Listen to this post using the player above.
I hadn’t had a drop to drink since late September of last year, yet I found myself sitting there at with a second vodka tonic in front of me. I’d be lying if I hadn’t thought about excusing myself to
go to the bathroom make a run for the front door on multiple occasions. I was ready to pull a serious fugitive move, running from my own fear.
But I couldn’t. My instructor was sitting at the table with me and on my left was my friend Kirstin. The room was filled, my name was on a list, and there was pretty much nothing left to do other than wait for my impending demise.
I was going to fuck this up completely. And by fuck it up, I mean if they hauled my mauled remains off to the comedic morgue, no one would be able to identify the body.
I was at my first ever open mic for standup comedy. And death was certain. And by death, I mean no one would laugh and after my brief five-minute set, I’d walk through the bar and people would avert their eyes and turn to people next to them to start fake conversations in order to keep from catching my eyes and saying word one about how far to the left I ranked on the continuum of Suck to Epic.
Finally (she says, with no sense of relief but an inexplicable and overwhelming impending doom-fueled pallor), they called my name. Or part of it, at least (Napoletano — na-pol-i-tawn-oh — is a mouthful). I walked up, took the mic. And out of sheer fear, I shared that this was my first ever open mic.
And the room broke out into a surely-Benedict-Cumberbatch-just-walked-in-the-back-of-the-room-and-I-didn’t-see-him kind of way.
But he hadn’t. It was for me. See, I had never once for a moment thought that I was sitting in a room filled with people who were just like me — ones who had themselves been two vodka tonics in preceding a giant OH SHIT moment. I relaxed. I began.
And as I finished, the applause was equally as loud as it had been when I’d started. People’s eyes didn’t avert as I walked through the room and several even stopped me to say that — damn — that was awesome for your first time up at the mic!
I eventually headed home and listened to the recording my friend Kirstin had made of my terror-fueled four minutes and something else awesome happened.
I didn’t hate it. In fact, I kinda liked most of it.
So I went back this past Sunday and did it again at the Second City Sunday morning open mic. And I killed it. I mean, I heard laughs that I only hear on HBO and Comedy Central standup specials. And they were all for me. And now, I wake up every day with the fear that I’m never going to be able to make people laugh like that again.
Isn’t it funny how one conquered fear gives way to another one of those green-eyed fear gremlin motherfuckers? It’s as if they’re all in a queue at the DMV of your soul, lined up to jack with you until the end of time. I will spend hours, days, weeks, months, and years upon years beating myself up using the fear of the unknown as a club. Then when I get the ladyballs to stare down one of those green assholes and say, “Back up, bitch! Sit down and eat your Wheetabix!” **
**I’ve never had Wheetabix but I am fully confident my fear trolls subsists on a diet of these and RC Cola.
Back to the ladyballs — when I tell those Wheetabix bastards to back off, another one pops up like a cosmic game of Whack-a-Mole and the bitch of it is that I’m never even going to win any of those tickets I can redeem for a Hello, Kitty blender or a giant pencil that won’t even fit into my mom’s Datsun.
Life’s a big ass game of Whack-a-Mole, and usually a lot less fun. But there are a few things I’ve figured out along the way, and some have to do with this new foray into standup comedy. Others…well, they just simply ARE.
- Sometimes I have good ideas. Others, I have two ex-husbands. One’s good and the other one is a funny way of looking at something that isn’t good. Life’s a lot better when I find a sense of humor about my situation.
- Serial entrepreneurs — what do they eat for breakfast? Listening is important. We miss more than we catch. But if we listen to those little fear trolls too often, we’ll never know what it feels like to eat them for breakfast. They’ll just keep eating us.
- Just because you don’t think a joke is funny doesn’t mean it’s not a joke. If you’re building your life and business, much less a standup routine, based on the handful of people who decry that something you say or do isn’t funny or right, you’re going to be building for the middle of the road. The dashed yellow line isn’t where things happen (or get funny). When you pick a lane and accelerate, that’s where things become hilarious.
- Sharpen your point of view. Think about the people in this world you love and the ones you love to hate. You can say why — and with clarity — why you love or loathe them. Again, the only thing you’re going to feel on that dashed center line is the THUMP of a bumper sending you into oblivion. Say what you think and feel. Back it up. And yeah, some people won’t like it, but wah-wah-blah-blah-blah. Some people don’t like anything. A point of view is a gift to your customers, your audience, your lover(s), your friends, and most importantly YOU. It’s your WHY. Spoon that luscious beast and have baby oil-covered on plastic sheets kind of conversations with it all the damn day long. They’ll be the most important conversations you ever have.
And finally, I have a news flash: you’re going to fuck up. In standup, it’s called bombing. I know full well it’s going to happen to me and it is going to suck longer and harder than a Dyson. Which is a brand that really should be sponsoring my dating life, but I digress. Let yourself fuck up and stop being such a dick to yourself.
There’s laughter and greatness waiting on the other side of that Red Rover clothesline of fear trolls standing across from you. And if you’re waiting to be good enough to bust through them, I’m afraid you’re going to be waiting a terribly long time.
You’re good enough right now. Your job — is to become better.