AWKWARD NEW YORK is a weekly column about the uncomfortable experiences of Chris Vespoli in and around NYC. Every Tuesday is another cringe-worthy account, from being fat shamed by a Dunkin’ Donuts employee to crashing Fashion Week.
If you live in New York, you’re going to get Facebook-invited to amateur comedy shows. Whether it’s your college friend who thinks being a weird, hopeless single girl makes her Liz Lemon, or the “funny” guy at your job who endlessly quotes Anchorman, you’re going to be guilted into attending hours of improv, stand-up, sketch, and storytelling performances — better known as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
Sorry, person in whom I only have a passing interest, I’m not too jazzed about coming out to some Lower East Side basement at 11 p.m. on a Wednesday night to see you and your “troupe” do wacky make-’em-ups. Even if the show turns out to be funny and I actually have a good time, I still could’ve been at home doing something I enjoy, like sleeping, because in my dreams, I’m an astronaut.
So, no, I don’t want to come to your comedy show. It’s not that I don’t wish you well — I do! I just know all too well how these things go. You see, before I was a mediocre TV and Internet writer, I was a mediocre stand-up comedian begging my friends to come to shows…and I’m sorry. I am so fucking sorry, you guys. I’m sorry for all the times I dragged you to porno theaters turned comedy clubs to see me tell jokes about homeless people, my parents, and the Pope. I know it must have been torture, but you came anyway. Before you get mad, just please understand what I was going through in those days…
Wanting to be a stand-up comedian is fucking crazy. No, really. It’s not something any sane person would even think about doing. We’re talking about getting up on a stage and trying to make a roomful of people laugh despite their resenting you for the $10 they just had to shell out for a warm Bud Light. Like anyone trying to get good at anything, comedians who want to excel need to practice a lot. Open mics are a great tool for developing material (and alcoholism), but waiting two hours for the opportunity to tell four minutes worth of jokes to a bunch of manically-depressed comics who are also waiting to tell four minutes worth of jokes only gets you so far in the industry.
For beginning stand-up comics, one of the only ways you can get up in front of an audience is by doing something terribly awkward called a “bringer” show. A bringer show is where fledgling comedians who would otherwise not be able to get stage time bring a designated number of guests in exchange for stage time. You get to play a legitmate New York City comedy club in front of a legitimate New York City comedy club audience. The only problem is that half the audience is made up of your parents and friends, and the other half is made up of the other comics’ parents and friends. I’ve had so many relatives in my audiences, I would have been better off just putting on a show in my Italian mom’s living room on Christmas like I was five years old again. (“OK, everyone, Christopha’s gonna tell some jokes now! Go ahead, baby doll. Do ya jokes!”)
Don’t get me wrong, bringer shows aren’t all bad. I’ve been given some great opportunities by the organizers who run them, and the connections I made actually got me booked on a paying gig or two with some bigger-name comedians, and even landed me an audition for a commercial. But for a long while, bringer shows were my only hope for exposure — and there are only so many you can do. Bringing four or five audience members doesn’t seem bad the first few times, but sooner or later you start to run out of friends. Getting someone to pay upwards of $25 for a ticket, plus a two-drink minimum, to sit and endure 15 other comedians just so they can hear you spout the same ten jokes they heard you tell last month is an extremely tough sell. One time I had a booker tell me I needed to bring 15 people for six minutes of stage time. Fucking 15! I don’t even have 15 friends, let alone 15 who would pay to see me tell jokes about being too short to get a date or about that time I fell asleep while masturbating.
As my desperation grew, I found myself asking second-, third-, and fourth-tier friends to come see my shows. I even braved the awkwardness of asking an ex-girlfriend to see my sorry schtick, which was pretty much saying to her, “hey, come and see what a good decision you made when you dumped me.” And then there are all the coworkers I asked (I’m sorry), friends of coworkers (I’m sorry), old MySpace acquaintances (I’m sorry), former roommates (I’m sorry), and random foreign tourists on the streets of Midtown (I’m sorry…for ruining your trip to America).
So, I’ll say it again: I’m sorry. I’m sorry to all the people I invited to my shows, and I’m also sorry to all the people whose shows I don’t go to. I think you’ll forgive me when I tell you I’ll have a Vietnam-level flashback the moment the lights go down. But that doesn’t mean I won’t ever come to a show. Doing things you don’t want to do is a part of life — like taxes, visiting relatives and volunteering. And who knows? Maybe I’ll start performing again in between writing gigs, and will need the favor returned. Maybe people will come see me, and maybe they won’t. Or maybe I’ll just put on a show in my mom’s living room.
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