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
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