The other day Facebook reminded me that a year ago I gave stand-up comedy a shot at an open mic night. My local comedy club does open mic sessions every week, and since I have a few comedian friends who had been encouraging me to try it out, I figured I could handle a few minutes of stage time if I had a set ready to go. Though in my case, it would be better to call it “sit-down comedy.”
I knew I had some solid material. I’m always writing, and being in a wheelchair means I get a lot of stupid comments from people I encounter which make for great jokes. Just read my column from a couple weeks ago.
Still, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous about getting up in front of a crowd of people and trying to make them laugh for three minutes. I did do a lot of acting growing up and I was eager to get back on the stage, but in that case I was always playing a character who was written by someone else. The prospect of performing as myself and delivering my own material was a new challenge. Nonetheless, I felt pretty confident about the jokes I had written and I only had to entertain the crowd for a few moments.
Capitalizing on my own nerves, I opened my set with: “I gotta say this is my first time doing this and I am pretty nervous. I feel like Anthony Weiner getting a physical.” That joke was well-received by the audience, and from there I went to talking about my disability and the dumb comments I receive from people. I talked about how people will see my service dog and tell their kids that it’s a “seeing eye dog,” to which I reply: “Yeah, ’cause I’m blind and in a power wheelchair.” That joke got a ton of laughs, and I regularly use it with friends and recently at the Cure SMA conference.
I had a few others about my disability and about being an English major before my time ran out. It went by quickly, but it was one of the most well-received acts that night. Plus, I had my caregiver and a few close friends there to support me. It was a huge success for my first time doing it.
My second time the following week didn’t go as well, but it was still fun. It was a much less enthusiastic crowd that night, and while my jokes were solid, my execution was weaker. Before I went on there was another performer who had me rolling to the point where I had water in my eyes from laughing.
By the time I had to go up I was desperately trying to wipe them so that I wouldn’t be struggling to see onstage. Unfortunately, I had difficulty getting comfortable and keeping my eyes open, but I also am well aware that these things happen to every comedian. Heck, even Patton Oswalt wrote about a time he was sick and bombed the first show he ever hosted, in his book Zombie Spaceship Wasteland.
The rest of that fall semester, which was my final semester of college, left me with little free time and I didn’t get a chance to go to another Tuesday open mic night for a while. Still, it’s something I want to get back into. My writing has improved significantly in recent years, and while my ultimate goal is to become a published comic book writer and author, stand-up comedy provides me with a good outlet to share my story and all of the hilarious nuances that accompany each day of my life.
Just like the comedian Josh Blue says, the disabled population is unique in that not only are we the largest minority on the planet, but we are “the only minority that you can join at any time.”
P.S. If you’re offended by that last joke, you would really hate the conversations I have with my caregiver.
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