hellish commute. The ripped plastic grocery bag. The quest for love and romance.

By week three, we were starting to formulate routines. Classwork then consisted of a round-robin style of sharing what was in development.

I went the Ray Romano route, opening with my rather unique career and then veering into parenthood. Much fodder there, considering my girls are 21, 17 and 14.

Some things worked; some things didn't. I tried to contrast my career -- which appears very lightweight -- with that of my father's, highlighting his gravitas as a Naval Aeronautic Engineer. But it wasn't exactly working. Most of the set-ups were long and involved, and the payoffs just kinda died.

Week four we were onstage. A fresh face was brought into the audience, with stand-up experience himself, to comment. Most of my feedback was positive, but my material felt flat to me.

Other performers were honing their presentations. We had a dad who was rehearsing his speech for his daughter's wedding. It was interesting to watch him continually edit, weed, and tighten his commentary.

One of our high-schoolers used a rapid-fire delivery to comment on the social awkwardness of teenager-dom. It was insightful, but, at least to me, not very funny.

Our jewelry wholesaler was good, but his reliance on canned material bothered me. 

The 17 year-old launched into a five minute, profanity-laced dissertation of Prom Night. 

With one week to go, I really dug in and worked on not only my content but my delivery. This was unlike anything I had ever done: I've done traditional plays and musicals, memorizing lines and blocking and performing them. I've also done my share of public speaking, talking from notes or cards.

This was neither. This could be memorized but needed to come off as off-the-cuff and loose. And no notes.

On performance night, I was a little nervous but not out of control. We assembled in the Act II green room and readied ourselves. I calmed my nerves in the same way I do when performing a role: by pacing.

In the lineup, I was directly after the NC-17-rated teen. Oy vey. 

Michael introduced me. I stepped into the lights and.... don't recall much after that.

I'm told I did well. And that I was a welcome respite from the flying four-letter words of my predecessor and other comedians.

But I don't regret the performance choices I made: Michael told us early on to be ourselves, that we would have the best chance of success if we remained true to who we are.

After the curtain call, we agreed to try to keep in touch.

So if any of my fellow comedians ends up with an NBC sitcom, I'll be able to say I knew them when...