The first time I saw my now-husband Michael perform comedy was very early on in our relationship – about six dates in. He had only been doing stand-up for a few months by that point and invited me to see him do an open mic at The Purple Onion in San Francisco.
The Purple Onion used to be a somewhat famous club in the 1950s and 1960s, seeing the likes of comedy legends Bob Newhart, Richard Pryor, Phyllis Diller, and Woody Allen. More recently (and during our lifetime): the hilarious Patton Oswalt, Zach Galifianakis pre-Hangover fame, Judah Friedlander from 30 Rock, Greg Proops of Whose Line Is It Anyway, and the beloved Robin Williams. Over the past decade, The Purple Onion had lost steam and popularity, not drawing the big names or crowds of its older days. But it was still a cool venue in North Beach with an intimate and loungey feel, and you could imagine how great it must have been in its heyday.
I was excited to see Michael get up there on stage! That is, until I mentioned it to a coworker, who told me that a friend of hers had watched a guy she was dating do stand-up, and he was so bad that she found herself no longer attracted to him. Umm, I hadn’t even thought of that. Uh oh, now I was nervous. And even worse, I had invited a couple girl friends to join me, so if Michael bombed, it was not only going to be uncomfortable for me but for them too. Well, it was his idea to invite me, so hopefully that meant he wasn’t too bad…if he even had that much self-awareness…oh my god, what had I gotten myself into?!?
Since this was only a few dates in, it was before we had had the exclusivity talk, before we had called ourselves boyfriend/girlfriend, before anything was really solidified. We really liked each other, but it was still at that stage where something insignificant could make you lose all interest in the other person. Like if you learned that he only brushed his teeth once per day, owned capri pants, or rocked out to girly songs by pop artists like Kelly Clarkson and Avril Lavigne. (All things I later did learn, after we were already in love and living together – i.e., too late to use as a reasonable excuse for breaking up, unless you’re a character on Seinfeld.)
We showed up at 7pm and I paid the admission for my friends, so they weren’t out any money in case this was a terrible experience that they had to suffer through with me. Each comedian got 5 minutes, which might sound like a short amount of time, but proved to be WAY TOO LONG for some. Holy crap, did they let just anyone up there on stage?? (It turned out that yes, that was exactly what an open mic meant – anyone who showed up and put their name on the list was allowed to perform.) Add all of those 5 minutes up, and it can make for a painful night.
With every bad joke and awkward silence during which the audience did not laugh, I grew more and more nervous for Michael. One guy told a string of dick jokes that elicited nothing more than groans from the audience. Another only made eye contact with the women he found attractive, staring for way too long at one of my friends (he himself being old, overweight, and more than a little creepy). Then there was the guy who basically ranted about his day for 5 minutes and berated the audience for not laughing at what was apparently supposed to be a joke in the middle (honestly, it was hard to tell).
Michael was the last one to go up. As he ran onto the stage, he looked at me and smiled, probably expecting a warm and encouraging smile back. But instead I froze, sitting there like a deer in the headlights, bracing myself for what could be a total failure. He quickly looked away and started his set.
He kicked off by noting that he had a lot of friends in the audience that night who made up most of the crowd, saying, “Sorry, guys, we could have just done this in my living room.” (Hey, that was funny!) Several of his written jokes made me laugh out loud – like how his liberal arts background was such a departure from his business-loving colleagues that he might as well have gotten a bachelor’s degree in the Renaissance Faire (complete with an act-out of reading memos from scrolls and prancing around his office in tights). His closing joke even had me in hysterics at one point, as he conjured up an image of some douchey guy in a Las Vegas bar trying to hit on a girl with a glitter penis stuck to his forehead.
My friends and I agreed that he was by far the funniest comic that night (admittedly a low bar), and we were impressed at how well-written his jokes were and how comfortable he was on stage after only doing this for a few months. So it was a success! It takes an unbelievable amount of courage to get up in front of an audience and put yourself out there like that, and I liked him even more after seeing him perform. Of course, if he had been terrible, my admiration probably would have been overshadowed by my embarrassment; but I’m glad it didn’t come to that, and I was looking forward to date #7 – even though I had already seen more than one Avril Lavigne song in his phone.