Chasing Year Nine

If you’re looking for advice, this is likely a waste of time. Within eight years, most comics have enough success from getting passed at comedy clubs, winning competitions, or build enough connections to have the confidence to move to a bigger city and pursue tv credits, I’m still here ushering a new group of kids in the game. Still doing the same open mics as I did eight years ago. Unsuccessfully. Last week I bombed so hard, an audience had to flag me down after my set to tell me “I come down here four times a year and you’re always funny. But you didn’t have it tonight.”

The first few years were suppose to be the hardest. Not knowing why a joke work the night before falls flat the next two attempts, who to listen to, getting butt-hurt hearing other comics tell jokes similar to yours, or being unsuccessful trying to reveal a little about yourself in your jokes. The last two years, I was a line in Eminem’s song; his hoes don't want him no mo, he's cold product. They moved on to the next schmo who flows, he nose dove and sold nada. We had a pretty fun room that broke capacity every show for two years. It gave me the opportunity to record 50 minute comedy album. Doors were opening for me. It was easier to get on show because comic/producers want the favor in return. Last year, the goal was to bomb harder and better. I commit to trying different things, not take it so hard when I failed, and shared like I couldn’t.

Without a room, I knew I was taken for face value at most if not discounted. Wasn’t getting booked on shows I was aspiring to be on, didn’t place well enough on competitions, and I wasn’t contributing to the comedy community but clogging spots. Ever had a producer tweet “comedy shouldn’t be interactive” after observing you do crowd work? We all have our own interpretation of what stand-up comedy is. Can’t use props, it’s not stand-up without a microphone, no stage/no show... my interpretation came from anticipation of sitting through a commercial break to hear a comedian’s hot take on a topic and feeling the idea of “getting it” or seeing it live and feeling a little bit scared that they might shine a light on something I’m embarrassed to admit then tripping over trying to retell it to my friends. It was dangerous because it wasn’t conventional logic. I wanted my jokes to be edgy. I also don’t want anyone to walk out before I go up knowing I was going to recite the set of jokes, so I never do the same set, if not just one new joke to convince their friend to stay.

The Twilight Zone’s rebooted pilot, The Comedian, popped up on Youtube. The episode was free. It’s CBS’s ploy to get me to bite and pay for their exclusive porn app on another platform. The episode is about a comedian that had integrity, boundaries, and self-worth named Samir. He wasn’t getting the same laughs as other comedians that went for the easy, low brow humor. He worked hard on his intelligent second amendment joke but nobody cared. He wasn’t... killing. Samir, meets JC Wheeler, a Morpheus or the bartender in Mr. Destiny, got the blue pill or red pill, spilt milk option of fate. So he took the obvious choice. Wheeler tells him: You have on thing. One natural resource. You are one country with one export. And you are the export. Nobody cares about your jokes. They care about you. He ditched politics and started talking for a dark place. What he really felt and started exporting. Laughs came in waves. Harder and harder until people he want to vindicate disappeared. I was so moved with The Comedian, because I was Samir, I knew I should quit comedy. I was using comedy to justify being an asshole. What’s the difference between a comedian and a glorified asshole? Laughs.

I was hanging with comics after a show hearing the dumb thoughts I dismissed as pretentious insecurities, come out of their mouths about others. The uncertainties, fears, and getting iced on bookings were real and what did they say about me to each other before tonight? I looked for an exit strategy out of comedy. Nobody would care. Maybe a couple of thank you. But I know it would eat me up knowing I stopped trying. So year nine has been a journey of being self aware of what I say may bring shame to people or turn them off, even when I see irony and my own export. I still fail. I still do my best supporting comics that have questions but most of the time I say I can’t help them. Because they have their own journey and I only got so far. If anything, I’m still here. The Piano Man.

Kevin Wong
My Eighth Year in Comedy

Year 8 snuck up on me. Like episode 10 of Daredevil season 3, or that restaurant closing you kept meaning to check out. Or the bobblehead that became a collection. You drive down to south San Jose, over pay for the first one, collect five more with partial season tickets, and eight years later you’re embarrassed to have 123 bobbleheads.

Like stand-up, I had my eyes on my first but I didn’t know how to obtain it. It was a J.T. Snow Xtreme Club Kids Rewards bobblehead. You had to be both a member and a kid to get one. I was neither but I had money and Google. I now have so many, I bought one, thought it was a duplicate, went back to the store to exchange it, came home to see I don’t have a Buster Posey Giants Race bobblehead. The similarities are if it’s a stadium give away, you have to wait in line. The longer the wait, the more rewarding. Then everybody has one. Friends would try to sell me theirs. They seem indestructible but delicate. Seeing them brings me joy. The dissimilarity is they don’t always nod in agreement.

A lot like any collection, most people don’t get it. They see OCD but don’t know about the sacrifice of pride, talking to backs of heads, competing with sporting events, driving home with heavy eyes. It is definitely a recurring dream. Not sure if it’s the kind I want. Even when there are no guidelines nor timeline on when you get your break, the distinction is like chasing the all-time home run number in the minors. Do you want people to know you’ve been doing it this long? I see a lot of kids that have early success and admire being labeled a prospect. I wish I was this good. It seems effortless and natural for them. I had to work with overcoming being shy, anti-social, and misbelieving I’m a lottery pick. I’m more like a Mike Piazza - drafted in the last round as a family favor. Or Travis Ishikawa - going up and down from the minors to the majors, traded, released, almost retiring, going back to the minors, then getting immortalized in a sound-chipped bobblehead. It might not even be a shiny career. Never getting that signing bonus or being in a magazine.

I had one goal this year. Bomb harder (or smarter). Allowing yourself to bomb is humiliating and humbling. It taught me not where the floor is, but where the floor was in the basement. I stayed in bits longer then see if I could get out of it without lifelines. I’ve become very comfortable and have a greater sense of invulnerability so taking chances isn’t so scary. What makes any comedy so unique is the experience then sharing it. There are five impressionable lessons I'm taking from this year.

  1. The goal is to write three pages (sometimes two) a day. The achievement is day-dreaming to make yourself laugh. I start this in the morning, then I’ll space out all day thinking about it, jotting down notes or tags. I feel the jokes are better because I’ve ringed out more water from the rag. It’s very much what I do on my podcast. Streamlining jokes verbally. On one of the car rides with David Nguyen, he said “Your podcast voice doesn’t match your comedy voice.” He’s right. I don’t day dream much when I’m trying make others laugh but when I’m in a walk-in closet with no judgment or instant feedback, I’m more fearless trying to make myself laugh. Shouldn’t this be the same?

  2. The other lesson is “none of this matters.” We think we’re clever, dance around the wrong things, but this is the best time to try. We’re given leeway because we’re in progressive Bay Area. What we say in a coffee shop at 730 on a Tuesday isn’t going to show up like an old racist tweet from high school. We ran a fun show for two years (yesterday). Today, forgotten. It’s all about experience. The good and bad. Experience it now so you’re more prepared for when it counts.

  3. Stand up is easy. It’s the most stripped down, basic form of entertainment. Verbal with expressions. It’s the noise, the negativity, and the self doubt and lack of self esteem that blocks us from knowing how easy it is.

  4. Be patient. I think about quitting a lot. I should be making that time and half at work. But I chose to drive across a bridge, park, and hope someone won’t smash my window, to tell jokes. I walk pass my Playstation to sit in a closet and hope I’ll find something more rewarding. Jaime Lee (Crashing) said it best in a Q&A, think of us like popcorn. It might take some of us more time than others but we’re all eventually going to pop.

  5. Say something memorable. Most comics know what their best joke is. The audience decide, then they know it’s the closer. Your best joke will make you. What joke do you want people to remember you for?

I’ve been chasing the 1987 San Francisco Giants reunion team. I’ve come across all four at some point but am still looking. The Will Clark (signed) was more than I was willing to pay. The Matt Williams (also autographed) had a smudged signature and it wasn’t authenticated. The Robby Thompson was well, I let a dad buy it without me calling dibs (or asking to look at it so he didn’t have the opportunity). The Kevin Mitchell, found in an antique store, is bobblehead #110. Dusting them helps, letting the “not right ones” go, and hoping the opportunities will come again. Sometimes it’s about collecting moments they are recreating and it brings joy. It’s inedible candy.

Kevin Wong
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