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
My Sixth Year in Comedy

On the eve of hosting Crow’s Nest and having my comedy anniversary at Throckmorton Theater, I started to question and doubt six years worth of jokes. It’s the same lack of conviction feeling I get when it’s been a few days since I did a set. The host is agitating a drunk Trump supporter. I am up next. It’s been over 2,175 days since that first three minute set at Tommy T’s, and it still feels like I don’t know what I’m doing. They say it takes 7-10 years to find your comedy voice. What if it’s just this, they went, f- it. I wasn’t funny anyway. 

I have one goal; Get better. Not funnier. Better. Anybody can be funny. Being good is when they go "I was thinking that same exact thing... but didn’t say it". Better is when they go "I could of thought of that!” Great is when they go home and google. The mantra for year six is own it. Anything you put out there, own it. This year, I really felt like myself. The asshole on stage is the same asshole off stage. But I still want to bring fire and go deeper. 

Year six was a shift. After 95 shows at The Swingin’ Door, we decided to shift it to Rail Club in San Carlos. I shifted my feet looking for a Saturday Night venue and did one show at Red Rock with a promise of one more. Then they shifted to residency for a year. Recording myself in a closet just wanting to see if I verbalize my thoughts and feelings shifted to a bi-weekly solo podcast. Zero to 93 real quick. I shifted from being a shy introvert, to a kind of shy person with opinions. I shifted from wanting to tell jokes to wanting people to have a good time. Sometimes it’s not about the jokes. It’s about if they want to come back or follow you.

Four big moments happened for me. My Mount Rushmore. Or reminders. One was Dana Carvey walked passed me in San Jose. He is the reason why I attempted doing this. Just the idea of him having fun on the biggest stage and how I had to share with my friends Monday morning. On a podcast, he mentioned interviewing Robin Williams for his paper and he asked, why he did comedy. “I want to play for the people.”

The second was seeing Billy Crystal do a drop set. Reading his autobiography, Billy Crystal was passed up for representation from a big agent because “he didn’t leave the audience a tip.” It sounded nice and cleaver, but it wasn’t until I saw him leave us a tip, I fully understand what separates them from the pack of comedians.

Third moment has to be Wendy Bartholomew doing anything I ask. I mean, co-produce. Everything from making fliers, buying a neon sign, curtains, and sound tech. Even drive and lets me be myself. It’s always a good feeling knowing someone has your back and understands what it takes to get better or do simple better. 

Fourth moment had to be hosting Crow’s Nest and doing 35 minutes. I just saw two 10 year comics bring fire in a broom closet in the Tenderloin. I walked to my car knowing I am nowhere near getting the fireman to put out my shows. Hosting this show in Santa Cruz told me I can get people to laugh. Sometimes it’s a performance, Sometimes it’s just being real. I think I have a voice. Or at least I’m right on track.

ComedyKevin Wongcomedy, blog