If a future generation, a million years from now, finds a log of my life, they will discover that on Day 12,453 I did something I have never done before: stand up comedy.
"I didn't know you were a stand-up comedian", you might say. "I didn't even know you were interested!"
I wasn't a stand-up comedian nor was I ever interested in being one. But I have performed stand up comedy as of last night and I am very interested in doing it again.
You see, I didn't realize any of this before I finished writing my book on creativity. The book was a wholehearted project for me, but admittedly after nearly four years of working on the book in some form, I was ready to be done. The book was taking up so much space in my brain that other creative projects got locked out. When I finished the book, it's as if a creative dam broke. Inspiration! Curiosities! Ideas!
When my creative dam broke, the urge to do stand-up comedy was there, clear as day. I started to tell myself I couldn't. "But why?" a small voice answered back." I didn't have a good reason why I couldn't try it. Especially after using Google to see if open mic nights were even a thing for comedy (oh, the lies we tell ourselves to keep our dreams at bay). There were a bunch in Boston.
My timeline from random thought to last night's performance went like this:
The day after I finished the book, the idea popped into my head. "I want to perform stand-up!"
I looked up open mic comedy nights in Boston and found one that offers newbies two minutes to show the bar what you've got.
Over the course of a couple of days, I wrote a two minute set.
Over the course of three weeks, I memorized it, edited it, rehearsed it, and edited it some more.
Last night, I showed up at the bar and added my name to the sign up list.
When my name was called, I fought my shaky hands to hold the mic and perform what I had written. A million thoughts raced through my brain.
You are the odd one out. Everyone else knows each other here.
Your curly hair looks frizzy.
Your are wearing a striped dress with red sneakers. You look ridiculous.
Your jokes aren't funny.
You will fail. You can never come back to this bar again.
It wasn't easy to do, but it actually was a lot more realistic than I thought once you make a list and follow the steps. I'm not saying following the steps gets you a standing ovation or slam dunk set, but it does get you up on that stage. My ultimate goal was not to be good or get a paid gig out of it or even be complimented after the set by other comics. It was to go and do it.
And doing it felt glorious. I'm planning to do it again and explore even more of the life of being an actor with a day job onstage through comedy. Goodness knows I have a lot of material.
A few weeks ago, Dave and I sat next to two young women on the subway. I overheard one of the young women talking about doing some stand-up. "I'm just going to do it. If I bomb, I bomb." Her friend agreed to come along with her for support and they would make a whole evening out of it. It was really sweet to overhear, and at the time, seemed fitting to hear as well, since it was around the time I had gotten my own urge to perform.
Guess who I saw at the open mic night? The young woman. And her friend. With plates full of pub food, sitting close to each other during dinner and the comedy sets that followed. I felt so intimidated at first. What if she was better than me? What if she was looking at me, wondering what right I had to be there? All these thoughts left me when the young woman took the stage, visibly nervous. I didn't see an enemy at all, but an ally. I saw a younger me, terrified but doing it anyway. I wonder if it's possible to be proud of a young woman you don't know, save for a shared ride on the train?
This unexpected experience led me to realize that one of my favorite parts about being at the open mic night turned out to be energy to the other comics when it was their turn. I'm not saying you laugh if something doesn't strike you as funny, but rather being fully present as an audience member.
Being an audience member is not a static role. Each and every audience member gives off an energy to the performer that is palpable when you are onstage. It's like electricity. You can feel it keenly. Energy can be, well, energizing, or it can shut off the vulnerability and support in a room completely. I couldn't control what kind of energy the audience was giving when I was onstage (though I tried to make eye contact and remain open, inviting good energy my way), but I had full control over the kind of energy that I gave when the tables were reversed and I was in the audience.
How does one give supportive energy, you ask? For me, the following go a long, long way when I'm performing:
A relaxed smile
An attitude of "I want to see you succeed" as opposed to "I am waiting to see you fail"
Open body language--facing the stage, arms uncrossed, hands relaxed
If you aren't convinced, think of the last time you performed (or interviewed or had a business meeting) with someone who was giving you bad energy. Were their arms crossed, their eyes in their Smartphone, a frown on their face? You can notice this in so many different scenarios, and once you start noticing what makes you feel supported and what shuts you right down, you will be on your way to making sure that you don't do that to someone else.
Pick something you want to do. It can be something that you have always wanted to do or something that you had never wanted to do before now. Feel the fear rush in, don't fight it. Now, make a list of all the steps that you need to do in order to make it to your version of open mic night. Again, feel the fear. It's not going to go away while you write your list. But it doesn't get added to the list. Fear is a given in these kinds of quests. Focus on tangible action steps. Again, I'm not saying this is easy, but if I can do it, you can definitely do it!
After you make your list, do it. I dare you. Regardless of what happens, you will step off that stage knowing in your gut that you did something you really wanted to do, which is a big deal. You will go to bed that night knowing that you did something that you really wanted to do, AND did it with the fear at your throat the whole time. This is an even bigger deal. Being fearless is not just overrated, it's impossible. Being fearFUL and flinging yourself forward anyway is where the magic happens.
What do YOU want to do?