Tag Archives: stand-up

Benny’s Farewell

Last summer, I wrote a blog entry about Benny’s.

A few months later, I learned that the property was slated for “development”, with a projected closing date at the end of August, 2018. I started to try out material at their Thursday evening comedy open mic, knowing the opportunity would end soon.

This week, the closure date of April 30 was announced. Here’s the text of the set I did on April 26:

I did my first open mic here only four weeks ago. Now I hear the place is closing earlier than expected. I hope it isn’t something I said.

I usually do self-deprecating humour, but this situation calls for a rant.

Friends tell me I’m brave to stand here and do comedy. I put the risk involved in doing a four-minute set here in perspective. Not long from now, a wrecking ball will start swinging around and wipe anyone, and anything in its path to kingdom come.

I’m taking this whole thing pretty hard.

I arrived in Vancouver from Ontario in the fall of 2014 to be closer to my son and his family. I started to explore my new city dressed in my buttoned down collar blouse and tailored pants. One day, I told my family, “I had coffee in a shop that was too cool for me”… and started to describe it. After one sentence, my son and daughter-in-law looked at each other, and laughed, “That would be Benny’s.”

I’m often in the neighbourhood because I use the community centre up the street. When I discovered great soup and a bagel for $5.25, Benny’s became my go-to spot for lunch. When I want to connect with a friend for coffee after our program, it’s been, “Let’s go to Benny’s,” for the past three years.

Something has changed. It sure hasn’t been Benny’s.

So I’m upset, and I’ve got a few questions that I have to throw out to the universe…

Who came up with that brilliant slogan on the sign next door: “An iconic Kitsilano landmark unveiling soon”?

It should read,

“An iconic Kitsilano landmark in ruins soon”

I’ll bet the culprit was some snotty-nosed, artsy-fartsy, whiz-kid from Trana. I can’t believe a Vancouver-based advertising firm would have the gall to rub it in our faces like that.

What is going to become of all the artefacts like that stained glass of Jesus smoking a joint? I hope it goes to a good home. I mean, some things are sacred!

And, where I am I going to bring my Ontario friends when they visit to show them a slice of life in the real Vancouver?

 

Share

Reflections on Second Stand-Up Course

Photo: Shutterstock

On Thursday, March 22, I opened our class Showcase to a warm audience. Here’s the evidence.

The term “woke” that I used in my opening is one I learned recently. Simplistically, it means “socially aware.”

The experience of learning comedy in a group mixed in age, cultural background, and gender was extraordinary. We saw the whites of each other’s eyes.

Working with these people helped me shine a light on my privilege. I have a name most English-speaking people can pronounce after hearing it once. I have never been selected for a security check due to the colour of my skin. I haven’t been expected to live up to the “strong man” stereotype. I don’t know what it is to raise a family in a basement apartment due to a housing crisis or work in a job where feeling disrespected is a daily occurrence.

Stereotypes perpetuate harm. All of us are people first.

I got a whiff of ageism – my own. One night, the teacher asked us to stand at the front for a moment while our classmates jotted down what they saw: height, weight, age, clothing, skin colour, etc. The purpose of the exercise was to help us become aware of what the audience would notice before we opened our mouths. A comic who comes on and acknowledges the obvious then dispels an assumption people have probably made is sure to get a laugh.

Several classmates included “old” in their list. I knew I was the oldest in the class, but I cringed to see myself described as “old”.

One comment amused me, “old, but fun”. The “but” speaks volumes about the writer’s perception of old people. If I busted some stereotypes about seniors, that’s a bonus.

The course was a catalyst for self-discovery. Besides the fact I have trouble owning the “old” description, I’ve learned I tend to over-think things. I take even comedy wa-a-a-y too seriously. My next goal is to relax, to trust that good ideas will come when I least expect them.

I’m not entirely woke, but I’ve been nudged.

In stand-up we’re allowed to exaggerate.

Share

I’m Studying What? And What?

Photo by Shauna Strickland

To liven up a season that’s pretty grey and wet where I live, I’ve selected a pair of courses that may appear to be a crazy combination.

It will likely come as no surprise to my regular readers that I am going to take another course in stand-up comedy. It starts on February 20.

I have also signed up for three sessions called “The Reality of our Mortality,” conducted by a couple of therapists at a cemetery across town on three evenings, one each in January, February, and March.

What budding comic would want to spend several hours contemplating potentially morbid issues such as “What scares you more, death or dying?” and “How do you want to be remembered?”

This one, it would seem.

Comics are supposed to joke about things that the audience can relate to. I can’t think of any topic more relevant to everyone than death and any emotion more common than a fear of it.

This past Monday, we explored our fears of dying and of death and identified that many of the fears attached to dying are concerns about not having lived the life we want to live. For most of us, there’s likely time to make changes. So, living better can alleviate our fear of dying.

I haven’t figured out how to turn that insight into a joke. Luckily, the next course in stand-up starts soon. Maybe I’ll get some help with that there.

It may turn out there’s solid logic in taking both programs at the same time.

Share

My First Gig

Photo: Shutterstock

My seven-minute engagement in a comedy club last Saturday night took all week.

On Monday, I bought a black dress for $15 at a thrift store. At home, I noticed it had static cling, revealed more cleavage than I wanted, and smelled like the thrift store. I knew I would feel more confident if I found an alternative rather than wash and alter the dress.

On Tuesday, I checked out a fair trade clothing store. They had a delightful number I could see wearing again, for $89 plus tax.

On Wednesday, I came up with a Golden Globe-inspired comment about my black dress being in solidarity with the dairy cows that have to put up with non-consensual sex and have a calf every year to keep their jobs. (A friend noticed that line got the only spontaneous applause of the evening.)

On Thursday, I took back the first dress to discover the thrift store does exchanges, not refunds. After ample angst, I selected a non-returnable necklace and bracelet that I hoped would complement the outfit. They did. Phew!

On Friday, I solidified plans with the two friends who were planning to accompany me on the bus. Two of us would board the Bus 7 that left the stop near my place at 6:50 pm and the other one would join us two stops later, at 6:54.

On Saturday, after waiting since 6:45, Bus 7 hadn’t come by 7:10. I hailed a cab for us. This hobby was getting expensive.

The venue was the dark basement of a pizza place, with a mike and a light at the front, forty assorted seats, a few tables each bearing one flickering tea light, and a bathroom up a step and down a black hallway at the back.

The lone server guffawed when I ordered ginger ale because I wanted to perform sober. She forgot to bring it when she came back a few minutes before show time with the wine and beer for my table.

I’m glad I:

  • invited friends, so mine wasn’t the only grey or white head in the place,
  • left home early enough to recover from the bus fiasco, and
  • keep my cool in spite of surprises because I knew my material cold.

Next time I will:

  • bring water,
  • take a flashlight for finding the washroom, and
  • slow down and enjoy the experience.

It was real.

Share

Direction Shift

This week, I revamped my website in sync with the path my love of writing is headed – one that surprises even me.

I created the website initially to give me credibility as a writer in the eyes of editors who were considering my work. It featured a Home page, About Wilda, Stories, Blog, and Contact. I wrote and launched it after I heard that an editor had decided to publish the first personal essay I submitted. Buoyed by this early success, I planned to offer more of my stories to various publications. My Blog started as a way to hone my craft and build a readership while I searched for outlets for my “real” work.

In the sixteen months since that version took shape, I’ve learned what legions of writers have discovered before me. Finding a market for one’s writing is harder for most of us than creating it. I found few publications whose criteria fit what I had written. It was time-consuming to modify my stories in the vain hope of creating something that matched. Not hearing back from editors after I’d done cartwheels to provide what I thought they wanted started to dampen my enthusiasm. At my age, cartwheels are ill-advised.

Meanwhile, I noticed that I come alive while writing my blog. The immediacy of it, both in getting the writing out there and in receiving feedback, feeds my spirit. And the stand-up comedy I’ve started to write and deliver nourishes it even more. The medium is richer. It uses words and also facial expression, tone of voice, and body language. The feedback is instantaneous on the stage.

So bye-bye to trying to impress editors. My writing isn’t about finding public acclaim. It’s about finding my own truth in the process. The joy of sharing finished pieces with folks who enjoy them motivates me to keep going.

In the new format, the Stories are gone and the Blog appears immediately after the new Home page. I’ve added a page for Stand-Up. About Wilda is now presented in interview style — a conversation with a visitor who is curious about what makes me tick.

The Contact section remains unchanged. So does my appreciation of feedback. I’d love to hear yours.

If the past predicts the future, I’ll find more topics to blog about in the new year.

Have a wonderful, blessed, holiday season.

Share

My Mother’s Ghost

My mother died on November 3rd, 1997, exactly twenty years ago. At least, that’s when she stopped breathing. I swear she is still with me, and, to my delight, the four letter word that idea brings to mind is “love.”

As I’ve shared in my blog since the beginning of September, the stand-up comedy course I took became a primary focus for several weeks. The final product, recorded on October 12, looks deceptively easy.

After the showcase was over, I took a break to restore my adrenalin and perspective.

The experience has given me a new respect for the genre and a fair dose of humility. Here’s a comedian’s commencement address that I am sure the graduates will remember:

Tim Minchin: These 9 Life Lessons will Make you Laugh – and Learn

This male Australian, only a little over half my age, shares many ideas that have been relatively recent “ahas” for me. Did he read my thoughts across the ocean? I doubt it. I think he’s tapping into wisdom everyone who opens their mind and heart can access. Writing stand-up comedy impels me to open mine.

My mother and I had several battles about my entering public speaking contests. Early on, I won a couple of little engraved trophies and endured the teasing for being a show-off that ensued at school. I adamantly refused to keep entering. Fitting in with the other kids was more important than winning another knick-knack that would tarnish and attract dust, in my mind. Mom was sure I would go to hell for squandering my talent.

An earlier version of my stand-up piece had me meeting her in heaven and watching with amusement as she reeled from the shock that I’d made it there.

While imagining our reunion, I saw the irony in the fact her coaching in how to deliver a speech was helping me in my new hobby. And the ways she brought laughter to her community were inspiring me to entertain, as well. I developed a level of compassion and appreciation for her that eluded me while she was alive. That processing led me to acknowledge her contributions playfully in the final version.

Contrary to what I said in the sketch, I hope she was there for the whole thing.

Share

A label that fits

Shout out to two friends who inspired this week’s blog …

Glenda, who commented “Wouldn’t haiku be easier?” after reading my post “Condensation”, and

Stephen, who suggested an alternative because he feels the term ‘debut’ is too pretentious for a comic.

Debut? Too foo-foo

Laughter…applause…phew…got through

my stand-up de butt

You’re a great audience. I’ll be back after a short break.

 

Share

Condensation

I remember being astounded when I read it takes 40 quarts of maple sap to make one quart of syrup. Writing a stand-up comedy set is like that. It takes many pages of writing to create enough material to use for a few minutes on stage.

I’ve learned that a good opening blows the assumptions the audience may have about you out of the water.

I thought I had a good one when I came up with this:

  • Okay, so you’ve seen the white hair. You likely figure I’m a senior. You’re right. I’m 72. If you’re younger than I am, you may be thinking this is an excellent time to
    Head for the washroom
    Catch up on your emails on your cell phone
    Oh, you’re surprised I know it’s possible to get emails on a cell phone.

It’s not your fault. We’ve all been brainwashed about seniors.

I get on a bus. People jump up to give me a seat near the front. They’ve read the pious little sign “Please take a moment to consider who these seats are for.” (Seniors are listed second-last in the fine print, well after people using wheelchairs and scooters.) They’ve spent that last half hour on a guilt trip because it was the only seat left when they got on.

I used to accept, but all this coddling was making me feel old before my time. Now I just smile and say “no thanks.”

Then my piece cited three silly reasons I enjoy to dangle from a bus strap.

After the critique in class, the 208 words I had written boiled down to their essence in this:

“I was delighted the other day when a young guy offered me his seat on the bus. I’m not even pregnant.”

The new opening pokes fun at the idea that old people are out-of-it and doddery. The time I spent thinking about the stereotypes and writing out the whole story was a necessary prerequisite to getting the point across succinctly.

If it had been precisely like making maple syrup, I would have had to keep boiling down the original text until I got it to five words.

I’ll know when I deliver the lines whether the 21 I’ve got will hit the sweet spot.

Share