The High of Stand-up

The High of Stand-up

While some people during the pandemic learned how to make sourdough bread, I became a cougar.

I’m 36. And recently, I started dating a 26-year-old.

And since I’m a stand-up comedian and a journalist for a sex magazine, I got a lot of high-fives for my new life achievement. For several months, I was basking in the joy of my new romance, until I found out that my hot younger boyfriend was cheating on me—with his wife. Not only was he married, he had lied to me about everything about himself. His memories. His hobbies. His “business trips.”

As meme Jackie Chan would say, “Dafuq?”

But instead of wallowing in sorrow or wondering who would play me in my segment of “Dirty John,” I found consolation in the arms of my true love—stand-up.

Sure, my personal life had gone to shit, but damn, I had a solid five minutes of new material. I was elated.

Nothing Beats the High of Stand-up Comedy

I have been a professional writer for over a decade, and my career has had several highs and lows. From all of my experiences, I came to the conclusion that there were certain things I needed to feel happy with my work. One: I liked direct validation from audiences. Gatekeepers rarely liked me, and I definitely didn’t like them. Second, I needed creative control. Working on someone else’s entertainment project usually wasn’t fun for me, and I hated giving away my ideas for someone else’s vision. With stand-up, it's one of the purest forms of art. It's just you, on a stage, and you better make the crowd laugh. Your credits and your connections can’t save you, and if you bomb, there is no one to blame but yourself.

The high I get from making a room full of people laugh is greater than any drug, but I get why people are afraid to do stand-up, even if it’s on their bucket list. Standing in front of a room of strangers who stare at you blankly is a lot of people’s worst nightmare, combined with other horrors like sexual harassment, toxic people, late nights, and random drama, and I get why people would rather watch than perform. And although I’ve personally experienced almost everything terrible that can happen to a comedian, a female comedian, or an Asian comedian ... I actually still would recommend trying stand-up if you want to. And if you want to break into the Los Angeles comedy scene, here’s how I did it.

My Stand-up Journey

I’ve been a comedy junkie since I was a kid. I grew up in a small town in Kansas, and there wasn’t a lot of stuff to do so I found myself always watching TV and movies. One of my favorite shows was "The Late Show" with David Letterman, and I was obsessed with Dave because he seemed to revel in being second place to Jay Leno, and I related to his underdog spirit. During my senior year of college, I was an intern at his show, and even though I had made the leap from Kansas Nobody to stepping foot inside an institution I had idolized for years, I never imagined one day I’d be brave enough to perform jokes.

But I secretly wanted to. All throughout my 20s, I’d go to comedy clubs or watch dive bar shows, and I remember hanging out with a former classmate who told me that she had started doing stand-up in L.A. “How’d you get started?” I asked, and she told me that she took a class at Flappers Comedy Club in Burbank. She asked me if I was going to try it myself, and I said “maybe,” but that maybe was put on hold for years. A desire was there but so was fear, and fear won out. Plus, I was pretty content with my career as a freelance writer, so there wasn’t enough of a push for me to try something new.

Then 2018 hit. One of my biggest writing clients shut down, and I was in a romantic relationship that was going nowhere. All of my friends were paired up or overworked and thus too busy to hang, and I was desperate for something to do with my time and to meet new people. So, I finally had the perfect storm to push me out of my comfort zone. I signed up for a class at Flappers, and I learned the basic of stand-up joke writing. I needed to make a statement about myself (the setup), I needed a clear point of view (the attitude), and a killer punchline. Knowing that format, I had the tools to write a set, but I needed the confidence to perform.

I was terrified at the idea of performing at the student showcase. What if no one laughed? What if I didn’t remember my jokes? With the class, I was able to practice my set over and over, like I was a studying to act in a play, and finally, the big night arrived. I did my first stand-up set to a packed room at Flappers, and I got laughs. And it felt good. I wanted to do it again.

I started getting booked at Flappers, and from there, I’d meet comics who would tell me where to find mics, how to get booked on other shows, and how to get seen.

“You can find info on The Comedy Bureau.”

“Sign up for a Slotted spot at The Fourth Wall.”

“Do your minute at Kill Tony.”

The amount of comedy opportunities that existed in Los Angeles amazed me. Every night, there was somewhere to go, and for the real ambitious, you could hit up multiple mics in a night.

Each mic and show had their own vibe. Some were warm and supportive. Some were clique-ish but full of talent. Others felt like an incel den. As I started to do comedy every night, I started to figure out where I liked to go and where I didn’t; and with each set, I started to gain a confidence and a voice I was surprised was hidden inside me.

I don’t regret waiting until my 30s to finally try stand-up because I probably would’ve quit in my 20s. I wasn’t confident or vulnerable enough. But I’ve seen plenty of teenagers and 20-somethings kill on stage, as well as people my age and beyond. Stand-up is a medium where you don’t age out, and it’s one of the fairest forms of art. For anyone looking to do it, especially in Los Angeles, find a class or go to a mic. Don’t try to be famous. That’s annoying. Instead, try to be good, and the community will welcome you with open arms.

*Feature Photo: Teresa Lo performing at The Ice House - Pasadena, CA / photo by Bob Fang

Writer-comedian and Script Pipeline Winner, Teresa Lo's books were optioned by 20th Century Fox, and her work appears in Yahoo, Hustler, and more. She performs standup across the US.
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