At the end of October I decided to take a break from doing standup. I have been mulling this break for a while, and the time seemed right. The Vermont comedy community has been going through a serious bout of growing pains over the past year or so. There have been a lot of schisms and infighting based on perceived or real slights, a huge issue popped up with someone who went out of his way to make people uncomfortable, and this fall five of the most accomplished standups and improvisers left for greener pastures. All of this lead to me feeling like I needed a break, so I marked off the month of November and I stepped away from standup for a while.
I want to clarify that this wasn’t a woe is me, everybody is being mean and I don’t want to do this anymore type of break. Frankly comedy is going pretty well for me. I have had the chance to host for a guy who has a Showtime special this spring, and set up a show at a conference for a buddy of mine who is a national headliner. My show at Havoc Mead continues to get very good reviews, and I will be starting another showcase at a fancy country club in January. This year I didn’t grind it out as much as I should have, but I still managed to get booked a lot and made more money than I did last year. Or depending how you look at it, I made up for more of the beer that I drank at comedy shows this year than I did last year. Even after all of this I still felt kind of burnt out and needed to step away for a bit.
I set out on this adventure with a plan. I was going to step away from performing, but not from attending shows or supporting my friends. If I got the idea for jokes I would be able to think them over, but wouldn’t tear them down or agonize over them like I normally would. I would also take some of the time that I spend on standup to focus on other performance mediums. I would also take a little time to think over old bits and ideas that I had never been able to put forward. The only time I would step on stage for standup was to host an open mic that I had previously signed up to host, and even then I would try to do old material and experiment with a different type of format.
I suppose the easy part was trying to fill the time. A few months ago I had volunteered to do improv with a group called Hop Characters where we interview a local beer celebrity and do long form. I had taken a few improv classes several years ago and occasionally would jump up to join a short for jam, but have zero long form experience. We had a few practices that I could make it to, and the other comics were great, they had stage presence, confidence, and knew how to play well with each other, I was clearly the weakest link. But in true improv form they pulled me along and we had a great show. It was really fun and hopefully helped to open a door to doing more improv.
At the same time I was also working on the roast of Harry Potter. I don’t know if I was a conventional choice to work on this. I don’t normally write jokes, and have no theater background or experience with characters, and I don’t rely on production. As a standup I rely strongly on stage presence and storytelling to command a room, and am used to doing it by myself instead of as part of a panel. On top of that I only read the Harry Potter books once a few months ago and still haven’t seen all the movies. But luckily one of the characters is a half giant with long luscious hair, so I was the logical casting choice. I didn’t write all that many jokes in advance, but for some reason once we started writing the flood gates opened, most of them were terrible or just a decent premise, but a few of them wound up in the roast and were even big hits. The writing and production sessions were a lot of fun, it was great to hang out with a great group of funny creative people and work on generating ideas. We got to spend a night transforming the comedy club into Hogwartz with all sorts of designs and baubles and regalia, it was really cool.
Once everything was put together and we got to start performing it was an absolute blast. I had pre show jitters for the first performance, but things settled down and I had fun with it. Unfortunately I was stuck at work for one of the shows, but there is another comic who is also a half giant with amazing hair and he stepped right into the void and did awesome. As great as it was to be on stage, being backstage and hanging out with everyone was the best part. I never understood why the theater kids in high school were always so jazzed to stay at school until midnight working on sets and costumes, but now I understand. Even now a week after the show I am still having flashes back to my favorite moments. I think that after more than 3 years, dozens of standup shows, 1 improv show, hundreds of open mics, and everything else that I have done in comedy this is and will be my favorite thing that I have done. I can’t wait to start planning out the next roast.
One of the things that I also put in time on this month was storytelling. In the past month I have done two events with Storytelling Vermont, took second place at Extempo, and am going to perform at a cool event with the Burlington writers workshop. I really enjoy storytelling because it allows me to connect with people on a deeper level and try to reach more emotions. Luckily I live in a place with so many storytelling opportunities, and I had a good friend who twisted my arm and forced me to give it a shot. Beyond oral stories I also tried to write a bit. I wrote something about a friend, it was one of those cathartic pieces where you do your best to bleed all over the page and leave yourself out there. It was a good way to mediate the pain and wrap it in good memories. A few nights after that I started working on a book that I have been thinking about for a while. I don’t know how diligent I will be, or if it will ever get finished, but one can hope.
So now what? The answer seems obvious, I will get back to the grind of standup. Hopefully I will get back into the swing of things, work on some new ideas, reframe old jokes, and keep getting better. This month off helped to solidify that while I can survive without standup I still enjoy having it in my life. I am a comic, when you put me on stage I will do my best to make people laugh no matter what type of performance medium I a doing. I am also a member of the Vermont Comedy Community, and I like that. I am not the best, I am not the most open or friendliest, but I am always there. I won’t be pursuing comedy beyond a local level, but I have always been at peace with that. And lets face it being a big fish in a small pond isn’t always a bad thing, as long as you love the pond and the people in it.