Chris Stephens can be seen all over town, be it as a standup or as a writer and performer on The Late Live Show. As a means of capturing the experience of being a young standup comedian tirelessly working Chicago's booming comedy scene, he sent over this record of a recent trip to the Laugh Factory's open mic night.
Hey chuckleheads, Chris Stephens here!
As I’m sure most of you know, I’ve been in this comedy game for the past five years now, really hitting the pavement and giving it my all. I’ve performed pretty much everywhere in this city and I’ve made every single person that lives in this shithole of a town laugh AT LEAST twice. Heck, last year I was number 10 and number 2 on this very blog's annual list of the top 10 up and coming Chicago comics. “10 and 2? I’m DRIVIN’ this thing!” That was a joke I said a lot. It has since been retired.
My point here is that I've put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into the scene, all of it for free. I've often wondered if my hard work would ever pay off, and I'm happy to report to you all that last Wednesday, it did.
Last Wednesday I had the honor of performing at the world famous Chicago Laugh Factory open mic.
The world famous Chicago Laugh Factory only opened up about a year ago but it's presence has been felt in just about every corner of the Chicago comedy scene. It's modern "touch my balls you idiot!" attitude has bumped the alternative comedy scene down a peg, right where it belongs. At long last the oppressive thinking man's comedy of local stand-up shows is at an end. These rooms have had their moment in the sun, and I think it's about damn time that a theater whose name is literally already inside of the sun got theirs.
Needless to say I was really nervous to perform there! I mean, what if they didn't GET me? That would mean I was no better than those thought-provoking wiener boys in the alt community. After hours of sweat, prayer, and online puzzle shopping, I built up the courage to get my ass over to the world famous Chicago Laugh Factory open mic and DRIVE that thing.
Here's what happened.
I arrived a half hour before sign up and was told to line up outside with the other stars of tomorrow (today!). The world famous Laugh Factory Chicago does not open their doors to aspiring comics until the exact time the mic is supposed to start. I imagine this policy started at the world famous Laugh Factory's original location in Los Angeles where it is consistently 60 - 70 degrees year round, and the management decided it would be a good idea to carry it over to Chicago.
My fellow comics and I (one of whom had no legs) anxiously waited outside in the 17 degree mid January weather for those world famous doors to open, revealing that world famous stage inside. Luckily I was able to keep warm by standing underneath those hotheads Larry, Curly and Moe! Here's a picture of the future Mount Rushmore of Comedy, or, if the monument is named after the way most of the world famous Laugh Factory's headliner's treat the women in their audience, Mount Hush Whore!
There she is boys, the promised land! Big daddy star maker! Ol' stagey! GOD I was excited. Just before I could blow my load a woman tapped me on my shoulder and told me I had to give her my name, e-mail, and phone number if I wanted to perform. I gave her all three of course, I mean, she was a complete stranger after all, how could I say no? I wrote my information down as quickly as possible and ran to my seat. There was still an hour until the show started and I needed every second of it to get in the zone.
When you go to an open mic you'll see most comics talking to each other, exchanging smiles, stories and compliments. Yeah, that's ok I guess UNLESS YOU'RE DRIVING THIS THING. Like all professionals, I sit quietly before every show and focus on my material as I draw power from my faith and my ancestors. I run through every joke, quietly whispering "boom" as I say every punchline in my head. "Dog food? More like 'this is how we do it!'" (boom) "Those are MY bees you fuck head!" (boom) "Poo nanny? Since when does my poo need a nanny?" (boom). I slowly enter a zen like trance as my jokes and I become one and the same. Every set up, every punchline, slowly seeping into my soul (scoot over Jesus!). I am finally ready, I am ready to perform.
Here I am ten seconds into my set, it's where I usually do my joke about how snowmen are gay because they don't have snow dicks. Now I know that homophobic material is extremely controversial, but what my experience has taught me is that it all comes down to the context that you use it in. For example, if you say a gay joke quietly, you're only a little funny, but if you yell it, you're very funny. In this picture I'm screaming it as loud as I possibly can.
The audience wasn't too into it, but I'm not trying to impress them, I'm trying to impress the world famous Laugh Factory! Maybe some day I'll get a spot opening for one of the several openly homophobic comics they're known for putting up. That's the dream at least!
I'm two minutes into my set when disaster strikes. The cigarette I had in my mouth when I went on stage has fallen onto the floor! I've got to act quickly, my bad boy persona is at stake. What if the audience figures out I'm not a motorcyclin' renegade, but a comedian? That's the sort of thing that can stop a comedy show DEAD IN IT'S TRACKS. Luckily, in a moment of sheer brilliance, I point to the trophy I'm holding and say "someone gave me this because I love pussy so much!" It doesn't get a laugh, but I know my set has been saved.
We've reached the four minute mark of my set, meaning I've only got one more minute to show this crowd what I can do. This is always the hardest part of a comic's set because, as most pro's will tell you, they only have three minutes of material and have just been yelling bullshit for the last minute while they hold a trophy they got for loving pussy so much. I'd prefer not to go into the extreme details of this part of my set. All you need to know is that I didn't yell "Help me! Help me! I'm not kidding! Help me!" as I slowly fell to my knees.
As I leave the stage and the next comic (a man that works at the airport) is introduced, I can't help but run the set through my head. What went right? What went wrong? Did I drive this thing tonight? These questions fly around my head like some sort of bird that only eats hair. As I drive myself insane with personal critiques, I look up to see the face of the only man whose opinion matters: owner and founder of the world famous Laugh Factory, Jamie Masada. He's looking right at me, and he's waving me over.
It's honestly all a blur. I floated over to him like each foot had some sort of bird that only eats hair underneath it. He shakes my hand, tells me to lean over, and gives me advice that I'll never, ever forget:
"Your talent is juice, squeeze it all over my head."
I'd absolutely NEVER thought about stand up that way. Everything became so simple, so precise, it was a revelation! I knew that this would forever change the way I wrote, performed, and treated my work as a whole. I shook his hand and ran out of the theater as quickly as I could, fearing that being exposed to the high frequencies of any more brilliant words would surely leave me deaf.
And just like that, I was back. Back out in the cold, crummy streets of Chicago, Illinois, seven days away from my next performance at the world famous Laugh Factory Chicago. Every where I turned people were wasting their useless lives away. Some of them writing new, interesting material to perform in small independent venues like The Upstairs Gallery or The Playground Theater. Some of them polishing new bits to throw into a guest set at Comedians You Should Know or The Lincoln Lodge. I quickly rounded a corner into an alley so I could throw up. Just as I finished, a filthy, crazy homeless man snuck up behind me, put his hand on my back and yelled "your talent is juice, squeeze it all over my head."
I've never heard anything dumber. Fucking bums.
PS here's a really funny picture I found of a dog taking a dump sorry it's so blurry