“It’s not fun unless you’ve had a breakdown on stage … Correct, I did not say breakthrough.”
It was the middle of September in 2010, and I was packing to move from Orlando Florida back to Long Beach California. Packing is an interesting thing. It makes you wonder why you ever bought and held onto certain things. An ivory silk slip…was I thinking that they would ever be a thing again? The same with panty hose. And did I really think that I was ever going to ice skate? I had watched a special on TV about Tonya Harding when I was a senior in high school, and had decided that I wanted to be an ice skater. I went as far as to buy ice skates and write a paper in Speech class about her life story. Months later I was at a house party watching a porn that her and her trailer park husband had made. I never used those skates … but almost 20 years later they were still in my closet.
Packing is also a good time to get hammered and go through old pictures and cards and get sentimental about a time in life that you had a good metabolism and didn’t need Botox. As I was going through and packing my last drawer I came across a Bucket List that I had made when I was a receptionist at Enterprise Rent-A-Car, 22 years old, and apparently assuming impending doom. As I read through it, I realized that I had already done half of the things on the list: Move to Texas or Florida (wtf?!), sky dive, surfing lessons … I crossed them off as I reread the list. A few were left: teach the English language in Japan, write a book, do stand-up comedy.
Stand-up. I loved writing and I thought that I was funny … but would that translate before a live crowd? Would they think that I was funny?
I moved back to Long Beach, and started going to a weekly comedy show at the Gaslamp hosted by Zach Miller. I remember me and my friends hanging out with him and some other comedians after the show. They handed out their business cards, and I was able to ask them questions about comedy: how long have you been doing it? How long does it take you to get good at it? Do you still get nervous?
I ended up emailing Zach a few days later, asking him if he ever let new comedians perform at the Gaslamp, and if so, I had written a set, and would like to perform.
I didn’t think that he would respond or let me, but he must have smelled fresh bringer meat, and let me perform a week and a half later. I remember laying in bed the night before thinking ‘no matter what happens tomorrow night, I can always look back and think, I did stand up comedy once. How cool is that?’
At least twenty of my girlfriends were in attendance. I wasn’t sure what the protocol was so I showed up with my full-size notebook (the size of an old school Trapper Keeper) and I wore my comedy hat (a Burberry Fedora) and I drank a bunch of wine, and then I got on stage and told stories. Insane emails that my mother had sent me, stories of Vegas where I had gotten a tattoo, stories of pub crawls when I decided that buying a dog off of a homeless person made sense. I was shaking as I got on stage … I was more scared then than I had been when I went sky diving at the age of 26 and was getting ready to jump out of a plane, later to be replayed in a Lake Perris bar to the Danger Zone song.
It went decently for my first time. Zach asked me to come back again. My second time I did well enough that another comedian came up and asked “you’ve only performed two times? You’re really good!” I didn’t realize at the time that he was high so I left that show with a chip on my shoulder. Enough of a chip to not only agree to a third show, but to also talk to Zach about the possibility of him managing me. So I invited all of my co-workers out for my next big performance … and … I inevitably bombed. I treated it more like a party than a performance, and drank shots of Rumpleminze and wine until I went on last, had no material prepared or that I could remember, slurred through a bunch of really hacky jokes, and then went behind the stage and stood behind the curtains until I was sure that everyone had left.
The irony of this is that I usually work in the field for a convenience store chain, and rarely have to see my co-workers. However, the next day we had a Market Meeting so we all had to meet up. I sullenly taxi’d back to my car which was still parked in the Gaslamp parking lot, and then drove to my meeting. My co-workers that did not go asked how it went. The co-workers that did go couldn’t make eye contact with me.
I took four months off after that, swearing that stand up wasn’t for me and that I would never go on stage again. But stand-up is creative, and it is that love of self-expression, of letting the audience be your diary, of regaling strangers with stories that I have not even told my family or friends, that is cathartic, at least for me. Although I have never gotten paid for stand-up, I ultimately refuse to give up. Sometimes I want to get up every night, other times I just want to sit in the crowd and watch, sometimes I want to write, sometimes I want to produce comedy shows … But at the end of the day, I am a fan of comedy. While at times I will want to take a Ross and Rachel break from it, I will never truly quit. The great thing about comedy is that you can sit it on the shelf for a while, and it doesn’t have to expire.
“You haven’t seen him on Jimmy Fallon or Jay Leno, but you might see him at the Comedy Store.”
That’s how I was introduced on the worst show of my life. It was an East LA show at a place called Rudy’s, a traditional 3 man show with a host, a feature, and a headliner. No one spoke any English. The host was an attractive female that got cat called and whistled. I had only been doing comedy for a year and a half, but I was going up 3-4 times a week all over the place. If I do bringer shows at these bigger clubs, then a bar show should be no problem, right?
The crowd was not in the mood for comedy, but they were in the mood for heckling. The host gave up. She then brought me up to the sound of the same reason people like renting a cabin in the woods in Wyoming … silence. There was a birthday party in the corner. I figured if I could get these girls on my side, then I could get the crowd on my side. I got them a round of tequila shots on me … but it didn’t help, and now I was out money. This was followed by 17 minutes straight of booing, and if they did yell at me it was in Spanish.
I’m much more reserved now … I do my time, I have a few drinks. I have some groupies in San Diego, and some random people that follow me in Florida. I got a blow job in the bathroom after a set once, a year into doing comedy. (Ryan has a show called PUI, Performing Under the Influence. You do a sober 3 minute set followed by a hammered 7 minute set. I got the honor of doing it in December 2013). I record PUI where I asked you to show your tits…omg are you recording this? Anyway, it’s a rock and roll life style, it comes with the territory.
I also bombed at a Disney show at the ESPN Zone recently. There were 150 Disney employees in the Anaheim resort, all upstairs in a loud game room. It was at 11:30am, and I was sober. Everyone there was already not sober. I had a 30 minute clean set to do so I did restaurant jokes. Clean sets can be the hardest sets to do since you can’t cuss or tell blow job jokes. There were tv’s and sports and games going on in the room, and it was so loud that no one could hear me. Also, everyone was so drunk and intent on giving each other googly eyes next to the Skee Ball machine that no one was listening to my set. I ended up only doing 15 minutes of the 30 minutes I was slated for. That’s why it’s so important to get payment for a gig at the beginning of a show instead of at the end. I ended up performing in the corner where the servers were picking up drinks. Even the busboys were empathizing with me in Spanglish.
“Every morning I wake up and swear I’m quitting comedy. Every night I go out and break that promise.”
I performed at the Uncaberet, an alternative comedy show … it’s been around for a long time, since the 1990’s. I was booked to do it in June of 2000, and it was the first time I ever did stand-up. Julia Sweeney and Kathy Griffin were on the show so it was a big deal. I got 5 minutes of stage time to tell a story that I had never told before, one that would find the humor in life. Sex and relationships were the focus topic of this show. I was the only newbie on the show, and I still had no idea how I made the cut. I did 25 minutes when I was slated for 5 … even then I knew that I had killed. I walked off the stage shouting into the microphone “I’m the best at comedy, I’m not even doing this yet and I’m great at it!” I ran into Julia back stage, and she offered to adopt me.
The second time I ever did comedy, I did the same show. Patton Oswalt was on this show. I began with “Hey fuck Hollywood, they don’t know shit.” Everyone stared at me. 5 minutes felt like an hour. No one laughed the entire time, even my friends barely clapped … it was more like a golf clap.
I didn’t do comedy again for 3 years after that. It literally hurt my soul … I felt like I let comedy down.
I have the desire to do comedy, to be good at it, that can’t be my last show. You have to find a way to make your anger and pain relatable or you’re just a sweaty angry mean person that the audience doesn’t get. The more you do anything, you realize the big mistakes you make early on. I remember every second of the show even though Patton Oswalt still has no idea who I am. I remember thinking “I need to take a positive away from that last show so that that never happens again.” I realize that I should have read the audience better. Back then I was trying too hard to make something work that I was approaching from the wrong angle. Now, I have a show to redeem myself. I was too scared and sad before.
I was the son of a comic. I’ve been around comedy my entire life so I felt that I had an obligation to be good at this. To go up and fail so monumentally made me feel like I needed to redeem myself, like I owed comedy. Blake Clark is my father. When I was offered that second show I thought “You can’t avoid this, but you shouldn’t treat your shows any differently from one another. You can be excited, but you shouldn’t treat it any differently than it is now.”
I remember a saying by Wayne Henderson, an acoustic guitar maker. He had the best piece of advice: “Any gig where anyone is willing to listen to you is a great gig.”
Here is the thing: If you’re in a band and the audience doesn’t like you, then they will not like you in a group. But with comedy, people will not like you specifically. It is all on your shoulders.
When you’re going down, you are hyper aware of every sound in the building. Knuckles cracking, air conditioning coming on, someone coughing.
This is the worst that I can do, my comedy rock bottom. The second or third show is always the worst, it makes you doubt your abilities. But you have to be willing to fail, try something that you’re unsure of. You’re unsure of everything at the beginning, you have a false confidence.
I also bombed on the road … when you can sleep in your own bed you’re fine. I was headlining a Latino Comedy Festival in Phoenix. Stuff that always works, musical references, did not fit with that group. I salvaged myself, but you can’t go home to your sanctuary. You now have 6 hours to beat yourself up on the way home, “why did you say that?!” So I ate my feelings the whole way home, milk duds mainly.
Bombing is not the end of the world. It feels like it … but it’s usually just the beginning. It’s part of the process.