The first time I got on stage to tell jokes was September 2012, at a Philadelphia bar called Noche. When I got into standup I thought it would make me more interesting and make people want to talk to me. I couldn’t stop telling friends about my new craft. 2 years later I find myself avoiding conversations when I’m at a venue before a show and fretting the moment a co-worker at my day job finds out I’m a performer. Why? Because I know there’s only a few possible things they will say when they find out I’m a comedian, and they’re all just awful. Here they are:
#6. “Tell me a joke!”
No. I can’t properly tell a joke without a stage and an audience any more than I can have a conversation with my great-grandmother without a Ouija board. If you want to hear a joke you have two options: give me five dollars or just come to my next show. Which brings us to…
#5. “When’s your next show?”
…which is a perfectly acceptable question. The problem comes from the aftermath. I’ve got 2 friends that frequently support me despite knowing my act almost as well as I do. Yet 95% of people who ask when my next gig is and enthusiastically promise to attend will never show up. It’s almost like if I were to walk up to you and ask “Hey! Where’d you get those attractive and stylish shoes?!” before immediately walking away. Actually, that isn’t even as bad, since in that scenario you instantly realize that I’m an asshole, whereas when somebody asks about my show I spend a week hoping they will come through before the inevitably do not.
#4. “Who are your favorite comics?”
Who gives a shit? Seriously. You aren’t even asking who influences me, you’re just asking who my favorite is. What will that possibly tell you about me? One of Kurt Cobain’s favorite bands was the Beatles–does that in any way give you any indication of what Nirvana sounded like? No, sir, it does not. And my favorite comics are Louis C.K. and John Mulaney (despite his struggling sitcom).
#3. “I’ve got a joke you can use in your act!”
No you don’t. 9 out of 10 times you read the joke in a forwarded email way back when people were still using hotmail. Even if what you have is an original thought, it’s your original thought, and chances are I’m not passionate enough about it for my take of it to be interesting to strangers. I know, I know: you’re “the comedian of your office!” Everybody always tells you that you should do standup. Well everybody told me that I should go to college. You wanna know how that turned out? I’m excited to get paid $25 to host a show at a bar located inside of a diner.
#2. “Do you want to be on TV?”
Asking me if I want to eat dinner tonight would be a more challenging question. Of course I want to be on TV. It’s not even because I do standup. everybody wants to be on TV. People will intentionally deal with interacting with Steve Harvey just to be on Family Feud.
We have multiple reality shows where the entire plot is “people deciding whether or not they want to sell their item to a pawn shop”–a concept so uninteresting that literally every one of the shows’ titles is a pun about porn (Pawn Stars, Hardcore Pawn, Interracial Pawnography). Dance Moms. Dance Moms. A show about women whose daughters demonstrate a vague talent that they’ve been forced into. So, yes, I would like to be on TV. Preferably without degrading myself or having a giant pimple on my face.
#1. “I’m just trying to help you be a better comedian!”
On the surface, this is a perfectly reasonable thought. The problem comes from the context in which it’s said. It never follows a discussion about how the 5th joke in your set is stronger than your closing joke, because people who are genuinely trying to help you rarely find the need to explicitly announce that they are helping you. “Dude, I’m just trying to help you be a better comic” always follows a mean spirited shout that somehow reeks of alcohol despite coming from the other side of the room. Something like “fagt ill kill u,” because even in spoken word these people are too lazy for proper spelling and punctuation.
Matt Pass is a writer and comedian in New Jersey. See more of his standup on YouTube, or follow him on Twitter and tumblr.