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What a Month! It's Ben (July 2022) — Standup Comedy

published4 months ago
12 min read

What a month!

I kicked off July with a nine-day trip to Chicago to spend time with family and friends. When I returned to Austin, I shifted my focus to standup comedy and over the past two weeks, I’ve performed at 12 open mics around town. Also – I can now see (I had LASIK eye surgery on Friday) and my friend Joey and I put the finishing touched on our home brew. For details, read on below. And if anything I share resonates with you, I’d love for you to shoot me a reply!

Standup Comedy

Standup comedy has been something I’ve wanted to try for a while. But the idea of getting on stage at an open mic has absolutely terrified me.

Going into July, I told myself I was going to conquer my fear and go for it.

So on the morning of July 11th (a Monday), I walked twenty minutes to a local park to write and rehearse material (I felt too self-conscious about rehearsing from home while Peyton was there working). It was hot – hitting 108 degrees by 5pm – but I found a picnic table underneath a tree and cracked open my laptop and found it to actually work quite well (not having access to WiFi turned out to be a nice productivity hack).

Initially, I planned to write and rehearse for two hours each morning during the week of July 11th with the goal of getting on stage for the first time starting on July 18th. But by Wednesday of that first week, I felt comfortable enough with my four minutes of material to give an open mic a try.

After a bit of Googling and some Reddit forums, I found a couple of resources that shared information about open mics and the overall Austin comedy scene. Particularly helpful ones have been the Austin Texas Comedy Instagram page that shares the daily open mic spots and the ATX Open Mic Comedy Facebook group where someone posted a spreadsheet with detailed info about all open mics around town.

For my first one, I settled on the 8pm Wednesday open mic at The Lucky Duck – a bar close to my apartment that I’d been to quite a few times before. I got there for the 6pm sign up and waded amongst the sea of open mic-ers to draw a number (between 1 and 40) from a hat to determine my slot in the lineup. I picked number 30, which I was told would mean quite a long wait – especially since established comics in Austin would roll through and get stage time while “bumping” folks further down the list.

I left to grab dinner and planned to hang out at home until the 8pm mic’s start time. But while walking past the bar on my way back from dinner at 6:45pm, I heard comedy and assumed they must’ve started the mic early. It turns out that that had been a “Tag Mic” session – where folks would do their 4 minutes of material in front of other open mic-ers who would then hand them slips of paper with “tags” for ideas to creatively build off their jokes. But I wouldn’t find that out until the actual mic started at 8pm, so I patiently sat and waited through it.

At 8pm, the open mic finally got underway. It took place outdoors with folks watching from picnic tables placed throughout the bar’s back patio. Over the next few hours, I listened to comics, rehearsed my lines in my head, and popped into the bar every-so-often for a water, beer, or a bathroom break.

By 10:30pm, I began getting antsy. I told myself that if I wasn’t called by 11pm, I’d leave. After all, by that point, I’d have been there for north of four hours. When 11pm hit, I stood up and started to walk out. But leaving felt wrong. I was so mentally locked in to getting my first open mic out of the way then and there that I knew not doing so would’ve gnawed at me.

So instead, I flagged down the open mic’s host and told him that I did, in fact, exist, and he told me that I’d be up soon enough.

The longer I sat, the more nervous I got. I was scared I was going to make a fool out of myself. That I’d forget what I had to say. That I’d stumble over my words. But beyond my internal fears, it was clear that the patrons at the bar were starting to tune the open mic out as it entered its fourth hour. It was certainly not an engaged audience.

Finally, at 11:40pm (after five hours of sitting and waiting), I was called up. I walked to the mic stand and did my prepared material. I didn’t stumble over my words – in fact, I had the opposite problem. My nerves, combined with a less-than-engaged audience, led me to just kind of breeze through the material like I was by myself at the park. It came off as way too rehearsed. I maybe got a chuckle. After getting close to the three-and-a-half-minute mark, I told my last “joke” and sat down.

Did it go well? Absolutely not. It was unbelievably uncomfortable. But at the same time, it felt really good to get my first one out of the way. Most important, I learned that the consequences to not being good were not nearly as scary as I had made them out to be.

Since then, I’ve performed at 12 open mics across Austin. I’ve gotten some laughs and have become a whole lot more comfortable standing up on stage. I’m certainly not great, but I don’t feel embarrassingly bad at it either. How I feel about my abilities tends to fluctuate from night to night. It changes based on whether I’m trying new material versus stuff that I know kinda works. It changes based on my confidence and my delivery. And it also changes based on the quality of the audience and the venue. Overall, it’s been a fascinating experience – one that’s felt equal parts enjoyable and masochistic.

I plan to keep hitting open mics for the next few weeks with the goal of capping off this experience by performing at a show that I invite friends to. While I have tons of additional thoughts and reflections from my past two weeks of bopping around Austin’s open mic circuit, I’ve probably written too much here as is, so I’ll revisit those for next month’s newsletter.

Chicago

From July 1st through 9th, Peyton and I traded the scorching Austin heat for the bliss that is Chicago in the summer. And we sure crammed in a ton during our week-and-change there.

For the first half of our stay, we spent time catching up with my friends. We met up with folks at bars, played Spikeball by the lake, and attended a friend’s housewarming party on the 65th floor of the Hancock building (with the most incredible lakefront view).

In between seeing people, Peyton and I made sure to carve out time for just the two of us as well. We stayed at Hotel Lincoln and took advantage of the beautiful rooftop bar (The J. Parker) and the omakase sushi restaurant within. We popped over to the Lincoln Park Farmer’s Market across the street. And we hit Lou Malnatti’s for classic Chicago-style deep dish pizza.

For the rest of our stay, we spent quality time with my family in Oak Park (the first suburb west of the city). My grandparents were in town from Arizona, and my uncle and cousin made the trip in from New Hampshire. It felt great to be with family and special to have so many of us together to celebrate my grandpa’s 85th birthday 😊

On top of family, friends, and weather, I was especially excited to be back in Chicago for the 4th of July. For the past four years, I’ve celebrated the 4th by grilling at my friends’ house in Wrigleyville and then catching firework from the roof of my old apartment building in Bucktown. And despite some of us moving out of Chicago over the past year, we were able to get most of the gang back together to keep the tradition going.

Yet it was sobering to try to celebrate the 4th of July in the wake of the shooting in Highland Park. Before, mass shootings had always felt abstract. But this was the first time where one hit close to home. My grandma grew up in Highland Park. I had friends that were at that parade and friends that lost people they knew. I could imagine being back at my own Chicago suburb’s Independence Day parade while gun shots rang free.

It is insane that mass shootings have been ever-present in America throughout the entirety of my 27-year-old life and that absolutely nothing has been done about it. It’s sad how numb we all feel to it and how accepting we are of this just being a part of the world we live in.

But what are our options? Over the past twenty-plus years we’ve voted and marched and fought for gun reform. But nothing changes because we have a government that does not work. Not just one that’s incapable of preventing its citizens from getting mowed down by military grade assault rifles, but one that’s incapable of solving any problem at all.

So maybe gun reform isn’t what we should be fighting for. Maybe what we should be fighting for instead is government reform. And if we can reform our government to make it work, well, then passing common-sense gun legislation might actually happen.

Non-partisan open primaries and ranked choice voting are two seemingly mundane changes we could make to our electorate process that I believe would go a long way towards fixing our political system. Independents outnumber Democrats and Republicans. Yet with our current primary system, only the most committed partisans select the candidates that appear on the ballot in the general election. That means that most Americans don’t have a meaningful choice in elections to begin with.

And once elected, politicians are incentivized to appeal to the most radical folks within each party’s base in order to continue to win future primaries. Since most elections take place in gerrymandered districts or single party dominated states, those that win the primary from the right party are just about a shoo-in for the general election.

Non-partisan open primaries, combined with ranked-choice voting, would change which candidates we elect and fix the incentives of our elected officials. Instead of having to appeal to the most radical people on their side of the aisle, politicians would have to appeal to everyone. It would lead to less extreme candidates and encourage elected officials to work across party lines.

Non-partisan open primaries and ranked choice voting certainly aren’t sexy. But it’s the boring, internal plumbing that we need to fix our government and get meaningful policies, like gun reform, actually done. And the cool thing is, we don’t need to rely on politicians to make these changes in 25 states. They could be enacted by the people via ballot initiatives.

I’m tired of being a cynic about our political system. I’m tired of seemingly everyone knowing that things are bad and broken while nothing ever changes. There’s a famous quote that says, “insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” After every high-profile mass shooting, fights for meaningful gun reform have failed. We clearly need a new approach if we want to prevent the mass shootings of the future. So while non-partisan open primaries and ranked choice voting aren’t the most exciting things to fight for, they just might be the most impactful.

The Forward Party has done awesome work toward advancing non-partisan open primaries and ranked choice voting and is worth checking out if you’d like to learn more.

LASIK

When I talked to my friend Daniel about my plan to get LASIK eye surgery, he told me about a post he stumbled upon in the r/Austin subreddit that he mentioned might serve as a useful resource. He sent it over and well, it was absolutely insane in the greatest possible way.

This person, while deciding where to get his LASIK eye surgery done, did in-person consultations with ten laser eye surgery centers throughout Austin. Then, he wrote detailed descriptions about his experience at each location plus shared pricing information.

One center in particular seemed to jump out, but it was on the pricier side. That being said, the post mentioned that the center offered a price match guarantee. So I circled that one plus the center with the cheapest price point and scheduled consultations with both. Ultimately, I booked surgery with the stand-out center – but saved $2,000 off the sticker price by showing up with a price quote from the other clinic.

I walked into the center on July 29th (so, two days ago) at 2pm for my LASIK eye surgery. I signed paperwork, met with folks that shared information and performed final tests, and then was handed two valiums and told to hang out for a bit.

At 3pm, I was pulled in for the surgery. I laid on my back and stared at red and green lights and within minutes it was done. There was a burning smell and some loud-ish clicks, but I didn’t feel any pain from the procedure. Afterwards I stood up and was able to walk around without assistance. Other than some cloudiness, my eyes felt fine.

Peyton picked me up and drove me home. I wore sunglasses in the car and within 15 minutes began to feel some discomfort. I was told to nap for four hours so I laid in bed and went in-and-out between sleeping and listening to the audiobook of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck. But by 8pm, I felt pretty darn normal. My vision was fixed. It felt too good to be true.

Over the next week I’ll have to be diligent about putting drops in my eyes, wearing sunglasses while outside, and avoid getting water or sweat in my eyes. But those are small prices to pay for such a life changing outcome. After a decade-plus of wearing contacts and glasses, I now have better than 20-20 vision. And I could not be more thrilled 😊

Brewing Beer

After giving our home brew six weeks to ferment, Joey and I linked up on July 17th to bottle the beer! We started the process by sanitizing our bottles and caps. Then, we poured the beer into a new bucket (leaving the layer of residual sludge behind) and mixed in our priming sugar – a requirement for the beer to carbonate in the bottle.

From there, we fixed a tube to the end of the bucket’s spigot that released the beer when pressed against the bottom of the bottle. Joey and I then switched off between filling the bottles and pressing down the caps. An hour or so later, we had our fifty beers bottled and capped!

While waiting the two weeks for the carbonation process to complete, Joey and I created and ordered labels for our new brew. Joey had brewed under the name Roo Brewing Company in the past, so we kept that name going for our “brewery.” And we settled on the name Baby Blue Pils for our beer and designed a label that featured a cute baby kangaroo.

Last night marked the two-week point. Our beers had sufficiently carbonated and were ready to drink! So I popped up to Joey’s apartment (he conveniently lives a floor above me) and we cracked one open and anxiously took a sip. And it actually tasted quite good!

Later this evening we plan to slap on the labels. And then we’ll freely drink our Baby Blue Pils and share it with anyone in town that’s down to try it out!

Friends Doing Cool Things

Family Junket – the band that includes my childhood friends Scott Daniel, Jonah Lazarus, and Max Lazarus – released the single It’s a Party on July 24th! It’s a beautiful, fun song with vibes that remind me of Surf – the 2015 Nico Segal (formerly Donnie Trumpet) and the Social Experiment album.

Scott and Jonah are incredibly talented musicians whose shows I’ve been attending ever since their seventh grade Battle of the Bands victory 14 years ago. And Jonah’s little brother Max can make just about any instrument sing, and is a wicked-good producer to boot.

While they’ve made consistently great tunes with past groups, I’m particularly excited about this new project they’re putting together with the rest of the Family Junket crew. This one just feels like it has that “it” factor to me and I’ll be eagerly awaiting their full album set to debut later on in the year.

Monthly Favorites

📝 Article: What I Miss About Working at Stripe by Brie Wolfson — The coronavirus pandemic ushered in a new era for knowledge workers. Jobs now default remote. There’s a newfound celebration of work-life balance. There’s been a push towards disassociating our identities from our jobs and demanding they don’t seep outside of the 9-to-5 hours (while still ensuring they give us the flexibility to run errands between 9-to-5 as we see fit).

Brie’s article is a fantastic reminder that this shift away from our lives revolving around work has its fair share of drawbacks as well. That there is beauty and joy and fulfillment from working really really hard to solve interesting problems with great people. That it’s meaningful to be passionate about your work and to give it your all. That simply sitting next to others that care about their craft can uniquely push you to turn good work into great work.

I deeply miss those things. Work places and people that share in those traits feel increasingly hard to find. But work I can fully immerse myself into with others that feel the same is certainly something I hope to find again with my next pursuit.

🎵 Song: I Found a Girl by The Vamps — Shout-out to my local Target for introducing me to this gem over the loudspeaker.

Til Next Month,

Ben