In three years with the Tulsa World, photojournalist Ian Maule has photographed sporting events that played out on national stages.
When not at games, you might spot him on comedy club stages.
What’s it like for an amateur stand-up comedian in the world of funny business?
Ian shared some of his experiences.
The first time I ever got on stage to do stand-up, I was in sixth grade, and my family had just moved from Virginia Beach to a small town outside of Chicago called Johnsburg. There is a Tom Waits song about it, and we had just gotten cable. I would stay up super late and watch Comedy Central specials of stand-ups. I saw a guy named Pablo Francisco and loved his act. So I essentially stole five minutes of that and performed that at a talent show. I had one original joke, and it was about how I wanted to be an ice cream man because I didn’t have to work hard and everyone likes ice cream.
The feeling you get from doing stand-up is a weird feeling because it can go in waves of intense anticipation and instant gratification. You spend time setting up a joke and, especially if you are trying something new, you hope it will “hit” and, if it doesn’t, you have to control the crash and move on to the next joke.
If it does pay off, it’s one of the best feelings you can have because you spend time writing this material by yourself or bouncing it off friends. And then when it finally makes people laugh, it’s this mixture of relief that, holy crap this worked, and then you have to continue with your act. It’s like buying a gift for someone. You spend all this time thinking to yourself, “Yeah this is it. This is perfect.” And there is nothing worse than having someone open a gift and say, “Ooooooo, you shouldn’t have,” while they force a smile. The only difference is saying, “Wow, I messed this up. Oh well. I’m going to get back on stage and try it again.”
One of the stand-up comics I admire is Bo Burnham because of how open he is about his own insecurities and fears while just being one of the sharpest minds in comedy. He directed the movie “Eighth Grade,” and it was such a tender film that captures the awkwardness, uncertainty and frustration of being a teenager but it was funny.
John Mulaney is a comic I wish I was more like. He is sharp and witty and wears shirts with buttons on them. I remember hearing him in high school and thinking that he, as a comic, is thinking on another level.
I saw a Maria Bamford special when I was up late with my brother and laughed so hard we almost woke up my parents upstairs. She has a unique style and energy that is hard to re-create. She performed at the Blue Whale Comedy Festival this past summer, and I have never been more upset to have to cover an Oklahoma football game.
The best way to deal with a heckler? There are positive hecklers. Those are the people that yell “Yes” or “Woo” very loudly in agreement with the joke. I get that it’s coming from a good place, but if you like the jokes I’m telling, then just laugh.
There are negative hecklers who think, “I know I can be the star of this show,” without taking the risk of going on stage and exposing themselves to ridicule. So I make fun of them. It’s frustrating when people go to a show with the goal of heckling. It’s essentially waking up in the morning and, while you brush your teeth, say, “You know what? I’m gonna be a jerk today.” If you want people to laugh at you, then sign up for a mic, bomb on stage and deal with that utterly awful feeling while on stage. If not, then don’t heckle because you aren’t making anyone’s night better. This is why I have no problem making fun of hecklers.
The thing that made me want to try stand-up comedy? I watched an old episode that had this joke in it: What do you get when you cross an elephant and a rhino? The answer is “elephino,” which sounds like “hell if I know.” I didn’t know that but thought it was a funny word, so I would tell this joke to all of my parents’ friends and they laughed because kids swearing will always be funny and I wanted more of that attention.
I always liked making people laugh because it meant that I felt like a part of a group, which was something I never really felt until I started taking photos.
I auditioned for an improv troupe in college and didn’t get in. It was a terrible feeling because I thought I really did well; I had always been the funny kid and I was making people laugh, so what seems to be the problem?
After the audition, one of the members, Dave Christopher, who is now an extremely talented rapper and music teacher, told me I should try stand-up because my humor would translate better to the stage. I had done some stuff in Chicago but never really thought about actually focusing and writing jokes until I got to college.
Comedy has been a release for me in so many ways, but at the end of the day, I like hearing people laugh.
I like to try to write jokes about 10 minutes a day, and I need to spend more time doing it because it’s the only way to get better as a stand-up. Comedy is fun, but it’s also a lot of hard work. You can very easily find a few funny jokes and then say, “That’s it, I’m done.” But all of the comics I enjoy watching, both national and local, are always writing and always trying to tweak a joke to make it the best version of itself. That’s why watching open mic can be hard because everyone there is practicing with the audience having the expectation that it is a game.
Comedy is one of the only art forms that forces you to present half-finished products over and over again to an audience that is expecting it to be finished. Kendrick Lamar isn’t releasing a half-finished song and saying, “Hey guys, you like this beat?”
Comics have to constantly put things out there. Does it sound right? Does it have the right rhythm? OK, maybe I should shorten that. This joke went a little too far or not far enough.
That being said, people should go to more open mic and local shows. There is so much talent, and Tulsa has such an intimate vibe at all the venues where people perform.