I Was A (Rubber) Chicken

I’ve mentioned this in passing a few times now, but haven’t actually devoted any real amount of Bloggish real estate to the fact that I’ve begun performing stand-up comedy. I thought I might explain where this seemingly random activity came from, and I think if I do my job right, I’ll end up tying it into a spiritual thought. We’ll see how that goes.

Humor has always been important to my family. I’m pretty sure the Clouse Family Crest consists of banana peels and rubber chickens. Growing up, my dad was always recognized for having a nearly encyclopedic memory of jokes. My mother was known for her ability to tell stories. Family reunions were excuses to try out new material. Comedic license was the order of the day and the highest compliment anyone could receive was boisterous laughter at the end of a punchline.

So this was the world I grew up in. My family bonded over comedy. You learned to be funny because it made people feel good and it got you accolades. At some point, however, my nerd brain kicked in. Instead of just telling jokes, I began playing a game with myself to figure out how to mine any conversation topic for punchlines. Without ever putting anything into words, I would judge a person to discern their preferred style of comedy, examine the topic of conversation, and proceed to find ways of maximizing the humor.  The best feeling in the world was telling a story or a joke only to discover at the punchline that I had inadvertently gained the attention of the entire room. Being “on” in such a manner became a nearly constant goal.

I never really thought about any of this, however. In my head, all I knew was that sometimes I was kind of funny. It was never anything I felt was particularly defining. Then in 2003 I watched “Bruce Almighty” and a line from it got lodged in my brain like a splinter: “Bruce, you have a divine spark. You have a gift for bringing joy and laughter to the world. I know, I created you.” That was the first time I ever considered the possibility that there might be more to being funny than just saying funny things.

It’s an idea I’ve never been able to let go of. Everyone in my family is funny. My grandparents raised their kids to have an appreciation for humor, and their kids did the same thing in me. It just feels like it fits too well for it to be a random coincidence. I began looking at making people laugh as more than something I like to do, and possibly as something I was made to do. Maybe the reason those moments of being “on” felt so good was because in those moments I was being the person God created me to be?

Despite that, the idea of standing up in front of strangers and saying jokes at them terrified me. It’s one thing to stand on the sidelines and lob comedy-grenades into the firefight of a conversation, it’s totally another to go storming the beaches of Boring all by yourself with nothing but a novelty pistol… But I couldn’t shake it. I felt like going up on stage was something I needed to do. I didn’t know why. But I was too scared. For years I told myself, “I’m just not that kind of funny.” When that excuse began to wear thin, I started thinking, “Knoxville probably doesn’t have a comedy scene anyway.”

And then Pete Holmes started a podcast called “You Made It Weird“. Pete is a comedian and there is a lot of discussion on his show about comedy. Between listening to nearly 100 episodes of that and then his appearance on, “Making it with Riki Lindhome“, I finally gave in and decided to Google “comedy open mic knoxville”.

Turns out, there’s an open mic show nearly every night of the week. Also, turns out that the one on this particular day, a Wednesday, was called the “Too Smart Comedy Show”. I read the description and it sounded perfect… But the only way I could make myself go was to decide that I absolutely was not planning on going up that night. I had a bit I had been thinking about for months in my head, but… I was just going to check it out.

So I went, and the best thing that could have happened, did. Somebody got up, and they were terrible. Some old guy I haven’t seen before or since stood up at the microphone for ten minutes and told the most unfunny barrage of meandering, worthless jokes you can imagine. And then something incredible took place: The audience applauded! The beating heart in my chest and coursing adrenaline were all telling me that if I went up, and I wasn’t funny, I’d be lynched! They’d chase me with pitchforks and torches! And yet, this old guy who may not have a funny bone in his body did worse than I thought I would do, and they clapped for him! That clinched it. Well, that and Leah repeatedly jabbing me in the ribs with her elbow (she knew I could do better than that guy too). I went up that night and told a story with some jokes in it. The response was amazing. In fact, ever since, every time I get up the response is incredible. Knoxville has a comedy scene and the people involved are great. But more than that, I finally decided to stop running from this weird thing that I felt like God had been pushing me toward and it’s been amazing. I’ve made new friends, met some really cool people, and heard a lot of great jokes. It’s almost like God knew what he was doing.

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