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Mountain Everest outdoor adventure insignia. Climbing, trekking, hiking, mountaineering and other extreme activities logo template.

Filed Under , on May 27th, 2017

Everest Rising

By Seth Kabala

I arrived early to scope out the place. Posters on the walls outside, weird designs, bucket of paint here, tip-of-the-brush-stroke there, indicative of too many illegal drugs, digital drafting programs, and rancid dreams of escaping this old town!; vagrants camped on the sidewalk; vicious shouts from the next block over (thank God), always a rally going on somewhere–yep, this was downtown Portland at its finest.

But I wasn’t going to worry about that tonight. I was going to the Brody Theater. Only this time, I wasn’t going as an audience member (at least not in whole); I was going as a willing sacrifice on the altar of comedy, as someone wielding the knife of truth that so often only appears on the stages of open mics.

I was going as a stand-up comic.

That’s what they called me, anyway. But that’s how they introduced everybody–”Let’s welcome our next comic to the stage. [insert name]“–along with a few invectives thrown at comics who didn’t show up, people who left early, and anyone who was into traditional porn–you know, the kind featuring the body part that aids the delivery of life into this world as opposed to the disposal of waste. What is wrong with you traditionalists obsessed with the vagina!

I grabbed a Hefe beer, chatted with my wife for a few minutes, introduced myself to the host, and then it was on with the show. I was slotted just past the mid-way point. 10 comics on stage before me. Plenty of time to get nervous, but the beer did its job, filing the edge off my anxiety. Despite the entire audience, save my wife, being comics, and all of them absorbed in their own material, offering barely a grunt of acknowledgement for otherwise decent material, if a joke was funny, even just slightly, I laughed, trying to add some energy to the mix, HGH to the MLB home-run star’s nutrition plan–anything to liven things the hell up.

Then it was my turn, and my heart, which had settled south of 60, quickly spun the gears up to 150. I told my four bits, stayed within my three minutes, got a few grunts–as much as anybody else, confirming, at a baseline level, that everyone in the audience was alive, so I felt vindicated in that. I was as funny as everybody else. Great. Should we all be happy or look for something with which to tie off, something with which to shoot up, and take the nearest exit ramp to forgetting this horrid night? At least I didn’t hurl or forget my material.

It was over. I had done it. Now what?

Cross that one off the list. I have now done stand-up comedy. Well, at least I stood up there and spoke for three minutes and attempted to tell jokes. They may or may not be considered comedy. At least not yet. Time will tell. I’ve got to do those again, just to be sure. Was it my delivery? Was it the material itself? Was it the audience? Was it my lack of notoriety? Whatever the cause, I got tepid laughs, so I’ve got work to do.

I’ve seen more life in a Baptist church’s altar call. I’ve seen more life in some roadkill. On and on the comparisons can go, e.g., I’ve seen more life in Kristen Stewart’s face. (Twilight’s getting a bit long in the tooth for that joke, but that one never gets old.) I thought lots of the material was funny, but almost nobody got laughs, which is strange, considering that many of the comics had previously killed at Helium Comedy Club. Weird vibe. But it is encouraging to know that everybody was having a tough time, not just me. I don’t know what their motivation was for doing comedy, but I know mine: improve my public speaking.

Sure, you can tweak that into various combinations and permutations of nuance, but at its core, that’s what I’m aiming for–better public speaking. Have you ever seen a really good comic? Have you ever seen someone who had his or her act down to a science? Where everything, even the crowd work, existed within a carefully designed and executed humorous construct? Where even the stuff that seemed made up was actually traveling along a laser-etched pathway, carefully shepherded by the skilled comic?

I’ve seen several shows like that (Tom Green, Nick Swardson). It’s a masterful thing to watch. Comics are nothing more than master manipulators, bending and twisting language into a maze, leading us all into the entrance, and forcing us–force may be a strong word. Let’s say guiding our happy, drunken selves–up and down the straights, along the corridors, and around the curves, deftly manipulating our emotions along the way until delivering us, even more drunk and happy–to the delight of the club’s owner–through the exit. On to the next show!

No ill will exists. These comics want to kill. They want to get booked again. They want to sell tickets. They want to hit the big time. To do that, they have to deliver laughs, and it’s tough to do that without a plan. That’s where I see a parallel to my professional life: it pays to be prepared and to control, as much as you can, the outcome.

Am I looking to book a 50-city tour, land a Netflix special, and sign with Comedy Central for my very own show? No. I’m too practical to entertain life on the road as an option. Plus, I don’t think my wife would take kindly to groupies. She’s open-minded in the bedroom, but if I invited groupies? Let’s just say she would assume the character of Lorena Bobbitt during our next role-playing gambit.

I look at every performance role, however different (music, comedy, prepared speech, lecture), as my Everest. It’s something I do not have to do. Something emotionally difficult, physically dangerous–have you seen the factions of downtown Portland?–and psychologically damaging. Something that, if I fail, will make me stronger, so long as it doesn’t kill me. But if I succeed, will allow me to raise the summit of my achievements.

Everest rising, growing higher with each new proof of my abilities.

Game on.

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Seth Kabala

About: Seth Kabala
Seth is an entrepreneur, writer, musician, family man, and juggler of balls--big ones. He lives with his wife and three children in Portland, OR.

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