Is this thing on?

Guest written for ABOUT by Rufus Elam

At the heart of a good April Fools joke, the goal is to get a real laugh. The kind of laugh that comes deep from within and catches you by surprise. Getting that genuine laugh from others has always intrigued me.  From the time I was in first grade, I loved getting in front of the class and making them laugh.  Believe me, I still have jokes that can kill in a room full of first graders. Laughter means people are having a good time.

My assignment from ABOUT is April Fools. I’ve been chosen because I am at the ripe age of 40, I’m 1/128th Choctaw Indian, and I’m chasing this seemingly ridiculous dream of being a stand-up comedian.  So here we are. Although, I doubt my Native American heritage or age had anything to do with me being chosen. At this stage, my life feels like an elaborate April Fool’s Joke. Who in their right mind chases after something like this at my age? Regardless, my goal is the same — to get a real laugh.

I’m “on deck” and sitting backstage at The Joint Theater and Coffee House located in the Argenta District in North Little Rock.  “I don’t mean to brag, but my doctor says I’m highly functioning.” That’s the opener I have for the set I’ve been going over in my mind for the last two hours. I’m nervous, but in a good way.

The cushion on the bench where I sit is warm and worn from the fidgeting of aspiring dreamers like myself who just want a little stage time. Stage time = polished jokes. Polished jokes = smooth bits. Smooth bits = paying gigs. Paying gigs = The Tonight Show.  At least I’m told that’s how it works.  If I could go ahead and wrap that up in the next few months, it would be great. Unfortunately, that isn’t how it works.

The crowd is full of mostly other comics, a few family and friends who were probably forced to come, and a handful of patrons looking to laugh. It’s kind of funny to me that an amateur open mic night is the last place most would expect to get a laugh.  So far, the crowd has been pleasantly surprised.  The comic on stage is looking at his notes for one more joke to get in before the eminent spot light flash reminding us dreamers that we have a day job to get back to tomorrow.  I’m getting closer to the coveted stage time.  I glance at my notes one last time.

I’m introduced and the stage seems like a deserted island as I step across to the microphone stand.  The crowd is welcoming, but the alternating red and white lights combined with the spotlight make everyone in the room invisible to me.  There are few things quite as startling as being in a room full of people and not being able to see them.  To know that they are watching only me and judging me at the same time doesn’t help my nerves. I’m suddenly transported back to the uneasiness of being a late bloomer in junior high. I grab the microphone, pause, and begin.

Not so fast.  You will have to come out and hear me if you want the whole show!

I’m 40 years old, and I’m chasing this crazy dream of being a stand up comedian. I have no idea what I’m doing a majority of the time. However, each time I take the stage I learn something new. I am learning that comedy is a lot of things. I am learning that comedy is mostly writing and rehearsing.  It’s more than being funny. Before future Seinfelds get the all important stage time, they must begin writing…and writing…and writing, then rehearsing, then re-writing. A lesson learned pretty quickly by bombing.  It happens to everyone.

I am learning that the reasons cannot be fame and fortune. I am learning that the most important part of comedy is the emotional connection with the audience. When they laugh, they feel what I feel. We become invested in each other. Knowing that those around me are enjoying themselves, that is the icing on the proverbial camels back. My journey is just beginning and who knows, it may turn into something. In the meantime, I’ll keep writing, rehearsing and aiming for that real laugh.

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Category: On a Personal Note

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