Artwork by Tim O'BrienStand-up comedy is a widely misunderstood profession. People assume we're funny all the time and even worry that we'll be funny at inappropriate times. I've actually been warned not to crack jokes at a funeral before. I don't know what kind of whoopee-cushion jackass people think we are, but comedians do have souls you know. Well, not all of us.
The first time I realized that people had warped ideas of what comedians do and can do was back in the early 2000's. I was a brand-new, amateur comedian. I can't stress the word amateur enough. I was terrible. I thank my lucky stars every day that I started in Iowa. That way, none of my Minnesota contemporaries can look back and say "Remember that time you did your first show in your boxers?" or "Remember when you dressed up like Axl Rose and wore a long, blonde wig and a jock-strap with a potato in it and then threw it at the crowd?" Yes, both of those are true. Yes, I was drinking quite heavily at the time. Yes, I wake up every morning in shame. No, I will not do it again no matter how much you pay me.
I was living in Iowa City, IA, at the time and worked at a restaurant called "Carlos O'Kelly's" as a bartender. We had a regular named "Jimmy". He was a cool, old dude and a bit of a drunk (he was a regular, after all.) Every day Jimmy would barrage me with his hair-brained schemes of get-rich quick ideas. He wanted to invent an all-terrain electric wheelchair for elderly people so they could climb over rocks or travel through the desert. When I asked him what would happen if they flipped over climbing a boulder he said "That's what the roller-bars are for". He detailed all of this for me on the most elaborate and insane bar-napkin that ever existed.
One day Jimmy got wind that I had started doing stand-up comedy. Charles Schultz, creator of the iconic "Peanuts" comic strip had just passed away.
"I know what you should do!" Jimmy exclaimed after showing me his blue-print for a squirrel guillotine (squirrels were living in his rain gutter and he wanted to teach them a public lesson.) "Charles Schultz just died. You should write The Peanuts!"
Even as a brand new dumb comic I knew this was ridiculous. Sure Jimmy, I'll just bust into the Peanuts headquarters:
"Hey guys, your problems are solved! You know that guy who wrote the most popular comic strip of all time for 50 years and just passed away, shattering the hearts of fans across the globe? Well, I'm gonna do it now! Yeah, yeah, I've got some great ideas. Charlie Brown is gonna wear just his boxers and Lucy will dress up in a blonde wig and throw jock-strap potatoes at people! It's genius! Thank you, yes I will start today!"
I guess people just want to believe that every comic is Robin Williams and is constantly "on" and can do anything remotely humorous that is asked of them because they are a "comedian". That's fine. I can't really talk. I don't know what welders do all day, but I assume it's with a metal mask in their subterranean lair. Clearly I can't begrudge people their inaccuracies.
All I know is, ten years later I'm a much better stand-up comedian. And the Peanuts still haven't gotten back to me.