On his deathbed, the great British dramatic actor Edmund Kean (1789-1833) was reputed to have said “Dying is easy; comedy is hard.” And there’s no harder brand of comedy than stand-up.
Sure, seasoned pros like the break-neck Robin Williams or the gently rolling Ellen DeGeneres make it look like a stroll in the park, but they too had to walk through the fire, facing sparse turnouts in small venues. That’s stand-up; it’s all about the interplay and the reaction. You can’t perfect it in isolation.
You’ve got to have an audience, and the best way for the nascent comedian to get stage time is at open mike venues, where anything goes and everyone is welcome to give it a shot. That was the impetus behind the Disclaimer Stand-up Lounge, a free-for-all blizzard of madness being perpetrated every Sunday evening at The Hangar in The Clarion Inn on Airport Road, Fletcher.
The men behind this mischief are Tom Scheve and Cary Goff, two writers for the notorious Asheville Disclaimer, a regular feature in Mountain Xpress. Having written satire for several years, Tom and Cary decided to take it to the next level and began to dabble in stand-up last year.
“Writing for the Disclaimer, nobody recognized me personally,” says Scheve. “Doing stand-up, you put your face behind it. It’s a lot different. You get immediate feedback on your jokes and find out if something works or it doesn’t. Laughter is generally very honest.”
With its end-of-the-weekend timing, the Disclaimer Lounge is designed to be a hothouse of ideas, part of the process that allows performers to develop fresh material and fine-tune their acts within the growing comic community in Asheville and the Upstate.
“The way a lot of people are using it is that it’s experimental — no pressure,” Scheve explains. “You trot out some new stuff and see what works. Then you go to the Tomato Tuesday open mike at the New French Bar and you further refine it. Maybe there’s a Thursday show at Café Underground in Greenville or a weekend show and you’ve already got a few performances under your belt.
“There’s a big difference between people who do it every now and then, people who do it weekly and people who do it several times a week. You age in dog years if you do it three times a week.”
Putting it out front and center, says Scheve, is “a humbling experience. There’s this weird process of becoming self-aware through the act of getting up on stage in front of people. You have to know who you are. One thing I’ve heard is that your stage persona should be your real persona… amplified by 10.”
Or not, as was the case with Greenville comic Travis Goodwin, whose irreverent, techno-centric routine on a recent Sunday night revolved around his impersonation of quadriplegic mega-genius Steven Hawking. “It’s a creative outlet,” Goodwin explains, “My comedy borders on performance art, but you see the full spectrum here, from traditional stand-up to multimedia. Everyone is trying to figure out a way to stand out.”
So everybody has a shtick: Cary Goff’s routine riffed on prison and the plot for a tri-state crime spree (“four would be pushing it”); the droll Joe Shelton gave relationship advice and shared little-known advertising industry secrets; Art Sturtevant (his stage name) mused on the pitfalls of having an alter-ego (“On Facebook, Art’s been around since January and he has 93 friends. I have 13.”); and Michael Channing waxed comedic about being a Star Trek-loving-Super-Geek growing up in a trailer park.
Through it all, Scheve provides segues and support, moving the audience’s focus from one comic to another and recording the evening’s performances for later review. “I tape the entire night and email everyone their clips,” says Scheve. “It really helps to see yourself, because you’ll come off thinking that you were awful and then see the tape and realize it was really OK — or vice versa.”
Yet whether they die on stage or absolutely kill the audience, it’s a valuable learning experience. It’s tough, sure…but it’s also a helluva lot of fun.