An hour and a half before I went on stage at Crackers Comedy Club for my first-ever stand-up set, I was in my room, speaking into my hairbrush as if it were a microphone. “Hi, hello, you magnificent people,” I said to my dog and poor friend that I had dragged into this mess. “I’m Grace, and I’m up here tonight much to the disappointment of my Uber driver.”
I am completely new to this whole comedy thing. I love to make people laugh, and my ego loves the attention. But I had never done it on command. And then, two weeks ago, I went to an open mic to get a feel for what it might be like to perform—and I didn’t see a single woman. I thought, This is God, who is obviously a fan of Tina Fey and Gilda Radner, telling me that I must go up there. So, I signed up, and 14 days later, it was time to crack some jokes for a crowd, albeit only for three minutes.
My dad had already given me a little pep talk. “You know, Grace, Jerry Seinfeld bombed his first time.” That was all.
That night, there were four women performing! Wow! I gazed upon each of them fondly, just as Leslie Knope looks at Ann Perkins, and considered these complete strangers my comrades—noble land mermaids taking the stage and mic one at a time.
About 45 minutes before the show started, we comics all gathered to meet the club owner. Her one rule? Don’t use the f-word. I mingled with funny people, asking for advice and definitely annoying them. But everyone was extremely helpful, even the men. They told me I wouldn’t be able to see anyone in the audience because the stage lights were so bright. I am so glad they were right, because quite a few of my friends and family came to see me, and nothing is more terrifying that the possibility of disappointing people. Yes, that is my top fear. Above even fire and heights.
I was 10th in line to go up, so the room was already warm by the time the emcee called my name. I walked onto that stage like the wannabe John Mulaney I am, with all the confidence of late-’70s Steve Martin.
As soon as I got up there, though, it hit me: There was no backing out. There was no saying, “Sorry I can’t do this after all!” There was no running away.
For a brief moment, I knew I had that deer-in-headlights look, because the last time I’d been on a stage was for my fifth-grade musical. So naturally, it took me a few seconds to get used to it. But once I grabbed the mic, I knew I was going to have some fun, whether I bombed it or not. Hey—Jerry Seinfeld bombed his first time. Or so I’d been told.
As I reached the punchline of my first joke, I heard people … laugh? They were laughing! My goodness! My ego and soul had never been more fulfilled.
There I was, way outside of my comfort zone, and yet it felt like I’d never left it at all. Those three minutes felt like 30, in a good way—full of bliss and joy—and that was probably due to no one booing me. Sure, we had some hecklers, and sure, they may have lit a cigarette right in front of me. But honestly, it’s a lot easier to tune them out than you may think. Or you can totally yell at them. I was tempted to.
By the time my three minutes were up, they practically had to drag me off the stage. There was so much energy up there, I don’t know how I survived as a mere spectator before. Even though I couldn’t see a soul, I felt their presence, and that was probably the coolest thing. You’re up there all by yourself, but you don’t feel alone at all. In fact, you feel acutely alive.
This is a feeling that I have been chasing my entire life. It’s similar to zooming down a gigantic hill on a scooter without a helmet, but I’m far too old to do that anymore—so I think this may be my new thing. I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was a wee kid—I just didn’t know what to write. But now, I may have an inkling as to what I want to do … Only joking, here. I obviously want to move to Chicago, work a day job at the YMCA, take improv classes at night, and meet the next Amy Poehler. We will become instant best friends, start working on Saturday Night Live together, and eventually create and star in a handful of hilarious movies. I will also become the next best Sarah Palin impersonator. Yes, this is exactly how Tina Fey came to fame; why do you ask?
There is one question, though, nagging me at the back of my mind: Am I funny enough to do this? And by “this,” I mean do more open-mic nights and actually pursue something that makes me happy? Who knows? All I know is that I am definitely delusional enough to do exactly that.
Maybe this article would have been more interesting had I bombed. But for the sake of my ridiculously fragile self-esteem, I’m very glad that I did all right. Who knows, maybe you’ll see me at an open mic sometime soon and you’ll get the chance to throw a tomato my way. Only time will tell.
Grace Bahler will continue embarrassing herself at the weekly 8:30 show at Crackers Comedy Club’s Tuesday Night Live. (And probably some other venues if this goes well.)