Becoming a STAND-UP COMEDIAN is no laughing matter. It takes patience, resolve, originality and, of course, the ability to make audiences laugh. Accepting this challenge, our writer puts her best foot forward — and sometimes in her mouth — to learn the art of comedy and leave her comfort zone behind.
I have 15 minutes until showtime, and I’m huddled with the other members of my stand-up-comedy class in the gold-hued hallway outside the basement lounge of the Gotham Comedy Club in New York City.
The 13 of us have spent the past eight weeks learning to be funny from two of the best: Jim Mendrinos — a comic who’s shared stages with the likes of Chris Rock, Colin Quinn and Sam Kinison — and Lori Sommer — who, before becoming a regular on the New York comic circuit, was a dancer for artists such as Mariah Carey, Jay-Z and Whitney Houston.
Tonight is our graduation show, and the lounge is packed with our closest family and friends, willing to support us on a Sunday night and shell out the two-drink minimum. Our group hails from all walks of life. Ranging in age from 24 to 64, we have dubbed ourselves the Comedy Crew, but tonight, few appear to be feeling the confidence this official-sounding sobriquet suggests. Instead, we are frantically scanning our notes, mouthing jokes and praying that someone finds us funnier than watching a filibuster on C-SPAN.
“Lori and I have bets about who’s going to have a freak-out,” Jim says before announcing the lineup.
Jeffrey Hunt, a 49-year-old former waste-management worker in Brooklyn, N.Y., is tagged to open the show. I can tell he’s nervous. He’s chewing gum like an ice machine, and his hands are starting to tremble. This does nothing to quell my nerves, pulled taut by the announcement that I’m No. 4.
What was I doing standing in the very club where Jerry Seinfeld, Pauly Shore, Sarah Silverman and just about every famous comedian got their start and now performs? I had always wanted to try stand-up. In high school, I found my voice was a way to compensate for my awkward teenage years and gain acceptance with the popular crowd. I wasn’t turning heads, but some of my impressions won me invites to sleepovers and parties.