A few weeks ago, several comedian friends and I went to a show put on by an extremely fresh new comic. I went mostly because I wanted to see the opener, Heath Harmison, one of my favorite Boise-based comedians who is just about to make it big and who makes me snort-laugh until I hurt. Go see him, seriously, I would tell you he is my spirit animal, if I didn't know how creeped out he would be by that.
The other reason I went is because I was curious to see how the thing would go. The "headliner" had only tried comedy a few times at the Liquid open-mic before he had decided that he was above standing in line with us dweebs and booked his own show at the Egyptian. I admit I was expecting a train wreck, but I can I honestly say I wasn't hoping for one. I empathized with his frustration for the whole process. The hours spent hanging around the comedy club for a few minutes of time. The patience one must cultivate for the politics and drama of a particular comedy scene. The irritation of knowing you should be doing better than you are, knowing you're capable of so much more, and the temptation to blame your failings on the club and the other comics, instead of accepting that you need practice.
I have been there. Mine was not a graceful beginning, I don't do anything with delicacy, and my comedy infancy had all the messiness of a new birth. All the hubris, insolence, and impatience of a Shakespearean drama, complete with the fall: a set that bombed so spectacularly, people at Liquid still bring it up. ("Hey, aren't you that girl who yelled, 'FUCK YOU, HAMSTER ARE HILARIOUS' at the audience, then stood in silence for two minutes?")
So, I was prepared to be surprised, even rooting for him, a little. Certainly there must be comedy prodigies who never have to pay the toll. The show's host Megan Bryant, creator of the Idaho Laugh Fest (which I'm in!), was warm and funny, and Heath, of course, had everyone screaming. I have been doing comedy for a year and a half now, and I have worked my ass off to have a decent thirty minutes. I would be shit my pants terrified to follow Heath, he performs on cruises and in Vegas. He is polished and tight and professional. But he left that audience so hot, a cup of noodle soup could have done a solid fifteen. I figured no matter how bad he was, the new kid could ride that wave and at least show people a good time.
Instead, he played a seven minute film about what a bunch of dipweeds the other comedians were, followed by some scenes of him doing shots of whiskey. He then took the stage like a UFC fighter, coming in from the back to rock music, and was intro-ed by Megan, in what has now become my most favorite intro EVER: Haters gonna hate. To his credit, he did a full headliner set. He kept his energy up and was fully present, even as people started to trickle out and leave. I found much of his material to be anti-gay/woman, too dull to be offensive, too offensive to be engaging, hopefully built around the sort of black and white beliefs one grows out of in their thirties. He sucked, plain and simple, but he never stood in silence for several minutes or berated the crowd about rodents, and his parents seemed like they were enjoying themselves, so we'll call it a win.
Honestly, the main feeling I had during his set (after the incredulity and Schadenfreude brought on by his "documentary"--omg! So rude! So surreal! So unintentionally Andy Kauffman-esque! So magical! He is the hero Gotham needs, all of our infighting and squabbling put aside while we pause in wonder at the biggest ego Boise Comedy has ever encountered) was a building sadness bordering on pity.
The kid is missing out on what, for me, at least, has been one of the best parts of comedy: being surrounded by people who are invested enough in you to tell you how and when you suck. He sucked, but it's okay to suck! Sucking is great! We're all at various levels of suckitude; we've sucked in front of 700 people and 7. Sucking is where the magic lies, in those moments when you know you can do better and what was once your best effort becomes a new starting point.
The best thing about comedy is how constantly humbling it can be. I feel sad for this fresh comic that he is missing out on that, missing out on the camaraderie and mentorship of being a sucky new comic surrounded by less-sucky old comics because he feels he's too good to wait in line. You don't do yourself any favors by skipping steps. The kid put on a big show, no one doubts his promotional skills--great job booking awesome comedians, for making local work, and filling seats. That shit is tough, I know, we do it every month. High five, man. He had some good premises and natural stage presence, with time, and some much needed soul-searching, I could see him going far.
My hope for the new kid is this: that if he continues to do comedy, it will chip away at his ego bit by bit, until, before he realizes it, he's standing in line like all the other pleebs for four minutes of glory in front of his peers at an open mic. That he'll understand that we aren't telling him he sucked because we hate him, we're doing it because we've all been there.
...I lost you all at "sucking is great", didn't I? Sigh.