Facing an audience, armed with only your wits and a microphone, can be the stuff of nightmares.
But it’s just another night at the comedy club for Red Deer residents Jason Steele and Clint Worke.
The local stand-up comedians have each prompted howls of laughter from supportive listeners — and also died slow deaths in front of stone-faced crowds.
Steele believes there’s no way to improve in comedy without making yourself vulnerable — and then learning from your successes or failures with audiences. “It takes years to get really good in stand-up and to deliver a really solid set.”
The thing that keeps drawing him back to the microphone — usually as host of the anything-goes, open-mic So You Think You’re Funny? Sundays at Heritage Lanes — is the challenge of cracking up a roomful of strangers.
“I really enjoy writing a well crafted joke and delivering it,” said the 38-year-old, who started doing stand-up comedy a year ago. The Red Deer dispatcher had been involved in local, theatre, improv and film for the past 5 years — doing everything from playing an extra for the Hell on Wheels TV show to taking on leading roles for Red Deer Players and Central Alberta Theatre.
Steele usually had someone else to fall back on when performing. He wanted the challenge of writing his own material and seeing if he could fly solo. “For me, it was just another way to be on a stage.”
Recently, he took jabs at Donald Trump through some ethnic stand-up characters he created, including a Mexican jedi and Tibetan spy. “When I do an accent people will sometimes think it look like I’m poking fun at a group… but I’m actually using that character to poke fun at people from North America, said Steele.
Worke’s brand of comedy is described as observational and silly. He started the Comedy Zone a few years ago to become less nervous on stage.
With various entertainment ventures (including playing a hypnotist and host of The Amazing Game Show for corporate events), the entrepreneur wanted to feel more comfortable in front of an audience. So did it work? Worke feels he has gained better control of his nerves, while falling head over heels for comedy.
“Stand-up can be an obsession,” he added. “People laugh at the weird stuff you write, and it kind of gets you hooked.”
Worke advises every would-be comedian to try out some original material at an open-mic night. “Go on stage, if you think you’re ready or not, ‘cause you’ll never be ready.”
The challenge is “finding your voice and telling jokes in your humour,” added Worke, who also feels there are no short-cuts to stage experience. “It’s painful, but you have to really listen to yourself” to get better, he said. Worke advises videotaping a performance to see what kind of body language you are conveying.
“You are like an antenna. The way you feel is the way an audience is going to feel.”
Fortunately, Red Deer crowds are generally pretty supportive, he added. “Sometimes it takes a one of two loud laughers to get other people going…”
Worke, Steele and other local comedians have travelled to open-mic shows in Calgary and Edmonton. In Red Deer they have also appeared on the third Thursday night of the month at Heritage Lanes Comedy Zone, as well as the last Tuesday night of the month at Funny Crackers at Cheer’s Pub in Riverside Meadows.
Steele also leads a community, family-friendly comedy night at The Hub on Ross on Wednesdays.
More information is available from www.facebook.com/Heritage Lanes Comedy, or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or Jason@Mr.Steele.com.