Marlena Rodriguez is a NYC based comedian and writer on the upcoming season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. She no longer participates in comedy contests. -ed.
Life is about learning that an abortion joke isn’t going to kill in a room of 300 baby boomers.
I started doing stand up in Connecticut after dropping out of college because money is real and so is tuition. I had been doing improv for a while but that was all but an option in Hartford. So I started hustling bits and slinging jokes at the one open mic a week. I was accepted quickly by the scene, so cue the entitlement.
I hadn’t been doing stand up for more than a year when a comedy contest came around. I did an audition showcase and “slayed”. Now, if I was accepted to this contest, I would have to choose to either be in the amateur or professional division. Of course we all know now that being a professional means, I don’t know, getting paid, or headlining, or at the very least doing stand up more than 1 ½ times a week. But at the time, I was “doing it.” Also a friend said, do professional division, you’re great (that friend later asked for my hand in dating, so…), and I listened! When I got the call that I was accepted to the contest, I proudly let them know, I’ll be competing as a professional.
Fast forward to me driving to Mohegan Sun, a major casino in Connecticut, with my always supportive brother, pretty much losing my shit over what I should do in this 6 minute set. Ya know, something a professional does. I walk into this 500-person theater, desperately trying to keep my cool. The amateurs are up, and the crowd is loving it. They are young and excited, and it’s only 8 p.m. so their night is just beginning. The professional showcase starts at 10:15pm and the median age of the audience is between 61 and plus. But hey, no problem, for a professional.
Back stage, I’m in the green room, with the other actual professional comics, who’ve mostly come in from New York City. They don’t seem to understand why I am sweating over what 3 – 6 jokes to do for 300 strangers. They just keep saying they’re going to do whatever they feel like doing. Amateurs. I settle on my best / most offensive 6 minutes out of the 10 minutes of material I have in total. I’ve written the jokes on a cheat sheet. I’ve said them in my head. I’ve timed them. I’m ready.
Finally, I am announced, just in time, because my nerves were eating me alive. I walk out on stage, confident, tense, professional. I start my set and 4 minutes later it is over. Remember, I was supposed to do 6 minutes, but with the help of silence, my set flew by. I don’t quite remember the jokes I did, but I know I ended with this closer:
So I’m getting an abortion next week.
Thank you, thank you.
Yeah, I’m really nervous, so I’ve been taking Xanax.
I think it’s working, ‘cause the baby stopped moving.
So basically, abortion jokes + dead baby jokes + drug abuse + old people = NO. After the show, I saw my brother, and he couldn’t even lie to me about how awful my set had gone. I think maybe he gave me something along the lines of, “oh well.” And he was very correct. Oh well indeed. Did I mention most every other comic crushed? So I clearly didn’t win the contest, but it gave me a bar to set for any other time I bomb, because I’m not sure it’ll ever be that bad again. Maybe it will, who cares. The good thing is it humbled me hard, and I got to live the next few years as a shameless amateur – BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO DO. It’s more fun anyways.
And it’s always pretty cool to remember at least a handful of people from that crowd are probably dead now. 🙂