Stand up comedy is never really something I aspired to or even showed a vague interest in. To me, Steve Martin was just the funny dad in those Father of the Bride movies we watched incessantly as kids. Bill Cosby kept the Huxtable children in line while starring in a few Jello commercials on the side. Sadly, I knew George Carlin as Ben Affleck’s dad in Jersey Girl, never recognizing that he was one of the most renowned comics of all time and probably would roll over in his grave to know that someone thought that movie was his first big break. Comedy Central was one of those channels on TV that other people gravitated to, but I just never really got. I have never ever listened to a Dane Cook CD. And I only professed to like Dave Chappelle because I laughed during one episode of his show (his skit about the black and blind white supremacist really got me) and it was cool to be a fan. What I’m trying to say is, my comedy knowledge was zero and I was content with that. Then Mike, my then-fiance, now-husband, told me his dream was to be a stand up. And one of the things I loved then and now about my husband is that he’s the kind of person who relentlessly pursues even his wildest dreams.
So that’s how I got here – a reluctant expert on the sometimes-skimpy Baltimore comedy scene, a novice on classic comedy, and somewhere in between on what’s trendy in the funny business nowadays. To be perfectly honest, I know that my husband doesn’t think I really get the comedy thing and, much as I try to deny it, I kind of have to agree with him.
When he first started trying his hand at comedy, I was a super supportive wife, tagging along to as many open mics as I could bare. My tolerance for comedy was high back then – I had yet to memorize all the local performers’ punchlines and it wasn’t initially apparent how degrading and defeating a pursuit comedy can be. Over time, I couldn’t understand why people were so willing to put themselves up to the brutal punishment that is a bad set night after night. I didn’t recognize that so many comedians ride on the faintest glimmer of hope, a hope that isn’t always visible to audience members. Someone on stage might consider that cluster of chuckles that I mistook for a cough as indication that they are killing (aka kicking comedy ass). That five minute spot at a venue over an hours’ drive away for a handful of audience members may look, for some optimistic amateurs, more like a huge opportunity to spread the fan base than a huge waste of gas.
When you listen to professional comedians, the pursuit starts to make a little more sense, at least to someone who spent most of her life comedy-illiterate. While there are some performers I adore, these people could be much more accurately classified as storytellers than as comedians. Mike gave me a handful of comedy CDs to listen to since I spend a significant amount of time in the car for work. I gave his collection, which ranged from Mike Birbiglia to Louie CK to Anthony Jeselnik to Marc Maron, a fair shot. Maybe the audio-only element contributed to my lackluster response to the vast majority of these CDs. In all honesty, Mike Birbiglia’s album was the only one I ever felt compelled to listen to again. And apparently among comic circles, Birbiglia is a highly polarizing figure, the kind of performer that some love, some don’t even consider a real comedian, and others just don’t get at all. After seeing Mike Birbiglia perform his latest one man show live, my husband Mike commented that the audience seemed to consist of people who want to like comedy but don’t really get it. Sadly, I felt like one of them and I totally enjoyed myself (as did he and many of the other audience members).
But when the person you love shows an interest in something, you try your best to be supportive, to be understanding, and to show at least a modest attempt at interest in that same thing. So I continued to try. And I learned a lot from Mike in the process. My name recognition of famous comedians is decent. I can throw out terms like “hack,” “bombing,” and “callback” with some degree of confidence. Though I have yet to learn enough to be a competent comedy critic, I can keep up my side of the conversation when Mike talks shop. But most of all, I have truly come to appreciate the art of comedy as elucidated to me by my husband. When he grows impassioned with talk of his craft, I can’t help but also get excited about the new bits he has in mind, the gigs out of state, or the clever punchline offered by a friend. When he moved past the open mic circuit and began to book his fair share of paid spots, I couldn’t help but congratulate him with a certain sense of pride and excitement.
Even if this dream takes my husband away from me for weekends in a row or leaves me to my own devices more nights than not, I am a willing party to it now. People always ask me if/how comedy takes a toll on our relationship. There are certainly arguments for my husband to lead such a lifestyle since I tend to be a homebody, and I consider a book as good company as (if not sometimes better than) a real human being. And I feel much less guilty about having a girls’ night when Mike is out at an open mic, rather than sitting at home alone while I’m socializing without him. Of course I miss Mike when he’s away, but I also love being married to someone so creative, tirelessly committed to his craft, and constantly working to make others laugh. There was an adjustment period at first but we’ve settled into the swing of things four years in, valuing our time together all the more as a result of it sometimes being so limited by comedy and other engagements.
This post wasn’t an effort at shamelessly promoting my husband’s comedy career but I can’t think of a better way to conclude all these thoughts and feelings than with a link to his website so anyone interested can get a taste of what I live with and (sometimes grudgingly) support in my husband’s creative life. My introduction to comedy has been, at the very least, an unconventional one and I hope the world of humor continues to surprise and engage me as it has recently done.