Want a comedian for your next event? No need to look further than your own city or state to discover...Read More
I started doing stand up my freshman year of college. The school I went to had a Stand Up Comedy Club (SUCC) that had just started when I became a student. The club was small, but would often get messages from other student and non-student organizations about shows. Some of these shows were great opportunities to perform stand up sets in front of other students that were beyond generous with their laughter. However, most of the shows the SUCC was offered we’re from organizations that really didn’t know what to expect.
We would do cancer benefits where students in SUCC thought it was a good idea to tell cancer jokes. We’d get booked to do holiday parties for the college staff and students would run sets complaining about the campus in front of angry administration. Mostly we’d do outdoor events that made no sense, and occasionally an Elks Lodge. I usually performed well at these functions, because a lot of the material I was writing at that time was clean. Which brings me to the worst show I had ever done.
The universities Greek Life had a big variety show every year. It was a contest where if you made it past the first round, you would get to do a weekend of shows in front of back to back sold-out crowds in the universities Great Hall! It was a +500 person theatre that they would pack. The contest was mainly for different fraternities and sororities to perform these “mini-musicals” where they’d take a classic musical and just replace the music with whatever pop songs were big at the time. In between the mini-musicals, they would have variety acts come out and entertain the crowd while they set the stage for the next mini-musical. It was an age-old tradition they called Varieties, but seemed to always be thrown together last-minute in a panic
I was not a member of Greek Life, and was not a fan of it either. However, through a technicality, I learned that you didn’t have to be in Greek Life to enter this contest. I was absolutely determined to enter the Greek tradition and win it. That way none of the frats got to take home the first-place trophy. At the time it was the ultimate Robin Hood scenario in my mind!
Before going up for the first round, I received a copy of the judge’s ballots and saw the criteria by which they had to rank performers. I knew my act didn’t stand a chance against flashier acts like dancers, jugglers, bands, and magicians. So, I designed my set around what the judges HAD to rank the performers on. The categories were along the lines of:
“Dressed professionally” ☑️
“Use of stage” ☑️
“Crowd Interaction” ☑️
I am not a physical comic, nor at the time did I do crowd work, but I somehow fit all of that into my set. During the first round, my set went well, and although not the best act on the night, I made the cut for the finals by a technicality!
The finals were in the middle of a cold Iowa winter, and despite a blizzard the night of the shows, the Great Hall was sold out both times. I was biking to the show when at a stop sign my bike slipped on ice and flew out from underneath me. I fell on my arm and cut up my shirt and dislodged my shoulder. I pushed myself up to the curb of the road, pushed my solider back in place and started to walk into the Great Hall. Luckily the show was next to the campus convince store, where I brought ibuprofen and bandaids for my bloody hand. I rolled up my dress shirts sleeves to hide where they had torn in the bike accident and walked in the venue just in time to make the call for my act.
The finals were a lot different from the first round of auditions in a few ways, most notably, the auditions were in front of an audience of students, who I largely pandered to. The finals, however, was in front of those same students, but sitting with their grandparents and parents, at an event that doesn’t serve alcohol.
I remember I followed some mini-musical that was vaguely based off of Rick and Morty. As I walked out onto the stage, the sweat on my hand caused the bandaids to fall off. Upon hitting the stage I realized that there was a whole musical pit between me and the crowd. I knew from earlier the room was full, but the first 10 feet in front of me was just a void of musicians setting up, too busy to listen to my set. I started my set and continued to perform 12 minutes to complete silence. At most I won over 2-3 people out of the 500, whenever I did hear a noise it was largely out of pity. The set was BAD. I tried mixing up what I was doing on stage, doing a call and response gags, and breaking out a prop I brought with me, but nothing caught.
When I walked off stage the microphone I had been holding had blood on it from my cuts. I was supposed to hand it off to the next act but they saw the blood and I had to run to get a back up for them.
Before the second show, I decided to change my act to something cleaner. It didn’t work. still crickets. By the end of my second set I was so mad I decided to tell a joke about a time I ended up in a mob of Greek Life students streaking. I knew the bit wouldn’t go over well, I just thought it would be hysterical for the members of Greek Life to have to explain the story to their grandparents after the show. When I finished the story the entire room was completely silent and thoroughly unhappy with the bit I ended with, out of frustration. At the time I was so annoyed with the show that I just dove into the crowd’s distaste for me and just played into it if I was going to bomb at this show, I might as well take the whole room down with me.
The worst part was, only 5 acts made the finals, and due to the stupid criteria on the judges’ ballots, I still took home third place. I had to go up in front of a crowd of people who DEEPLY hated me and pretend like I was honored to receive the award. As I walked out of the venue that night, I saw my guidance counselor (who I never liked) and she gave me a, “Well, at least you haven’t dropped out this semester”. It was so bad that the student newspaper cropped me out of the photo of the winners and only mentioned first and second place. A review in the universities newspaper of my act came out the Monday after Varieties. I still have the review bookmarked on my computer, it reads:
“Matt Banwart, Oh, Matt. You started off the first night
of finals with a few good jokes, but they quickly turned a bit untactful, a least to me.
The second night of finals you brought back some of the original material from the
semis. The second night definitely went better than the first.
You are a charismatic guy, I would just watch for what kind of audience you have.“
I do not mad at the reviewer, that was as polite as they could have put it. I bombed.