Our new series, “A Comic’s Life” focuses on life on the road, performing stand-up. Dan Perlman is a young writer and comic, who has been performing comedy full time for two years. He performs nightly in New York City, and tours around the country at festivals, clubs and colleges. Dan is writing a series of articles for “A Comic’s Life”, which chronicles some of his thoughts and stories about being a young comedian just getting started in his career. This week, he writes about his first time headlining– and it was at a Long Island Pizzeria.
“Can you do 30 or 40 minutes?” asked Anne, the producer of this Long Island comedy show at Villa Maria. “I would love for you to headline.”
“Sure,” I wrote back. “I can do 35.” (I’d never done more than 20 minutes.)
“Great!” she immediately replied. We confirmed the details for the show, which she hosted at “a lovely Italian restaurant in Long Island.”
It’s a pizza place. The blinking light in the window that read, “PIZZA” gave that away. I found they served nice Italian food, but make no mistake – my first headlining show was at a Long Island pizzeria.
As ridiculous as the setting seems, it felt like a great place to test how much time I could do. Worst-case, I’d have a weak set and run out of things to talk about while some Long Islanders ate their calzones. I could handle a scenario where I wasn’t offered the chance to headline other pizzerias in the neighborhood.
“Just have fun with it,” my friend Neko, a more seasoned stand-up, told me. Neko had previously said something that I consider often: “Just because you did twenty minutes doesn’t mean you have a STRONG 20 minutes. It may have been that night.”
I churn out a lot of material — most of which is junk, but I fill plenty of pages with that junk. I had no doubt that I could talk for 35 minutes; I had some doubts that paying customers would enjoy hearing me talk for that long. On the commute, I jotted down my planned set list, which I glanced over at the venue. I had no real sense of how much time these bits would eat up.
“This is just silly,” I said in a message to my friend. In an effort to promote the show, Villa Maria had plastered my face right next to a cheese pizza at the counter.
“FIRST OF MANY GARLIC KNOT-ADJACENT ACCOLADES!” my friend replied. I can only hope.
I’m just glad that my show could beat out “Dan Smith Teaches Guitar” for that coveted next-to-the-cash-register flyer spot. I was treated to Villa Maria’s specialty, chicken parmigiana, before the show. Free chicken dinner made the night a win, no matter how my set went.
“Can’t talk. I’m in the green room,” I jokingly texted my roommate. I sat in a booth, where I waited for the host to introduce me. Tables had been lined up in the corner, with white tablecloths, and a mic at the center to give the spot a nice feel. Two Long Island-comics had just done short sets to a surprisingly happy, engaged audience of 30. The comedian before me was an older man with plenty of song parodies, to the crowd’s delight.
The show was just a fun chance to see what I could do, time-wise. The stakes were damn-close to zero. The host/producer Anne – who I’ve known since I started from NYC open mics and has always been a supporter of mine — intro’d me and I began my set.
Some time later, I pulled out my phone and glanced at the time. The set had gone very well up to that point, with no real lulls. I’d gone through most of the material that I’d planned to do, a few 5-12 minute-sets pieced together. At that moment, I’d just hoped that I’d hit 30 minutes. To my surprise, I’d been on-stage for 43.
I closed with one newer bit that I’m excited about — which worked well. Hopefully that bit keeps working — sometimes the excitement behind you when you deliver a new bit carries it, then when that excitement fades in your delivery, the bit dies with it.
Regardless, the bit worked to close. I thanked everyone and got off. I finished right at 45 minutes. Immediately after the show, I received a text from Neko: “How’d it go, man?”
“Really well. I did 45 mins,” I wrote, “but I know that DOESN’T mean I have 45. It was just tonight.”
I received a fast reply: “No, sir. Don’t down the circumstance. Embrace it. Tonight, you had 45 minutes. Enjoy it.”
I did enjoy it. Almost as much as the free chicken parm.
Dan Perlman is a stand-up comedian from New York.