A few years ago upon looking down the barrel of my 40th birthday, I made a deal with myself. After being a fan of comedy all my life and writing for over twenty years, I was going to actually try stand-up somewhere other than the shower and do it by age 40.
Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely killed in the shower – mine, not the one at the YMCA, just to be clear. I just thought it might be worth it to bring my comedic talents to the masses. Or so I imagined over and over again, especially after any episode of Last Comic Standing.
The thing is that it was much more than a “bucket list” item for me. I am not sure if anyone has ever had the same nagging feeling that goes beyond just a desire to try something. It was about who I was as a person and feeling better about myself.
Now, before sounding like a cliché mid-life crisis, let me just acknowledge that it’s no secret that there are links between fear, anxiety, depression and, in my case, Wal-Mart. (I just can’t step into that store without looking for the suicide prevention hotline number.)
I did a lot of negative self-talk about being too old, being too late, not being good enough, being embarrassed, you name it. But on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving when I was taking my kids roller-skating, there it was – a sign at the seediest Ramada Inn you could imagine – right next door. “Open Mic every Wednesday, 8pm.” It was 11 days before my 41st birthday. I realized that it was a sign (literally) and I would feel worse on my 41st birthday for not doing it than just getting it over with.
I put my name on the list, not hinting that I had never done this before and carefully reviewed my notes.
I was toward the end of the line-up and a guy who, and I am not even making this up, looked exactly like Felonious Gru from Despicable Me, sat in the front heckling every single comic who got up. He wasn’t the unaware heckler who thinks he’s there to have a conversation, either. He was the nasty, drunk, low-life guy that beat you up in high-school heckler, still with a back as big as a billboard but with a big gut this time.
I worked myself up into such frenzy that I looked like I was being interrogated by the military police in a foreign country. I kept drinking water from a pitcher outside the room and had to pee so badly that I couldn’t stand still for more than five seconds. I refused to go to the bathroom because I didn’t want to miss my turn.
For someone who had convinced himself “to do something for once without a plan and just for fun,” I was doing everything to make myself feel worse and have no fun at all. One thought kept going through my head: “you’re pathetic, Marc. You have a wife, two kids and a good job. What are you doing?”
And then I got on stage for 5 minutes. Some people actually laughed. I didn’t get booed or even heckled. How was that even possible?
I had completed the deed and didn’t have my comedy virginity hanging over my head anymore. It’s been the most bipolar experience I have had, as any comedian will tell you. No matter how horrible a night might go, something keeps pushing me forward.
I have been running for over 20 years and still won’t call myself a “runner” for fear of being taken to task by those who really are skilled at their craft. For the same reason, I always referred to myself as “someone who sort of does comedy,” especially since there are those in the industry who automatically are dismissive based on time put in, even without hearing your material. I have been advised to cut that crap out and start referring to myself as a “comedian” because that’s what I do.
I guess it makes sense. You’re a virgin or you’re not (despite what the reclaimed virginity movement says). Though I’ve been writing for what seems like forever, I didn’t try stand-up until I was 40. There are loads of successful people in comedy and other fields who started late.
I had post-adolescent comedy. There – I said it. Let’s all move on now and recognize kids sometimes have sex early. Adults sometimes start comedy late.