This doesn’t mean Vinn thinks stand-up is without its challenges. “Everybody gets stuck in a rut, where you can’t think of anything new. You’re supposed to be able to tell the same story over and over again, like it just happened, and you’re just now telling it. After a while, you get tired of the same jokes. Comics always have to write.” Vinn aspires to Louis C.K.’s practice of writing a new hour’s worth of comedy every year. “He writes five minutes a month, and by the end of the year, he has a whole hour.”
Dharni, like Thompson, sees stand-up as a path to both catharsis and connection. “You get to really delve into yourself. The kind of stand-up I like is baring it all, baring your soul, talking about deep, dark shit, and tying it into the human experience.”
One of the most memorable open-mic moments for Dharni was when, intending to perform pre-written jokes, he found himself improvising instead. It was two years ago, after a “nasty” breakup. Dharni was waiting to go onstage at the open mic at Winstons in Ocean Beach, when a sudden need to work through his emotions led to a change in plans for the set.
“I had just gotten off the phone with my ex,” he recalls. “I got onstage, and I don’t even remember what I said. It was a really cool breakthrough moment. I started talking about what the conversation was about. I was so pissed. My eyes were closed — I was just ranting into the microphone. I forgot I was even onstage, forgot I was even talking. It was like I was thinking in my head.”
When he finished, Dharni remembers, “I opened my eyes, and people were laughing, like, losing their shit, and I wasn’t even trying to be funny.” From that experience, he derived a joke he’s recited countless times since. “When my ex was being weird about something, she’d make you feel like you were being weird. She’d say, ‘Why are you being weird right now?,’ and I’d say, ‘I’m not,’ and she’d say, ‘No, you’re totally being weird,’ and then that would make me weird.” When he delivers this joke, Dharni says, “I try to break it down. I go into this whole explanation onstage, and I lose my breath trying to explain it. Then I take a deep breath and say, ‘That’s how you know a girl isn’t for you — when your body can’t even breathe because you’re trying that hard to understand or explain something. It’s not worth it at that point.”
Dharni is rare in that he both performs and regularly associates with comedians from both improv and stand-up, despite how separate the two communities can be. Thompson, on the other hand, says she knows more musicians, primarily because open mics tend to incorporate “comedy and music.”
“I love stand-up,” Dharni says, “because you really get to express your point of view — you get to better know yourself. With improv, you get to pop into a character and be someone else, and you never know what’s going to happen next. So, basically, I learn from one, and I surprise myself in the other.”
“Stand-up gets right to the joke,” Kramer says. “It’s set-up, punch line. Improv stretches it out. You take a comic situation and add a curlicue to it.” The improv veteran compares the two forms to different sports. “Ours tends to be scary to a lot of people. You hit that stage, and you don’t know the first thing you’re going to say. You have to trust in your teammates. With stand-up, you’ve got your set memorized and just hope it’s good enough.”