My First Time Doing Stand-Up

I love stand-up and have recently had the itch to try it out myself. After a few months of being a wuss, I finally went to an open mic in San Francisco at the Brainwash cafe. The place was v-shaped and split down the middle with a laundromat on one half and a bar on the other (I feel they really missed out on the opportunity to name it ‘Suds’, but maybe that’s too common a laundromat name. Perhaps ‘Sudz’ with a ‘z’ to attract the quirky hipster crowd).

I entered on the cafe side and sat at a small table alone in the back hoping not to draw any attention to myself. I scanned the 30 or so people in the room and saw that most of them were about my age and none appeared to be holding tomatoes to hurl at the stage which was good. Unconsciously, I began drumming my fingers on the table and rapidly tapping my foot as my body tried to find an outward expression for my pent up nerves.

The fear I felt in that moment was different than normal. You see, I’ve always identified with being a “funny guy” and have secretly harbored the dream that I could be great at stand-up if I tried. Anytime I wanted to I could close my eyes and enjoy the fantasy of my undoubtedly killer stand-up skills. However, this fantasy was tenuous and could collapse if I ever actually tried stand-up in real life and sucked. So it wasn’t just a fear of failing I felt. It was a fear of losing the dream.

The host then emerged from behind the bar with a mic and stood two feet in front of me. Oh, lord no. I was at the very front, dead center, a foot and a half away from where he stood. If I stretched out my leg, he would’ve tripped. This was bad news because comedians often mess with the crowd and tend to choose from the front.

He started by asking if it was my first time coming. I nodded, and he said, “You look scared to death.” That would be because I’m on the verge of vomiting blood from nerves. I tried to smile back, but I think it looked more like a pained grimace. He wisely moved on to other people.

A few comedians came and went, and after a couple the host would come back on to do some material. He wasn’t very good and was floundering a bit on stage, so he redirected his attention at me, “Man, you look like a serial killer.” It didn’t get many laughs but I didn’t know what to say back, so I responded by sweating profusely and smiling my serial-killer smile. Then he said, “You’ve got some big ass ears too.” Ok, now you’re just being hurtful. The thing is, this guy had some severe scoliosis, and he looked like one of those old people you see that’s practically U-shaped they’re so bent over. He was begging for a comeback, “Man, you’re making fun of my appearance? You look like a fucked up question mark,” I said to thunderous applause, later, in my head.

In real life, I continued sweating and remained silent. I stayed at the cafe for about 30 more minutes but was unable to work up the nerve to sign up and left.

However, I returned the following week determined to overcome my fear. I entered the cafe and immediately signed up. I saw that I was 27th on the list and then situated myself at a safe place by the back and waited. And waited.

Each comedian got 3 minutes on stage, but some people went over and there was a fair bit of downtime in between sets. All told I waited about two and a half hours for it to be my turn. Two and a half hours spent mainlining my flight-or-flight response. I meant to type fight-or-flight there but have realized that flight-or-flight was a more accurate description of my feelings at the time. Fleeing was the sole impulse in my body. The only fighting going on was the mental war being waged against my raging self-doubt telling me to run and never return. But I stayed until they were mopping floors and putting chairs on tables, and there were only 10 people left in that place.

My name was called. I went up to the stage. 10 pairs of eyes locked on me hoping for a laugh. I was silent for a few seconds, but it lasted longer in my mind, “Alright, you got this. Don’t Eminem yourself and say nothing. Oh, no! My mom cooked me spaghetti before this. But I’m not wearing a sweater, I should be alright. Ok, say words now!” And I launched into a story about an awkward sexual encounter. I talked too fast, people laughed a little, and then it was over. I survived.

While I didn’t exactly knock it out of the park, I was able to push past my fear which felt great to me. As I rode the train home, I thought of this old quote, “Growth happens where fear and desire meet.”

Which is true! If you’re afraid to do something, but you want to do it, personal development lies on the other side of that fear. Now, I did lie to you about that being an old quote. I made it up and wanted to make myself sound like Confucius. But that does not detract from the quote’s awesomeness! I mean, I guess it’s not perfect. If you’re afraid of murdering someone, but you want to, I don’t think that murdering that person is a good way to grow. But maybe if you don’t murder the person then it’s a place to grow? So it depends on what your desire is whether you should push past the fear or not. I say the quote stands! Growth happens where fear and desire meet. I can see it tattooed in cursive on a girl’s side now right next to an infinity sign, a dream catcher, and a dandelion whose little seeds become birds as they are blown away by the wind.

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About the author

Hi my name is Nick Holke

I'm 25 years old and am currently living in California.

If you wanna know a bit more about me and the website, click here.

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