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Naked and unafraid
Last night, I saw a friend disrobe in public.
It was at the Oak Street Brewery in New Orleans. The place hosted an open mic night for comedians. My friend is a documentary filmmaker and a professor. He decided recently to try his hand at stand-up comedy. He’d done some improv, and this seemed the next logical step. He was taking a chance.
So there we were. At 7pm, he was waiting with six or seven other hopefuls to go on. The place was large, the crowd was small. At one point, there were more comedians than audience members—or so it seemed. Not the best atmosphere.
The comedians who went on before my friend, and afterwards, had varying degrees of success.
Sample: tall shy-looking guy, said, “I was walking on the street the other day and a guy came up to me and said, ‘You suck!’ At first, I was outraged. Then I thought, “How does he know?”
Another guy, short with spiky dyed hair. “I’m in therapy. I have commitment issues. I told this to my therapist, but I don’t think she heard me. In the waiting room, I saw a couple leaving her office before I went in. I told her, ‘You’re seeing other people!’”
Funny? I thought so. The scant audience didn’t agree. There was silence. Silence you could feel, like wind. The kind of silence that makes you tremble a bit. When the comedian is confronted with it, there is not a shred of doubt about what it is. There is a kind of purity to it. There is no ambiguity in silence.
I suggested beforehand that my friend get up to the mic and actually take off his clothes. “Doing standup is like being naked in front of the world,” I noted. “Why not take that cliché and make it real?” He declined. However, when you go to see an open mic evening, watch comedians confronted by outer space-like silence, you realize that it might actually be easier to be literally naked.
My friend’s name was called. Up he went. He took the mic and told his jokes. The reception was, as they say, polite. I really thought some of his stuff was strong. Original. Clever. He had one joke about being allergic to a spelling bee that I thought was very funny.
It’s a brave thing to stand up in front of strangers to try to make them laugh with jokes of your own making. It’s the difference between exposing yourself, who you are, and not. Because what is more vulnerable than offering something you’ve created to the world and saying, this is what I did. Like it? This is who I am? Like me?
Afterwards, when we went outside to talk about his set, I told my friend I admired his courage. I meant it. I also told him I might try stand-up myself. Why? Because it would be great to get some laughs from strangers, I think. What a rush! But mostly because there is a world of difference between watching someone up there with a mic in their hand like my friend trying to make people laugh and you sitting there safe, dry, warm and unscathed in your seat.
So, here’s a joke I’ve been working on. Ready? “My dad’s Jewish. So on Rosh Hashana, I take a half a day off.”
Ok, thank you! No, really! More? Ok, here’s another. “My bank account got hacked the other day. It’s so meager, the hacker actually left me money.”
I’m here all night.