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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Janine Brito Takes Over Kamau's Komedy Korner ... and the Just for Laughs Festival

Posted By on Wed, May 25, 2011 at 7:30 AM


This week I'm handing my column over to my Padawan and comedy daughter, stand-up comic Janine Brito, to give you some perspective on something I have long since lost perspective on. Take it away, Janey ...

In mid-April, I received an e-mail most wide-eyed young comics would club a baby deer for*: an invitation to Los Angeles to audition for the New Faces showcase at the Just for Laughs Festival in Montreal. This showcase is a big deal. It's often a comic's first introduction to "the industry," that conglomerate of powerful, monocle-wearing businessmen (and ladies**) who make careers with a swift cigar chomp and a "You got it, kid!" or a career-crushing "You'll never work in this town again!" Okay, maybe doesn't work exaaactly like that, but it's pretty close. Point is, this was huge.

I had a few weeks to assemble the greatest six-minute set ever. Six minutes of hilarity that would give the industry insight into what makes me tick and what makes me unique. How do you prepare for a moment so brief yet so important in a career you've spent years developing? CUE THE ROCKY MUSIC!

It's difficult to switch gears from trying to grow into a headliner who can command a room for an hour to showing what you're all about in less time than it takes to microwave an organic vegan pot pie. Suddenly, I was performing not with the comfortable approach of a comic developing and trying stuff out, but with the disciplined mindset of picking what polished bits I'd dissect and master for those six minutes.

Time limit aside, it's also agonizing to figure out which jokes best represent "me." Not just me as a person, but my voice. Thus begins the existential journey of figuring out who I am as a comedian. Suddenly I'm Carl Jung with dick jokes.

During the beginning stages of my freakout, I found out that fellow Bay Area comic Emily Heller was also invited to audition. I was relieved to have someone I admire and trust to strategize/panic with. We banded together and faced the challenge like a breathtakingly gorgeous Rocky and Apollo***.

The weeks leading up to the audition were easier once I had someone going through the same thing. Even so, we often performed in tough rooms full of comics who'd seen what we were doing a million times before and thus less prone to LOLing. We had to be careful not to abandon our carefully selected sets to "play to the back of the room."**** Then, to my horror, I fell incredibly ill and lost my voice entirely. I chugged hot honey lemon tea as Emily and I boarded our plane, praying that Mother Gaia would smile upon me and give me my voice back in time for the ten o'clock audition.

By some miracle (or maybe by sleeping until the minute we headed to the show), my voice returned and was even in that supersexy, husky stage that might be the only plus to having a cold. The room was packed with a hot crowd. Every comic nailed it!

But when the night was over, we flew home, hit the open mics, and went back to writing and performing like we always do. Yes, it was an extremely important show, but as a wise man***** once told me, "Comedy is a marathon and no one show will make or break you." In other words, I'm still waiting for that cigar-chewing man or woman to tell me I got it.

Hit it! "It's the eye of the tiger, it's the thrill of the fight ... "

*Sorry, Berkeley.

** See?! I recognize ladies at the top, too. Are we cool now, Berkeley?

*** Or like an even gayer Cagney and Lacey.

**** Performing to please fellow comedians, rather than the audience.

***** The one and only W. Kamau Bell!

Kamau's Komedy Korner is a weekly blog column about San Francisco comedy by W. Kamau Bell. Check back next Wednesday for more.

Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF

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W. Kamau Bell


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