I grew up extremely isolated as I lived with an untreated hearing loss since the age of four. Living in a household of relative dysfunction and neglect, the isolation was exacerbated, and all of my energy went inward.
I stayed buoyant through a vibrant inner world, entertaining myself with rich fantasy and with intense conversations with myself. I’d become an athlete, a lover, a popular person, all inside the confines of my mind.
I’d participate in rigorous philosophical debates about deep issues like death or even smaller obsessions like the most efficient way to refill my water glass and clear my plate. (Not as simple as it sounds.)
I often found myself amused or excited by some of these thoughts, but for many years, I never felt I had a way to share them.
MY FIRST TIME
In college, where I studied at engineering school, I always toyed with the idea of writing or performing.
A lot of my friends were actors (because my first year roommate was an actor and I never left the dorm, so I just became friends with his friends) and they were hosting a variety show to raise money for the theatre programme.
At this variety show was a collection of monologues and songs. And one kid did stand-up. His name was Prashanth.
I had never seen anyone do stand-up before who wasn’t Jerry Seinfeld and so I talked to him after and asked him how he did this.
He pointed and told me he was booked by that guy, a graduate student who had profusely hit on me throughout my time at school. So I asked my soft-harasser if I could perform on the next show. He asked “do you have any material?” And I said, “No, but I can write some.” So I did.
That was my first time doing stand-up ever. It went really well, and the next 100 went horribly.
Fun fact: Prashanth is a producer on the solo show I’m bringing to Edinburgh Fringe.
After college, I moved back home to Chicago, which is where I properly started comedy. There was a theatre called the Lakeshore Theater and it was my absolute favourite place to perform. It was run by a man who happened to be a coke-addicted alcoholic. Great taste in comedy, though.
Fittingly, in April 2010, the theatre went out of business. They were hosting a blowout weekend, headlined by Jim Jeffries. I was lucky enough to be asked to open the shows.
I had just gone through a really awful break-up and I had written a chunk of new material about it. It was angry and broken and walked the line between funny and “Is he ok?”
On the night of the show, I see my ex in the lobby and she says she came to support the theatre on its closing night. I felt a concoction of things I still do not have names for. I put all of that energy into the show and, doing the new break-up material in front of the person it was about, I delivered the best performance of my life at that point. And that was when I first understood how dysfunctionally motivated this art form is.
My friend Micky would be angry if I didn’t tell this story. I drove from Chicago to Fatetteville, Arkansas, where he was living at the time. I would do things like this. Just head out on a whim.
While there, we found an open mic at some random bar on the strip. I’m not even sure if it was a proper comedy open mic or just a true open mic. Attendance was sparse. The people who were there were barely paying attention to the performers.
I went up and started doing my act, meeting the restless bar crowd on their wavelength. After a minute, I got a laugh. And then another. And then people started focusing. And then the people in the back at the bar turned toward me and were now my captive audience.
Stragglers outside on smoke break recognised something was happening inside and flicked their cigarettes and came inside. They became part of the pile. Slowly but surely, the place turned into a packed, captive crowd watching me. It was an “Oh, I think I can do this” moment.
It’s hard to pick the worst gig of my life because there are truly so many exciting choices. One I’ll share here was at the Pittsburgh Improv inside a strip mall. It was a Saturday night show, packed house full of 250 people not there to see me, but to see “comedy.”
Many of them probably “won” free tickets. By the end of my set there were 50 people. At around the 10-minute mark, I think one couple made the realisation of, “Oh. This is it. Like this is what he’s going to be for the next hour.” And so they left.
And as soon as the rest of the audience saw that you could do that, one by one they followed suit. There were these big double doors opposite the stage that would let the lobby light in every time they opened. And so for 45 minutes, I just saw a succession of those double doors opening, letting the lobby light in, and then closing.
Then another couple trod through. Open. Light. Close. It was like the world’s saddest strobe light.
I don’t think they hated my act so much as they didn't even register it as comedy. After that I vowed to never perform within 500 feet of a Dave and Buster’s.
(Honourable mentions for worst show: getting a drink thrown at me; getting a chair thrown at me; New Year’s Eve 2010.)
I’m going to skip ahead. I did a run of Drew’s Adventures, the solo show I’m bringing to Edinburgh, in Los Angeles. The final show of the run was maybe my favourite show of all time.
Not because it was the “best” necessarily. But because with this show, I am pivoting stylistically and seeking to hit certain emotional notes that are extremely personal to me. And by the final show of the run, I felt like we were able to get there.
The isolation I dealt with my entire life is finding its way out through this show. The audience and I felt connected on a single string across the feelings and connectivity I was striving for. I felt it. They felt it.
And it was so cathartic and overwhelming I sobbed in the green room afterward. I am hoping to find many similar shows and similar moments with the people who see my show at the Fringe.
'Drew Michael: Drew’s Adventures' will be performed at 5.40pm in Pleasance Dome (Jack Dome) from 2nd – 27th August (Not 16th). Book your tickets now.