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Shout Outs to Sharilyn Johnson

July 6, 2011

Today’s shout out is dedicated to Toronto writer and comic, Sharilyn Johnson.

Sharilyn is a busy lady.  She runs her own website called Third-Beat.com, which along with great comedy articles, also takes on the laborious task of informing the public where their favourite stand-up comics will be performing on television that week.  She’s also been known to review stand-up shows, including comics such as Todd Glass and Paul F. Tompkins.

She’s also written and stars in a Fringe Festival show that is playing in July called An Inconvenient Truthiness.

Finally, instead of sleeping, she does photography.  Check out some of her work here.

Keeping with our theme of taking the plunge into stand-up comedy, Sharilyn was kind enough to offer some thoughts on her experiences.

Not doing standup was workin’ pretty good for me.

I’d been covering comedy as a journalist for years, and had the unusual benefit of being fully accepted into the social circle of the Winnipeg standup scene. Got to hang out at the comics’ table, without the stress of performing. The guys would even let me tag their jokes if something struck me. Sweet.

“When are you gonna go up there?” was the constant question.. But unlike most open micers, I had a lot to lose by doing it. I’d worked really, really hard to gain the respect of these guys. If I stink the joint up, I’m not exactly a comedy expert anymore, am I?

Oh, and I had paralyzing stage fright. Minor detail.

It was a gradual intervention, the gist of which was: you can’t go your whole life without knowing what this feels like. I knew, deep down, this was true. At post-show drinks one night, I sat across from the open mic producer, took a deep breath, and said, “I want to go up.”

“It’s about time,” he said.

I had a month. I gave myself a 3-week writing deadline, which would give me 1 week to memorize.

I was pretty confident in my material, because I knew that I knew what was funny. The material was primarily just about me. My car, my lack of money, that sort of thing. I wrote in a way that if it wasn’t funny, it would at least still be interesting. Nothing groundbreaking, but I knew enough to know that I shouldn’t be aiming for groundbreaking anyway.

My debut was kept a secret between me, the producer, the host, and the club owner. I didn’t want all the staff suddenly showing up on their night off. I brought no friends. It was uncharacteristically packed that night, and I did my 5 minutes infront of 200 people.

I had 2 goals: remember everything without looking at my notes, and try to convince everyone that I wasn’t shit scared. I succeeded on both counts, even though I could feel my knees shaking the whole time.

My opener got barely a titter. But everything else? Killed.

If you’ve read this far, you’re probably in the same boat I was, and you’re hoping I’ll say something to talk you out of it. Nope, not gonna happen. It’s my proudest accomplishment, and still would be even if I’d bombed.

As far as the “why” of it? Well, it was inevitable, as many had told me. But the reasons why I wanted to do it are a little different than the typical list (which Joel outlined in part 1).

Nobody had ever told me I was funny, ever. I wasn’t an artist in any other discipline. Didn’t like the idea of everyone in the room being focused on me. Didn’t have much I wanted to express to the world. Still have no desire to make a career of performing.

Here’s the one thing that wasn’t in the list. It’s girly and schmaltzy, but I don’t give a fuck: it just feels good to make other people feel good.

I’m performing my one-woman show, An Inconvenient Truthiness (www.aninconvenienttruthiness), on the Canadian fringe festival circuit this summer. It’s a mix of comedy and drama, and deals a lot with this very subject of comedy and self-perception and motivations. And while I’m flattered to be told how moving and compelling the dramatic scenes are? I just want those jokes to land. That’s what makes me feel good..

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I also threw the regular shout-out questions her way, and this is what she said:

12 Questions with Sharilyn Johnson

Can you name a couple of comics you look up to and why you admire them?

I feel like a hack saying Louis C.K., but you kinda have to.  Not just for the amount of material he generates, but that he constantly goes into these specific, dark places that don’t seem like they’d be universal, yet we relate so strongly.  I love Kathleen Madigan’s voice.  Andy Kindler’s meta-snark.  I could go on, but won’t.

One word answer: What do you consider the hardest part of performing stand-up comedy?

Stick-to-itiveness.  (I enjoy it when I do it, but performing isn’t my long-term goal.)

One word answer: What do you consider the best part of performing stand-up comedy?

Surviving.

What is the worst/funniest experience you have had while performing at a comedy show?

Boring answer alert: I’ve yet to have something insane happen to me while on stage.  I haven’t exactly logged hundreds of miles as a standup, so my time is coming.  Probably as soon as this is published.

If you had one piece of advice to someone just starting out, what would it be?

For anyone doing anything creative: Be humble enough to accept feedback, but confident enough to know what parts of it to ignore.

Name three movies, TV shows, or books that you go to when you want to have a good hard laugh.

Tough question, considering how much that impulse has been deadened.  British version of Whose Line, and some moments of the American one (watch the outtakes on Youtube, you won’t regret it).  The pure silliness of Colbert and Conan also please me greatly.

What’s the weirdest job you’ve ever had?

Writer for Naked News.  You can all just use your imaginations on that one.

What kind of humour bores you?

The “I’m sooo edgy” guys.  Yawn.

What 5 comics, dead or alive, would you book for your vision of a perfect stand-up show?

I always cite the best show I’ve ever seen as being a Gaffigan/Hedberg double bill at a club in Montreal(bragging rights which will soon start to age me), so those two would be on it.   Kindler is my favourite, so he’s there for sure.  Pryor and Hicks, because I never got to see them.  Yeah, I think that’s a nice variety of styles.  I’ll change my mind about this entire answer tomorrow.

What is your favourite comedy album?

I should probably pick a classic album, but the tracks from Todd Barry’s Medium Energy cd got more airplay on my old radio show than any other.  Solid album.

Do you have any topics that you consider off-limits in your act?

This is the one thing that surprises me.  Most standup I’ve written for myself is pretty clean and apolitical, which is odd because my personal tastes definitely lean more towards satire and the “oh, that’s so wrong” realm.  I’m very happy to venture into uncomfortable places (just ask anyone who’s seen my solo show), and I’m not worried that I’ll say something truly offensive.  I’m still very new at this, so it may simply be that my writing hasn’t caught up to my voice yet.  Over time that might change, but it’s not something I want to force.  Organic growth ‘n shit.

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That is that, my friends, Sharilyn Johnson.  If you still want more, you can check out her personal website by clicking here.

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