“‘No regrets,’ that’s my motto. That, and, ‘everybody wang chung tonight.’”
– Zach Galifianakis, Out Cold
The host tapped me on the shoulder and nodded. I was next. He jumped onstage, took the mic, and said, “Okay, next up we have Brent Thomas!”
I took the mic and I said, “my name is Bart Tocci, which is close to Brent Thomas.”
This is the story of when I tried stand-up comedy. Tony, Thad, and I all tried it. We went to a bar near our place, signed our names, watched four hours of comics before us, and did four minutes of stand-up each. I’m convinced mine was three minutes, or two and a half, but don’t worry about that—I’m certainly not dwelling on it. (It’s not like I care.) (It’s not even worth mentioning.) (I’m just trying to say, it’s not something that I think about now.)
Nobody knew us, so our names got pushed back to make room. Nobody knew me, so I got the biggest laugh of my marathon set when I said, “This is my first time!” [Applause, cheers.] “HEY! DON’T PITY ME! DON’T YOU PITY ME!” [Silence, disgust.] I think I could be good at stand-up, but I imagine it’s like a friendship: you have to keep showing up, spend a lot of time, gradually earn confidence and trust from the audience, and you have to talk about poop and sex.
If improv has taught me one thing, it’s that if you’re confident in yourself, the crowd is confident in you. If you look like you know what you’re doing, the crowd thinks that you know what you’re doing. So maybe starting off with, “This is my first time doing this!” wasn’t a good idea. Having said that, a guy said, “Man, if this is your first time, you have to tell people. You don’t want to have a shitty time your first stand-up!” I went with his advice, because I wanted to have a good time.
I was pretty confident it would go one of two ways:
- I would stand up, grab the mic, and the guy would say, “Just—AHH!—keep going! this is too damn funny! AHHHA!! Actually, please stop! OHHH! We are literally dying”.
- Or, I would stand up, grab the mic, and say “Ahhhh, I don’t know, man, you know? I don’t know, you know? I don’t know you know?…” Over and over into a silent void until I sat down, alone and somehow naked.
So I got up and I talked about the police and kept my clothes. I’m going to tell you what I said, and I’m going to critique myself in italics.
When I was younger, I wanted to be a policeman, because I saw the movie Blade Squad on TV. Look it up—it has a startlingly high 3.5 out of 10 rating on IMDB. It’s about police officers who are on their last chance in the force, and they have rocket packs and roller blades and they roll around at high speeds solving crime.
I know, I don’t get to the jokes fast enough! I’ve already lost em’! And is anyone as obsessed with IMDB as I am? Probably not!
So the movie sucks, I loved it, and I was crushed that there’s no real blade squad, UNTIL NOW! Fast forward thirteen years, I’m in Perth, Australia, and there’s an ad in the paper for Roller Cops. “A new kick arse crime squad, rolling out to the streets of Perth…” So it does exist!
GOLD, right? I cut out the newspaper clipping and everything. But, too much set up! Not enough jokes. Is that it? I don’t know! They don’t know me enough, so they don’t know if there will be a payoff for waiting. But a good comedian probably doesn’t need everyone to know them, because funny is funny. Right? I don’t know!
Roller cops, though, are like a child’s idea for good law enforcement. “Dad, you know what would be really cool, is if, you guys fought crime…on ROLLER BLADES. Cause, you could be faster.”
Dad: You know what, buddy? That’s not a bad idea!
Then I mimed rollerblading with an Australian accent:
Copy that, we’ve got the suspect in our sights, he’s headed Northbound on—OH! WE LOST HIM! He took the stairs! He’s gone up the stairs. He got away.
Excellent, I see him right there, right about to apprehend the sus—OH! We cannot pursue!
He’s gone on cobblestone!
He’s walking on grass!
He’s walked into a mall!
He’s turned left sharply!
He’s going uphill!
He’s going downhill!
He’s running over wet leaves!
*Crowd was throwing up with laughter. *No they were not. *It was a favorable response.
It was about this time that one of the hosts gave me the cell phone wave, which means one minute. I said, “one minute?” He said, “like, ten seconds.” I said ten seconds-worth of jokes and sat down and that was that. Tony talked about women’s cosmetics in space, which you need to ask him about, and Thad told a hilarious story—you should also ask him to tell you.
My sister told me about something she heard from Aziz Ansari about stand up, and I’m paraphrasing a paraphrase: “When you’re starting out in stand-up, the goal is to leave with your dignity intact.” What a great way to think about trying anything new—you don’t have to be phenomenal on your first go with anything. Try it, leave with your dignity, and try it again and again until you do so poorly that you run out of dignity.
Bart Tocci (’11) lives in Boston where he writes essays, performs at open mics, and threatens to start taco restaurants. He’s been told that he looks like the kind of guy who stands up for what’s right. And who goes to the store before the party. Read more here: barttocci.wordpress.com