What is it that I can do to make this young woman laugh? Hell, what is it I can do just to make her relax enough to uncross her arms?
She sat there staring at me. It felt like an eternity up there, trotting out 4 minutes of material about my mother. It wasn’t the best, but it had worked before. A few laughs here and there, enough to revise it, throw some parts out, try to add some in.
But it wasn’t working. Not on Rhiamon (not her real name but it fits). Whatever I had done to somehow suck out every single bit of bile from her and none of the laughter? That was working. It’s not what I wanted, but it was what I was going to get.
This was the midnight stand-up Fridays at Second City with our host, I think, Brian Bowden. It may have been Nick Johns I don’t remember exactly who it was, but it was one of them for certain.
I hadn’t been doing stand-up for long, a few scattered times over a period of 3 months, and frankly had not received much in the avenue of belly laughs. Laughter for certain, but not one of those ‘I just peed my pants’ laughs I wanted to hear (just hear, no one wants to really see it. Keep your pee internal, please).
But here I was in a small room full of wannabe comedians, tossing out my four minutes following a guy who had come up and done his Arnold Schwarzenegger impression. It was really good, but this was 2013, not exactly prime time to trot out a good Arnold. But that’s always the case with impressionists. If you can’t find a person to do who’s hot, then you’re not hot either.
It was, as I stated, midnight. No one but comedians want to go to a midnight show in a small room with no booze. Therefore, we had a comedians-only audience. Now, as a rule, comedian-only audiences basically run in two veins: the ones who will laugh at your stuff because they know you and have heard it before so it’s like a members only club; or the ones who feel every joke, every punchline, is a no-holds-barred competition. Frankly I like the latter best. I’d much rather work to get someone to laugh who doesn’t want to than to have someone laugh at my stuff only because they know me.
But no laughs that night. Not from Miss Rhiamon of the Crossed Arms. Four minutes may as well had been four hours. While others in the room were not paying attention or scribbling madly on their notepads, she just stared at me. Moreover, Rhiamon stared through me as if she was trying hard to successfully burn a hole into my psyche so she could torture my soul.
Then at the 3:30 or so mark, a breakthrough. Someone laughed out loud. Not her of course. A guy in the back. We caught eye contact… then I caught him pointing down not to his watch as if my time were up, but to his notepad. He was laughing at one of his own jokes. Granted, when he got up to do his 4 minutes were funnier than the rest of us that night. He earned the laughs he got.
As for Rhiamon of the Crossed Arms? I don’t remember her set, but I do remember I did take the mantra “when they go low, we go high” and completely ignoring it. Should I have done better? Oh absolutely, but I didn’t. I sat there with my arms crossed, staring at her with the weakest smile I could muster.