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JOKING IN PARADISE: BEING A STAND-UP COMEDIAN IN HAWAII
By: John Yabes
When people ask me where I started doing stand up comedy and I say “Hawaii,” it’s always met with assumptive skepticism. They never relay it with actual words, but their raised brows and frowns give me all the signals I need.
I agree, it is an insane idea to perceive. How does one go to paradise and ultimately decide that telling jokes is a feasible way of life? It’s part perception, duration, and realization.
The perception lies in the fact that just because you live in what is seemingly paradise does not mean you’re living on easy street. Hawaii is a very expensive place to live. Whereas the well-to-do’s can escape to their mountainous homestead retreats; five struggling waiters are living in a one bedroom apartment at the foot of the same mountain. Paradise is not paradise for everyone that lives there, and from that you will experience the stories and situations needed that could fuel any stand up set.
Duration helped wash away the initial thoughts of living on this heaven on earth as well. Once a job lands on your lap that requires you to work the same 8 hours five to six days out of the week, you fall into the same mode of hypnotic, repetitive behaviors you could find anywhere in the world. The people you meet, the events that happen, begin to unravel in such a way that you will end up frustrated, tired, and burned out like anywhere else.
The realization is the key part to all of this. The realization that everything that was told to you as a child was a complete lie. Just because there is a place that seems like it should be a 1000 times better than the place you are living at right now, doesn’t mean it will bring you automatic happiness. Life is hard, filled with uneasy decisions and uncomfortable conversations, and if you’re lugging around baggage, a change of scene is not going to automatically make you happier.
And that was definitely the case for me. I foolishly thought that living in a nice place would change me, and even though initially it did, my own shortcomings brought me back to reality. I needed an outlet, something where I can express my thoughts on things and vent my problems the only way i knew how — by making people laugh at them. Thus, stand up comedy was a natural destination.
Granted, I was approached by a man that would later become a close friend to start doing stand up. It started when I was transitioning out of the military (did I mention that?). One of the suggested actions I got to make going back to civilian life easy was participating in things you did before the military. In high school I did a lot of theater (remained a virgin for a long time, not because of choice), but more specifically comedy theater. I did improv to train me for that and I once again found myself taking improv classes in Hawaii where I met my aforementioned friend who lured me into doing stand up comedy.
Not surprisingly, I was very reluctant. Improv was a format where everything was made up on the spot, a team effort, that proved that sometimes having a group of people trying to make an audience laugh is better than just you. Also, my experience in theater was delivering lines already written by another person, who typically was more experienced and structured than I ever was. So the mere notion of writing things myself and telling it to complete strangers was terrifying.
But there I was, at a dive bar inside a pool hall. Right after the main show, they had the open mic. I was hesitant, hesitant to the point where I did not even write my name down on the list. My drunk companions had already jumped ship, leaving me with my thoughts. As each comic went up and told funny jokes to almost no one, I asked myself, “Is this what I really want to try?”
I can’t explain it, but somehow inside my consciousness, the word YES manifested itself. It took some thinking, but it made sense. To just test it out, if I had enough courage to tell a joke to the host and the man passed out at the corner table, I could keep going. The host, who would also become a very good friend, must have noticed to because at the end of the night, he loudly proclaimed, “if there is anyone else in here that would like to try this out…”
I was the only conscious person left, he was looking at me, and so I raised my hand. And from that moment, I was hooked. From that moment I knew you could satirize and make fun of anything in any situation. In hindsight, people making jokes in paradise should be a given, because to find humor in heaven requires a certain knack. And since then, I have had experiences ranging from great to terrible, but it would have never happened if I never started. But that’s for another time.