Of Scary Things and Open Mic Nights

by Harley May            

Scary things. I like doing them, and I don’t mean jumping out at joggers from behind a tree. I mean “things that thrill and push me.” As a mother of small children I can’t in good conscience jump out of an airplane or wrestle alligators, but I’ve always wanted to try standup. With this month’s Erma theme – “try new things and report back” - I found a comedy club in my area and reserved an open mic spot. 
I practiced my material in front of EVERYONE. A horrifying thing happened: no one laughed. I’d get a smile here and there, but a smile wouldn’t be enough. I re-wrote it, cutting and adding, rehearsing in front of different people. They laughed more than the first group. I edited again, practicing and repeating until I felt I had solid laughs.
A week before the performance, I called the club to reconfirm and they explained the show was completely sold out. None of my friends had a ticket. My own husband didn’t have one. I mentally prepared, imagining the nerves associated with doing this ON MY OWN.  I could do it.
The night arrived. We got to the comedy club and it was honestly the calmest I’d felt all week. I KNEW the material front and back and only needed to get through it without freezing or throwing up. If I happened to throw up, I planned on working it into the routine. “How many of you can puke on cue? Want to see it again?”
We checked in at the box office and the ticket lady directed me to the bar where all the open mic folk waited. There was a piece of paper with thirteen spaces for names and a shot glass with slips of paper inside. Seemed simple. Draw a number, write your name. My paper read, “2.” I could live with two.
One of the other comics had an extra ticket and offered it to my husband (super nice). He found his seat while I talked to the other comedians. Thankfully, I wasn’t the only newbie or woman. Show time came and they ushered us into a hallway the size of a walk-in closet. It felt so glamorous. While the first girl went, I breathed in and out, listening from the hall, picturing what standing up there would be like.
The host announced my name. At this point, I really wasn’t nervous. I’d spent the entire week being nervous. Now? I was ready to do this. I walked on stage and a thrill ran through my body as the words came. Everything I hoped would get a laugh, did. All the improvised moments fell flat. A few parts received more laughs than I anticipated, or the laughter grew as people got the joke. I struggled to pause for that.
When it was over, I stood in the tiny hall, my back against the wall and eyes closed. My immediate thought was, “I could have done that so much better.” So I signed up for another one in April.
After the show, my husband and I grabbed dinner at Moe’s. Quietly, I held his hand, internalizing all that happened. We went through the line and Led Zeppelin’s “Going to California” came on over the radio. Leaning against his side, I just felt PROUD. As a lover of laughter, I’d made people do exactly that.
Smiling at the teenager behind the counter, I said, “I just did standup. Me. Just now. I did it.”
He nodded in a non-committal way. “So will this be for here or to go?” 

Editor's note: Harley, we're so proud of you! Next time though - video or it didn't happen.  ;)


  1. Congrats! I'm glad it went well. You are SO brave. I would have like to see the video too. ;-)

  2. I'm not surprised. You are HILARIOUS! But congrats on having the balls to get up there!

  3. GOD, I wish I had a private plane at my disposal so I could have been there for this. GO, YOU! *high fives*

  4. YOU are AWESOME. I want to see this, some time. You can make me snort.

  5. Love this to pieces. So proud of you. Doing the scary things? It's usually worth it. *grin*

  6. Congratulations! Sounds like it went well. So proud of you!

  7. You're far braver than I. Way to go -- and count me as a third vote for video! ;)

  8. I want to be you. That is all. Way to rock the world!

  9. You are all wonderful. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    I'll keep doing it and I'll get better.

  10. That's AWESOME! Congrats, Harley! And YES--I agree with the editor, next time a VIDEO is necessary :)

  11. You are the awesome! Get that hubby of yours to vid it, right there in your own kitchen. You can round up a laugh track if you think you need it. We wanna see it! So! Proud! Of! You!

  12. Gawd, woman, you are SO COOL! Brave and amazing and kickass-fierce! You rock. :D

  13. I'm thrilled for you, proud of you, and a bit jealous of your courage.

  14. You won for all of us. Thank you! I'm so proud of you!

  15. I’ve been quietly (and not so quietly) following you since you left Tampa and have concluded someone kidnapped the you I know and now puppets some other soul in your body or some alien has taken up residence under the blond halo. Either way, I like it.
    That said, I learned something about myself recently and I think it applies to you as well. My rule of penning 500,000 words before one can call yourself a writer, a million before you can put “good” and “writer” together in the same sentence, applies to a lot of things in life as well. Stand-up comedy, for one. Singing, cooking turkeys, raising children, to name a few other challenges.

    It’s not so much hitting the exact number required for the threshold, it’s getting comfortable in your own skin with something new then getting as good as you can at it. That takes time. Keep at it. Pay attention to yourself but do it with a glass of wine. Do not judge too harshly. Laugh. Enjoy your mistakes. Relax yourself. Be your own friend.
    I’m a writer now. I can say that. I’ll soon play the mandolin. And I’ll try my hand at standup someday. But until I’ve done fifty skits, can get a house full of laughs from an off-the-cuff quip, I’ll stay away from the word comic. Until then, I’ll stay relaxed.

    Go for it, Harley. Looks like you have only 47 more to go.


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