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Comedy Stray Notes June 20, 2021
My Dad did stand up with me from 2004-2006. Here's the story.
• Today is Father’s Day and it happens to be my Dad’s birthday too. I’d like to share a story.
From 2004-2006, my Dad dabbled in comedy with me. At the time, I was a 16-year-old high school sophomore who wanted to kickstart a potential dream career by taking stand up classes to learn how to properly write and deliver a joke onstage. The first class I took was by myself at a community college an hour from the house on Saturday mornings. I remember the din of the fluorescent lights more than any of my jokes or classmates. Pops would drive me an hour there and then three hours later, when the class was over, he’d be waiting in the parking lot to pick me up. First class service all around.
After the “graduation class,” we found a new class that was much closer. While a normal parent in this situation would continue simply dropping their child off at these classes populated by depressed middle-aged adults trying to find a park of joy in their lives, my Dad decided to go a step further than that. As an act of solidarity, my old man signed up for this next go-round of classes. He had no real interest in doing comedy himself; he just wanted me to have a friend in the group.
For the next two years, we would hustle every Sunday to our comedy classes to practice fresh material in front of other amateurs. This “class” was essentially a very expensive feedback open mic. The two of us would challenge each other to write new bits every month for the monthly showcases. There were a lot of subpar sets. Regularly turning over material rather than honing it leads to a lot of trial and error. It honestly didn’t matter to us. My Dad’s philosophy was you don’t get better if you don’t try a bunch of new things. Thanks to this encouragement, I did a lot of really dumb, Andy Kaufman-inspired bits like a set where I intentionally tried not to say the word “The” (I failed miserably) and another where I performed strip comedy (if a joke didn’t get laughs, I’d take off a piece of clothing. To prepare for this, I wore a lot of layers). As stupid as these joke-y ideas were, my Dad never criticized or looked down on them; in fact, he was more than willing to perform material that was just as wacky committing to flavor of the moment celebrity impressions and self deprecating act outs.
Also, one time, he wisely pointed out that a lot of comedians in the classes weren’t telling “jokes” they were just stating their “opinions.” To this day, if something I write performs poorly, I analyze it, and yup- it’s more of an opinion than a joke.
The best part of all though were the actual shows.
While the other comics were in the backroom either quietly staring at the ground since this was pre-smartphone, scribbling in their notebooks or riffing, we sat and watched every comic do their thing. The two of us would sit in a faraway booth making fun of our classmates’ material we’d heard hundreds of times before to varying degrees of success. Exaggeratedly mouthing the words out loud to punchlines we knew by heart became a quick comedic shorthand and something we’d regularly make riff on around the house. A tiny bit mean-spirited but I think I laughed louder doing this than any other time in my life. We both would probably agree that this act was more fun than the actual writing and doing business of comedy itself.
After two years, both of our interests in going further with stand up waned. This was probably due to a.) the time I threw up onstage in class (I’d had way too many Gushers and Gatorade that morning for breakfast like a 17-year-old would), b.) an 11-year-old kid joined the class and everyone liked him way more than me and c.) I had to start working on large high school projects.
So, we unofficially dropped out. It would be six years before I got back into telling jokes onstage to strangers.
I look back on this odd period of my life fondly. In fact, I call it a “Father Son bombing experience.”
Yep. This all led to a pun.
Happy birthday and Father’s Day, Dad. You’ve done a million kind things for me but this is my favorite.
I’d leave you with a joke of his but I think he’d probably prefer I didn’t