Monday, June 22, 2009

A Creative Sideline in Standup Storytelling

Every now and then, I wonder about other possible careers if the whole academic philosophy thing doesn't work out, and sometimes a life as a stand up comedian is among what I consider. The only real problem with that is that I'm not very good at writing jokes. Most of the funny things I do and say in real life are witty remarks specific to situations I'm in (sitcom humour), and telling increasingly ludicrous, strange stories filled with digressions and non-sequiturs. Neither of these, I thought, would really work on stage at a comedy club.

But I realized today that I could actually make the stories work. It wouldn't be anything close to ordinary stand-up, with people making pithy observations and threading them into complex analyses of society and life. I noticed this while I was walking to the liquor store tonight (LCBO goes on strike Wednesday, and I had to stock up) after reading some In Search of Lost Time. I'm on volume four now, Sodom and Gomorrah, and I had just finished a sequence where the narrator described this really irritating bellhop in his hotel, and did this for no apparent reason. The story wasn't advanced, the bellhop is never going to show up again. And I realized that the whole seven volumes of this book is an extended story that the narrator tells about what he remembers of his life. I could design stand up routines as if I was narrating a series of cartoonish stories. That way, I could invent characters and insert a lot of blatant and subtle critiques and ideas into them, while getting laughs. Imagine Bill Bailey or George Carlin doing his own version of In Search of Lost Time, and that's basically where I'm going with this.

As I walked down the street, I began imagining routines, long stories about my encounters with an effete homosexual older businessman known only as The Baron. We would go from discussing wine in a sparsely decorated penthouse with entirely white furniture to a shady monkey knife fight coordinated by his Filipino friend Pablo, who he knew from "the war." But when I asked him which war it was, he said that he never fought in any wars, and that it was more like a dispute in a restaurant in Manila over who was going to pay the bill. And it wasn't in Manila; it was actually in Oakville. But tempers certainly did come to flair, let me tell you.

And so on.

Most of my ideas were about The Baron, but I had other ideas too, during my walk to the liquor store. They included an encounter with a singer-songwriter whose lyrics are incredibly clichéd and painful to listen to, but she's completely oblivious; an array of The Baron's young Asian lovers; a series of mix-ups between Beaver gas stations, beaver the animal, the term for a vagina, the sitcom Leave It to Beaver, and The Baron's refusal to have anything be left to him on a matter of general principle. Ok, so most of my ideas do involve The Baron, but this is a character with a lot of potential, and I only thought of this idea a few hours ago.

One story I would save for the end of a longer routine is an amusing, yet also touching, story of visiting the liquor store to stock up before an impending strike (following a long strange digression on last-minute races to the liquor store and buying wildly absurd liquors – scotch, Cointreau, creme de banane, Wild Turkey bourbon, Ouzo – because you were in such a hurry) and overhearing a girl at the register tell her co-worker, a thirtysomething man serving me, that she was planning to get a ring to wear just to stop obnoxious guys from hitting on her as they were buying their vodka coolers, probably to lace with rohypnol and give to underage girls. I would answer her on my way out with one piece of wisdom: that the guys who would pay attention to the ring are too nice to have hit on her in the first place, and a guy that obnoxious wouldn't care if she had a husband in the room. "They're the quiet ones," says the co-worker. As I walk out the door, I answer "And the quiet ones never say what we want to."

Everything in that last story except for the strike happened almost word for word last month.

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