Colter Gidley picked up the microphone last week in the basement of Colter Coffee Roasting, gripping it tightly while he adjusted his square-rimmed glasses then ran a hand through his short-cropped hair.
His performance goal runs contrary to that of most anyone else who gets up in front of a crowd: Gidley hopes to hear laughter when he starts speaking.
As a stand-up comic performing for the first time, Gidley’s mission is to get the audience to laugh at his jokes while trying to avoid laughter at his expense. But, as Gidley and Marcus Hafferman, another fledgling comic, attested to after their performances that night, it’s often a thin, blurry line between the two.
“You really have to have nerves of steel,” said Marcus Hafferman, a 23-year-old who currently works at Best Buy in Kalispell.
Hafferman performed his routine after Gidley. However, it was not the typical stand-up scene most expect to see; the environment was supportive, almost cozy, and the only drinks being poured consisted of coffee and milk.
The aspiring funnymen were part of an open mic series held at Colter Coffee Roasting on the first Monday of the month. The event’s organizer, Robby Cale, said the Feb. 7 gathering marked the second time stand-up has been part of the open mic sessions.
And, aside from a couple of songs Cale played on the guitar afterward, the comics headlined the small, informal affair.
The performers’ friends and family made up most of the audience, which didn’t quite fill all the seats in the basement room. There were also young children wandering around the room, seemingly impervious to the occasional swear word emanating from the stage.
Gidley, who performed for the first time, said he thought it was a positive showing.
“Granted, I would’ve rather it have been more people that I didn’t know,” Gidley said. “I wish my first time was like most comics’ first time.”
There were plenty of laughs, jibes from the audience and, of course, the occasional bombed joke.
Getting nothing but crickets from the audience after a joke fails to hit its mark is part of a comic’s experience, Hafferman noted. His strategy is to make fun of an awkward situation and then push forward.
“You just got to keep moving on with your jokes,” he said.
His tactic worked during his set, when a joke about the negative aspects of hunting didn’t get the reaction Hafferman was looking for.
“That was funnier in my head,” he admitted to the audience.
Everyone, including Hafferman, started laughing at his candor.
Both comics also attested to the very serious work that goes into creating a routine. Gidley said he has been writing in his spare time since high school. The 24-year-old grew up in Libby, but now lives in Kalispell.
His material, which was largely about his family, was relatable to anyone who has ever had an unexplainable or ridiculous encounter with their relatives. Parents are funny, he said, and his jokes are largely based on true stories.
So when something funny comes to mind, he writes it down. Then it gets worked into the rotation, Gidley said.
Hafferman said he worked on his latest material, which he read off of several sheets of paper during his set, for months before his Feb. 7 performance.
“There’s a lot more work that goes into it than people think,” he said.
He readily includes himself in that category. Last year, after his friends told him he was funny enough to do stand up, Hafferman tried it at the Blue Moon in Columbia Falls.
Full of confidence before he got onstage, Hafferman said he realized he wasn’t quite prepared once he had the microphone in his hand in front of a largely unfamiliar and rowdy audience.
“I had no idea what I was even saying.” Hafferman said. “I got bombed off stage in the first two minutes.”
Now, more focused on what it actually takes to perform, Hafferman said he plans to continue working on his craft and eventually hopes to make a career out of it. His original intention was to be a police officer, but he realized that he wanted a job that highlights his creative tendencies.
“Stand-up comedy is definitely going to be something I’m going to do for the rest of my life,” Hafferman said.
Gidley said he would perform again next month after what he described as a successful first showing. He plans to spread the word about the event, hopefully bringing in a bigger audience.
“I think the Flathead needs things like this,” he said, adding that the coffee shop setting provides a safe environment for young adults and teenagers.
Similarly, Cale said he started organizing the open mic sessions to provide more consistent entertainment in Kalispell. Cale said anyone wanting to perform should contact Colter Coffee at 755-1319 and ask to be placed on a list. Open mic takes place the first Monday of each month from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
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