Thoughts on returning to standup comedy, 25 years after quitting – Part 1

My headshot from the old days in comedy in Chicago, circa 1990. This photo may still be hanging in a comedy club near you.

If you read my previous blog, Apparently I’m performing standup comedy again…, you already know that I used to be a professional comedian. If you haven’t read it, go ahead and do that now. I’ll wait, and here is some hold music …



Since I wrote that blog, my husband Jeff (who has a similar story) and I have performed/rehearsed to develop five minutes of polished material at numerous “open mic” nights, which culminated in a taped showcase at the Tempe Improv (an A room). It’s been … interesting.

Back in the old days (yes, I said that in a ‘granny’ voice), in the 80s and 90s, when I was learning comedy in Fort Wayne, Indiana and then in Chicago, it was a different world with a totally different vibe. There was a camaraderie and friendship with the other comics. I’m not finding that to be the case, for the most part, this time around.

By the way, I’m not complaining about any of this, just making note of what I’m experiencing. It’s just … not what I expected it to be like.

Maybe it’s because I’m married now and decades older than the people I’m meeting. Or, perhaps it’s because I have years of experience under my belt already (I’m obviously not a newbie) and seemingly appeared from out of the blue. Either way, I’m finding it hard to assimilate.

I’ll admit that I haven’t enjoyed the open mic process very much, because of this. It’s difficult to keep going night after night, to practice an evolving set of basically the same five minutes of material, in front of the same group of very young (mostly) dudes.

Performing at an open mic in Mesa, AZ.

Have I mentioned that part yet? Most open mics are a gathering of the same group of people who go from place to place, wherever there’s an available microphone, practicing their material on one another, with perhaps a couple of civilians thrown in. It’s easy enough to get a few laughs when no one has heard your material before, but after the umpteenth time, even sympathy laughs are rather thin on the ground.

This, by the way, is the true driving force behind writing new material and sharpening up the stuff that’s worth keeping: the humiliation of standing in front of the same people who are no longer laughing at what they’ve heard you say a thousand times before is a big motivator.

Aside from a couple of nice rooms that are actually set up for comedy, many open mics take place in random taverns, not places that are designed for shows. One that I know of (which I haven’t done and most likely won’t) takes place on the outdoor patio of a bar, overlooking a busy street.

Performing in a mostly empty room at one of the nicer open mics, improvMANIA in Chandler, AZ.

They always have a microphone, but sometimes they don’t have a stage or even a spotlight. They often have large screen TVs scattered around the bar, which they may or may not turn off during the open mic.

There is either no crowd other than comics, or a handful of people who are just there to drink at the bar and yack with their friends while a “show” goes on behind them. Or, by the time you get to the stage (the lists of comics who sign up to perform are usually very long) the crowd has gotten tired and gone home.

Dig if you will the verbal picture I’m painting. This is what you call a tough gig.

So, that’s what we did for about a month. The showcase at the Improv couldn’t come soon enough, IMHO. For one thing, I could finally blow out those five honed minutes and move on to new material. But mostly, the Improv gets huge crowds and it’s a real comedy club. The excitement and anxiety about getting back on stage in front of a genuine comedy audience was building to peak levels.

I’ll tell you that story in my next blog, Part 2 of Thoughts on returning to standup comedy, 25 years after quitting.

And, of course, here’s you a dog … Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog.

Lisa Bonnice is an award-winning, best-selling author. Her current passion-project is a series of metaphysical comedy novels. The first is entitled The Poppet Master (previously published as Be Careful What You Witch For!, now revamped and with a new ending). The Poppet Master is a modern-day fairy tale about Lola Garnett, a bored housewife and office drone who wakes up with unexpected psychic abilities, and no instruction manual, and Twink, the reluctant, sarcastic faery assigned to assist and educate her. The Poppet Master is available wherever books are sold. Its sequel is in the works.

Lisa is also writing The Maxwell Curse, a fictionalized version of a story she found in her own ancestral lineage about a witch trial, a generational curse, and massive mine explosion, all of which left ripples of destruction in their wake, devastating one family’s tree.

3 responses to “Thoughts on returning to standup comedy, 25 years after quitting – Part 1

  1. Curtis M Michaels

    The courage and resilience it would take to subject yourself to that night after night is beyond me. I’m truly grateful for those who do it, and do it well, but I cannot imagine trying to tell the same stories to the same people for the third time. I’d end up a whimpering puddle.

    My hat is off to you and Jeff!

  2. Pingback: Thoughts on returning to standup comedy, 25 years after quitting – Part 2 | Here's you a blog ...

  3. Pingback: Lisa Bonnice — Metaphysical Comedian | Here's you a blog ...

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