Essay by Vince Martin, Recovering Yankee

Posted: January 14, 2011 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

The following essay is re-published with the generous permission of the author/stand-up comedian Vince Martin. If you’d like to find out more about Vince Martin’s comedy, please visit his website at http://www.recoveringyankee.com

I am a standup comedian. I get to say that now; I was always careful
to avoid that exact phrase (though it may have slipped out from time
to time). I have always preferred to say that “I do standup comedy.”
Why the change? 1) I’m getting paid now and 2) I’m completely
miserable.

I am getting paid now, though perhaps only in a matter of speaking. I
make twenty-five dollars a set. It costs me ten dollars and three
hours to get there, round-trip. So I net fifteen dollars for six hours
of time. True, I can write off the travel expenses, but given that my
projected annual income for 2004 is approximately thirty-seven dollars
and twenty-three cents, I highly doubt I’ll be itemizing my taxes.

In the past, I refused to call myself a standup comedian until I was
paid. That’s just obnoxious. Just because I shoot hoops at the Y
doesn’t mean I can introduce myself as a “basketball player”. It’s
like all the “actors” you meet in New York City.

“What do you do?”
“I’m an actor.”
“Really? What have you been in?”
“I was an extra in an independent short film three years ago.”
“Oh, so you’re a waiter.”

If you ever meet a comic, and he tells you wonderful comedy is, and
how passionate he is, and how it’s his “destiny” and “purpose for
being,” punch him. Hard. Because he is an “open miker.” And open
mikers suck. But, Vince, weren’t you an open miker? Yes, perhaps, at
one point. I have certainly done open mikes. But I was never an “open
miker”. “Open mikers” do open mikes not for auditions or to try new
material, but simply because they can’t even perform for free. Think
about that. Spend three years developing a five-minute act, and it is
still so bad that everyone says, “I can’t listen to this guy for less
than five bucks and a drink.” Open mikers go to open mikes and do
their same boring act, on the off chance that, “Hey, maybe this joke
will work the 237th time I tell it.” And then they send tapes to
bookers, and stand in line for eight hours for “Last Comic Standing”
and the Aspen Comedy Festival. And any comic with any talent trying to
be found simply gets lost in the shuffle (and I’m referring to people
significantly further along the ladder than myself), or dies of
exposure on the sidewalk in front of Stand Up New York.

But because “open mikers” only do open mikes, they’re not exposed to
the business end of comedy. They only perform for their fellow open
mikers, and they get to harbor the dream that one day a booker will
just happen to walk into an open mike in a pizzeria in the East
Village (hey, it happens all the time) and say, “Hey, kid – you’re
going to be a star!”
Debating whether to keep ranting about this… Still debating… OK,
moving on…wait…moving on. Honest. Don’t go. Come back. Finish
reading. It gets better. I promise.

Where is this coming from? Well, I’ve spent four shows MCing at the
Comedy Cabana here in Myrtle Beach. I’ve done about thirty-five
minutes total, and about twenty-five minutes of material (in other
words, I haven’t repeated much). And I’ve struggled. I haven’t bombed,
and the club owner seems happy (road clubs don’t expect much from
emcees) but those who have seen me up north would be standing in the
back with me saying, “God, I thought you’d do better than that.” Me
too, mon frer. I’ve tried nearly every joke in my repertoire. Jokes
that kill in New York flop here. Jokes that kill on Monday night get
three chuckles on Tuesday. And then the fat drunk in the back who damn
near gave me a standing ovation on the way in tonight decides that
four minutes into my set is a good time to start arguing with his
girlfriend, out loud. (Honest. She left in tears five minutes into the
second act’s set. The fat drunk got out of his chair, nearly fell
over, and walked out of the club. I spent the entire taxi ride home
hoping to see his car embedded into a telephone pole.

It’s frustrating as hell. It’s frustrating when you know that a joke’s
funny, when you know that doing three minutes about your crazy
girlfriend and then saying, “I don’t really have a girlfriend,” has
gotten you applause breaks from twenty-person crowds, but gets six
people out of 140 to laugh hysterically, because the rest of the crowd
just doesn’t get it. You begin to question everything – your material,
your delivery, your stage presence, your clothes, the fact that you
haven’t shaved in two days (seriously), even the very existence of a
God (maybe that’s exaggerating a bit). You certainly begin to question
the intelligence of the average person. You question when when people
in this country became so sensitive that they moan at jokes which
offend imaginary people (my joke) and heroin users (the feature’s).
The business is a struggle, and that’s why open mikers maintain their
innocence, and why comics are often stereotyped (often correctly) as
bitter, insecure, and even angry. When you take a sixteen-hour round
trip, door to door, to Boston from New York to do eight minutes, and
the host grabs you on your way up and says, “You’re only doing five,”
it hurts. When you move to a new city, and leave messages on answering
machines and with managers about how you live here now and have a
decent act, and no one returns your calls, it’s annoying. When you
finally get the booker on the phone, and he says he hasn’t watched
your tape because he gets nearly a hundred calls a week from comedians
(those damn open mikers again), it’s frustrating. And when you finally
get your chance, and you’re dying to get on stage again, and just
roll, and you get sidetracked by things out of your control, like fat
drunks and stupid audiences and guest sets and broken air-conditioning
systems (the AC went out on Wednesday night; it was hysterical. 150
people packed into a small room in South Carolina in late June with no
A/C. It was 85 degrees in the room; everyone in the audience spent the
whole show fanning themselves with their menus. I put soaking wet,
cold towels up on the stage for the three comics to use, since we were
pouring sweat just standing in the back. I walked on stage, and said,
“Welcome to the Comedy Cabana. God, it’s freezing in here.” Audience
laughed; not sure about the owner. Anyway, again), it’s humbling.

That’s the best word to describe this business: humbling. Every time
you convince yourself that you’re going to make it, that you’re really
as good as that little part of your ego thinks you are, you get
knocked down a peg. And you smack yourself in the forehead, and think,
“Damn, I knew that was going to happen.” And you drive yourself back
to work, researching comedy clubs and bus schedules, and see that guy
you used to work with in New York, featuring at a club in North
Carolina, and you know that you’re better than him, on your worst day.
But you’ll just have have to wait.
There is some good news, though. I just saved a bunch of money on my
car insurance. (Oh, Jesus, you didn’t just do that joke. You worthless
hack.) And tomorrow, I’ve got two sets. Fifty bucks. And I can’t wait
because I know, that, finally, I’ll kill. Even better, there was a
time, less than two years ago, when I sent my friends and family a
mass email about a bringer show in New York City. And everyone
laughed, and made comments (myself included), and I tried to figure
out how the hell I was going to pull it off, and I don’t think anyone,
not even me, in my wildest dreams, ever believed that I would ever get
to write the following:

I am a standup comedian.

Vince Martin (recoveringyankee.com)

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