Remember that time you made all your friends laugh?
When every eye at the party was on you, and you delivered a story so finely tuned, so expertly crafted from years of use that the very punctuation of the thing was an art form?
Remember how they giggled and guffawed?
Remember how they swore you should do standup comedy?
How they said you’d pack arenas with your hilarious wit and ineffable observations?
Yeah, your friends were probably wrong.
“You’re up next,” he whispered in my ear conspiratorially.
My heart fell to my stomach. All the air left my chest.
“How long do I get?” I asked.
“Five minutes,” he said.
“Ok,” I replied.
He scurried through the dark room back to his seat.
It was my first stand-up comedy open mic night at the Fort Mill Comedy Zone. All the lights were dim except one: the spotlight on stage.
I looked at my notes, but I could hardly even read them through the uncontrollable quivering of my hands.
“Have you ever noticed…” said the guy on stage, who by now was only a distant voice in the background of my own panicked mind.
Do you know how long 5 minutes is?
Five minutes is 300 seconds.
In your normal life, five minutes is hardly enough time to even order a pizza.
But on stage with the microphone in your face and the collective critical glare of a couple dozen strangers, 300 seconds is a lifetime.
Do you know how many beats your heart can make in 300 seconds?
I know because I’ve counted.
Stand-up comedy is not for the faint of heart.
“And next to the stage,” the host said, “It’s his first time ever doing comedy, so show some love for Zach Claywell!”
Ma smattering of indifferent applause echoed off the walls.
“Thank you!” I said, “It’s great to be here in Fort Mill!”
Silence engulfed the room.
What once was a nearly empty room now feels like a packed arena.
Then I realized I forgot what I was going to say.
“Um….” I said, trembling with fear.
Finally, I remembered the piece of paper shaking in my hands.
“Um, I’m single, ladies!” I said.
The silence continued unabated.
“I, uh, have a hard time meeting women because I live at home with my dad.”
A few snickers.
“ But I still got game, ladies. Except the game is ‘Don’t Wake Daddy’ from Parker Brothers!”
My words hung in the air for what felt like forever. Finally, a few people in the audience took pity on me and giggled.
My first laugh.
Anyone can make their friends laugh at a party.
But on stage, these people ain’t your friends. And it sure as hell ain’t no party.
You’re either “killing” the crowd or “bombing.”
Every second of silence smothers your soul.
Every stoic stare smacks you in the face.
Being funny is serious business.
Everything after that first laugh is a blur. I don’t have a clue what I said next.
The first thing the spotlight steals is your memory.
All I can remember is feeling the agonizing pain of their silence followed by the exhilarating rush of their laughter.
The adrenaline is like nothing I’ve ever felt before or since. Only the spotlight can provide that rush. Only the spotlight can make you feel like you’re soaring above the clouds and crashing to your imminent death at the same time.
It’s like being attacked by a bear while walking a tight rope. How did a bear get on the tight rope? I don’t know, but you’d better keep walking. And fast.
The second thing the spotlight steals is your soul.
Because once you bathe in its light, even the sun doesn’t quite shine the same.
Should you do stand-up comedy?
Will you forget all your jokes and bomb your first time?
But if you’re lucky enough to get that first laugh – that loud and crashing tidal wave of sound – well then I’m afraid you might be hooked for life.
So try it at your own risk.
Stand-up comedy is no joke.