Standing Up at the Quarter Barrel

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As reported in the Aug. 10 issue of Boise Weekly, the Quarter Barrel on Chinden in Garden City has one of the biggest draws of a growing number of venues in the area with open-mic stand-up comedy nights. I went there with the intention of trying stand-up for the very first time, but once I arrived, I felt noncommittal.

I sat far from the stage.

“Maybe I’ll just observe this time,” I thought. “There’s always next week.”

After the MC, Danny Ampsacher, announced that the comics would begin in a few minutes, I approached him on impulse.

“Is it too late to sign up for stand-up?” I asked.

“No, I can add you in," he replied.

He asked me a few other questions about if I had some jokes planned out and if I had done this before. He gave some brief instructions and showed me the lineup. I would have four minutes for my act.

The stage is at one end of the tavern and is visible to about half the place. The open mic setup is simple: a couple of stools, a chair and a microphone on a stand.

Amspacher did his own routine first. When he invited the first comic after him to go onstage, it was of some comfort to know I was near the end of the list. But as each comic took the stage, I saw how inviting the audience was. They welcomed and paid attention to each performer. Not everyone got laughs, but nobody was booed or heckled and each comic was applauded at the end.

I was introduced as a “comedy virgin,” and the audience was urged make me feel welcome, which gained me some applause before I even spoke. I got a few people laughing in the first 10 seconds and that helped boost my confidence as I continued. I didn’t have a script memorized, but I had four topics that I had practiced cycling through.

While onstage, I felt odd and contradictory sensations. There was a sense that time had either sped up or slowed down, and at the same time, I felt a decreased awareness of time passing at all. I knew that people were focused on me but I felt somehow disconnected from the sights and sounds of the room and the people in it. It was a strange feeling of separation, as if the stage induced a mild sensory deprivation. I wasn’t exceedingly nervous but my mind took on a sticky quality that made it more difficult to recall my routine. I was grateful that I had written my topics on my hand.

The one-minute warning almost threw me off but I was able to finish my joke and thank the crowd without incident. The audience applauded and I stepped off the stage feeling exhilarated.

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