Friday, April 10, 2015

I Was a Teenage Stand-Up Comedian in Hollywood!

“There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt.” ― Erma Bombeck

“Life is a comedy to those who think, a tragedy to those who feel.” ― Jean Racine


I really have worked as a Stand Up Comedian in Hollywood and around in small venues in Southern California when I was a teenager. I did this gig, off and on, from 1979 until early 1981 or so. I was very popular and got paid... 

OK. That's not exactly true. I wasn't a teenager, I was about 21 or 22 years old when I was a stand-up comedian; and it's probably a bit of a "stretch" to say that I was "popular." I did get paid a couple of bucks each time too (which was often more than I got from being in a punk band!)

Months before I became a Stand-Up Comedian, I was playing in a punk band and, from that, I got to see how the stage set-up was done for concerts. (I wrote about my punk band in: The White Stripes Jack White and Me (A True Story) ( I saw an opportunity to be able to go on stage, tell off-color jokes and actually get paid a little bit (plus it was a great way to meet girls!) I figured that, in between the bands - while the Roadies were changing equipment on the stage - I could go up on stage and entertain the troops. 

I actually went to clubs and owners to sell myself and my routine. For a while there, I got jobs; a lady from the department store I worked at actually got me lots of jobs too. She got me jobs at some sort of social events! She could have been a good manager! At that time, I was telling jokes in front of crowds of 50 ~ 200 people, one or two weekends a month for a short while!

Sometimes I did so well, and the crowd liked my jokes so much, that the fans were crowding the stage and throwing coins at my feet. I am not exaggerating!

Other times, with the very same act and original jokes I wrote, even the next night in front of a different crowd, it was like I was giving a speech at a funeral; it was dead. I definitely am not exaggerating about that either.

I was always confused as to why I was such a hit one night, then the next night, it was terrible! The difference was like night and day!

(Photo of me, as Nigel Nitro, circa 1980 - I would later write under the pen name "Ricky Zipp" using this same photo)

The first time people threw money at me, I was mad because I thought they were throwing stuff at me to get me off the stage. That was until a friend told me, "Wow! You were great! People were even throwing money at your feet!"

Getting up on stage, by yourself, is much more difficult than people can imagine; you are completely alone. If you are in a band on stage, that's scary enough, but, with a band, you have your band members and instruments to hide behind. Being a stand up comedian is just you, naked (figuratively speaking), on the stage with a few dozen or, even hundreds of people just staring at you. Their eyes pierce you and their expectations are quite high (or incredibly low - which can be a problem too!) Their eyes and faces are saying, "Entertain me! Make me laugh or get off the stage!"

Being a Stand-Up Comedian is a very rough job.

My very last stand up routine was at my university at a talent show; I was MC'ing the event. People were roaring with laughter. I couldn't figure it out. They were laughing in all the wrong places! I later asked a girl why people were laughing so much and she said, "Your facial expressions were hilarious!" I couldn't figure that out either. If anything my facial expression were of confusion because I couldn't figure out why people were laughing at my jokes in weird places! It was then and there that I decided that I wasn't good enough and didn't have what it takes to be a Stand-Up Comedian.

But I'm very glad I tried my luck as a Stand Up Comedian. Being a Stand-Up Comedian is a great way to become a great public speaker. It is also a good way to overcome inhibitions and to learn how to control a crowd's behavior.

How and why did I ever first become a Stand-Up Comedian? Let me explain further...

In about mid 1979, a few months after Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols died, my punk band broke up. I was quite disillusioned with the entire "Punk Thing" by then anyway. Sid dying (he was my hero) was the last straw for me. (Well, I had lots of "last straws," actually.)

But, I had loved being on the stage as a Punk band vocalist and wanted to stay and hang out in Hollywood. So I decided try try my hand as a Stand-Up Comedian. It made sense to me at the time.

Being the front of a punk band was powerful. It was also a lesson in crowd control. When my band ended, at first, I wanted to start another punk band but everything I tried just didn't work out to my liking. Also, I had learned a lesson from playing in a band with other people who weren't so dedicated; having to depend on other people sucks!

Being a Stand-Up Comedian is really just you against the world, it seems. It's a great experience and, no matter your age, I think everyone can benefit from having to stand up in front of a bunch of strangers and give a speech.

After all, giving a speech and doing stand up comedy are first cousins in the public speaking world.

In Japan, you can sometimes see young people standing at a busy train station and giving speeches. I hear it is a kind of initiation at some companies to make their new young employees overcome their inhibitions and become better representatives and salesmen. I think it is good.

I will always fondly look back to my 20 or 30 times as a Stand Up Comedian. Sometimes I was the funniest guy! King of the hill! Other times I was a pathetic little loser standing butt-stark-naked in front of a crowd of people without a friend in the world!....

Both are great learning experiences.

Everyone can benefit from public speaking exposure like that.

Like they say, "Don't dream it. Be it."

This blogpost reprinted courtesy of Robot55



Andrew Joseph said...

JUST... awesome!

Anonymous said...

Wow... Bill Hicks long lost twin brother is found living in Tokyo ;)