- What I've Learned: Being a Stand-up Comedian -
In the second grade, I did not raise my hand once. Watching the other kids battle for their chance to speak, arms fluttering in the air ('pick me, pick me, pick me'), I was confused. Saying a few words in front of three or more people caused me to have a gag reflex. I think they call this, 'shy.'
By the time I was fourteen, I was spending my Saturdays in ill-fitted women's skirt suits at public speaking competitions. Before my performances I was so nervous that all I could stomach were saltines. You could hear my teammate and me digging through our ziplock bag of dry crackers between rounds. Believe it or not, we were actually pretty good at public speaking. I was still feeling sick before every competition.
When I was in college, I was a part of a monthly stand-up comedy show held at a local bar. I was the only girl. I was also the only comedian making clean jokes. Everything smelled like cigarette smoke and sexism.
'Are you really here to perform? I thought you were just gonna watch, babe.' Direct quote from the host of a comedy open mic post-college. Probably the most PG comment I had heard that night, so, thank you, sir. 'I'll be performing,' I yelled to him from the crowd. No one could really hear me. The host put me on stage at 2 am that night (morning, rather). The bartender found me hilarious as he closed down for the night.
You're probably wondering, 'Why does she do this to herself?' Why perform stand-up comedy? And, to be honest, there's no one answer to give you. What I can give you is a random list of things I've acquired - skills, what people really think, and some random thoughts:
- Public speaking is a lot like swimming - if you can swim in 8 feet of water, you can swim in 40 feet. If you can talk in front of 10 people, you can talk in front of 200. Is it slightly more terrifying to tell jokes to an audience of 200? Absolutely. Is it also much scarier to swim in 40 feet of water? Sure. But it's much more exciting this way.
- When I tell people that I perform stand-up comedy, they usually respond with, 'Wow, that's really hard.' There's a weird sort of respect that comes with being a comedian.
- There's also a weird sort of disdain that comes with being a comedian. People tend to think that you're crude and rude and have a bad attitude.
- It's okay to bomb. It's an experience everyone needs - and will have - at some point. Even if you meet a silent crowd, you will live. I promise you.
- You're not going to be everyone's cup of tea. And, that's okay! Always respect the audience and respect yourself.
- Believe it or not, doing stand-up can give you skills you need at work. You can easily read a crowd. You can articulate your thoughts in front of others. You can also take criticism.
This essay is just the tip of the iceberg. The amount of stories I've collected is out of control. See me on stage sometime?