There I sat in eighth grade math class, waiting for the teacher to shut the door and turn on the overhead projector, beginning class. I noticed the tape was starting to curl up from the rip in my folder, so I started rubbing tape into my folder with my nail. I kept scratching at it until it was almost transparent.
My new friend Marilyn walked by me, on her way to her seat. She said, “That looks like fun.”
I answered, “Oh yeah, I do this at all of my parties.” Marilyn and a couple of people around her laughed. I felt amazing. From that point on, it was my goal to make people laugh.
Until 8th grade, I had been timid. This is partly because I went to a middle school in a rough neighborhood, and I was always being threatened. I actually got beaten up twice there. Lucky for me, my time at that school ended after 7th grade. I got to move on to this new school, with nice friends, where I felt safe. I felt confident enough to try out for the talent show, as MC, and I MADE IT. Another girl and I co-hosted the show, and even though I had a sore throat and I wasn’t really feeling well, and some idiot had just told me I had bad breath in front of the boy I was crushing on, I still got a few laughs. Making people laugh became my super power.
My love of making my friends laugh was still strong in high school. I used to love mimicking the Church Lady from Saturday Night Live. My friends would encourage me to do it all the time. My Peer Counseling teacher (yes, that was a real class, and yes I got a Peer Counselor of the Year award.) even asked me to do my Church Lady impression onstage during an assembly. I agreed to do it, and even dressed for the part. Then, when it was my time to take the stage, I froze. I flat-out refused to go on stage. I went to the bathroom and cried about what a loser I was while my best friend patted my hair. I had no trouble making my friends laugh, but my horrible stage fright kept me from entertaining an actual audience. At that point in life, I never would have thought I would become a stand-up comedian.
I almost froze during my first open mic night. I grabbed the microphone at Uncle Funny’s and said, “Hello.” Yep. That was my big opener. Hello. UGH! You could hear the crickets. But then, I started doing my bit on stupid warning labels:
Have you seen these warning labels. Obviously, stupid people out there are doing these things or they would not be on warning labels. Water Pik warns us: Caution. Do not use in nose. Someone thought you could pick ANYTHING with your Water Pik.
Then, there’s the Snuggle fabric softener refill carton. It says, “Caution, do NOT reuse container to store beverages.” WHEN is this going to happen. What, you’re sitting at the bar and the bartender asks you if you want your beer in a frosted mug, and you say, “You know what. Put it in a Snuggle container. Not only will it foam up nice and blue, but it will taste snuggly fresh.”
The audience laughed and clapped so much that I had to pause before moving on to my next bit. It was like someone put a giant needle in my arm because I was totally high on the laughter from the crowd.
Shortly after that, I found out that I was pregnant and stopped doing comedy. Between the nausea and the fatigue, I just didn’t feel like doing comedy. So, I took a break. Like a three-year break. When I finally decided to do comedy again, I actually got some paying gigs. By paying, I mean I got like $20 a show. I wasn’t raking in the dough, but it felt good to be paid. I even scored a local commercial. I thought I was going to be famous. And then life changed that for me.
My husband and I separated, and he was really fighting me for custody of our son. There was no way in the world that I wanted to lose my son, so I cut down on doing comedy. I turned down shows that would take too much time away from my son. I kept doing comedy, for years, but just locally. No one makes it to Saturday Night Live just doing local clubs.
I started falling out of love with my drug of choice, making a crowd of drunk strangers laugh. It became exhausting. I used to hide in the comedy club kitchen after shows because I could not stand all the drunk people trying to shake my hand. One super special man even licked my face after a show. GROSS! I decided I was done with entertaining drunks. I did my last show in 2006. It’s the only show I have on video. Well, the camera guy screwed up, so only the last few minutes are on video. You can watch it here.
I haven’t done stand-up comedy in 10 years, and I’m OK with that. I’m in my pajamas by 8:00, instead of pacing backstage and rehearsing my opening line. Now I prefer to put my jokes in writing. I figure I’m still making people laugh, even though I can’t hear them, and I don’t have to put up with beer spit on my face.
Read more of Lisa’s work.
Read more of our Purpose series.