By Mike V. Derderian
If a mouse has the fastest heart rate in the animal kingdom then I always morph into a furry twitchy creature before a stand up show. I get so nervous that I try not to eat or drink anything.
No, I am not afraid, or lack confidence, as I’ve spent three days working on my material. I don’t memorize. I merely link the keywords that connect my stories and punclines. Wish I had Yousef’s actor’s memory. Yousef Ziad Shweihat, who is with me in our 3al Wagef Comedy Troupe. Our third accomplice is Hamzeh Jabri.
The anxiety doused nervousness has become my stand up comedy pre-show ritual.
For the past few months I’ve been performing at Murphy’s Pub, where I feel comfortable shoving the envelope in the faces of its frequenters as a disgruntled Jordanian, who has an existential-socio-political agenda.
Mind you I said disgruntled because I am one of the many Jordanians who smile at a hot loaf of bread at any bakery in Amman, Jordan, my city, my country.
Now back at Murphy’s [No they haven’t paid me to mention them twice].
A few minutes in the toilet and I am ready to go, after I went of course and fulfilled nature’s call. A comedian with a full bladder is bad karma for himself.
I am now officially ready for my 15 minutes or less (usually 1o), where I will face the eyes of strangers and hopefully receive some of their laughs.
So as I said earlier, for the past two years I’ve been performing stand up comedy part of a local troupe that comprises of Yousef Shweihat, Hamzeh Jabri along with Bassam Alassad, our biggest supporter, semi-for-free-agent and fan since day one.
It is very hard to find people whose humor you understand let alone humor you can work with. I am proud to say that in Hamzeh and Yousef I have found my comedic soul mates.
On April, 28th, I along with Yousef and two other Jordanian comedians opened for international Comedians Rami Salame and Rehman Akhtar, at The Landmark Hotel.
After the show I realized that I am forever hooked to this mind and psyche breaking practice.
Why would a person want to narrate stories that end with punchlines to a crowd of strangers, who might or might not laugh at his routine?
I have no fuckin clue! Its not the money – at least not at this point. You know what I am lying. I know why I do it. I do it because I love to be heard. I do it because it makes me feel good after a good show. When it doesn’t it makes me feel like crap flushed down a toilet. I do it because I wanted to do it ever since I saw Robin Williams’ Good Morning Vietnam, that also made me end up behind two outdated mics at Radio Jordan’s 96.3 FM for the past six years.
I don’t do stand up on a nightly basis. Amman is a small city and writing material on a daily basis would prove herculean. This is why Yousef, Hamzeh and I decided to hold a monthly show at Murphy’s Pub (third mention – I seriously should ask for money) with new material [from scratch] with every show.
Back to the show at the Landmark. There were familiar faces in the crowd. Of course these faces made me scrap my show’s opener and half of my adult themed jokes. There were freakin babies in the crowd; babies, their momies and daddies and grandparents. Yes, to the discomfort of them all, I rubbed it in their faces big time. As a comedian I had to.
Had three adult themed routines about the art of cuss words. I begrudgingly had to scrap it though when I realized there were old ladies and children. Again why the fuck would you bring children to a stand up comedy show? Why?
Performing in a pub is not like performing in other places. The crowd plays a big role in keeping and discarding bits of your routine.
Still loved every minute of that evening. Some jokes click and some don’t. That’s the equation. It is a trial and error aspect and in our cases, comedians, performance, trial and error.
To the surprise of everyone I decided to do my routine in Arabic. I am known for my stubbornness and insistence on performing in English because I am constantly told: Jordanians don’t get it when it is in English.
Bullshit I say. Anyways that’s cow fodder, God willing, for the next post of So You Faced the Crowd … Then What?
I arrive to a show with a set of lines and stories that I adapt to the faces I see. You try to predict what is the best show opener.
When facing the crowd and hearing the laughs directly you know you did it; you see it in their eyes; you feel it through a tap on the shoulder from someone you don’t know after the show. The laughs are the likes and comments.
So You Faced the Crowd … Then What?
We bid the organizers goodbye and if there were any friendly faces we salute them. We cross our fingers that we get paid on the same night. Usually not the case. Hey you are in the Middle East. They have to give you that extra mile long run after your money.
So after the Landmark show I wished Yousef and his wife Deema, and Hamzeh good night. Every post show night is the same for me. I head home. Best feeling ever: Extremely hyper, the result of the laughs!
“Hey I am taking Rami and Rehman to a place. Want to come?” a comedian asks. I jokingly say while forming a hand gun using my fingers at my forehead, “the Mrs. would kill me! Time to go home for this comedian!”
Heading home I try to remember if the fridge is empty. I head to Abdoun Supermarket where I used to hang out as a kid back in the 80s when the term Street Children was still in use, and you actually ran wild with children in the streets, part of a silly bicycle gang. Nowadays you get a sense that Amman was visited by the Pied Piper.
Abdoun Supermarket now has a new management yet it still feels like the old place that I ran into whenever I could during the hot Amman summers.
Abu Yaqoub the owner fell ill and all his employees left: Some died and some had their legs amputated. Life is a bitch! One mean bitch!
I walk in and greet the clerks, who in turn greet me. Always shop near your home so as to build trust with the supermarket owner. Try it. Whenever you are short on cash they’ll just say, “Later man! Later!”
So I quickly run towards the packed shelves. Pick up a box of local Labaneh, Turkish Labaneh for Nesrin [I am not anti food. I am anti-stupidity and the other stupid human crimes that were committed on the face of the earth for various stupid reasons] and Keri for my little mouse Amie.
Knowing that my grandmother is sleeping over I pick up a small can of Anchovis. I don’t know why but I remember my grandfather used to eat them. I automatically assume my grandmother loves them too.
Picking up a three pack economy Fine tissue boxes and roast turkey I find myself at the cash. “Are we done man!” “Yes!” with a hyper tone I answer.
On that night I picked up two Amstel beet bottles. I tell the man working there. “Are these cheaper from the cans?” He says no. The cans are 2.25 JDs and the bottles are 1.10 JDs. I take the bottles. My approach to drinking is rather minimal like my illustration. Lots of black line lost in white spaces. Meaning I drink a bottle a month at the best. When I do I make sure I don’t have radio work the following day.
Tomorrow is Friday and I no longer have morning shifts on that day. I constantly use my working at 96.3 FM part of my routine and introduction. Whenever I tell someone that I work there they instantly say, “right! Are they still alive!”
My fingers curl in a fist but instead of throwing a punch I throw a punch-line, “Yep we’re still walking with dinosaurs!” Don’t you just like sensitive people! Idiots! They laugh. Mission accomplished.
The guy at the cash forgets to put the Amstel bottles in a bag. “Hey don’t be fooled by the Pampers! I drink!” I place the beer in a black bag and head home, where my wife experiences my hyper activity first hand by telling me, “Lower your voice!”
I run to my grandmother, Georgette, my mother’s mother, who doesn’t smell of Jasmine like Marajane’s grandmother [read Persepolis]. Mine smells of her. One gentle kiss from her sends me back to my days of innocence that were spent at their home in Damascus.
I tell my wife some of the evening’s highlights and if she smiles it means the joke is still working. The hyper activity stays so I write a little and if I feel like it I illustrate. [I just yawned. My brain wants more but my body is giving in].
Until 3al Wagef’s next show …
And if you’ve reached this far … thank you from a Homo sapien, a writer, a comic artist and a comedian trying to get a hold of a banana in a world governed by apes …