Saturday, October 15, 2005

How I Got Pulled Into Comedy

For some reason, I didn't set foot on a theatrical stage between my senior year of high school (when I was Mr Smith in the Fountain Central HS production of "Meet Me In St Louis") and October 2004. That's over 26 years, and whether you call it stage fright, a lack of self-confidence, or just laziness, that's ridiculous.

I didn't do any acting in college--didn't even audition--and I suspect it's because the people who did seemed so damn serious about it, and so much more experienced. (By the way, my standard answer to the question "Did you do any acting in college?" is "I acted interested.") I took a class my sophomore year--Theater 5, Introduction to Acting--but over the course of the semester there was only one class where we actually did any dialogue. The rest was pretty much breathing and muscle exercises, so I decided I wasn't missing anything.

Considering I went 26 years between stage appearances, I'd say that wasn't true.

Let's see--I sang and played keyboard at talent shows in 1986, 1987, and 1997 (didn't even place in '87 and actually finished behind cloggers, and won in '97 because I was the only entrant in the adult category). I also performed three times at open mike singer-songwriter nights at the Bedrock Cafe in Springfield, Illinois in 1994 (where one MC said he loved my songs and encouraged me to come back, and another came on stage after my third song and asked how soon I'd be finished). I wrote and performed in some short comedy films with various family members, and that was pretty much it for my performing resume.

All this began to change in early 2004, when my new co-worker Karen--an experienced standup and sketch comedian--auditioned for a new local comedy group called the Patsies. Knowing my interest in writing and trying to be funny, she asked if it'd be something I might be interested in. I demurred, because I was in the midst of this 26-year run of not performing and hated to break the streak (stage fright, lack of self-confidence, etc).

I've always said that the only way I'm ever going to get a novel published is to be pulled in from the inside--I tried to push my way in for years and didn't get anywhere. The same turned out to be true for performing comedy. Karen pulled me in. She showed me the Patsies scripts, which were mostly funny, sometimes coarse, and certainly not rocket science. That prompted a flurry of sketch writing--television news coverage of the bizarre fundamentalist concept of "the rapture," a look at the marriage of Harry Potter and Hermione Granger after ten years, two sketches about a philosophical cavewoman and her ditzy friend, and more, about a dozen in all.

Karen, who had joined the Patsies, liked the sketches. She was working on producing a benefit comedy show to raise money for Marfan Syndrome research, and suggested using a couple of my sketches for that. In the meantime, she also asked if I'd be interested in trying some standup comedy. I was--and for some reason I actually said Yes. The stage fright filter didn't kick on--someone thought I could do it, so that surely meant I could do it.

I started pulling together all the jokes, one-liners, and routines I'd been writing on scraps of paper over the years on the off-chance I ever found the guts to try standup. I had fifteen minutes worth of material and began to rehearse it in the car to and from work every day. Fortunately, we live in an technological age where people who passed me on I-235 and saw my lips moving just assumed I was speaking into a cell phone headset.

In August 2004, I made my standup debut in front of about 75 people at an open mike comedy night in West Des Moines, and people laughed. The best part was that after about 15 seconds of shaking knees, I was perfectly calm for the rest of the routine. I assume it was a combination of factors: one, the fact that I had such confidence in the material, and two, the fact that I was tired of passing up opportunities.

And the next opportunity came at the Marfan benefit in October, when I acted in one of my cavewomen sketches (playing a caveman poet named Morton) and made a short appearance as Jesus in another. Not counting my handful of solo singing and standup performances, that was the first time I'd set foot on a stage since that last performance of "Meet Me in St Louis," 26 years earlier.

You know, a guy can lose his boyish good looks in 26 years.

Most of the other performers were members of the Patsies, and I'm not even sure now how it happened, but I committed to being a guest writer/performer in their big February show at the Stoner Theatre (the small theatre located in the Des Moines Civic Center). I became an official member before their show in May, and all together I've been in ten Patsies shows as a writer and performer.

I can't do anything about that 26-year void, but I'm pretty sure it'll never happen again. This is just too much fun.

Is All This Leading Up To Some Show Promotion?

+ Why yes, yes it is. The Patsies and guest star Darin Larson will be holding their second annual Marfan Syndrome benefit show at 7:30 on Monday, October 17, at The Funny Bone in Urbandale. Tickets are $6 in advance through, or $8 at the door. We're planning four sketches and five standups, and we'll be showing our Public Access Fall Preview video, which will have particular significance for anyone with a morbid curiosity about dingbats like Princess Uriel of the Unarius cult.

+ The Patsies Halloween show will be held at the Vaudeville Mews in downtown Des Moines at 7:00 on Tuesday, October 25. Same ticket prices, I believe.

+ And hey, if you haven't made your New Year's Eve plans yet, we'll be performing twice at the Stoner that night, at 6:00 and 8:30, I think. All-new material.

No comments: