Life as a stand-up comic 

Hack Like Me

For seven years I had a part-time job; I was a stand-up comic. It might not be as glamorous as flipping burgers or bagging groceries, but it had its moments.

Most people are under the impression that being a comic means a life filled with laughs and hanging out with glamorous, sophisticated people. Sometimes it does, but mostly it means a lot of time on the road away from family, a lot of late-night greasy food and talking dirty to drunks for far less that $1.99 a minute.

And those are some of the up sides.

Before you start to think this is another one of those bite-the-hand-that-feeds-you stories, I admit that on a good night, comedy is a powerful aphrodisiac. When you are on a roll and the audience is laughing every time you open your mouth, you feel great — even if you're not sure if you are a comedy god or your zipper is stuck at half mast.

Comedy is the only art form where you feel completely naked on stage. Unlike actors, we have no finely crafted lines written by other people in which we can hide our nakedness. Dancers can always chalk up a bad performance to the choreography, and singers can sing the same songs for their entire life.

But if you're good (or lucky) enough to get the laughter, it's addictive. No sound is more wonderful to a performer unless it is the sound of crisp twenties and fifties being pressed into the palm of your hand. It's no wonder that comedians who walk away are referred to as "recovering comics" for the rest of their lives. I once asked a former comedian if he missed the life and his reply was, "the same way a junkie misses heroin."

With that in mind, I recently made a comeback, returning to the stage to perform a set at the Comedy Club at Matt's Village Pub. First thing I had to do was figure out if I still had an act. At least a third of my show revolved around current events, so unless those wacky Bobbits were back in the news, I was up the proverbial creek.

Fortunately I still had some old notes and some old tapes (a couple were on 8-track, not a good sign) so I was able to construct about a 12-minute act. I was scheduled to go on first, step out into the landmine that an audience can be.

The Comedy Club at Matt's Village Pub is a hot, smoky room with a small stage and a big history. While the brick wall ambiance suggests a St. Valentine's Day Massacre motif, it is hard not to remember you're standing on the same spot where Jay Leno, Drew Carey and Ray Romano have stood.

The decor has often been maligned, being compared to a bomb shelter and the bottom of grandma's sofa. The stage lights could cook a potato in less than three minutes and sometimes you can see the stagnant air stand in place. The audience sits on top of each other — the closeness fosters a sense of community — 130 strangers share laughs and for about 90 minutes they are family. A strange and curiously inebriated family, but still a family. It was like coming home.

Four years left a lot of rust on my performance. Add to that a case of laryngitis thanks to a cold, and the prospects of a good evening looked bleak. It is hard to get people to laugh when you sound like Tom Waits after he's gargled a handful of razor blades.

Did it work? Some jokes did, but a lot did not.

"Being married is great. It means one thing very special. As married men, we get to have sex any time our wives want to ..."

"My son watches way too much television. The other night at the school spelling bee he tried to buy a vowel. At the geography bee he asked if he could use a lifeline ..."

"Halloween is my favorite time of the year. Every year I like to get a costume that's just a little bit scarier than the year before. I don't know if I can top last year's though. Last year I went as a Jehovah's Witness selling Amway ..."

You can't blame the audience, they hung in there and thanks to great performances by my comedic colleagues Nancy Ryan and Andres Fernandez, they left happy.

Comedy — what a life. People feed you, pay you and sometimes offer favors of every kind because you made them laugh. On a good night you play instead of work and when you get off your shift, people tell you how much they enjoyed it. On a bad night they leave you alone. No matter what happens, you can't wait to get back up there the next time.

John Porter will return to the Comedy Club at Matt's on Sept. 22-23.


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