Last week, the final week of our comedy class, was grueling. We met Monday and Tuesday nights in order to hammer out the final version of our routines, and even though I was a lot better at the writing, it was still a lot of work.
After the whole Having To Swallow My Pride thing the writing was actually the hardest part for me, because I have what I would call a very hedonistic approach to writing. I love words, especially adjectives and adverbs. I love sentences that run on for an entire paragraph, building up in a gradual crescendo that leads to a big humor payoff at the end.
But if I learned anything over the past 6 weeks, it is that writing for stand-up comedy is definitely more of a “wham, bam, thank you ma’am” proposition.
Once we had our routines in place it was time to memorize them, and I will say that telling me I have to memorize something is like telling me to breathe. I’m really good at memorizing, and this I attribute to a number of different factors.
First off would be my participation in the Kindergarten class of 1977 at Evangel Baptist Church and Christian School, “Don’t-just-watch-us-grow;-come-and-grow-with-us.” It was here that we were taught the alphabet by being required to memorize a Bible verse for each letter. It was also here that we were taught the entire sign language alphabet, all of which I can still sign with the exception of the letters “p”, “q”, and “x” (but really, who needs those?)
It was also due to my attendance at this institution that I can now sing-that’s right; not just say, but sing-all of the books of the New Testament in order, which definitely improved my performance in the Sword Drills. That’s where you hold the Bible (aka, “The Sword Of The Lord”) in the air until the teacher announces a random Bible verse, and everyone races to be the first one to find it. (Not that this really has anything to do with what we’re talking about here, but I’ve wanted to write about it for some time, and this was the most closely related aside in which I could find a way to do so. Because, shockingly, there is just really not much call for this highly developed skill in my everyday life.)
It is also easy for me to memorize because in another life I used to be a pianist, and I’ve had lots of experience in memorizing pieces for a performance.
But the thing that hands-down gets the most credit for my memorizing ability would have to be my OCD. Instead of manifesting in repetitive external habits, mine shows up as constant, ceaseless, never ending mental counting of all the syllables in all the words I hear around me all day long. So while on the outside I may appear to be having a normal conversation, on the inside my little squirrel brain is greedily gathering up all the syllable-nuts it finds and storing them safely for the winter in groups of 8. (So for all of my classmates who thought it was so amazing that I had memorized not only my routine but theirs as well, it’s really more of an uncontrollable mental disorder than an amazing talent. I’m just saying.)
Then it was time for the rehearsals, which we had Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. By this time we had reached the point where we absolutely loathed each and every joke in our routine, and if we for some reason had had to have our skulls drilled open without anesthesia and our brains pulled out through our eye sockets, it would have been less painful than having to hear our own jokes performed one more time.
However this was an instance when being Lightly Nerdy totally came in handy. Because once I received all the coaching on delivery from our teacher, I immediately went home and copied each joke out onto its own note card, adding all my delivery cues above the word or phrase involved in a special orange marker. This was very helpful, and was not at all a cause for being mercilessly mocked by my classmates, who clearly have not yet tasted the power and the glory to be had once you’ve turned down the path to the dark (and nerdy) side.
Then suddenly, 3 rehearsals and 4 days of migraines later, it was time to perform. I was oddly calm that day, right up until the moment where they shut the door of the club and turned down the lights and we all simultaneously realized that, “Holy F*&%! There’s no escaping now!”
I was also very quiet that day, because I am an introvert. And when I have to be up in front of people I must first spend a lot of time going deep within myself, apparently to the place of Looking Like I Am About To Die, because everyone around me was freaking out, constantly reminding me to breathe, and constructing elaborate rescue plans in the event that I happened to keel over unconscious on the floor.
I did have a little fun earlier in the day when I went to see my hairdresser in order to prepare for our performance. Because I told him that I needed him to do my hair as curly, frizzy, big, pouffy, bushy, and 1980’s-like as he possibly could. To which this impeccably groomed, always well-dressed, could step into the pages of GQ in a second man responded by almost bursting into tears and crying, “But why?! Why does your first joke have to be about your hair?” He did it for me, but every time anyone walked by his station he felt compelled to announce to them that, “I have to do it this way-she’s in a comedy show tonight!”
We had only 30 minutes to get used to the stage and the microphone (which was, of course, 100% different than the one with which we’d been practicing for the previous 6 weeks). When it was my turn to practice I stepped confidently up to the spotlight and “wowed” my class by forgetting Every. Single. Word of my routine. I spent my minute or so of practice time pacing back and forth muttering things like, “Hair. I know it had something to do with hair.”
Fortunately I did remember my routine by the time I had to go on. (I was probably helped by all the Spray Hair Wax fumes I was inhaling in the green room as I frantically tried to get the maximum volume possible out of my hair before I went onstage.) I will say that actually stepping out from behind the curtain onto the stage after my name was called, and opening up my mouth and starting to speak did feel exactly like leaping off a cliff into the great abyss below. But after that moment, then I was OK. I told my jokes. People laughed. And a good time was had by all.