Always ask them if they’re having a good time. It gives you a chance to read them, and them a chance to size you up. It would be almost romantic if you weren’t about to spend the next five minutes making subtle allusions to America’s political climate and less subtle allusions to your sex life. No matter the case, ask them if they’re having a good time and ride the cheers as you move the mic stand out of your way. Always move the stand. It’s your stage.
In the last year of my bachelor’s, comedian Sabrina Jalees headed two shows during Welcome Week. Right before the end of her first set, she shoots a question to the crowd: ‘Who here is interested in comedy?’ My hand shoots up, I’m thinking along the lines of a workshop or a couple pointers: a layman’s introduction to stand-up comedy. Instead she gives me a five-minute set to open the next show and a couple opportunities to bow out with grace. I don’t.
I opened my first set ever with: “‘My mom was super concerned cause she didn’t think I had enough to talk about. I told her, mom- I’m a black man living in Canada- I think I can fill five minutes.’”
I found out the Wilser’s Room at the Capitol Complex does an amateur comedy night once a month. I’ve been doing stand-up regularly since January 2017. For my first set at Wilser’s, I open with the fact that Trinidad and Tobago has the largest deposit of asphalt in the world and it’s used as a tourist trap. In other words- our government thinks it’s something to proud of.
I can’t say being a stand-up comedian was something I’ve always wanted to be. I have always wanted to entertain. I’ve wanted to be a guest on the Muppet Show, have a spot on Saturday Night Live. I’d rather present for the Oscars than win one. There’s just something about being up there and winning people over with something you wrote down on the back of a receipt so you didn’t forget it.
I constantly find myself using stand-up to complain about things beyond my control, from J.K Rowling’s inability to let the Harry Potter franchise die to immigration and passive racism. It’s blissfully therapeutic, almost acting as a quasi-activism. There’s a couple ways to deal with an issue but I think every now again, we’ve earned the right to laugh at it before we get back out there to raise hell.
It’s easy to say comedy is subjective, but I wouldn’t say that’s what I learned. What makes people laugh that’s what’s subjective. People respect and acknowledge a good joke. They see effort in something that has a rhythm and structure. Saying someone doesn’t get your joke isn’t going to cut it. There’s a science to telling a joke and it’s up to comedian to respect that chemistry.
Before getting up there, I think it’s important to know who your influences are. It’s so essential to build off other artists for inspiration. Putting on a comedy special right before a show is mandatory at this point. Watch them move, watch them play the crowd. In the beginning, your style is going to look like a lot of people’s style; but if someone says your comedy reminds them of someone that they love- how is that anything but a compliment?
The idea is to constantly throw yourself out there, constantly bring new material, constantly rework what didn’t work before deeming it dead. If you bomb, the idea is to endure and keep pushing forward.
Thank them for their time. Say that they’re wonderful. Always say that they’ve been wonderful. They just laughed at that joke you made about your penis; or someone else’s penis- I’d say that makes them wonderful. If they start cheering, do a little bow, they’ll lose their minds.