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By Veronika Janik

The comedy club is dark and smoky. There are nearly 250 individuals waiting to be entertained. The stage is set and the spotlight is on you. With your adrenaline soaring, you begin your one-man show. The first couple of jokes are great and the crowd takes to your style. Then, it happens. Your next joke is a complete bust and the audience is silent. Now it’s just you, your mic, the overbearing spotlight and a bunch of middle-aged people judging your every move. Such is the life of a stand-up comedian.

Although not as popular as film, stand-up comedy provides live humour along with a brief escape from reality. With the cost of a live show similar to a movie, the stand-up industry is boosting and will most likely continue to do so.

“Everybody likes to laugh,” says Yuk Yuk’s Club Manager Denise Ross. “We all have enough crap in our lives. People come in here and forget about everything and they get to walk out saying ‘my cheeks hurt,’ and there is no way that people won’t continue to want to do this.”

Yuk Yuk’s has been a part of Calgary for 19 years and has become well known for its professionalism and talented comedians. Ross, who has been the club manager for four and a half years, enjoys her job and the people she works with immensely.

“It’s not for everyone to spend a lot of time with comedians,” she says with a grin. “The general public would probably cry after a while, but I happen to find them fun and I embrace their mental disorders, their quirks, and their talents.”

The public is also generally unaware of the hard work that comes with being a stand-up comedian. Comedians can become mentally and emotionally drained, as well as extremely worn out. Initially, most start out travelling non-stop to play in small-town dives or strip clubs, and often times the locations are anything but pleasant.

Nonetheless, these dedicated individuals continue to do shows and eventually end up performing at clubs such as Yuk Yuk’s, which many comedians consider the gem of the stand-up industry.

“I’d say stand-up has probably made me tougher than anything because there’s been lots of shows where they just blankly stare at you,” says local comedian Allyson Smith. “You just have to shake it off and learn from it.”

However, for some comedians getting zero laughs can be pretty hard to take.

“I did a show a long time ago performing at Maple Leaf Gardens on New Year’s Eve opening for a band,” recalls American comedian Bob Saget. “I got on stage and got cheers when I said ‘how ya doin’ and then somebody threw a bag of potato chips at my head. I was supposed to do 15 minutes and at the end I looked over and on the microphone I said to the promoter, ‘can I leave now and still get paid?’”

Though criticism can hurt, it doesn’t last long, and what could have been an extremely embarrassing situation for a comedian, becomes a learning experience.

While some comedians enter the business hoping to make a career out of it, others want television or film opportunities. Saget, who began doing comedy at the age of 17, got his big break on the Morning Program. He later moved on to do Full House and America’s Funniest Home Videos, along with roles in various films such as Half Baked in which his cameo as a coke head offering to perform oral sex for drugs, shocked his faithful Danny Tanner fans. Saget, who is very thankful for his acting career, admits doing standup after becoming famous has a different effect.

“Once people know you it changes everything,” says Saget. “It’s so much more fun because the moment you come out, they’re excited to see you. When you’re starting out nobody gives a shit when you walk out.”

Many comedians would kill for the opportunities Saget received, however most know that their Hollywood dreams may not come true.

“I would love to do film and television,” says Smith. “It would be a lot less stressful because comedy, which I failed to realize when I started, was all about writing and I never wanted to be a writer.

“But you can’t go into stand-up for the sake of making it big. You have to do it because you love it.”

Comedians are constantly on the road doing shows so they spend a lot of time developing new material. Many incorporate family and friends and base their shows on everyday circumstances with humorous twists.

“My-15-year old has little bitch friends and oh my God they are so mean,” says Saget. “It’s like the movie Mean Girls is subdued compared to what these girls are like. I can’t even believe it actually, but it gives me five minutes of material.”

Although material can be initially difficult to create, experienced comedians begin to not only observe everyday occurrences, but learn how to deliver a message through their comedy.

“Stand-up is actually supposed to be stand-up commentary,” informs Smith. “That’s why there’s quite a difference between people who get up there and tell jokes and people who get up their and say something with their jokes, and that takes a long time to develop.”

In addition to the stress of the occasional failed joke, constant production of new material and bearing the responsibility of single-handedly keeping a crowd entertained, female comedians are often pre-judged before they even hit the stage. The stereotype is that male comedians are funnier than females, however, Smith has broken this barrier.

“Someone once told me as a female you have to go on stage and all the guys have to see you as their sister and all the girls have to see you as their best friend,” says Smith. “It’s totally true because if you go up there and you’re totally hot, we don’t mean to, but as other girls we judge. We’re like ‘she’s just up there because she’s hot.’”

Fortunately, according to Ross, Smith’s comfortable presence on stage along with her likeable personality draws instant acceptance from audiences, which makes for a great live show each time.

Regardless of the stresses and difficulties encountered by both male and female comics, both Smith and Saget love their jobs, which is crucial in the business of stand-up comedy.

“My advice to a new comic would be that the motivation should be to really, really be good and funny and enjoy it,” says Saget. “If you honestly don’t like, get the hell out because you won’t last one minute.”

If you’re interested in doing stand- up comedy, Yuk Yuk’s runs an amateur night every Tuesday. There is a free workshop from 6-7 p.m. after which numbers are drawn and winners get five minutes on stage. For more information check out www.calgaryyuks.com.

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