For the last few weeks I’ve been going to a comedy club about once a week as my friend Brandi ascended through the rounds of the Funniest Person in the Twin Cities contest, sponsored by the ACME Comedy Club. She went to the final round last night and got fifth place, which is pretty impressive. The competition in the final round was really tough; any one of them could have won and I wouldn’t have been surprised.
Her most successful joke is about walking in on her boy friend and her best friend: “Imagine walking in on your imaginary friend with your imaginary boyfriend. Awkward!”
This isn’t really my friend’s dream — well, maybe winning the contest is a small dream, but not being a professional comedian — but she put a lot of prep work into competing. I found myself watching the amateur comics and wondering for whom it’s a lark and for whom it’s serious business. It’s fun to go see comedians, but darned interesting to watch one go through the rounds, perform the same material a couple of different ways, get a better feel for it. I got a sense of the business of comedy, and couldn’t help but find an anlogue for everything I saw to the writing business. (Well, comedy is largely writing, but bear with me.)
ACME is a classic comedy club, small, in the basement, with a low roof, historically smoky (law changes have cleared the air), and really the place in Minneapolis for comedy. You can tell who in the audience is also an aspiring comic — the sports jackets and bright orange high-tops, ironic tee shirts and unruly shocks of hair, each of them trying to create a memorable style. Not much different than a group of writers at an event, just that their styles are visible. They seem to have a lot of camaradery even though they are technically competitors. I think ACME would be one of the most interesting places in the Twin Cities to be a regular, watching the stories unfold as comics come and go, maybe once in a blue moon a fellow from ACME hitting the big time (I believe that’s where Louis Anderson and Tom Arnold both got their starts.)
Some of the folks who went up on stage with little more than a half-formed premise and a willingness to bomb. OK, before I make fun of those guys, I’ll admit this: it takes guts to fail. Whether you’re standing up in front of 300 people or sending a unsolicited manuscript to an agent or editor, you’re taking a risk of embarassing yourself.
But then, just because it takes courage to fail that doesn’t mean it’s heroic. There’s a lot to be said for the wisdom of insecurity, if it gets you to learn the remedials. Probably anybody that made it past the first round (like anyone who gets published) takes the job somewhat seriously and has done hard, hard work to get there. Hack comedians, like hack writers, still have to learn the mechanics. It’s not as easy as it looks.
The fellow who won was named John… funny guy. I can’t describe any of his humor on a family blog, but I think he’s in it for reals, and wish him well.