WOMEN’S HEALTH, September, 2006

Our writer flops – literally – during her first attempt at stand-up comedy

By Anna David

I love the spotlight. Public speaking? Not a problem. Sure, I get a little nervous in front of huge groups, but I still soak up the attention like a brat on MTV’s My Super Sweet 16. So when Women’s Health dared me to try stand-up comedy, I figured I could pull it off, no problem.

I was so wrong.

Stand-up isn’t just as hard as people say it it. It’s excrutiating. I will never roll my eyes at another lame Weekend Update joke again. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, you have my deepest respect.

But let’s flash back to when I was feeling optimistic. For my first amateur appearance, I chose a venue called Fake Gallery, a small performance space in the decidedly untrendy part of Melrose in Los Angeles. When I’d gone to open-mike night there the week before, every one of the 15 or so comics – about a dozen middle-aged men and a few 20-something women – had bombed. One woman had actually stopped midroutine and started complaining about how horrible it was to stand there when no one was laughing. The 5 o’clock news was funnier than this crew. There was no way could do worse.

Plus, there was something about the room – with its massive paint color swatches hanging on the wall, metal folding chairs, and the goofy host who actually lived above the club – that made me feel like I would be performing at some wacky family reunion or high school telethon. It wasn’t the least bit intimidating.

My act, I decided, would be about comedy clubs and humor in general. I recruited a friend who’s a tough laugh and ran a few lines by her – like my witty observation that when people in a crowd laugh at something, they have a moronic tendency to squint and point at the person being funny. When she cracked up, I figured I’d hit comedy gold.

After a week of muttering the same funny tidbits over and over as I walked around my apartment, it was my turn to take the stage. My routine didn’t really have a beginning, middle or end – that would have seemed too rehearsed and forced to me – so I just started talking, as if I were chatting with a group of friends. And for a few exhilarating seconds it actually felt easy. I yammered away about my father’s bizarre sense of humor (he thinks things like breaks in Internet service are hilarious). I could feel the warmth of the lights, the energy from the audience, the expansion of my ego…until…I…slowly…realized…that no one was laughing. Gulp.

My friends in the audience – two of whom I had invited because they’ll laugh long and loud at just about anything – merely tittered. And it was obvious they were doing that only because I’d told them to. My fellow comics’ faces looked like they were made of stone. I couldn’t even coax a smile out of the drunken little leprechaun of a guy who cracked up at everything else said and who, at one point, seemed to be laughing at the floor.