|1987, when I was rather amusing for a living.|
The first of a continuing series of thoughts about the crazy mainsprings of my life. Up next: drugs!
Improv comedy and standup move in opposite directions. In improv, you are training yourself to continually erase the slate of preconceived ideas in your head, and constantly working up your mental agility and balance so that you can capitalize on any given stage situation. If you're lucky, you find others that aren't afraid to pass on the easy gags and try for something more substantial. At its best, it's raw creation live -- pretty damn exciting.
Standup is the patient accumulation of effective bits. There is a reason why a comic's work is called a routine. First, one successful joke. Then 2 solid minutes, then 5, then 10, 20, 30, an inevitable (hopefully) evolution into a closer. Individual gags are worked into sets on various topics, which are then woven together. Repeated night after night, honing them into material, meanwhile crafting a persona that the audience wants to spend time with. At best, a great standup goes beyond just entertaining folks; he or she can spout life-changing insights, and craft a vibrant, astonishing comic universe. Well, unfortunately I HATED repeating myself, and I didn't really care how "I" went over.
And, finally, didn’t like the crowds. And when that happens, you better find the exit light and head toward it. I lost the need to get at least that form of approval, in that context. It not only wasn't enough -- it wasn't worth the effort.
Still, I don't regret it. We were all pretty much crazy and screwed up and whacked out, but there was a camaraderie unlike any other I have found anywhere. Where else could you find such an exciting group of super-intelligent misfits who were not afraid to articulate their insights, to act out in public, to intoxicate each other with inspiration and sheer stubborn love of life, stripped of hypocrisy and bullshit? Comey was my university, my combat experience, my unfinishing school.
"I forgot everything, and everything came out. I played way over my head . . . I searched and found my own way, and what I said reached the people. I played myself, and I knew I was right, and the people loved it, and they felt it. I blew and blew, and when I finally finished I was shaking all over; my heart was pounding; I was soaked in sweat, and the people were screaming; the people were clapping, and I looked at Sonny, but I just kind of nodded, and he went, 'All right.' And that was it. That's what it's all about." -- Art Pepper, "Straight Life"