As one chases his or her dreams, when do they finally become. Is one an illustrator with the first, rough childhood doodle or perhaps in high school or in college or with the first piece sold? Is a little kid dribbling between the legs as much of a basketball player as Lebron or Kobe? Are we defined in our accomplishments or our trials?
I’ve come to this question many times, spurred by conversations with stand-up comedians. “When did you start?” It’s really an inquiry to superiority or seniority, but I look at it philosophically: when did this actually start. I could say it started when my friend, Jesse Hoffman, and I performed a Siamese twin act in front of our elementary school class. Or it could have started when that same friend would help me record a Sifl and Olly-style audio show on a little tape recorder called the “Jesse and Orenthal Show” (tapes whereabouts unknown). What about when I would stand in front of my church (and public access television) to sing solos, or all the times I’d tried to make my group of friends laugh. Is it applicable to say “I started stand-up” when my friend Caleb and I would open and close our school’s open-mic comedy nights in front of a group of familiars and freshman. These all seem too amateurish or pandering to consider being the birth of my stand-up comedy career, all giving me more seniority than I actually have. If I were honest and unromantic, my start in comedy occurred December 3, 2009 at the Naia Lounge of UC Berkeley.
The event was hosted by the Alternates, a comedy collective focused primarily on stand-up. The name is derived from the co-founders’ “B-Team” status in a comedy competition; in case of an emergency either would be the (fill in the blank). The two figureheads of the Alternates are Mell Miller and Richard Dreyling. I came in contact with these two through none other than jericho! whom along with Stuart Thompson performed stand-up at a mash-up.
Mell Miller is an intriguing comedian. She is funny, polished, naturally gifted in timing and performing but remains casual in her comedic pursuits. Her priorities and goals are far away from the stage, I’m talking about Russia-far. Every time I see Mell rock the mic I’m reminded how much fun comedy can be, how it can be merely a thing one does and not necessarily a thing one is.
Rich Dreyling has a lot to say, he has a voice. Rich has kinship with still waters: deep… deceivingly youthful in appearance, and surprisingly experienced in life. He carries himself as a leader because he wants to see things get done. He admires Bill Hicks, invokes Jimmy Dore, and is probably as physically dangerous as Rob Riggle. If only he had a platform to address his world views… oh wait he’s a comedian.
Stuart Thompson is the rookie Shawn Kemp of stand-up comedy: extremely good, young, ambitious, black. Not black, but you know… tall. Um. Stuart is an impressive specimen on the comedy scene because of how much he gets it; never have I personally seen such a persistent young spirit, willing to travel far and wide for a set. What’s even more intriguing about him is he’s not fucking around; he knows what’s funny, he knows his material, he’s constantly thinking and moving, and he is extremely resourceful. Most comedians are social outcasts, deviants, struggling to fill a hole. Stuart is well liked, highly active in fraternities and band and very concrete. He knows which rooms are a waste of time, he knows which comedians he needs to talk to expand his career and at the end of the day he’s serious about being silly which I readily respect.
Naia Lounge is where I get my sushi on, and my gelato on, yet every time I ask them to mix the two they refuse. Hypocrites! Why offer a Japanese cuisine and an Italian treat and disallow copulation so that there could be sexy, tasty children out of the ordeal? Naia is a warm etching of metallic bubbles. A crew of Superb students reached in and hollowed out a section of tables, set down a grid of chairs and placed a microphone on stage. I looked on; casually cool behind a mound of steamy teriyaki.
The night is distant and glimmering. The days before were spent reviewing and repeating my set over and over with a stopwatch in my hand. The days after were spent talking with fellow comedian, Monica Ekabutr, about how it went. That night though, the night I lay steamy, bloody, on the floor as a newly born comedian, I can hardly remember a thing. New birth is a palatable allusion; through comedy I’m becoming a new person, and under an agreement with my universe I’m recognized as new person. I’m now allowed to be ambitiously bold, to be excruciatingly crass, to make believe and make others believe as well. But, I don’t remember much of my beginnings and like a child suddenly aware of his own existence, I’m not confounded by my missing memories. All I can see now is the playgrounds on the horizon. Excuse me, I’m getting too far ahead of myself…
A lot of comedians dropped out. I watched it all unfold from the audience: a few first timers, Chris Harders, Mell, Stuart, and Rich all performed before a massive scramble. Rich told Stuart to bust out his Bill Clinton while he prepped Miles K, the night’s guest and headliner, to go on stage. As Rich bounded the stage and introduced Miles K, a sinking dread entered my bowels… nobody knew who I was, they didn’t know I was there to perform. I made the grave mistake of assuming that either Rich remembered me from months ago or that they’d connect a big black man as being the one potentially named “OJ”. In my heart of hearts I thought it was going to be like The Price is Right and that I would dance down the aisle in a fit of excitement. Oh blundersome OJ, you’ve done it again.
I quickly informed Rich the situation, and he quickly informed Miles to cut his time a bit. I was quickly having a panic attack as the manager of Naia was quickly losing his patience (the event was running over despite losing a slew of comedians). Miles did what Miles does (I encourage you to find out his dates to know exactly what I’m talking about) and then…
I informed the crowd that I was certainly going to bomb, that if they came for a particular friend that they should leave because I wasn’t going to be as funny as the person that just the stage. I then proceeded to tell a long-running, multi-pronged observation on the failed premise that is “What is black, white, and red all over”. That went over relatively well. Then I crashed into a bit about the movie “Across the Universe” that was snide and very pretentious. It didn’t go anywhere. It made me nervous to tell a joke about a movie so few of the audience had seen. It made me nervous that I performed the joke so terribly. After a wave of panic, I killed my set without saying my closer (a long-form riff about Lady Gaga). I bounded the aisle with a lukewarm response; thank God some of the people were drunk.
I wanted to go back up there immediately. The first word out of my mouth and I was bitten. Comedy is one of the few places I feel I belong; Naia helped prove that.
After the show closed I stuck around for a little while. Miles K encouraged me to continue stand-up; I thanked him for that. I helped stack and move chairs. Rich told me that the Alternates would be meeting after Winter break and for me to pal around to get some San Francisco experience; I accepted the offer. Everything was put in its place and in a short while the clean, clear lounge would say nothing astonishing happened. As I walked to BART I couldn’t disagree more.
Thank You For Reading