Trying And Failing To Be Funny
I was essentially living life backward. I started drinking late, but that was still way before I had my first proper date and kiss, i.e. one with gross amounts of tongue. I used alcohol to get through the holidays at 17, which quite frankly makes me sound like a creepy uncle at a point where that should have been at least 40 years away from being possible. The first time you get drunk off your ass should be next to a lake with some friends at 14. But drinking in order to be able to hang out with relatives should come a bit later, I think.
I was 19 when I did stand-up comedy for the first time and the others who were there thought I was a bit ahead of my time. I started writing stand-up before I moved to London but never got up on stage until one dark, dreary, rainy, cold evening in November of 2013. Open mics seemed to be really popular in London because there was a 5-week waiting list on nearly every single one I could find. But I found one that I could sign up for within a week and set off on the tube, leaving the bike home as it was all the way out in Hammersmith in West London.
It took a while to get there. The pub where the open mic was being held was almost empty when I arrived, I could feel immediately that this wasn’t going to be a fun night. I walked upstairs and found a room with some guys setting up chairs. Even though they only put up 20 chairs, they grossly overestimated how many would show up.
I went for a walk to kill some time until it was supposed to start. It was cold, windy, and raining, but I didn’t want to be in the pub any more than I had to. I was already so nervous I could puke and just being in the pub just made me even more uncomfortable. When the time finally came, I fought the urge to head back to the tube and walked upstairs. There were roughly 7 people in the room and I greeted the man at the door and said my name. He checked it against a list that was five names long. The list wasn’t really necessary.
There were two men in the back who seemed to be the organizers, although they didn’t stick around for long. Only the performers did. The emcee decided to start with me which I liked because all I wanted at that time was to get this over with. I had tried to learn some material off by heart, but even my naïve self realized that this time was not about the material, it was about getting up there and doing it, regardless of laughs, because it was unlikely that I would get any.
I got one. And it was about how I couldn’t get my leg to stop shaking. It was not part of the script. Through my school years, this has been an infinite source of annoyance and frustration: my crippling stage fright. The really fucking backward thing is that it’s not in my head, it’s in my body. I think to myself: You can do this, and this will be eeeeeeaaasy, but once I get up there my body stops cooperating with me.
My mouth stops cooperating with my brain, the words just won’t come out right, I get a huge lisp for some reason and I often completely blackout, not remembering a word of what I was supposed to say unless I have every word on a piece of paper in front of me. I want to be good on stage, I want so badly to be able to be funny in front of a big group of people, but my nerves take an incredible physical toll on me, despite the fact that I sit there two minutes before I’m supposed to go on thinking that I’m gonna rock it like a hurricane.
Ok, that’s not entirely true, but the discrepancy between how I see myself performing just before I go onstage and my actual onstage charisma is enormous and it’s driving me mad. This was the case the first and only time I ever did stand-up. I gave up immediately after, I just didn’t feel like I was cut out for this stuff in reality, only inside my own head, where I of course was the greatest comedian to grace God’s steadily less and less green earth.
I’ve nursed this dream of hosting The Daily Show or any show like it, and I’ve never really done anything about it except of course spend thousands of hours making YouTube videos with comedic takes on the news that nobody watches except that one person who comments: “BURN IN HELL YOU LIBERAL SCUM,” something which of course really brightens your day and makes you feel like it’s worth it to keep going and not to give up on everything life has to offer and curl up into a ball, stuff yourself in a barrel and fall off a waterfall.
Anyway, the emcee introduced me as if the room was filled with excited people and not five men who were looking ever so longingly for the cold embrace of death. It put a spring in my step that I completely lost once I tried to speak. It suddenly became rather impossible for me to clear my head, or to think anything at all for that matter. My mind went blank.
I stumbled, I got something out but it wasn’t good. All my “natural funniness” I’ve been told I have seemed to have evaporated. Gone were the funny bones, as if they were never there in the first place. I had been reading my notes on my phone on my way across London but then and there when I reached for it to regain some kind of composure, I couldn’t even remember the code to open it.
Any other time it would’ve been lodged in my thumb as a muscle memory but at this moment my thumb just sat there, waiting for my brain to send some signals that never came. My left leg was shaking and I couldn’t get it to stop. I was falling apart without realizing how ridiculous it must have looked. I decided to show myself some mercy and I didn’t even attempt to finish my set.
The other guys said some encouraging stuff, the next guy made fun of me by also fumbling with his phone despite him not being nervous at all. I took it well, smiled, and sat there while the other guys did their bits even though I could’ve just left. You’re not supposed to, when they’ve watched you crash and burn, the least you could do is do the same for them.
I was never going to see these people again so leaving was definitely an option, but I almost felt like basking in my own failure for a bit and just sit there, letting my own humiliation sink in before I could stand up again. Some douchebag did his bit and then ran off with his mate, unsurprisingly he was the only one even remotely close to my age.
I hated the fact that when you signed up for an open mic, you’re told to bring friends. I mean, I get it, you have to fill up the place, but I don’t want to bring my friends. I don’t want anyone I know to know that this ever happened. Because the first time you do something, you’re gonna to be shit at it.
The rest of the maybe four or five guys who were there did their sets. Last but not least, an older man stood up. The lights from a bridge crossing the Thames shone through the rain-covered window. He had some notes. He looked at them, sighed, and said: “I’ve got some jokes, but I’m not really feeling it, what do you say, should we all go jump off that bridge?” I laughed. So did everybody else.
We all knew we were miserable, but in that moment, even though I couldn’t wait to get out of there, it felt good to be with some people who felt just as goddamn awful as I did. This experience didn’t kill my dreams of sometime standing onstage, but it sure as hell brutally murdered any proactive willpower to do anything towards getting there. The overwhelming feeling was that somehow Eddie Izzard talking about jam would always be more amusing than anything I could possibly come up with.
I’m mostly embarrassed by what I wrote back in the day because I thought it was comedy material. It’s not good at all, but it’s a stunning documentation of inspired moments where I would get a brain wave, rip out my phone and write it down before the thought danced away. It is proof of the naïve hope I had that I would be something someday. The fact that I’m still writing this story more years and years after I started shows that I haven’t lost an ounce of that naïve hope. Hopefully, I’ll be able to finish it before I lose it all. I can feel it slipping away, I better finish before it’s all gone.
I had learned from Swedish stand-up that it becomes a lot better if you include some darkness, an ebb and flow of jokes and morbidity. This works best if you have ninety minutes in which to tell your story, not five minutes in front of a bunch of alcoholics. So it’s a flawed strategy for the start of your stand-up career. That of course didn’t stop me from writing sad shit. I’m no stranger to writing sad shit, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but it’s kind of my jam. But writing sad shit that works on a stand-up stage is not really the same thing.
When I first came to London, I never thought I would be homesick, but I was. When I was home, my life stopped. No progress. No social interaction. Loneliness. Pointlessness. But I was happy. Or I guess a better term would be less sad. I don’t even know if I was sad. But I wasn’t happy or content.
I feel like you have to have been miserable at some point in your life in order to be funny. Or just continually miserable. People who have generally been happy generally struggle to be funny. There was a guy in my new class at university who was really funny. We liked each other, and we were funny together. We rubbed the couch where we were sitting, looked each other in the eyes, and said “Couch-clit,” then burst out laughing.
Yes, we were really drunk, but still, he was funny when he was sober too. When it later turned out that he lived with his grandparents because his parents weren’t around, I wasn’t surprised at all. Apparently, his father beat him when he was a baby. Makes sense. After all, according to Woody Allen, a tragic character, tragedy plus time equals comedy.
A lot of guys become quite comfortable expressing their sexuality when they enter puberty. They start asking out girls, making comments about their looks and generally start acting like vermin. It’s not like I didn’t want to have sex, I just wasn’t desperate enough or willing to rape someone. Both because it’s fucking horrific and also because it would make me so uncomfortable that I would not be able to get it up.
Which I think is a decent human trait. Isn’t it also lovely that my sexual confidence is so deep in the toilet that I just assume that rape is the only option since being the humongous wreck that I am, I’m unlikely to attract an actual human to consensually mate with? Another reason I haven’t got laid, it’s not for lack of trying, oh wait that’s exactly what it is. I haven’t tried at all, and why?
Fear of rejection?
Well yeah, but everyone struggles with that.
A lack of desperation and a general disgust for all humans?
You’re a self-loving asshole?
Bingo, jackpot, yatsy, you’ve nailed it.
Maybe it’s time to start trying?
Then someone really special has to come along for me to care enough to actually try.
I don’t know why things are the way they are. I’m not insecure, in fact, I’m incredibly confident, except when it comes to girls. It’s not like I desperately want a girlfriend, except for you know, tits and stuff. Or maybe I’m not confident when it comes to anything? Maybe I just like myself? I think I have some confidence because I think I’m brilliant, that’s what confidence is, right? Right!?!
I might think I’m fantastic but I still don’t think a single girl has looked at me and thought: I would like to be with him. Anyone who does think that other people want to be with them must be at least a little bit psychotic. How can you possibly love yourself that much? Sex is totally different, someone might totally have looked at me and thought: I’d bang him. From very far away. With my back towards them. In the dark.
That might totally have happened, although I highly doubt it. One of my university lecturers once told me I couldn’t use a byline picture in a magazine we were making in class for a startlingly appalling reason. “Oscar, you can’t use that picture, you look like someone who kills your wife and rapes your daughter,” she exclaimed for the entire class to hear. She wasn’t wrong, I don’t suffer from resting bitch face as much as resting rape face.
This was the same lecturer who gave the very scholarly advice to one of the girls in the class who wanted to interview Julian Assange, to find out what baked goods he liked and bring it to the Ecuadorian embassy where he was hiding out, and to show up in a very short skirt, in order to gain access to the accused rapist. We never found out if she heeded this advice. This lecturer also happened to be my personal tutor, everyone in the class had one, but it just meant you had check-ins with them twice a semester.
I talked to her about my comedy videos, she told me they were shit and what I should do differently. I appreciated her candor and heeded her advice and completely reworked my YouTube format. I also happened to be the one person she felt she could pick out of a crowd in the middle of a lecture in front of 70+ people and mock for her own amusement. I can’t exactly remember what it had to do with journalism, but once, she had put a huge picture of a pair of tits on her PowerPoint. Being a good student, I gratefully absorbed the information.
She took this moment to yell “Oscar, stop staring!” The class laughed, I was rattled, but I knew she only did it because she thought I could take it, which I liked. So her illuminating the entire class as to how enchanted I was with the enormous cleavage occupying every guy’s mind at that moment wasn’t really a problem.
Furthermore, regardless of how deplorable the state of affairs is that it leads to anyone feeling this, having your heterosexuality reinforced in front of others was undoubtedly a good thing, especially considering how tight my jeans were and how most of my shirts were covered in flowers. I took it in stride. Sadly, this newfound confidence did not, I repeat did NOT, transfer into any kind of ability to talk to girls in a way that would gain me access to their pants.