Four years ago, when I used to live in Washington, DC, I forced myself to perform once a month at a local comedy club. The 2 floor Irish Pub in Northeast DC was heavily decorated with soccer jerseys and posters of Thursday karaoke nights. The dank carpet and dusty dark wood walls showed its age. Once I got into the bar, I was asked for ID and double checked when telling the bouncer I was performing; my name was crossed out to show my attendance. I expected a good amount of people to come since I heavily retweeted and shared the flyer with my name in caps. A typical DC audience, the crowd was filled with private-sector chumps and non profit wieners. My jokes were as unrelatable to them as a conversation about taxes and 401k profit margins were relatable to me. “Did I mention I was also on my period?” ...You could tell by the silence that most of the men in the crowd were still at an age where periods were gross; as they embarrassingly purchased heavy flow tampons for their girlfriends.
I would generally get some form of laughter, and not a sympathy I want to cut the awkward laugh, but genuine. It’s amazing to see the change of energy once you convince a group of people you are funny. I’ve always been told I was funny by friends and family, but to make a complete stranger laugh at an idea became my super power. On other nights, my jokes didn’t land the way I had imagined in my head and the sound of silence swallowed me whole , I would remember that feeling all the way home. What was it about being on the receiving end of an awkward silence that motivated me to try one more time?
After a year of performing and knee deep into the throws of a quarter life crisis, I packed up my shit and moved to New York October 2017 to become a comedian.
Bright eyed and bushy tailed, the world was my oyster. I signed up for my first open mic after meeting a guy who knew the MC at an open mic at the Grisly Pear in Greenwich Village. Luckily for the first time, I just had to give a name and not the required performing fee and people. Head’s up, most open mics either require the comic to bring 5 people with a 2 drink minimum or even pay to perform, around $5. Just imagine if you have multiple open mics in a night; $30 towards my performance and another $20 towards my drinks. I expected a pretty stacked crowd of excited New Yorker’s anxious to hear a new set of funny transplants. I dressed in typical comic attire; jeans and a t-shirt. I practiced my set a couple times and made sure to emphasize the points that drove the biggest laughs. I entered with my ID, a credit card and a notebook with a bulleted list of jokes to keep me organized. I walked into the dimly lit bar to a couple of regulars arguing with the bartender and was enthusiastically directed to the back room. I entered into a room full of 4 comics and an overly loud microphone. “Hi, I’m Nikki. PJ’s friend.” The MC added me to the loose leaf notebook after the 4th comic’s name.
My set was pretty quick and uninspiring. I ended up performing to a room full of comedians reviewing their own set. You could tell they were all friends with the amount of crowd interaction. After my 4 minute set, I walked off the stage feeling disposable. My expectations of an open, excited crowd was quickly infiltrated by overheard conversations about everything else. It didn’t matter if I was there or not; quite the contrast from my usual.
My weekly practice improv groups and once-a-month comedy shows were nothing in comparison to the beast that is NYC comedy. A stomping ground for some of the most historical funny women from Tiny Fey to Lucille Ball have all endured the hardships of feeling disposable and living with the stigma that “women aren’t funny” within the comedy scene. The industry itself is exclusive and lacks a sense of community because of it’s boys only club mentality and the level of clichés associated. You have to suffer through DMV-esque wait times, in between other ill prepared newbie comedians performing jokes that were funny back home, just to do your bit. Even then, there’s a high chance your set time gets cut or you are the last to perform due to the MC not knowing or caring who you are. I was up against New York’s veteran jokesters; people who live perform until 4 am at the Comedy Cellar just to network with the headliner for a few minute.
My experience with stand up comedy in DC did not prepare at all for my short lived stand up career in NYC. I was ill prepared for the late nights, endless drinking and even the patience to make friends. The balancing act of paying bills, networking and still having time for my own mental stability made stand up comedy no longer funny. They say “if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere” and wasn’t that the fucking truth. I truly salute the people coming here to pursue a career in comedy, you hopefully will get further than I did.
Not to end this continuous life on a bad note, I am doing great after breaking up with stand up; I’m now a writer, and that’s the bit.
Nikki Frias is the creator of Girltellme.com. She decided to create a world for new and diverse writers after she realized the difficulties of telling her own story. To learn more about her and girltellme.com, send her a note; she generally writes back