My Fifth Year in Comedy, 2.0

The first four years, I thought it was about building a 20 minute set. You had your opener, (the one joke that consistently works) then it’s trying to find the right combination to not bore the audience before your closer (the one joke that made someone fall out of their seat. Intoxicated still counts). If you’re lucky, at the end of the show, someone will shake your hand and say “nice job” or “you’re funny.” Even when you know they’re doing it because you’re standing next to someone that crushed and they don’t want it to be awkward for you.

Jerry Seinfeld relates years in comedy to how old you are in life. Even when I felt like a fifth year high school Senior, I was really just starting first grade. They say the first years are the hardest and I would say yes but disagree because I was comfortable. Comedy three nights a week and softball for two. I had the perfect trifecta; a day job that knew they were second fiddle to my pipe dream, my own show, and a girlfriend. Then she gave me the best present. A break up.

The act was gone. It was all relationship jokes. When I saw couples, I knew I had them at “why are you yelling at me?” “I’m not yelling at you. This tone right here is considered yelling.” It was like a tornado ran through me and I had to figure out what I was going to talk about and where I was going to live.

A few things resonated and stuck with me. Seeing Jeff Garlin work at The Comedy Store and hearing him say if “I can get through the set without touching the act, I’m happy.” And a comedian should never feel comfortable. The new act was about going through the break up. I was hoping they would see humor in my pain but it made people sad. Someone told me “your act is sad.” But she was trying to be mean. Then I got uncomfortable. Then comfortable being uncomfortable.

I hated comedy. I didn’t know what to talk about but I knew I wanted to be up there because it was therapeutic and the only place that felt safe and sovereign. When I started five years ago, I saw this comic bomb every time we did a mic or a show. Almost and sometimes walking a room. He would go up with a notebook, make the audience feel uncomfortable then pick on the ones that stayed. I felt like I was doing the same but I wasn’t headlining and wasn’t getting paid.

I understood jokes and structure. I got how to build a set. It’s very calculated. My fifth year was the first year I stopped thinking and started to talk about how I really felt. I went down a couple rabbit holes and smeared lines. Comedy wasn’t about doing the act. It’s about making people feel better about themselves and their situations through our situations. It’s about them going home and remembering your bit, then tell their friends like it’s their joke, or even better, wanting to hear more jokes from you like how I get with comedians. When I figured this out, comedy was fun again.

A co-worker was retiring and I did the speech. It was at 8:30 am, was completely lit, everybody was standing, hopped up on coffee. His parents were there and I bombed. I felt bad for a little bit then I walked away knowing I said what I wanted to, what I thought was funny. I crossed the line on a lot of things but this is the new me. Taking chances. And bombing in front of everyone I’ll see for the next 16 years before I can have someone talk about me like that.

If comedy years is anything like real life years, the first day of first grade I bailed. I walked home at lunch time (school got out at 3pm). It was five miles. I tried to talk to public school kids about Jesus and wore a plastic garbage bag Captain America costume for Halloween. The one with three tiny holes. Two to see, one to suffocate. And by the way, the guy that I saw bomb hard, now, when he’s in town, I’ll hear ads on the radio for his show at the San Jose Improv, was on Comedy Central, and he’s doing well in L.A.

ComedyKevin Wong