Funny Girl

Laughter's the best medicine? For aspiring stand-up comics, it's more like heroin.

One of Belle's jokes starts, "So, I used to have a husband..." And it's true. She did, before comedy. She married young and took a stand-up comedy writing class with her husband as a kind of bonding exercise during a rough patch. At the end-of-class showcase, Belle says she did six minutes and 41 seconds of funny, the longest set of the class. Her husband?

"He did three minutes and got off the stage," she says. They divorced not long afterward. Belle left me with a dilemma: Being a girl comic is awesome because we stand out, and being a girl comic is crappy because guys can't handle the competition.

So far, I've experienced just one instance of sexist jerkoffery. It was a McCarty's open mike, a hit-or-miss Tuesday night affair in Richardson that involves getting co-ed softball teams or suburban couples on a hot date to quit talking, drinking and otherwise acting like they're in a bar and listen.

I'd managed to get an entire birthday party crew of 20-somethings to listen to my five-minute set. They even dug my joke about phone sex with Diane Rehm, a real gamble of a bit that rarely works in bars.

Afterward, a big, goofy guy comic told me he'd caught my set at Hyena's the previous week. He told me my jokes were funny, but I was too cute to get laughs. Why? My "tits got in the way."

At that moment, I converted to full-on man-comic-hating, ranting to anyone who would listen. More than once, the response was: "Well, didn't you tell him that his tits get in your way?" No. I was not quick enough to think of that. What am I, some kind of comedian?

The fourth or fifth time I heard the "his tits" retort, I realized it kept coming from the guy comics who'd befriended me. Guy comics who'd been giving me tips and tags to add to the ends of my jokes. Guy comics who asked me to do shows with them. Shit. Guy comics were not misogynistic assholes who wanted all women to burn in unfunny hell. That one guy just happened to be a tool.

I was liberated.


This article is not fair and balanced. Somewhere along the line, I started genuinely liking comedy and comedians. I started aspiring to get out of the open mike circuit and maybe score a weekend show or, dream of dreams, to someday go on the road, playing clubs across the country. But I'm a journalist, I reminded myself, even if my little slice of journalism has so far involved trying out for the Cowboys cheerleaders and taking barrel-racing lessons. I never wanted to spend five nights a week doing those things. I became Jane Goodall living among the apes.

People started telling me things about whose jokes sucked, or why did those two comics get an out-of-town gig when they didn't deserve it? If I gave my honest opinion, was I going native, fanning the flames of controversy or just being a friend and fellow comic? Factor in free-flowing booze and the inherently competitive world of stand-up comedy gets a lot more complicated.

"You've got to focus on your own journey," Linda Stogner counseled me during a comedy debriefing session after I'd been going up for a few months. "Don't worry about everybody else." What a Linda thing to say. She's a wild-eyed woman who tells jokes about talking squirrels; wacky and truly original, her attitude is relentlessly supportive.

But comedy is a one-man (or in this case, one-woman) game that naturally pits the comedian against his or her fellow comedians, all of whom are vying for a limited number of spots—and cash—in weekend shows. There isn't the inevitable camaraderie that occurs in improv comedy troupes or close-knit casts of funny plays, where success depends on everyone doing well. In stand-up, when no one's laughing, no one's laughing at only you.

Nevertheless, comics stand behind each other, supporting their friends and sometimes their enemies, because they're people who forego normal social lives to share a potentially ego-damaging hobby or, in some cases, career. Take this year's Texas auditions for the television show Last Comic Standing. The San Antonio event was a disaster for practically everybody.

Hardly anyone got a word out in front of the judges, but a few locals made the first cut, including Sherry Belle's boyfriend, Johnny Elbow. Belle didn't. The producers tried to stage a fight between the two.

Neither had any idea what the producers had planned when the cameras started rolling, and Belle said she was proud of Elbow. Still, she says, "Who knows what they're going to make me look like on TV?" Elbow and Belle are still together.

Late one recent Sunday night, after the inaugural evening of a comedy and music show I'm now co-hosting at the Lakewood Bar & Grill, the bartender approached our table of comics, shot glasses in hand. Three shots of Jaeger for Varghese, Raj Sharma and Shaun Arredondo, the three vets I'd convinced to do the show. And a shot of Jack for the newbie. All courtesy of the gregarious blond woman who came in to spend some time playing Photo Hunt but stayed to hear our jokes.

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