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Rolling with the Punch Lines

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Open-mike night at a South Street bar may be a far cry from Kevin Hart at the Linc. But there I am at 11:30 on a Tuesday night, with maybe five minutes to flaunt my comedic chops and no time for a lead-in.

The audience—save for my husband and maybe the bartender—is largely disinterested. I can’t blame them. There’s barely even a stage. They’ve heard my set, in some variation, before—and they’ll hear it again. 

Comedians are an eclectic bunch—part improv, part sketch. Some are schoolteachers; others have headed to New York City or Los Angeles to chase their dreams. Still others are content to have a little fun after their day jobs. 

I began doing standup comedy in 2007, seeking a creative outlet and a thrill that kept my feet firmly on the ground. The discipline exploded in the 1980s, but the boom has since subsided. Even so, Philadelphia has an active comedy scene where newbies can take a shot on stage. I was one of them, hitting as many open mikes as possible. Not all of my fellow performers qualified as rookies; many of them were veterans wanting to hone new material. 

It’s addictive being on stage, teetering between devastating silence and fulfilling laughter. I’ve been dubbed “Philly’s answer to Lisa Lampanelli.” I don’t disparage members of other races, but—like her—my comedic voice is a bit edgy. 

To be clear, I don’t headline comedy clubs with those faux-brick walls. I open for drag queens and perform at fundraisers. I found my footing on sticky dive-bar floors, the air thick with cigarette smoke. 

The shows are uncensored and unpredictable. Hecklers attempt to match wits with the headliner, often a comedian doing nothing but crowd work and killing it. A bartender might do a party trick where he lights a part of his body on fire. My bit is highlighted by such revelations as the lack of a euphemism for the female orgasm and why people are surprised I’m married (because I’m fat). 

If post-set adrenaline could be bottled, I’d strap it to my back and bolt down the Schuylkill Expressway, all the way home. For me, hearing a room full of strangers laughing is the only way to satisfy that longing for success. 

Katie Bambi Kohler encourages you to visit www.katiekohler.com, or email her at kkohler1129@gmail.com with comments other than “Chicks aren’t funny” or “I got a good joke you can use.”

Illustration by Dewey Saunders

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