I first started doing Stand Up Comedy when I moved to Los Angeles oh so many years ago. I would go to every Open Mic I could find, pay $5 and then wait to get on stage for 5 minutes, in front of a smattering of other completely crazy, totally disinterested, aspiring comics.
One of the best places to do stand up comedy in Los Angeles was at the Laugh Factory on Sunset Blvd. As a young comic, it was very hard to get on stage there, but every Wednesday night from 8 – 8:30 pm, before the regularly scheduled show, the Laugh Factory had an Open Mic. The first 10 people to sign up would get to perform for 3 minutes. Perfect! A sign up list would start at about Noon that Wednesday at the entrance to the club. However, if you left the club after signing up, somebody came along, crossed your name off the list and took your spot. So if you wanted to get on stage at the Laugh Factory, you had to sign up, then sit and wait for 8 hours. Not so perfect. But I did it! I wanted it! I committed! Every Wednesday for the first 6 months I lived in Hollywood, I sat in front of the Laugh Factory on Sunset Blvd., waited for 8 hours, and worked on “my act.”
Now if you made it through the day, guarded your spot and actually got to go on stage for 3 minutes, after your “set,” the owner of the club, Jamie Masada, would take you upstairs, sit you down and give you feedback on how you did. Every Wednesday night for 6 months, without fail, Jamie Masada would sit me down and say: “you are going to be a star.” He was so smart. So insightful. How did he know? He knew. “Come back next week.” And so I did. I kept coming back week after week because I wanted to get more laughs, I wanted to be a better comic, and I guess, I wanted to be a star (though truthfully, I hadn’t thought that far ahead).
One night, about 6 months into my time at the Laugh Factory, I was in the midst of my 3 minute set and I was doing very well. I really had the audience, dare I say, I was killing. So when my 3 minutes were up and that light came on in the back of the room, indicating it was time for me to get off stage, my instinct was to keep going. Why not? I’m going to be a star. These are great jokes. People will talk about this break though set for years to come. (I can’t remember any of those jokes today). And so I kept going, more big laughs, and then a minute or so later, they cut off the microphone and the Manager waved me off the stage. I mumbled a few words to the audience, apologizing for the technical issues the club was having, and said good night.
What happened next tells you (almost) everything you need to know about the world of Stand Up Comedy.
I went upstairs for my feedback from Mr. Masada, a man who had only ever shown me great kindness, and he said to me “You are banned from my club for one year.” What? “Don’t come back to my club for one year.” And just like that, I went from being a rising star to being banned from the Laugh Factory for 1 year. What would I do? Where would I go every Wednesday?
I’ve come to know that comics get banned from clubs all the time, for all sorts of reasons, and every one has a story. But truthfully, I never much liked doing Stand Up Comedy, though I did continue to do it every night, for another 7 years. I’ve always thought it is important for a comedic actor or writer to do stand up. It helped me find my voice, learn to relax more on stage, to write, rehearse and deliver jokes to an audience, to hold for laughs and to not panic when laughs didn’t come. But most importantly, doing Stand Up Comedy at the Laugh Factory on Sunset Blvd. that night taught me the biggest lesson of all, humility.
I ran into Jamie Masada just a few years ago, in the waiting room of a Doctor’s office. I told him that story and he laughed. “But if it was the Tonight show, and your time was up, you’d have to stop, they need to go to commercial.” Of course, he was right. That totally made sense. But it wasn’t the Tonight show. It was 8:09 pm and a 24 year old kid had waited 8 hours every Wednesday for 6 months to experience what it was like to kill on stage for the very first time.
As we sat there, waiting, Mr. Masada graciously offered me to come do stand up at the Laugh Factory anytime I want. But honestly, I'll never go back there. After all, it’s almost a 20-minute drive from my house...