Taking Note

    September 20th, 2012 By Dustin Fisher

    I decided to celebrate my 30th birthday by having a panic attack and moving to the Midwest thus beginning my three-year self-imposed prison term. Upon retrospect, I should have just gone to Georgetown Cupcake.

    Thankfully, while I was there, I got so bored that I took to standup comedy with moderate success. When I finally came to my senses and moved back to Maryland, I wanted to continue with my standup career. In this case, the word “career” is closely akin to the way sportscasters use the word “literally.” As in “He literally paves the way for Adrian Peterson.” Thanks, Trey Wingo. I’ll take it from here.

    That’s when I found SpeakeasyDC’s storytelling open mic night. It was different than my typical standup open mic nights in many ways, all of them better. First, there were more than 15 people in the crowd. I’d literally performed in front of only other comedians and waitresses before (Note the proper use of the word literally). Also, people genuinely laughed at the SpeakeasyDC open mic rather than sitting judgmentally, secretly knowing they were funnier than you if only anybody would give them a chance.

    But mostly, the material was so vastly different. Along with the expectation of truth came a tolerance for a first act. I’d never really been afforded the opportunity to establish a scene before. In standup, 30 seconds without a laugh will send people on a bathroom break. But this glorious new (to me) genre of humor had so much potential. I immediately signed up and started writing my story.

    Oh yeah. How the hell do I write a story?

    I had jokes. I had setups, punch lines and tag lines. I had “bits,” which occasionally involved stuff that really happened and I had written stories for print, but I had never actually really done what I was about to do. How do people do this?

    I now know that there is no real consensus among even the most experienced storytellers. “Whatever works for you” is the mantra on this particular topic. Some people use bullet points to try to hit on, like Adam Ruben and Jason Pittman* (who come from standup backgrounds). Some others craft their stories word for word, like Christopher Love and Derek Hills. Once in a rehearsal for an ensemble show, Jennifer Luu just started ranting for over 20 minutes and cut it down from there. This may not be her normal style, but it was for that story.

    I decided to use the method I’ve been using for standup, which was a bullet point system. Only they were very passive aggressive bullet points, full sentences haphazardly tabbed about in a Word document. They were paragraphs masquerading as bullet points. My eighth grade Study Skills teacher is probably turning over in her grave. Only she’s still alive, so she’s probably just turning over in her sleep.

    This organizational structure did one thing wonderfully for me. It sectioned off the pieces into digestible bites. So rather than having one seven-minute long story to memorize, I had seven one-minute long stories to memorize. And of course the order of said seven stories.

    The fundamental difference between the two is strictly for the sake of rehearsal. I practiced the “Ms. Stephanie” and “Escape Strategies” sections over and over because those were the problem sections. On the day of the show, I wrote the title of all seven sections down in black Sharpie on an index card and looked at it often enough to bore it into my brain. I couldn’t tell you my grandmother’s birthday, but I knew the order of those seven phrases. Now I don’t remember either (sorry, Nana).

    I’ve started writing out some of my pieces word for word since joining a Master’s program for creative writing (yet another genre for my mediocrity). But I always break it down into four to seven headlines on Game Day, especially in the hour just before the show. That way, I have the best chance to bring the house down. Figuratively.

    So what do your Game Day notes look like? Bullet points? Full paragraphs? Nothing?

    * – Honestly, I have no idea what Adam Ruben or Jason Pittman do for notes. Just a hunch.

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