Falling Face First into Stand-Up Comedy

Black Sheep Comedy is run by two women who have survived their 20s and 30s pretty much intact. One of us has even navigated through her (gasp) 40s!  We LOVE our new venture, Black Sheep Comedy, and we LOVE getting feedback from audience members. That said, many of the women will say things that we don’t love so much. For example, during a two-minute conversation, we hear some variation of: “I wish I had the nerve… Oh no, I couldn’t… Not at my age… No one wants to hear jokes from an old lady.”
Here’s the thing. Even if we are old (which we’re totally not), a lot people DO want to hear jokes from an old lady! Our audiences do not exclusively consist of 20 somethings, and neither do our lineups. Black Sheep Comedy is built on a foundation of diversity and inclusion, including age! So, over the next month, we’re publishing a series of guest articles from women who waited to get into comedy. Please join us as they cover topics such as their personal catalyst or experiences that drove them to comedy, tips for getting started, and other helpful advice…

Falling Face First into Stand Up Comedy by Darcia Armstrong

Why did I start telling jokes on stage? Honestly, I ask myself that like 12 times a week.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m 1000% glad that I did but it was not something I intentionally stepped into, or ever imagined doing.

Looking back, I’m not sure why it didn’t occur to me to give stand-up a try sooner. I’ve always been enamored with the funny and absurd – art, stories, movies and especially people. I’m pretty sure I was the only 11-year-old in the history of the world to carry around a ratty, dog-eared copy of The World According to Garp (btw, the book was even funnier after my mom explained what a douche is). And, for as long as I can remember, I’ve enjoyed writing stories heavily laced with comedy – to the point that my characters were assigned their own personal brands of humour (or lack of), which would develop along with the plot. 

In real life, my wit lurked in the shadows only to present itself at the most inopportune times, usually when I felt uncomfortable. Yes, I was that person at a funeral cracking jokes and making people laugh-cry while others glared. Or, say, during my first couple of weeks at a new, incredibly conservative company, when I accidentally called a senior manager a pedophile. My timing was spot on, so people laughed but shortly after, I was warned by a co-worker that I was “not going to fit in here” (he was right).

I did make a few work friends at that job, however, and one of them was going though a tough time. Everyday we would have a coffee break, which was spent with him unloading the issues he was facing and me precariously balancing my compassion for his situation with a flood of inappropriate jokes. Luckily, he laughed along with me and added what I now know are tags to my punches.

In the evenings, I had started attending Second City comedy writing program to feed my passion for comedy writing, and I recalled seeing stand-up comedy among the course listings. I suggested to my co-worker that he take a stand-up comedy class. He was a naturally funny guy and it might help him work through some shit. He said he would only if I would, and that’s how, at 39, I ended up in a stand-up class.

I truly enjoyed learning the process of writing jokes – set up, punch, tag – then weaving these jokes into my stories and cutting the fat until I had a solid 5-minute set. I especially enjoyed the opportunity and freedom to talk about my own personal experiences, something I had never fully done with my writing before.

At the end of Stand-Up Writing 1, I had to deliver my set to a packed house on the Second City Main Stage. I was terrified, not of being in front of an audience because part of my job was delivering speeches. My fear was that no one would laugh, and everyone would hate me. This was my personal story and perspective, and I had an unusual upbringing. Would people recognize the absurd or would they just be sad for me? Would my friends in the audience finally realize I am way more fucked up then they thought? Would my mom cry when I made the joke about her being an idiot for getting pregnant at 14?  I NEED my mom to not hate me! I NEED those friends to not bail! I am way too old to get adopted and too ornery to make more friends.

Just as I was about to step on stage, however, a strong sense of calm enveloped me. It occurred to me that if I bombed, this would be a way better story to tell later. No one wants to hear someone brag about their successes. They want to hear about that time that you fell flat on your face in front of 100+ people on the famous Second City Main Stage. What a trade-off! Five minutes of hell for a lifetime of being able to tell people about the time I decided to try comedy.

After the show, someone in the audience gave me the opportunity to do another show, and then someone else invited to do another. I signed up for Stand Up 2 and then 3. Things continued to snowball and I’m just as surprised as I am happy at the way things are working out. My writing has improved, and I’ve met new and amazing friends.

But here’s the real fun part. Now when an inappropriate joke pops into my head at an inopportune time, I sometimes write it down instead of blurting it out. Last funeral I was at? I made almost zero jokes. That’s called progress, people.

Is it odd to be a 41-year-old woman in comedy? Nope, not really. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I will never be one of the cool kids. But here’s the thing – and I can’t stress this enough – you want to stand out in comedy. You need to stand out. Your success* depends on it. So, just as in real life, you should consider your age to be an advantage. You won’t ever have to fall back on tired and overdone jokes, tropes and shock humour because you have experiences that no one else does, combined with the I-don’t-give-a-fuck attitude that doesn’t even start to develop until your late 30s.

If you want to try stand up comedy, I suggest taking a class before jumping on stage at your local dive bar. Classes are WAY more comfortable, encouraging and helpful than walking into an open mic. And the technical things you learn will give you a huge advantage if and when you choose to go up on stage.

In the meantime, attend comedy shows as well and don’t be afraid to ask comics questions when they’re offstage. You’d be surprised at how many comedians are excited to share their knowledge and help you.

Finally, feel free to drop me an email at blacksheepstandupcomedy@gmail.com I’m happy to help. Just please don’t ask me for a paid spot on a show. That will just make us both uncomfortable.

*Success in comedy is an oxymoron so create your own definition. Is it simply getting up on stage and having the nerve to tell jokes? Is it getting booked gigs, paid gigs or is it headlining or getting signed? There’s no wrong answer. Bad bitches set their own goals.

Toronto Stand Up Comedian Darcia ArmstrongDarcia Armstrong is a stand-up comic with a style that’s been described as “Story telling with punchlines”- whatever that means. She is a Second City graduate of both the stand-up program and comedy writing program, and has performed on some incredible stages across the Ontario, including the common rooms in women’s shelters. Darcia was a semi-finalist at Comedy Brawl Toronto and a finalist in Clash of the Comics. She co-produces several shows across the GTA as part of Black Sheep Comedy

One thought on “Falling Face First into Stand-Up Comedy

  1. Congrats. You went farther than I did. I was the only woman in a 10 male member morning show in Houston. I was funny. I thought so. Bosses told me I was. Fans told me so. As a featured reporter I’d won national awards for comedy reporting. So, I thought I’d try my hand at stand up. The first two times, I killed. A few weeks later I went to another club on another side of town….exact same material, and fell flat on my ass. I actually heard one guy say (in the silence of the audience), “I don’t get it”. That was my last time.

    I’m out of broadcasting, now and write a blog that been awarded several times for being funny. Maybe it is for some, I started my blog after losing a radio job,. It helped keep me in the public eye, but my blogging is is inconsistent. I’ve taken months…even years off in that time. But I still enjoying hen others my my schtick funny.

    But being funny is a gift. Can be perfected, but like timing, it simply can’t be taught. You ought to know…you’re gifted, girl.

    Good luck. When you make it to The Tonight Show, I hope you get the chance to panel, as the old comics would say.


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