Published in PRIMOLife Magazine Winter Issue 2015
This month, Anna tests out her funny bone in the strange, terrifying world of stand up comedy
“You’d be surprised at how many people can’t tell the difference between an Australian and an English accent. I’ll give you demonstration: an English person sounds like this “Hi, hello, how are you”.
With Australians, it’s a bit different. “Get #&*d you #@~*&!”.
Yep. Within ten seconds I’ve used two of the foulest swear words in the English language.
It gets a laugh, and I get to stay on stage for a bit longer, which is a huge relief because if there is one thing more awful that realizing that you aren’t funny, it’s realizing that you aren’t funny in front of a live audience.
After hours watching friends and my significant other get up on stage in tiny, dark comedy dens, braving the harsh glare of the spotlight and the even harsher sound of silence from an unamused crowd, I’ve decided to try my luck at an open mic night.
Sebastian Marx, a New York born comedian who has been living in Paris for ten years runs the ‘Melting Pot’ comedy night at the So Gymnase theatre. Its fancy address in the lively Bonne Nouvelle neighbourhood is a testament to his determination to carve out an English speaking niche in the French capital. It’s exciting to be performing on a street packed with bars, show fliers and busy theatres.
The club is cozy and welcoming, with thick curtains, comfy seats and a low stage, adorned by a lone microphone on a stand. Having arrived early, I stand at the bar and watch nervously as the room fills up. Friends come to say hello and wish me luck as they find their way to their seats. My discomfort grows, and my stomach, heart and skeleton seem to be trying to leave me for a better life elsewhere.
When the room is well and truly buzzing, Sebastian bounds onto the stage and begins breaking in the crowd. This comedy night is not called the Melting Pot for nothing: the audience is a mix of internationals, locals and tourists, speaking a range of languages and bringing with them a range of attitudes to comedy. A local man reluctantly answers Sebastian’s questions, while his Brazilian date giggles at his discomfort. The Americans in the crowd woooo enthusiastically while the English chuckle and re-cross their legs.
I smile wryly as I remember that I’m not the only one on the hot seat tonight: most live comedy walks a very fine line between hilarity and agonizing awkwardness, in which there is no protective fourth wall, and the audience is never totally safe.
It’s time. The comics scheduled for the night begin to approach the mic, one after another. Between sets, Sebastian lobs out his own well-polished jokes, keeping the pace upbeat, and helping to dissolve tension between unsuccessful comics.
Half an hour has passed, and I began to truly freak out, as I’m up next. My carefully prepared set vanishes from my mind and my mouth goes dry, but it’s too late, I’m already onstage and lifting the microphone to my mouth.
The stage lights are much brighter than I expected, but I can just make out the encouraging faces of my friends in the dim. I take a deep breath and go.
The first part, you know. So how was the rest?
Some jokes hit the mark, some fail completely and I commit the cardinal sin of giggling nervously at my own material. Yet, I get warmer and warmer, from the friendly energy in the room and the adrenaline running through me. Occasionally I can make out the distinctive laughs of my boyfriend and close mates in the crowd, and each one is like a friendly slap on the back, keeping me going.
It takes me a while to see the ‘time’s up’ light, from the back of the room, but when my last joke is done, I have a big grin on my face and an even bigger sense of relief.
I’m not sure what I’ve learned from this experience, except that in order to win over a crowd, all you need to do is to swear at them by way of greeting.
I’ll try to remember that for my next job interview.
Anna made a spectacle of herself at the SoGymnase theatre, Paris under the supportive gaze of Sebastian Marx. He is a real stand up guy. www.sebastianmarx.com