“Standup’s probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done. If you write a story at home, you write it and rewrite it, send it to your friends to take a look at and they edit it. You have the opportunity to keep rewriting. But once you’ve written a joke and get up on stage, you cannot rewrite that. You have one chance to say it right.” – Stacey Gustafson, Zestful Aging podcast.
Growing up, I discovered the power of comedy. I could make my mom laugh her butt off when I imitated Mick Jagger or Elvis, or the guy next door. Or my father. I used jokes to get out of trouble. Neglected chores? Tell a knock-knock joke. Caught acting like a wiseass? Spin a funny rap song. Punishments forgotten and laughter ensued. That gave me power.
Like most kids in the 1970s, with only four channels at our disposal, I zoned out on Saturday morning cartoons like Scooby-Doo, the high jinx of The Monkees, and The Pink Panther Show shenanigans. In the 80s, sitcoms like Laverne & Shirley, The Carol Burnett Show and Bob Newhart elicited laugh-milk-out-your-nose reactions. These shows planted the seeds for my own style of comedy.
As an adult, I still love everything about comedy from hilarious sitcoms like Black-ish and Modern Family to guaranteed-to-make-you-laugh authors like Nora Ephron and Dave Barry. But what I enjoy most is stand-up comedy. I’ve always admired that guy or gal who could stand up in front of a crowd and tell jokes, hecklers be damned!
Twenty-five years ago, I imagined myself on stage doing the opening act for one of my favorites, Tim Allen. We saw him perform in Atlanta before he appeared on the TV series, Home Improvement, and I wondered, “What’s it feel like having the full attention of an audience?”
As a young, married couple, when our favorite comedians were in town, like Kathleen Madigan, Jim Gaffigan, Brian Regan, and Sinbad, my husband and I found a way to scrape together enough money for tickets.
After I published, Are You Kidding Me? My Life With an Extremely Loud Family, Bathroom Calamities, and Crazy Relatives, I received four speaking engagements, one paid opportunity. I knew that in order to promote my book, this went with the territory. Yet the thought of speaking in front of a group made me as nervous as a pig at a barbeque. Until now, the mighty pen was my mouthpiece. I expressed myself through my blog, Facebook and humorous short stories. Face-to-face contact, not for me.
Then everything changed. I joined a public speaking club to feel more comfortable in front of an audience and polish my speaking skills. I decided to push myself even further.
I caught the stand-up bug at a writers’ conference during a Stand-Up Comedy Boot Camp. The featured comedian convinced me to do a four-minute set on mammograms to an audience of over 350 supportive and hilarious writers. Their applause and cheers invigorated me. I wanted to try it again.
At home, I polished my skills and practiced, practiced, practiced.
Through this process, I discovered that stand-up comedy is way harder than writing humor. When you write a story, you’re in the comfort of your own home, pecking away at the keyboard with the ability to rewrite and massage a story at your leisure. The same cannot be said for stand-up.
In stand-up, every word must be perfect. Gestures, pauses, eye contact, timing, and facial expressions are essential for success plus the ability to gage an audience reaction. Don’t forget body movement, posture, and memorization. Oh, is that all?
Next step, you must get in front of an audience. With encouragement of 70 friends, I signed up for open mic at Tommy T’s, a local comedy club. After hours of practice, I was ready to deliver my routine with the appropriate pauses to evoke laughter.
Guess what? I won Best Comic of the night and the club ran out of food, making up for it with free margaritas. My biggest compliment of the night? My daughter said, “Congratulations, you broke Tommy T’s.”
Afterward, a local comedian asked me to make a special guest appearance at a community fundraiser. Sharing my comedy on stage to raise money for worthy causes, like local schools, cancer, and performing arts, consumed me. Stand-up gives me purpose.
I’ve even met Wendy Liebman, semi-finalist from America’s Got Talent, Season 9. She told me after my stand-up, “You’re a natural.” That’s a mighty high compliment I’ll never forget!
For me, writing has been my way of expression and stand-up is a new opportunity to push myself further and share humor with others. I’m not sure where my new passion may take me but I’m thrilled at the opportunities and the support of friends that believe in me. I can’t wait to do it again.
Stacey Gustafson is the bestselling author of Are You Still Kidding Me?. She’s also an inspirational speaker, blogger and comedian. Her short stories have appeared in Chicken Soup for the Soul, seven books in the Not Your Mother’s Book series, as well as other online and print publications. Her awards include Erma Bombeck Humor Writer of the Month, California Writers Club, Tri-Valley Branch, winner of 2015 Prose Contest, Semi-Finalist in the 2015 Kindle Book Awards, Advanced Toastmaster Bronze award, and Best Comic of the Month at Tommy T’s Comedy Club. She performs stand-up throughout the East Bay, CA. Blog: http://staceygustafson.com Amazon: https://amzn.to/2w81huR Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/staceygustafsonwriter/ Twitter @RUKiddingStacey.
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