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Thursday, July 10, 2008

A little comedy, a little W.I.T., and a lot of fun

I was walking up Cuba Street one night last week, on my way to see a friend from my Improvisation class take her first stab at stand-up comedy. The cool night air made for a pleasant walk up Cuba, a part of town that seems to never be lacking in people or great places to eat or get a cup of coffee.

As I traversed this largely pedestrian-only street, I passed by many people enjoying their pints of beer or glasses of wine out on the sidewalk seats in front of the various restaurants and bistros. The night was just cool enough for me to enjoy the warmth emanating from the propane-powered heaters as I walked amongst the outdoor drinkers. The thought of a glass of beer, consumed slowly while basking in the welcoming heat, was almost enough to make me stop and join the crowd.

But I didn't stop, for I did not want to be late for Danni's act. As I continued my stroll up Cuba, I saw something written on the sidewalk with chalk in various colours. It mentioned the "Rookie Comedy Night", complete with an orange arrow pointing inside an open doorway. This was the San Francisco Bathhouse and it would be my first time going to this particular place. It reminded me a lot of the Mighty Mighty, further down Cuba, as it too was on the second floor and was deceptively small from the outside but once inside I could see how long and far back the club went. An outdoor patio at the front was a smoker's haven, not to mention a great spot to people watch as folks went up and down Cuba Street. A long bar was up against the far wall, and the back half of the room was dominated by a large stage.

There were a couple of rows of leather sofas at the very foot of the stage, followed by small round tables lit romantically with little white floating candles. Behind these tables were some larger ones, and then a back row of barstools completed the main seating area for the stage. Opposite the bar itself in the front half of the room were many more tables and chairs, and I could easily see how the entire room if cleared out would be a great dance hall or a venue for a rock concert.

As I purchased my ticket and ponied up to the bar, I listened to the one-man acoustic band on stage. He wasn't bad, but he wasn't the reason I was there. While waiting for my pint of Mac's Gold, I spied Danni sitting with her boyfriend at a table across from the bar. I went over and said hello, wishing her luck (which, in the performance business, you do by saying "Break a leg!" and never "Good luck!"). She was quite nervous, and I felt a mix of emotions for her. I knew from class how funny she was and how versatile she was with improvisation.

But stand-up comedy has got to be one of the toughest and most terrifying things you can attempt and on top of that this was her very first time. Still, it was billed as an amateur night, so the expectations couldn't be too high for these brave souls who dared to take the stage to try and make us all laugh.

I've heard other comics talk about how difficult it is to craft a solid 45-minute act, saying it takes hours and hours of performing, re-writing and honing just to get it right. And then you still have to deal with hecklers sometimes, something which would almost certainly unnerve me no matter how well my jokes were going over with the crowd.

I felt a little nervous for Danni because as the hosts busily prepared the stage I could not tell if there were any other comics in the joint except for her! She seemed to be the only one the hosts were interacting with, so I knew if she was truly going it alone up there that would only make her more nervous.

Well, it turns out there were at least ten different acts that night, and Danni was the first of them all. The female comic who was emceeing that night did a great job of warming up the crowd, and I thought it particularly ironic that the very first person in the crowd she chose to pick on was none other than Danni's boyfriend! He handled it very well and I took this as a good sign for Danni, figuring that the Comedy Gods were on her side that night.

They sure were, because I thought her act was great. You could tell she was nervous on stage but it was never close to hindering her performance. In fact I thought she mastered her emotions very well, as right off the bat she had to deal with a difficult microphone stand and she managed to improvise and make a couple of funny remarks as she fiddled with it in vain.

Turns out Danni is from the UK and much of her humour is in the 'observational' style. Being an immigrant myself, I could appreciate the context of everything she said, and the crowd - which was not a full house but pretty close - bought into her style of comedy too.

She did great and the only hitch was that she forgot completely what her last bit was about as she got lost in the transition. Luckily her boyfriend provided her with a prompt and Danni finished on a good note.

She says she'll do stand-up again and already has more material for her next show, so I think it's great that she was able to break through like she did on the first try.

As for our Improv class, well it finished up this past weekend and it was bittersweet. Sweet because the entire day and mainly the show itself went really well for all of us. It's like after eight weeks of struggling with energy levels, spontaneity and confidence we managed to sort most of it out as we trained during the day. So the performance was a lot of fun for all of us and it is probably the quickest 90 minutes of my life. I couldn't believe it was all over so fast!

The bitter part is that, even though I am now qualified to join W.I.T. (Wellington Improvisation Troupe), I cannot do so for some time. They train on the one night a week where I work late and I am too far away to make it on time for anything. But most of the folks in our class have already gone to the first W.I.T. training session and I think several of them will stick with it. A couple are moving away from New Zealand later in the year, and one or two others may decide they've had all the improv they can handle for now and just move on.

As for me, I've already discussed changing my schedule with my boss, because this is the most fun I've had doing something outside of work since I graduated from vet school. That's eleven years of pining for something 'extra-curricular' and fun to do in my free time since my school days, so I aim to keep this opportunity to continue to perform improv firmly in my sights.

W.I.T. will be around for a while to be sure, and my instructor Simon knows of my current predicament and he assures me the door will still be open for me to join once I am able to free up my schedule.

So until then and until my first performance with W.I.T. out in public, I'll leave you with that and a few pictures of our training the day of our show. Be sure to read the descriptions to understand just what the hell it is you are looking at! Most of it is probably 'you had to be there' kind of material, but we had a blast and I was very glad to have my friend Holly show up to see us perform. She brought along her 'posse' so it was nice to have some friends in the crowd as well as in the show.

My only regret? That Clyde and I didn't get to perform our "Bird's Eye View" job interview scene for the show, only in practice!


Blogger Sandjoy said...

This looks like so much fun. But not sure I would have the courage to do it! Good for you!

Much love,


10:44 AM  
Blogger Sometimes Saintly Nick said...

Congratulations to Danni! BTW, she’s quite attractive—perhaps a future Sara Silverman?

Brooksie! You gotta do something about that working on Thursday night! I’m expecting you to be a great improv artiste! OK? (As Alex would say)

12:01 PM  
Blogger Brooksie said...

Mom - Thanks for the nice comment, maybe next time you are here I will be in a show!

Nick - You are so right, I need to change work nights and fast! Thanks for stopping by - and with Alex! :-D

8:41 PM  

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