I used to write for Seinfeld, yet here I am…a 58-year old terrified he’s aged out of modern comedy. That’s why I started doing stand-up.
Six months ago, when I started doing stand-up at the age of 58, it wasn’t about entertaining people.
See, several thousand years ago, two elderly women approached me on Second Avenue. “Excuse me, young man,” one said. “Do you find Steve Martin funny?”
“Uh, yeah. He’s hysterical.”
“See, Margie? The kids love him.”
They were lovely ladies. Six months ago, I was overcome with the fear of being them. That’s why I started doing stand-up.
Signs of my humor obsolescence were there. I watched videos on the popular humor website Funny or Die and thought: If the Funny or Die people took their name seriously, they’d have a holocaust on their hands. I went to Upright Citizens Brigade and only concluded that improv is for people too lazy to write. Modern Family and Paul Blart made me want to go blind. Commercials… There’s a guy somewhere who gets girls because he created the Geico Gecko. Oh God.
Like those elderly ladies, I imagined drifting through hipster LA and asking a woolen cap if he thinks Seth Rogen is funny.
Twenty minutes ago, I was writing for Seinfeld, the epicenter of American funny. Aging out of American humor was horrifying.
One afternoon, feeling sorrowfully past tense, I found an invitation to a comedy/charity benefit. You have no idea what level of primal doubt gets a person to drive East to Hollywood at 6 PM.
At the benefit, I met an adorable 23 year-old girl named Zara who said she did stand-up. I smiled. “Oh, that’s great.” I told her I did some writing…no big deal. We kept talking. “You’re really funny,” she said, “you should do stand-up.”
I take suggestions from adorable 23 year-olds very seriously. But it wasn’t until Zara contacted me after Googling me back into the Stone Age that I said yes, I would perform on a comedy show she produced at a club in Santa Monica.
Admittedly, for years, I’d had an opening couple of lines for the day I’d try stand-up — a day I never thought would come. Then, after mashing together bits from (hopefully) funny tidbits I had lying around, I started practicing in the shower. I obsessed over the wording of each line because that was my conception of comedy. It was an exact science, not the free-form, personality-driven drivel reigning over the current scene. All the comics at all the clubs seemed like they all went to the same stand-up workshop. “Happy, high energy, observational and personal… that’s what gets laughs.”
Low-energy, non-observational, fantastical and impersonal were my keys. I hit on a stage attitude: I don’t want to be here but I said I would so…
Maybe it was resentment toward current comedy or maybe it was simply having nothing to lose but I was serene on stage. Before 50 people, holding the mic with both hands, never removing it from the stand, barely moving my body or modulating my voice, I took a long pause. “I guess most of you know me as…the guy who impregnated Roe from Roe V. Wade.”
The laugh, as if on tape delay, came three or four seconds later before rising through the room.
The storied analogy of a killer set being like one’s first hit of heroin didn’t find me. Only some bordering-on-puny vindication. I’m younger than you…
Happily, that sensation softened over the next ten times I did stand-up. Can’t wait to see what the next ten bring.