A Beginner's Guide to Stand-up: Two Beginner Myths

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A Beginner's Guide to Stand-up: Two Beginner Myths

Hollis Gillespie, award-winning humor columnist, author and NPR/TV commentator, has started doing stand-up comedy. She’s a beginner, and here is her personal guide.

Myth #1 – It’s your job to be funny.

Wrong. It’s not your job to be funny. It’s your job to bomb until you become funny. For example, I would never have known booze can ruin your set, even though Jay Leno once told me, “If it ever comes down to me and another guy, and the other guy drinks, I win.” (Side tip #1: As a beginner, a good rule is to never brag about your stint on the Tonight Show. But I hate rules so this marks the billionth time I mentioned it.) So I get it now. Alcohol makes you think your delivery is amazing, but then when you listen to the tape of your set the next day you sound like an overmedicated mental patient.

Or, worse, you could do what I did last December at an open mic called #MEATS hosted by Justin Thompson and Justin Clements at a BBQ restaurant in West Atlanta. I was at the end of the list, drank three cocktails while waiting to go up, then stumbled around bombing so badly that one of the Justins had to take me by the arm and gently lead me off the stage like a Boy Scout helping a tottering grandfather across the street. So I don’t do that anymore. See? I’m learning. Like a beginner. And now I know why bartenders generally aren’t super joyous about open mic nights, because the only people buying drinks are beginners who don’t know any better.

Failing is a necessary process. One of my favorite showcases/open mics in Atlanta is Hot Mic hosted by Ian Aber each Thursday in a gay bar called the Hideaway behind the laundry mat in Ansley Mall. The atmosphere is accepting and convivial and the audience is engaged and not buried in their cellphones the whole time. People picked from the bucket list to perform open mic are met with acceptance and feel safe to fail. The results are hilarious. ?Another ??up-for-anything open mic is Tuesday night’s “U Up?” at Noni’s in Edgewood?? hosted by Jen Lenny and Samm Severin.

On the opposite end, I recently did an open mic at a bigger club in the area, during which I tested a bit about how I like to pretend to hit on my gay neighbor. I learned later it was a subject for heated ridicule among a tiny gaggle of members of my close-knit local comedy family on a Facebook page that is supposed to be a resource for Atlanta comedians. If I was younger and didn’t have the hide of a rhino, that alone might have kept me from ever attempting anything new again, but instead I’ll keep working on it and leave these bullies to suck the balls off my dog, which brings me to the next myth.

Myth #2: People need to like you.

No they don’t. You can’t appeal to the average masses with your best work, you can only appeal to the average masses with your average work. Do your best work and if you piss people off, then tell them where you’ll be so they can say so in person. Me, next week I’ll be hanging out at Will Call at the Union in East Atlanta, WonderMic in Grant Park, Hot Mic in Ansley Park, U Up? in Edgewood, and, of course, hitting on my gay neighbor next door.

Hollis Gillespie is an award-winning humor columnist, All Things Considered NPR commentator, TV commentator and best-selling author of Bleachy-Haired Honky Bitch and other humor-based books. Recently she decided to take up stand-up comedy, an endeavor at which she is failing fabulously. This column is her outsider perspective. (Has she told you the story about how she was a guest on The Tonight Show?) (No? Good. Don’t get her started.)

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