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Five Years into a Life Sentence

Coming up on July 22nd this year will mark five years doing stand-up comedy. On July 19th of this year will be my 35th birthday and will also mark the 5th year anniversary of my brother and I getting jumped by twelve drunk assholes resulting in spending my 30th birthday in the emergency room.

Some people have asked why I started doing stand-up so late. I've never thought of it that way, I just started when I started and thus the journey began. I could have started earlier but now that I think back on it, the earliest I could have or would have started would only be about six weeks before I actually did start.

I was 29 and on unemployment. I had finished one screenplay in my first month of being free/unemployed. I was trying to figure out what else I wanted to do with forty hours of my life been given back to me. I was at a bar of course when I came across an open mic advertisement in the Onion. I ripped it out and kept it in my pocket. The Big Deuce open mic at Comedy on State, Wednesdays, 8pm.

I wrote and re-wrote then re-wrote again for the next week. I told my neighbor about doing the mic. He liked the idea. He worked at the bar at the Orpheum Theater up the block from the club. He told me to stop by beforehand and he'd hook me up with some drinks to help me loosen up and relax. The only problem was I would get smashed instead of loose and lose all confidence and not go anywhere near the club. This pattern repeated for the next month and a half. I could not even get myself to walk in the door to go check it out and see what an open mic even looks like.

Write and re-write, drink and drink some more. Finally on July 15th, 2009 I asked my friend Shaggy and his wife to come down with me. I knew if I had someone there to hold me accountable, I'd do it. We met at the Orpheum bar as was the pattern.

They were supportive, I was so nervous I was almost shaking. I didn't even want to drink but I did. Eight o'clock rolled around and we set out down the block. We walked in the door and headed down the stairs. I was panicking already. I turned to my friends and asked if they'd be pissed if I didn't do it. They nearly had to push me around the corner to the bar and showroom.

My friend said she had a performer here ready to sign up. The gentleman running the mic said that it was too late. Sign-ups were at 7. THANK GOD! A wave of relief flooded my heart. My friends didn't want to stick around if I wasn't going up so they left. But I stayed. I finally made it into the building and I was sitting in the showroom waiting for the first comic. I did it.

The Big Deuce wasn't what it is now. Five years ago, there were only about thirty-five people scattered in the showroom. Today it is nearly standing room only on most Wednesdays. The first comic was a young girl who was funny but very soft-spoken. The second comic was a kid talking about rape and DUI's. I'm funnier than this guy I thought to myself. I stood up, walked out of the showroom to the bar, clarified sign-up time and jetted out of there. I had work to do.

Four days later was my 30th birthday. It wasn't a big deal. I wasn't dreading it. Thirty? Who cares? It was four years longer than I ever thought I'd live. My brother and I along with Shaggy were just going to bum around downtown Madison and hit up bars we hadn't been to in a while.

We were on our way to the second destination (The Depot) walking past the Nitty Gritty. There were a dozen or so guys hanging around a stretched escalade limo. Pleasantries were exchanged and everyone was in good enough spirits. Nobody was looking for a fight, not us anyway. I was wearing flip-flops for God's sake. However, drunks being drunks, someone took something the wrong way and didn't like the way I looked at the limo and fists started flying and less than 45 seconds later, all 12-14 guys funneled back into the limo and took off leaving us bloody and beaten wondering what had just happened.

The cops were there rather quickly. All three of us were bleeding from our heads. I had a finger that was bent like a question mark and was bleeding from the ear. With the help of witnesses who were all on our side we described the punching party and less than 5 minutes later, they had the limo pulled over. We showed up, identified our attackers. It was easy, they had our blood all over their clothes.

We were dropped off at our house after the police wanted to drop us off at The Depot. We talked the police down from that idea seeing as how we would be asked to leave for bleeding all over the bar. It was aggravated assault but if we ended up having to go to the ER, it would be felony assault.

After being dropped off at the house, we examined our injuries and thought it best we seek treatment. We called the officer and informed him that we were going to the hospital. We thought it was strange he spent better part of five minutes trying to talk us out of seeking medical treatment.

We get to the ER around 2am, primetime hours. My brother had a broken nose, a sprained ankle, and busted lip. Shaggy had bruised kidneys, perforated ear drum, and three stitches in his nose. I had one dislocated finger, a fractured finger, a laceration on my ear, and a concussion.

We called the DA's office that following Monday and asked what was going on with the felony assault charges and they informed us that the case was thrown out due to lack of evidence, despite all the witnesses and us identifying people with our blood on their persons. After some research it turns out a few of the kids daddy's had strong ties with the University. What are you gonna do?

The ass-kicking made me focus even more on my first set doing stand-up. It was all written out, I took two different friends down to the club with me this time. I was confident. As long as nobody was going to try and whip my ass, I was going to be ok.

I was going on first in the second set. I gave my jokes to my friend and told him to follow along as I was going to be reciting it verbatim. If I got lost I was going to yell "LINE!"

I was introduced by Sean Moore, who became one of my many good friends I have made on this Joke Journey. I got up, looked out over what seemed like hundreds of people and uttered the following:

My name is Nick Hart and I'll state for the record I am not nor have I ever been, nor will I ever be related to Corey Hart or associated with that bread and circus show known as Major League Baseball."

Someone booed and I went with my knee-jerk reaction which was saying "Fuuuuuck you!" Which got a good laugh and I thought, I'll do this every time and then I learned what most gamblers who lose everything learned and that is that the worst thing that can happen to you first time in a casino is that you win, cuz then you think you're going to win every time. Same thing with stand-up. Worst thing that can happen is you get laughs your first time up because then you think it's going to happen every time.

I got done and I was on a performance high. My buddies and I left and got very drunk but I remember thinking I did it. I did it and I got laughs and I want to do it again as soon as possible.

Six months into stand-up, I made my decision to do this for a living and now I'm five years into a life-long sentence.

-NSH