Get Up, Stand Up

I set out to write a story on open-mike nights. But the joke was on me.

"My sisters and I have a way of getting back at our parents for giving us this hyphenated last name..." It's my second time on stage, I'm three jokes into my last-name bit, and I'm sweating like Patrick Ewing. "We always tell them that the first one of them to die just gets their last name taken off of ours."

The audience laughs, giving me a momentary sense of relief. Why did I have to wear a T-shirt? I've got the pit stains of a goddamn disc jockey up here. The stage lights aren't bright -- half the comics who've been up tonight looked like they were standing in the shadows -- but they feel like they're burning my soul. My knees are shaking. It's not smart to lock them in place, but if I don't, I'm going to hit the floor any second.

"It's fun," I continue. "It's like a race for them, a race to the finish. I always tell my dad, 'Dad, are you sure you want that steak rare? Wouldn't preserving your ancestor's legacy be a lot more satisfying?'"

Anthony Camera
Did you hear the one about...? Author Adam 
Cayton-Holland takes the stage at the Squire.
Anthony Camera
Did you hear the one about...? Author Adam Cayton-Holland takes the stage at the Squire.

More laughter. This is good; this is good. Start the next bit, now. Oh, God, what's the next bit? Okay, don't panic; just stare at the floor, wait for the laughter to subside. It's all part of the act, folks, nothing out of the ordinary. Shit, still nothing.

No, wait, I've got it!

"You ever notice how every actor reaches a point in their career where they feel they have to play a retarded person?" I do my best to look calm and collected; people in the audience smile and wait for the punch line. I've still got four more minutes of material to get through.

At this point, I can say with the utmost certainty that I am the best unsigned comic in America. But did I pay my dues to get where I am today? You bet your sweet ass I did.

I've fought for everything I've gotten in this game. I've put all I have, my blood, sweat and tears, into building this career from the ground up. For nearly three months, three months, I've fought against all odds. There were weeks when I performed not just on a Monday night, but on a Tuesday night, too. There were times when I spent nearly 45 minutes -- in one sitting! -- working on my material at a coffee shop. There were entire nights sacrificed to staying up late and drinking with other comics in hopes of advancing my career.

Do these sound like the habits of someone who doesn't take this funny business seriously? Still, I know there are many naysayers out there who continue to dispute my indisputable talents. For those Doubting Thomases, I'm providing the following account of my meteoric rise through the universe of stand-up comedy.

Out on the piss one Saturday night, I met a guy named Ben Roy at a bar. While we were chatting, Ben told me that he was a stand-up comic. I've written humor most of my short life and am generally regarded as funny. Consequently, I became panic-stricken when it suddenly appeared possible that I wasn't the funniest person in the room. Two lacrosse players in a similar prowess-threatening situation would shed their shirts, grab their sticks and methodically bludgeon each other to death. But we were humorous people, accustomed to using more cerebral tools as weapons, so we earnestly and openly discussed our craft. I told him that I'd thought about routines to do on stage, but had never had the balls to try it. "Lion's Lair," he told me. "Monday nights."

The Next Monday, the Lion's Lair

I walk off East Colfax Avenue and into the Lion's Lair thinking I'm going to write a short story about open-mike night.

I'm fooling myself.

The open-mike segment is advertised as starting at ten, but it's well after eleven when the emcee grabs the mike. Then one comic after another takes the stage, each spouting off for several minutes. Some read from notebooks, immediately scratching out jokes that fail to get a laugh; some bring hilarious, polished routines. Between performances, they huddle together on one side of the bar, joking back and forth. Their manner is self-deprecating and playful, as if they can't believe they're all big enough assholes to show up at the Lair on another Monday night. But I know that deep down, every comic is proud of what he's doing and knows he's brave to be doing it.

The rest of the crowd is a mostly indifferent, grizzled assortment of alcoholics, hipsters and tragic nighthawks, all drowning their sorrows in the windowless bar. A few watch the comics, but most ignore them.

Still, for the comics, this night isn't about an attentive audience. It's about trying out jokes, gauging the response of the few people who are paying attention, creating and honing new material. It's comedy, pure and true, and I'm hooked. The next morning I wake up and write a routine.

The following Monday my career in comedy is born.

April 5, the Lion's Lair

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