The Inconsequential Comic
All alone with a microphone
By Traci Loper
“Shine bright like a diamond,” I began in the dullest way imaginable.
“Shine bright like a diamond.” I looked around at the audience flatly. I hear a few chuckles.
“Shine bright like a diamond,” I sing blandly, followed by a long, deep sigh.
The crowd lost it. More or less. I committed to the most cynical version of Rhianna’s then-popular song to kick off my first ever stand-up comedy show at an off-off-off Sunset comedy club in Los Angeles. It was so “off” kids colored with Crayons there during the day. That may have been the only big laugh I got during my five minutes of rocking the mic that night, but honestly I can’t remember. It’s a pretty big blur, and not because it was five minutes of bliss. It was five minutes of dread, regret, embarrassment, effort, and carefully planned talking points with jokes mixed in that crashed and burned.
OK, fine . . . looking back, the topics I chose for my first night of stand-up weren’t that great, but they were mine.
I’ve been entertaining for as long as I can remember. From the moment I could string sentences together, my mom would usher me into the center of a room and I’d just ramble. People would laugh and laugh, I’m guessing mostly because I was a child, I wasn’t shy, and nothing I said made much sense. (So, what’s changed, you ask.)
It was mostly at family gatherings, but she would occasionally take me to work with her at the Hammond Nursing Home. It was there where I found my most captive audiences. Surprising, I know.
I’d chat with the elderly through my mom’s entire shift. I’d go room to room doling out hugs and humor. Maybe that was the first sign of my desire to entertain. I think it’s fair to say, I didn’t really know what I was doing or what they were laughing at — but I haven’t stopped since.
When I finally made the move to L.A. in my mid-20s to pursue an acting career, I naturally gravitated toward comedy. Perhaps that was a mistake. My friends didn’t help. They were constantly on me to do some funny voice, or character I had come up with.
And every time they asked, I delivered. “OMG, Trace, you should be on SNL.” I, of course, thought this was ridiculous. Making your friends laugh was easy, bringing laughter to the world, not so much.
As a kid, I loved SNL and was in awe of Steve Martin, Gilda Radner, Jane Curtin and so many more. If I could follow in their footsteps, sign me up.
And sign up I did . . . at the Groundlings — that famous improv school that has churned out many comedic celebrities, like Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig. I enrolled in regular acting classes for TV and film. I even joined a local sketch group that some of my theater friends started. I had a sharp wit, but now I had finally — and I suppose mistakenly — accepted that I was seriously funny. Look, if everyone around you is telling you the same thing, you eventually start to believe it. And confidence is never bad. Especially for an entertainer. Especially in Los Angeles.
The first rule of improv is to “Yes, and . . . ” everything. You have to agree to what your scene partner says, no matter what. If they say, “I see your pants are on fire,” then your pants are on fire and you better start jumping around like crazy. The moment you say “No,” the scene is over. The most important person in the scene is the person playing opposite you, not yourself.
But with stand-up, it’s just you. And your solitary goal is to make the audience laugh. That’s pressure of a different magnitude. Even though diamonds are formed under pressure, it takes a ton of polishing to make them shine. I’ve learned I sparkle best with spontaneity. I’ll leave stand-up to the pros. PS
Traci Loper is an actor, writer and dreamer. After 20 years she ditched the Hollwood Hills for the Sandhill in search of less traffic, off-street parking and a slower pace of life.