First time up: Kelly Kenlon

Ever wonder what it’s like to go to your first stand up comedy open mic? Or your first one back since COVID? Well, “First Time Up” is here to tell you all about it!

A week ago I went to my first real-life open mic in real life. That’s right, folks. Standing and everything. For the last 8 months I was honing my craft (humblebrag) with the incredible comedy squad here at GOLD, all over Zoom. And it made it so easy & safe to tell a joke or a half joke or an idea. But standing up on a stage, with a mic, under lights, was a whole other beast. 

Going to an in-person stand up comedy open mic in New York City had become something that I just needed to get over with. Something that I had been telling people I was gonna go do for years. Yes, you read that right, years. I used the excuse of fear, not having material, fear again, a global pandemic that shut down all comedy clubs, and when they opened: fear. One week, one month, it would hurt how much I wanted to go. I went to a party in April and a girl there said, “Well did you know—clubs are like, open now? Why don’t you go?” I hardly knew this girl and I wanted to scream back IT’S NOT THAT SIMPLE. 

But it is. And maybe that’s why I was so mad. Because it actually is that simple. You go to a dank, dark room, tell them your name, and wait. After I’d done a bunch of Zoom mics a friend told me, “Don’t be afraid to be seen trying,” and gosh, it’s true. We tell a joke and it bombs. Oh no. What now? Try again! We shouldn’t be afraid to be seen trying because trying is the point. We’re so terrified of being vulnerable or embarrassed and our brain tries to protect us by telling us: Just don’t go. It’s too risky. Well I’m here to tell you that your brain is wrong. 

On the train in from suburban Long Island, I was trying to write my jokes on a piece of paper as best as I could remember them. I was too scared to bring a notebook because I didn’t wanna look weird if no one else had one. (Everyone else had a notebook.) I bit off all my nails and thought: just get there. If you bail now, you’ll have wasted 9 dollars and won’t even have the story. 

I sat in Penn Station for too long. I took the 1 train for one stop. I shuffled around Port Authority and Times Square trying to get to this little tiny black box theater I had never been to before. For years and years and years I thought my big excuse was: I don’t wanna go alone! And then something changed where last week I was like, you know what, no, I have to go alone. This is my thing, and I have to just go by myself. 

That’s dramatic and you definitely don’t need to go alone if you don’t want to. But after years of considering how it would all go down I felt like I almost needed to do it in secret. Just go by yourself to a club you’ve never been to, in the middle of the afternoon, and get it done. So that’s what I did. 

My heart was beating so fast it was moving my shirt. Of course I was sweating—if anything, this was an experiment on how much of a  Secret” my deodorant could keep. There was one other girl. Right on queue. 

Three people went before me, and while I watched them read off their notebooks and speak out to the other seven of us, I thought oh, so this isn’t that crazy. They’re just reading their notes. Is that what this is? I was trying to listen while replaying my own jokes in my head and looking down at my scrappy little paper regretting not bringing a notebook. I didn’t know when I was going but I almost passed out when I heard my name. As I traded places with the host, they fist bumped me. Omg are we friends?? I thought. Or is this like a cool comedy thing that everyone does when they go up. Probably the latter. 

I crawled up on stage and looked out at the seven people watching me try to say something great. I had a flashback to high school powerpoint presentations. The nerves, the itch to get it done, and then remembering that no one actually cares. At least not as much as you do.

So I did the bit I had been writing about social anxiety, stage fright, and failing as a hostess. And it did ok! I got a couple breathy chuckles and even a few real laughs. But the room was mostly quiet, for everyone. I didn’t really care how well the material “did.” Because once I got up there I realized that’s not what the first time is about. It’s about having the audacity to show up at all. 

The craziest thing: it was so anti-climatic. In the best way! You think this over in your head for YEARS and then you go, and you’re like: that was it? That’s what I was afraid of? All of this time?? Talking on a stage for four and a half minutes in front of seven people took me three years to do. Point is: don’t wait. 

The best compliment you can give someone who’s new is: “Was that really your first time?” While I was on stage, sweating and not knowing how to hold the mic correctly, I blurted out “Haha, this is actually my first time doing standup in real-life” and it got a quick woo. Afterwards, when someone asked me that question, “Was that really your first time doing standup?” I blushed and looked away because I thought, Oh my gosh, does that mean it was good? Does that mean it wasn’t completely terrible? 

After everything, you can read every inspirational quote in the book, you can tell everyone you’re gonna do it, you can read 100 of these articles! But the truth is: you won’t show up until you do. I felt like I snapped. The train was leaving from my suburban Long Island town one random Tuesday and I needed to get on it. I felt like I had been standing on the edge of the high dive for too long and I just needed to jump. So, what did we say: don’t be afraid to be seen trying, and if you’re gonna be scared, do it scared. See you on the other side.