Since trading the red paperclip for the house, I’ve pretty much gallivanted around for the last few years. I wrote the one red paperclip book, promoted it all over the world, and fell into telling the story at speaking engagements. It’s been great. No complaints. My least favorite things to do as a kid were book reports and public speaking, so I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I found it fun to write a book and speak publicly to thousands of people. Since a book writing production and promotion schedule as well as public speaking oddly leaves you with plenty of spare time, I got into some other things over the last couple of years. The red paperclip house was traded along and it's now a cafe! I also took some pictures of bikes, got way in over my head with quirky art stuff, and produced a slew of chart topping club anthems. All in all, fun stuff, but something was missing.
Since I'd finished writing the red paperclip book in late 2006 I hadn't really done any quantity of writing to speak of, or I guess more accurately, to write of. I even ended that last sentence with an adverb. Or preposition. Or whatever. Man, grammar sucks! For whatever reason, since late '06, me no write very lots. See what I mean? Out of practice.
Over the last six months, my wife Dom and I traveled all over the place with friends. Brazil, Vancouver, India, Indonesia, Berlin, Amsterdam. It was awesome. Super good. All the adjectives you can think of and then some. If you ever get the chance to travel with family and friends, take it. Six months of carefree wandering with pals. And then we came home. We landed in Montreal on July 6th. You’d figure all this world travel would give a guy a slew of writing ideas and inspiration, right? Nope. Ideas weren’t flowing. My mind was blank. I had no clue what I wanted to do at all. I knew I wanted to do something, but had no idea what it was.
Shortly after we got back I found myself at the kitchen table eating cereal and an ad in the Montreal Mirror caught my eye. It was an ad publicizing this thing called the Zoopass, a $30 all-access pass to Zoofest, the "alternative" part of Just For Laughs, one of the most celebrated and largest and funniest comedy festivals in the world, if not the universe. I’m ashamed to say I’d lived in Montreal for six summers and never attended a single comedy show at Just For Laughs. Sure, I'd laughed at JFL gags on countless flights, but never been to one of its real bona-fide comedy shows. I decided then and there I was going to take advantage of the festival this year and and before you knew it I had a Zoopass in my hand and started attending shows. I saw stuff that ranged from Franco storytelling to English shock-slideshow to Aussie ‘dirty stand up’ to Left Wing Rant Comedy. I liked it so much I went for the Just For Laughs ComicPro fan pass and within an hour was sitting in a chair in a large ballroom listening to Kevin Smith tell great stories, complete with audience Q and As. I saw a Second City reunion panel, Andy Kindler roast the comedy industry, a documentary about Bill Hicks, and a bunch of industry panels like The Onion Presentation, The Variety 10 comics to watch, and A Late Night TV writers thingamajig. Huh, spellcheck says thingamajig is a real word and is spelled correctly. How about that? It also says spellcheck isn't a word. Weird. In total, I saw at least 25 live comedy shows that week week. Easily the best hundred-ish bucks I’ve ever spent on stuff termed “entertainment.” Each night after inhaling a bunch of shows I found my head full of ideas. For the first time in years I was chomping at the bit to get back on the computer to write down these ideas and use horse metaphors to describe eagerness.
Just For Laughs came to a close and I realized I really enjoyed all these shows and wanted to see more live comedy stuff. That Friday I went to Comedy Works, a stand up comdey place on Bishop Street. Five pro comics. A great line up. Big laughs. The headliner totally bombed, which was curious. Nevertheless, at Comedy Works there were a bunch of super funny comics doing awesome routines. And doing it all the time. I was sold. So I checked out an open mic night that Monday and was blown away with how good some of the comics were, and equally impressed by how horrible a couple were! There were some walk-ons trying it out for the first time, some folks just venting angers and frustrations, and some seasoned pros trying out new material. At the end of the show, the host Christophe Davidson mentioned how anyone who thought they were funny could get on stage and take a crack at it. All you had to do was call a phone number to get on the performer’s list for the following week. Now I don’t really think I’m a super hilarious guy, and don't like to make phone calls, but I do lean towards the think-I-have-a-couple-interesting-things-to-say end of the scale, and figure some of those things have gotta be guffaw worthy. Surely I could get a couple laughs, or least go down in flames and crash into a train.
So I called the phone number the next morning and got on the list for the following Monday. 5 minutes. Open mic. Anything goes. Three days to prepare. For three days all I did was write ideas down and try to come up with some up some “A” material. On Monday morning I emailed a few friends and posted on twitter/facebook to say that I was going to do an open mic thing, and that if anyone wanted to show up, please come along. And a handful of pals did come along! Three cheers for pals. And four cheers for nothing else happening on Monday nights.
I checked in with the staff and was placed 10th on the list of 11 people slated to perform. We were a gang of nine friends and sat at the front as the show unfolded. The quality of acts was much better than the previous week and there was no obvious train wreck. No default “at least I'll be less worse than that guy” this week. One 19 year old female Concordia student went up and was awesome. The MC Faisal Butt was astonished how good she was for her first time. The bar was set high. Then Faisal called me up on stage.
Here’s the video of my first attempt at Stand Up Comedy:
I was obviously nervous. And the pace of the material was completely off. I realized quickly that I was trying to cram 10 minutes of material into 5 minutes of stage time, so I started dropping bits out, and still scrambled to fit in the rest. Also, clearly some parts of this untested routine weren't even close to being funny. All in all not too shabby for my first time ever doing stand up. Definitely shabby though. But worthwhile.
The following night I checked out Paul Ash’s Kick Ash Comedy Show and realized this type of stuff was going on all over town. And if open mic comedy nights were somewhat a-plenty in the second largest French-speaking city in the world, then surely there’d be more in other cities.
A few days later I was scheduled to go to Austin Texas to speak at an event called Entrepreneur Xtravaganza. I figured this would be a cool chance to check out another open mic. Austin being a live venue city, was stacked with open mic comedy nights. I signed up via the online forum for a spot at the Velveeta Room and was given the 34th spot on a 34 spot roster that Thursday night. Headliner! My plane was delayed and I missed the 9pm check in for the show, and also the first ten or so comics. Dana at the Velveeta Room was cool enough to let me go on. I sucked back a couple brews and watched about 15 comics strut their open mic chops, then my turn came up.
Here's how my second attempt at stand up went, complete with cheesy line about being headliner at an open mic night.
I was very sleep deprived, caffeine-wired and had a bit of buzz going, which was kinda cool. More comfortable on stage for sure, but not exactly har-dee-har-har funniness, which is of course what all stand up comics strive for. The new fake meat bit seemed to go over well. I’d just thought of it on the plane. Chalk one up for high altitude inspiration. It was only a three minute set, so even more had to be cut from what I’d done at Comedy Works. I made a mental note to develop and improve upon the faux bald eagle stuff. People seemed to like that. Really though, it was just super awesome that a handful of people stayed around until 2am to hear this crap. Thanks folks.
I landed in Montreal with purpose in my stride. This stand up comedy stuff is something I really enjoy doing and new writing ideas are flowing for the first time in a long time. Is there a future in this? Is it a passing fancy? Am I completely out of mind and oblivious to obvious lack of talent? Who knows? There’s only one way to find out. So I’ll keep at it and keep y’all in the loop.
And yes, next time I'll try to go on stage without a scrap of paper.
I tend to travel around quite often for various reasons and am keen to check out / perform at open mic shows in other cities. If you know of any good open mic nights in your city, or any other city, let me know! I’ll try to make it!
I’m also developing a one-man slideshow type show based on this picture, and the ongoing man-hunt to figure out who they are. It’s my intention to find these guys and meet all of them. If you think you might know who these guys are, or want to see the show, let me know and I’ll keep you informed with Who Are These Guys? happenings. Actually, I’m looking for venues to perform the show. If you’ve got a venue, or know anybody who does, let’s talk! For easy remembering, the website is whoaretheseguys.com
And as always, I’m game to tell the one red paperclip story via a 45 minute comedic/inspirational slideshow. I’ve told the red paperclip story all over the world to tens of thousands of people and can give you great testimonials and professional things like that if need be. According to some folks, I’m actually a legit motivational speaker. And I don't even take scraps of paper on stage!