Some time between my last day of university and my first time smoking pot, Jerry Seinfeld came out with a special called “I’m Telling You For the Last Time.” It was his way of putting to bed a bunch of material he didn’t want to do anymore. (Garry Shandling stealing jokes out of the coffin in the opening sequence is still my fave.) I owned it on VHS, and it was my go to after raves when I was coming down off ecstasy. It was the only thing I could think of to stabilize my serotonin before discovering the 5-HTP trick.
I wouldn’t say I’ve “retired” any jokes, but I have dropped the flushing babies down the toilet bit. (For now.) Don’t want to get cancelled before I get accepted.
But the one thing I am tired of reciting is the answer to the ever asked question,
“So, what made you want to get into stand up?”
It’s a fair question, I’ve just answered it a LOT. So here we go:
I’m telling you for the last time, about my first time.
I didn’t always want to be a comedian. My original dream was to write for The Young & the Restless. I’m not sure how old I was when I started watching soap operas, but I do know I was young enough to still be forced to drink milk. My passion for the genre grew. I started passing on YM and Tiger Beat and buying Soap Opera Digest instead. Eventually I saw a trend- there were no story lines with characters my age, and that’s what these shows needed. At the wise age of 13, I didn’t think it was realistic to get my dream job right out of the gate, so I figured it would be easier to get hired at All My Children first. I hand wrote a letter and pitched myself to the legendary soap producer Agnes Nixon. I figured I could get the experience on her show to then get hired on Y&R. I never heard back.
But I wasn’t letting my new Judy Jetson diary with a lock on it go to waste. Just because I wasn’t ready to write about people coming back from the dead, didn’t mean my career was over. In fact, my first joke I ever wrote was at age 11:
When cows laugh, does the milk come out their nose?
It seemed to be something a lot of kids could relate to. As I got old enough to stay up past midnight, I started to randomly catch the occasional stand up set on TV. It was so rare to see it back then. There was no Netflix, YouTube or Internet rabbit holes to seek out this form of comedy. It wasn’t until one fateful night babysitting, when a single dad didn’t make it home until 3:00am that I finally saw the woman who made me think,
“I wanna do that.”
That comedian was Wendy Liebman. If you don’t know her, look her up. She’s incredibly funny, and you can clearly see her style has inspired a ton of comics.
CUT TO: 1997
Believe it or not, I was a good student in high school. Excellent at math and English. I never skipped class, was on student council, counter attack driving and driving squad, had parts in all the plays and musicals (but only roles I could scream songs, not actually sing.) I don’t know when my academics slid away from me, but I’m pretty sure it coincided with my first sip of peach schnapps and the loss of my virginity.
(Did I quote both Sheryl Crow and Heathers in my yearbook? Yup.)
I was 17 when I moved across the country to attend Carleton University in Ottawa. It was frosh week of my second year when got the calling to do stand up. I was a facilitator for new students. This was a week best known for the day we all go to Quebec for drunk waterslide day. (Can you believe they don’t do that anymore?)
I was in Olivers on a Wednesday night. That was the night, on campus. I think every college has one. I remember exactly where I was standing when the seed for my current career was planted. I was talking to fellow facilitator, Spicoli. We all had nick names. Mine was 90210 (Thank you Peter Bobak. I think you manifested my future.)
There was enough distance from the dance floor that Mark Morrison’s “Return of the Mack” didn’t drown out the most powerful advice of my life. I guess I was killing it in the conversation, cuz Spicoli said,
“You’re funny. You should go down to Yuk Yuk’s and do stand up. They have new talent night on Wednesdays.”
My grades were starting to plummet. I thought it might be time to start looking into a back up plan. Stand up comedy sounded perfect.
I called the club the next day. They had a clever phone number where the last four digits spelled “LAFF.” A nice girl named Stacey answered.
“Oh hi. Ummm… I was just curious… how do you get on your Wednesday new talent night?”
That’s right, they didn’t call it “AMATEUR NIGHT.” It was “New Talent” night. So Canadian, eh?
“Well, we invite you down to watch a Wednesday night show, and after you see it, if you feel like you want to try it, you’ll call here on the first Tuesday of the month with avails. Then each comic usually gets two Wednesdays.”
Back then, not only were there very few comedians in Ottawa, but Yuk Yuk’s was basically the only place to do comedy. There weren’t all the bar and open mic nights you see today.
She put me on the guest list for the upcoming show. I decided to make it a date night with the guy I was seeing. My friends called him “The Polkaroo” cuz they never met him.
I picked up the Polkaroo in my 1988 Nissan Micra I named “The Giant Tiger.” I was still 18, and though I had fake ID, I didn’t want to use it at the comedy club. I wanted to stay consistent and have the same name that night as I would on stage. I decided going in, I would assess my decision to try stand up like this:
I don’t expect to be the BEST starting out… I also don’t want to be the WORST… But if I think I could be the SECOND TO WORSE, I’ll do it.
One above dead last. Shoot for the stars, kids.
The show was amazing. So many great comics that are still doing it today, like my comedic hero Don Kelly, plus some I can’t believe aren’t doing it anymore, like Rob Cowley. His giant cheque bit was my fave.
So the first Tuesday of November, 1997, I called the LAFF number. I put my name down for the last Wednesday of the month.
And a week before my 19th birthday, I tried stand up for the first time.
That’s how I got into stand up.
Next week, I’ll let you know how it went.
(Classic cliffhanger. Something I learned from watching soaps.)
Sadly, I don’t remember Spicoli’s real name. But if you know who I’m talking about, tell him I found some tasty waves, a cool buzz and I’m fine.
(And thank you.)
(Me, Lesley Brown and Peter Bergman who played Jack Abbott on The Young & the Restless when he came to sign autographs at Landsdowne mall in Richmond. Maybe 1993?)