Changes Never End: My Life as a Stand-Up Comic
By Marylee -Stephenson, M.A., Ph.D. Whenever I appear as a standup comic I introduce myself as “the only 62-year-old-Lesbian-comic-with-a-Ph.D.!” I haven’t always been this way.
Four years Judy Carter was running a weekend workshop in stand up at the WISE Hall, and I took it. It was kind of scary, but I got some good ideas. Then there was a course in standup at a local community college. That was the real opening act, so to speak. Six weeks of practice, with others no more comfortable than I. We had a showcase with a full house, and from there you hear about “rooms” around town, where comics make a deal with a café to have standup session one night a week.
After that, I moved to the open mike nights at the bigger clubs, and then I started proposing myself for conferences of groups I belonged to because of my day job (I have my own research and program evaluation company), which is a lot of fun.
Standup is surely one of the most demanding things I’ve ever done. You are in a kind of three-dimensional situation when you’re up there. You have your content, but have to be aware of who’s out there, what the response is, how you tweak the content as you react to the audience reaction. You find a friendly face, someone with a great laugh, someone who looks asleep in the front row—and you work with that. One loud laugher can make it so much easier. One gnome in the front row can be crushing.
I used to take it easy with the gay/lesbian content – not sure how far I wanted to go with it, though I’m generally “out.” But then I thought, “well, it’s a major theme of your life, it’s material – what the hell?” Now I use it right from introduction – along with the degree and age. I’ve discovered several things along the way. One is that I’m fixated on sequins. I have a whole collection of sequin tops, a little sequin purse (to hold my notes), and I just twinkle. It’s hard enough to take up comedy at this age, but to discover you have a sequin fetish – now that’s a problem.
Because of the Ph.D. I bring in “research results,” from weird stuff I’ve read. Like a recent survey of 40 year old men that reported that given a choice, they would prefer to suffer from erectile dysfunction than lose their hair! I tell the audience, I may be gay, but I’ve been around and I don’t know any woman, who – when the guy was having a problem – would be saying, “oh, don’t worry about that down there – up top you’ve got a great head of hair!”
Now, I’m increasingly concentrating on “corporate” comedy; that’s conventions, meetings and workshops. I interview the sponsors beforehand, so I can start and end with their “issues” in the routine. I’m really trying to build on the corporate stuff – among other things, it pays. Now, if only they like sequins as much as I do! (more on Marylee at http://www.sociocomic.com/ )