Year Seven

The show inside was winding down. The headliner just got the 5 minute light. It was set #250 on the year. A month before my comedy anniversary. I was hanging outside with a comic. He’s kind of a dick, 10 years in. We’ve seemingly took the counter side on every topic to make the conversation last longer. He would smash hard on his points and unravel my even before I finish the thought. When I see our names tagged on the same show, I’d look forward to it but know I’m walking to my car feeling dejected. Kind of like an abusive relationship. It only took him seven years to say “you win that one and I figured out why.”

Right before people started walking out, I asked him if he found his comedy voice yet. He goes “what’s that?” It was a question I’ve asked myself and others over and over. He was the first to flip it back to me. “You know, saying things you’re proud of. Being proud of your jokes or being true to your comedy.” He asks, “Did you come up with that right now or did you give that some thought?” I thought it was obvious. I started wondering if I was chasing a mythical feat. They say it takes 7-10 years to find your comedy voice. What if it’s like finding Jesus, or Noah’s ark, or worst, doing the actual 10,000 hours and realizing it’s just a exaggerated metaphor.

Two nights ago, at a mixed open mic, I hear the familiar sounds of a white male in his early 20s talking about drinking, f-bombs, and getting with a Chinese woman. It was “like third time ever doing stand-up.” He asked what I thought of his set and if I have any advice. I told him I can’t help you. But keep going up. You’ll find your own path. I didn’t take the fastest path and I’m at the same shitty dive bar on a Monday night. I really wish I could of told him this;

Every night I learn something. Even if it’s not going back to that room. You have to see something in that night. It’s information you can pass on.

Be nice. People remember if you’re nice to them but never forget if you’re a dick. A comic last night remembered my name. I couldn’t place him. “We met at Tommy T’s.” It’s been months since I’ve been there. I still think about the night in D.C., when I didn’t get on a packed line up show. A comic I just met was willing to give up his spot so I could go up. At Throckmorton Theater, there were three San Francisco Comedy Competition winners, comedians that worked with Robin Williams, Dana Carvey, Will Durst.... They listened to my jokes, asked me how I was doing, and made me feel like I belong. If they were dicks, I’d delete this paragraph.

It’s never fair. Everyone is hungry for a set. It doesn’t always come to you. It could come years after you ask. Other comics with less years invested in this game may get more time on stage than you. But it’s nothing we can do about it. The same comics that would ask if they can get a set are the same ones that will ice (not book you) you on their show. The comedians I have the most respect for are the ones I see doing the same grind and not complaining. I know this because they tell me they had a great time at The Swingin’ Door and I know it was shit.

“My reputation is yours. My talent is mine.” -Vir Das. Sometimes you have to bet on yourself. Create your own opportunities. When comics ice you (or tell you there is a long list and it’ll be a year and half) on their show, I’d start a show and book them. Even when they close the door on me, I’d jimmy the door so it would pop open.

“Save everything. Things will come to you and it won’t be in order. It’s like scrabble. Then you have to put it in an alphabetical order. -Godfrey via Bill Cosby. I love this quote because even when I know this, it’s said just right that I got it. I started with premises. One liners. It evolved to tags. Then I’d look back at old notebooks and find another line for the same subject. Now I have a chunk. I plan on recording a comedy album at the end of November and I’m looking at putting them all together like a story.

“Move fast and break things.” -Mark Zuckerberg. It was Facebook’s Moto. The idea was to put out something that you would be embarrassed by and people would give you feedback and your window may close. I think most people appreciate thought and a product more than waiting two months it being right on a now old joke.

When we start out, we do an impression of what we think stand-up is. We mimic or use another comedian’s voice because we don’t know how to do it. Richard Pryor wanted to be Bill Cosby. Jerry Seinfeld wanted to be Robert Klein. I wanted to be Jim Breuer. I think what a comedy voice is, is when you say what you want to say freely. Without a filter because it comes from the heart. Some weirdo out there will relate to you because they are you too. Saying it without caring if it doesn’t go well. Or being real. It’s us going to see a comedian, bearing the parking and the two item minimum, because we want to see what they’re saying. It’s us tuning into the Late Night for the monologues. What I learned this year is I am different. Nobody has my childhood or my issues. My voice is me sharing. Now I just have to do it.

Kevin Wong
Chasing 300

Stand-up is a door I’ve been knocking on for a while. Sometimes it feels like it’s more a wall than a door. You know that saying “insanity is doing the same thing over and over hoping for a different result?” I tried ways around this door. Even having someone else open it and follow directly behind them. After “trying”, I decided to go insane.

The goal is 300 sets (booked showcases and open mic nights) in 2017. When Sammy Obeid was chasing 1,001 nights of consecutive sets, he needed a minimum of three audience members (non comics, I assume) and a minimum of two minutes. What was my criteria? I just need to feel good putting the tally mark in the book. I was one stage for a hour with two other comics, but didn’t feel like I did my job so I didn’t mark that one but I did mark doing a minute set at Cobb’s Comedy in front of four network executives and 29 diverse comedians because I waited eight hours on a sidewalk. I also counted another one with one audience member (a comedian’s girlfriend) because I did 15 minutes, got laughs and shared personal things nobody should know.

Another comic is chasing 365 sets is my distance running buddy. He seems to be 20 sets ahead of me every time I’d check in. He wants to race, of course. First to 300! It’s like saying “let’s play a game. But let me have the lead.” Doing 300 sets is my journey. Hoping to find some ironic epiphany comedians call their voice. A direction. Or being proud of something.

Finding the right mics is tricky. Some nights, you can stack four sets. Some, you drive hours to do five minutes and it’s cancelled. Or there is a venue that allows 15 minute sets but the crowd can care less for comedy. I even flew six hours and drove another hour, only to get denied because the list was too full. Or worst, cancelled because nobody showed up. Or nobody tells you it’s cancelled.

When I checked in at mic #196, I finally caught up to Victor Cruz Perez. I wasn’t getting funnier. Comedians were coming up to me asking if I wanted to write or need help (their way of saying you suck!). I always ask comics that are struggling, do you want to do the joke, or do you want to hear laughs? I needed to do the joke. But would appreciate laughs. Ultimately, your job is to get laughs, but sometimes you can’t do the joke. I felt the pressure to come up with 12 new minutes every month and tried to jam jokes down the audience’s throats. I trust the process but I learned a few things;

It’s just a number. When I was chased Victor and caught up, I wanted to keep my lead. But I lost focus of what I was doing, trying to get better. I asked him how he defined “a set” and he said “as long as I make it funny. I counted a set at a Karaoke bar because I sung the song funny.” We may have a different set of criteria but I need to stay in my lane.

300 sets should be the norm. I thought doing 140 last year was a lot. Seeing the same comics at different open mic made me realize it’s a job. Not just the writing every day but going out every night. If I want to get better, I need to work twice as hard. Kobe Bryant was talking about his work ethic. He would do more workouts and practice than any player. If they just work on their game in the off season, Kobe is years ahead of the competition. So I realized 140 sets and writing most nights wasn’t enough. It’s doubling up on the writing and number of sets just to catch up.

Every set I do, I try new things. Holding the mic different, move more on stage, go faster, slower, look people in the eyes then look their friends in the eyes when I tell the punch, try to bomb and win them back. Bring energy or just talk about who I am. Challenging myself. Just wanting to be in any situation just for the experience or following a host that bombs with “I’m moving to Canada if Trump takes office” in a Trump supporting room to doing dive bars that just don’t care about you.

About that door, I learned there’s no right way to knock on it. But I’m knocking on it harder and pushing twice as hard.

Currently at #203/300.

Kevin Wong
Chasing Year Seven

I tried dating. There is always this moment that you have to explain why I’m not working the main room at The Comedy Store or why everyone has a Netflix special except me. Why I drive 100 miles, sit in traffic for three hours, and wait for another two to do a total of 12 minutes of stage time. Or how she’ll always come in second. How do you explain you would rather dive bar hop every night because I want to know what it feels like to not call the suicide hotline. I dated a girl, her fake best friend got married on her birthday. Instead of going home and salvaging her birth-month-day, I did an open mic. If I thought I was useless and all about me, I know I had to dig deeper into the abyss to learn more about myself.

I don’t want to think I’m a glorified open mic'er, then, I’m not glorified. You’re suppose to find your comedy voice somewhere between year 7 and 10. Driving down with Pat Burtscher to Crow’s Nest, he said in year 11 he was beginning to hear himself. After hosting, and doing more time than I planned that night, I realized how bad it would suck to erase six years and start all over again.

Comedians @ Red Rock came from just wanting to be on a Saturday night show. Maybe have my name on a flier. Never thought it would be a producer’s dream. You see audience members come back again. And bring their friends. And their friends bring their friends, until it becomes a table of 27. It’s a comedian’s dream and a comedian’s nightmare. I didn’t want to do the same set or the same jokes. It’s cheating them or worse, not challenging myself. So I made some goals for 2017.

Every Comedians @ Red Rock show will be a new set. New jokes. It’s a month of working on jokes at dive bars and hippie coffee shops that could pass for under-the-table-pharmacies, to the show every third Saturday. It’s like farm to table. This comes from writing two new jokes a day. Fourteen new jokes by the end of the week. If five are good, I’ll expand and grow them. Or spend four weeks bombing.

I learned suffering is the best medicine. An ex had a sheet of paper that had 1-100. This “happiness program” sold this unhappy person the idea that happiness is the goal of being rejected 100 times. And when you hit 100, you’ll eventually stop caring. Since I am heartless, I knew I had 50 credits at birth. 300 spots (open mic and booked shows). The more spots I do, the stage begins to feel like my home. The late nights in front of two drunks that want to share. The more I know what rock bottom feels like. There are a few that have done 100 straight nights, and one that did 1,001 consecutive nights. Rejection will eventually turn to love. So far, 75 mics in three months. I did 140 last year. Half way to loving myself three times over!

Another goal is doing the road for two weeks. I’ve heard over and over how lonely and hard it is to be a bar-to-bar salesman that sells jokes to people that don’t want to listen. But it’s testing jokes and knowing if they’ll work. Jaime Foxx talked about doing 20 minutes of the blackest material in the whitest cities & 20 minutes of political stuff in the most chocolate cities, to piece together his 40 minutes.

Hate to admit this, but I found inspiration in LaLa Land. Someone that has to team up with a co-producer and bet on ourselves. It’s hard to find someone that has the same drive and dedication to not just put a good show together, but to go from 'So Long Boulder City' to Seb’s. Sometimes, you just want it more than the hundreds chasing. Maybe one day, I can look back and hope I find myself and be happy with the unwritten progress.

Who would date this guy?

Kevin Wong