Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder
A Comedy Memory
I'm having trouble getting started on things I ought to do today, so here's a story I think I've never told here before.
In early 2011, I travelled to San Francisco for work, and one evening I went to an open-mic comedy night at BrainWash. I signed up for a slot -- maybe I got slot #4 or 5. And the first or second person to go up was just bad. He was not just misogynist or unfunny, but both -- it was as though he had forgotten that you will actually need punchlines to make people laugh and that demeaning women and fantasizing about drinking alcohol is insufficient. For instance: "I went to Wondercon and I saw a woman who said that on Saturday she dressed up as Batwoman and on Sunday she dressed up as Dark Phoenix, and I said, 'all anyone wants is [raunchy desire elided]'."
He finished his gross set and slouched out the door, and then several minutes later I went up, and said:
I'm in San Francisco because I just got a job with the nonprofit behind Wikipedia. So I've decided that this is the open mic that anyone can edit, and I'm going to edit a routine you heard earlier tonight.
And I then repeated the earlier guy's setups, but then added actual punchlines. For example, my punchline about the cosplayer was feigned shock at mixing DC and Marvel, and I turned a setup about soy milk that had ended with "you could make a White Russian out of that" into a joke about white vegans.
My audience loved it. I loved it. I told folks about it the next day and one of my colleagues said that I should just make that my M.O., going to open mics and improving upon an act that had come before. I said that I did not want to get beat up. But also I think it's a bit rare that someone else's comedic incompetence and my talent line up such that I can so immediately dunk on someone by spontaneously riffing on their work, like Mozart does to Salieri in Amadeus.
02 Jul 2021, 14:36 p.m.
Wow, I wish I had seen (your part of) that set.