Geoffrey “Geoff” Ridley takes copious notes sitting during his cinema studies class. He follows along with a slideshow for his beginning screenwriting course and fills his notebook top to bottom with notes about plot elements that every good film script needs — but his margins are a different story. There, next to his bullet points of films with particularly good climaxes, he jots down punch lines and topics he feels are worthy of a good rant when it his turn to take the mic.
His notes have looked like this since he first tried stand-up.
In his freshman year Ridley, now a sophomore, first took the stage at The Green Room’s comedy open mic night. After convincing the large gentleman checking I.D.’s at the door that he was not interesting in buying a drink before his set and WAS only performing, Ridley was allowed to watch from the back of the dimly lit bar as the comedians before him performed their five good minutes of the week.
“I had no idea what I was stepping into,” Ridley says. “I was ridiculously nervous. Like, first date nervous.” Before this he had been a prototypical goofy theater kid who finished second in his high school’s “Class Clown” award for his graduating class in Coos Bay, Oregon.
Those closest to him say that he was a comedian since birth. Being born into a family of six meant that more often than not the way Ridley got the attention during the daily chaos of his family was through a goofy face or a silly song.
“I remember being the one who got the most face palms in the family,” Ridley says. Because his hometown didn’t have the most active stand-up community Ridley had trouble finding an appropriate venue for this comedic antics. But that all changed when he started attending the University of Oregon.
He stumbled across the smattering of stand-up open mic nights hosted by trendier dives like The Granary and The Green Room on slower Wednesday and Thursday nights. He soon realized that this was the cathartic release he was looking for, a way to get out his inner joker without hearing the groans from his relatives.
Ridley says that he would not have been impressed with his first showing onstage: “I didn’t even introduce myself. I started talking about relationships, women, saying jokes that have been said hundreds of times by noobs like me.”
But even after his initial failure, Ridley was hooked. “Even though I was so bad my first time, I knew that I would be back soon,” he says. “It felt good up there.” He attributes his newfound confidence and comfortable stage presence to the friends and roommates who serve as the test audience for his bits. Those of age cheer him on from the bar he is legally not allowed to sit at.
It is another week like any other week as Ridley emerges from the back corner of The Green Room after MC Seth Castles introduces him as the “Young’un trying to become a regular.” He takes the spotlight. He is comfortable in the light and remembers to greet the audience this time. The notes he takes out of his back pocket act more as a shield than a quick reference because he has said these jokes more than once in front of his bedroom mirror. “The kid has a really great energy,” Castles says. “It helps to be funny in this business, but you can’t teach stage presence. Geoff has that.”
Ridley jumps right into his set up to avoid the often-awkward introductions that he believes can bog down a set. “I just found out in Arkansas, there supposedly is an old law that says that a husband can beat his wife if he gives one week’s warning and can produce written proof of this warning.” The crowd chuckles after learning the absurd law and Ridley knows that they have taken the bait. Then he starts to reel them in. Like an off-Broadway one-man show, he becomes a newlywed couple from Arkansas going through a fight and builds up dialogue with himself, all the while inserting his own witty social commentary.
The audience eats up every word, and Ridley hits his punch line perfectly when he threatens in his best Southern accent, “Five days, Baby! Just five more days!” Even the bouncer thinks it is funny.
And that’s the way he drew it up in the margins.