[This is not an exact depiction of one night. It is an amalgam of experiences from the past several years. Any resemblance to people or places in real life is, of course, completely coincidental.]
You get to the club an hour early. You're really excited to meet the other comics, be part of the team, and take this next important step in your comedy career. You've prepared your set list and you have it down cold.
The club manager says hello, and gets your name wrong. He gives you a list of announcements that are very, very important to get right. He tells you to be energetic. Really whip up that crowd!
As he wanders away, he tells you the first show tonight is "pretty light" and the second show is known for attracting unruly drunks. He reminds you that you get one half-price drink and no discounts on food.
"Are you ready?" he asks.
"Yeah. Shit, yeah," you reply.
You find the other two comics. They look tired. The headliner asks how long you've been doing comedy. You can see the mental calculations going on behind his eyes as he decides he's not going to bother hitting it off with you this weekend. The feature asks you to bring him up in a certain oddly-specific way that is very, very important to get right.
Three minutes before you go on, a floor manager accosts you. She gets your name wrong. She tells you about a birthday celebration up front and a bachelorette party in the back. You have to give these people a shout-out from the stage, and it's very, very important to get this right. As she walks away, she snaps "don't get drunk before second show."
The music comes on, the lights dim. The crowd does not stop talking. The floor manager reads a list of rules over the PA. She tells the crowd to keep their table talk to a minimum, and their laughter to a maximum, and then she announces you. She gets your name wrong.
You get on stage. People are eating, chewing open-mouthed and staring at you. Others are engrossed in their phones, or in their conversations with each other. The room sounds like a junior high cafeteria.
You try to wedge the announcements in quickly. You get them wrong. You do some of your material, and it feels weird, like these words have never worked right before. You're not quite sure exactly when you started so you don't know how much time you have left. You're aware you're talking too fast. You can't stop talking too fast. You say "fuck" once and wince and hope no one noticed. You're not sure if you're bombing or not.
The light comes on and you're secretly relieved. You bail midway through one of your favorite bits and bring the feature up. You try to rouse the crowd like you're a cheerleader. You get his credits wrong. He mumbles something at you through clenched teeth as he shakes your hand, but you can't make it out.
As you walk off stage, you make eye contact with the birthday guy. You realize you forgot to say anything to him, or about him, or the bachelorette party.
You sit through the feature's set. You're pretty sure your jokes are funnier. You're pretty sure you're looking at this situation objectively.
You get out your phone and 'check in' to the club on social media. Your comic friends from open mic give you shit about how you're big-timing them. Your family members post about how famous you are, and repeat promises to "get out and see one of your skits some time."
The headliner comes over and makes a last-second change to his intro, meticulously stressing some particular credit, then assures you that it doesn't matter either way. Just as the feature thanks the crowd and prepares to walk off, the headliner leans in and mumbles "don't bring me up with that rah-rah, high-energy shit, okay?"
You go back up, and cram in a half-assed shout-out to the birthday party and the bachelorette. Her party stops talking for the first time in the entire show and emits a chorus of "woo" noises, which continue randomly throughout the rest of the show. You get the bachelorette's name wrong.
The headliner's set goes on for roughly six days. You have a couple more drinks, assuring yourself that you're not tipsy. The headliner is doing well among those members of the crowd paying attention. From the back, you see and hear mostly the ones who aren't.
The show finally ends. You go back up. You get the closing announcements wrong. You forget to mention the club's upcoming shows. Your eyes feel heavy and your stomach's roiling a little, and you realize you have to do all of this again before you can go home.
You walk out to the lobby. People are lining up to shake hands with the other two comics. A few of them make the effort to shake your hand, as you awkwardly stand a little ways away from the pros. Other people make weird, baleful eye contact for a second before turning to buy merch or take pictures with the other two. A few of them ask you to hold their purse while they get a photo, or give you their phone and instruct you to take the picture for them.
The second show is more of the same, only drunker. The crowd is half the size, twice as loud, and the headliner winds up in a verbal scuffle with a heckler or two. No one throws the hecklers out.
At the end of the second show, after your awkward hover near the receiving line, you duck into the bathroom and take a shit that seems like a metaphor for the whole evening. When you're done, you open the stall door and make eye contact with a patron who's waiting to use it next.
"Good show tonight," he says, frowning.
"Sorry, man," you reply.
When you come out, the other two comics have left without saying goodbye.
A surly server hands you your tab without a word. It comes out to at least half of what you got paid for tonight's shows. You drive home, borderline impaired, stopping only for gas and Taco Bell to make the night a legitimate financial loss. You replay your sets in your head, over and over, cringing and wondering why you ever thought you could do comedy in the first place.
You come back the next day and do it all again, and then once more on Sunday. When it's all over, the manager hands you a check. They got your name wrong on it. "Good work," he says. "You wanna host again next month?"
"Yeah," you reply. "Shit yeah."
Where I write about the stuff I do when I'm out doing the stuff I do.