So you want to get into comedy, eh?
By Ben Robinson
Hello. My name is Ben Robinson, and I’m a failed comedian. I have a passion for comedy that dates back to before I can remember. In grade seven we were given a class project with the title, “What kind of job do you want to have?” I took that project more seriously than any other assignment that year, which is to say I spent about 15 minutes on it the night before. After much soul searching, I decided that I wanted to be a comedian.
Here were my reasons. I did not spend much money at the time, so I figured money would not be a factor in my decision. As most of you probably know, comedians do not get paid very much. Another factor was the desire to do good. Even back then I knew I would never be a doctor. But I did seem to have the ability to make my friends laugh. Finally, I thought it would be really fun.
After high school, I went to The Humber School of Comedy. There I met many fine young adults who wanted to be famous, but who did not want to do anything that would make them famous. I also met several excellent students who were merely trying to escape university. With the field clear of any real form of competition, I was able to manage a one-on-one dinner interview with Mark Breslin, owner and founder of Yuk Yuks — the largest chain of comedy clubs in North America.
My mother gave me money to pay my part of the meal, but I needed that money for pot. We went to a very fancy restaurant on Bay Street, and I refused to order any food. Mark would have paid, but I couldn’t tell my mother that. I was a very honest hustler. Mark insisted we order some bread and I acquiesced. Although all we had was bread and water, the meal ended up costing about $20.
Mark could tell I was destined to become a successful comedian by the way I kept asking him why someone of his stature would lower himself to have dinner with me. I asked him what the secret of becoming a good comedian was; he said to have a group of friends who laugh at everything you say. When these friends REALLY laugh hard — then you have a joke. I told him I knew people like that, and they were a real drag to be around. He recommended keeping two sets of friends.
Later that year I got myself kicked out of Humber and dove into the open-mic scene full time. At my height, I was doing nine shows a week. I will tell you what it is like to do amateur comedy: a man never truly knows what it means to be depressed until he has started doing standup.
Open-mic nights can be found in the Entertainment listings of NOW Magazine. But if you really want to be hardcore, you gotta network. Comics run open-mic shows so they have an opportunity to get more stage time. Comics are lazy, soulless people and often do not advertise their shows. At all. Situations like this create the ultimate hip-hop style of “realness” that I have come to associate with open-mics.
Eight people are in the audience. All of them are comics. All of them have heard all of your jokes before. None of them have ever laughed at anything anyone has ever said and never will. If you are lucky they will be drinking beer with their backs turned. If you are unlucky they are in the front row staring at you with their dead eyes. The judgment of God does not compare. Then again, after doing enough comedy, God is the ultimate punchline.
You become one of them. You are on last. This does not mean you are headlining. This means most of the other guys get to go home before you. Every word of what is said by the man before you fills you with hate. You wish it was true that open-mic-ers got free beer. Mmm, beer would help you cope. But you don’t have a job. No beer for you.
Right before your act, the local celebrity comic waltzes in and does a 10-minute set. Everyone loves him. You can tell he’s good because you don’t hate him quite as much. He blows everyone away. Then he goes out front to smoke a cigar and the sycophants join him. You are left to yourself and the bartender. You can’t remember anything you wanted to say, so you just make monkey noises and go home. Sleep is your reward.
The next day you have to do it again.