“Remember Joe, the first rule of comedy is?” “Don’t cry on stage?” “Close. First rule of comedy is to be funny.”
I will never forget a comedian friend of mine telling me this years ago. Much easier said than done as I came to find out.
I got the opportunity to take part in a previous story I wrote about Zanies and their fantastic “New Material Monday.” It is where every Monday some of the biggest names in comedy come and try out new material alongside Nashville comedians trying to get to that next level.
I got a text in early April saying I would be part of the show on May 22 and would have about five to six minutes on the stage. Fantastic! Let’s get busy writing.
Now five minutes might not seem long but in comedy it can be an eternity. Try talking from memory for five minutes, no notes, and not utter “uhh,” or “umm,” non-stop. It is not easy so you have to practice. And practice.
That is exactly what I did. I spent weeks in front of the mirror with a timer and loads of material. Some days it felt perfect but most days it felt massively underwhelming. I kept on and on and on because I had plenty of time to get ready. I forgot that time is a thief.
Fast forward to the day of the show. I still did not know what my act was going to be. Sure, I had a ton of material but I needed to get a laugh quick and build that momentum. The two weeks prior I had gone to Zanies and sat by myself and took a ton of notes. I realized that not every joke lands and that every comedian is not funny. That helped me a ton as I got ready.
I get there and go into the green room and see the show rundown with all the names. The pessimist in me is screaming, “Please don’t be on the list. Please!” Meanwhile, the optimist is confidently saying, “It is go-time. Let’s do this.”
I am the fifth comedian to go and the one in from of me is Brian Covington. He is one of the funniest guys around. He hugged me and said, “I can’t wait for you to go on. I will introduce you and fire up the crowd. Get ready, it’s showtime.”
I sit in the green room with some of the most popular names in comedy. What am I doing here? There is Dusty Slay. That guy is a legend. A.J. Wilkerson is across from me. Aaron Weber is leading the show off and he’s to my right. I feel as if I am 14 and snuck into an R-rated movie and the usher is going to toss me out because I don’t belong.
Now I am noticing that I am not nervous. I should be, right? Why am I not nervous? The show is sold-out and the crowd is into it and this is your first time so why are you not nervous? These are thoughts that can drive one insane. Luckily, I am already insane so no harm, no foul.
Now Brian goes up on stage and I know I am next. I got my material that I think, hope, will work and if I can get three good laughs, it will be a success. Brian’s set is about seven minutes but goodness, it felt like thirty. All the comedians in the green room are talking to each other, oblivious to one guy who is still questioning how he got to this moment.
“Okay, our next guest. You might remember him from T.V. and he has written two books and y’all are in for a real treat. Welcome to the stage, my man, Big Joe on the go!” Pessimist says to me, “Too late to run now.” Optimist says, “Go do this!”
I got to tell you that the next five minutes were mostly a blur. An absolute blur. I opened with a joke when I saw a guy on the front row wearing the same four-dollar Walmart shirt that I had on. I said that we could recognize each other in any setting because of our wardrobe choices. I did clarify to the audience that I was not the senator from Pennsylvania since I get told that several times a day.
Laughter. A lot of it. What in the world is going on? I could have quit then and then a few more laughs, followed by more laughs. Just keep going, Joe, just see it to the end.
I finished, thanked the crowd, introduced the next comedian and went back into the green room. Got the hi-fives and the slaps and Dusty Slay repeating one of my jokes back to me. What in the world just happened? I walked out of the room, and immediately thanked God for this opportunity.
In conclusion, I came away with this. If you dream of doing something but don’t put that plan in action, you are really just wasting your time. Yes, you will get told no but so what. A no to me means not just yet, but soon. It does not matter what it is. Remember that some things come to those who wait; Great things come to those who get up and go.
Just get up and go. You will be amazed at the places you will find. Now excuse me, I need to work on act #2.