You can't see a thing.
That's your first thought. The second involves bolting for the door. Congratulations! You're Bend's newest stand-up comic, onstage for the first time ever, staring into a blinding spotlight aimed squarely at your optic nerve. The all-important microphone's just inches away. If only you had some water or beer or anything to help this mouth of yours, currently dry as the high desert that surrounds you, and in which you would very much like to hide.
Welcome to night one of your Central Oregon comedy career. How do you like it so far?
It looks so deceptively simple on Netflix, this curious business of making people laugh. Jokes, applause and glamour. But now you realize, in this swirling, surreal mix of light, dark, strangers, bartenders and alcohol, the enormity of this task you've chosen.
Dying, as the saying goes, is easy. Comedy is hard.
And nowhere in the comedy galaxy do things appear harder than on "open mic" nights. This is where newcomers go to discover if they have any chance of stand-up success. One thing in your favor: At least in Bend, you can get some stage time. Despite the fact that the city lacks a dedicated comedy club, there are quite a few extremely talented and friendly comedians living here—some of whom organize open mics as well as various other shows around town.
Get to know them. They will help you.
But there's another obstacle. Depending on the night, month, season and whatever else is going on that evening, the number of open mic night audience members can occasionally top out in the single digits. You know how laughter's contagious?
Crowded or not, open mics begin with the host starting the show. He or she will be comfortable, graceful and funny. This person will remain onstage just long enough to set a standard you cannot possibly reach. Then this person will introduce you. Your name sort of hangs in the air. Polite clapping follows. This lasts for a half-second.
Now it's your turn. The moment to quietly slip out the door has officially passed.
You will walk onto the stage and begin to form words, sentences if you're lucky. Typically, open mic spots last five minutes. For a person in your desperate situa-tion, that can feel like five hours. Why? Your jokes are erratic and the punch lines don't punch. Your movements are weird. You're talking too fast and your timing's off. Plus, you're dealing with that spotlight, tons of nervous energy and the suddenly harrowing sound of your own voice.
Audience members (or member) will sometimes offer nothing but blank stares in return. Relax, new Bend comic. This is normal. If you can manage to put in six or seven years of grueling work, you'll get better. That's a promise. Now go write some more jokes.
Oh, and please remember to tip your waitresses.
Looks like you could use a drink.
Ready to join the ranks of the Bend comedy elite, as Howard's doing? See below.
Bend Comedy Open Mic, Tuesdays, 8-10pm. Continues through Jan. 3, 2017
Sign up at 7pm to get five minutes of stage time.
1033 NW Bond St., Bend
Comedy Night, Thursdays, 8pm.
Some nights are open mic; others are staged shows.
Visit summitsaloon.com for upcoming events