Is there a worse job in the world for a terminally insecure person than standup comedy? You take someone who, in normal daily life, shudders at the very thought of being judged by checkout people at the supermarket for buying two pints of Moose Tracks ice cream (Do you really need two, fat ma’am?) versus one and you throw him or her up in front of a room full of strangers. Then, you expect them to stand up and say words that they’ve written in the privacy of their own room, for the purpose of eliciting laughter (and thus more approval) from people they will most likely never see again.
On the other hand, you take the same confidence-challenged person and lo and behold, the room full of strangers actually laughs and applauds wildly! For a brief moment in that performer’s career, life is an Etch-a-Sketch and suddenly, if not temporarily, all the fear, pain, distrust, disappointment, anxiety and heartache which brought said person to said stage disappears in an emotional screen shaking; at least temporarily. Very soon thereafter, when the adrenaline wears off, all of those doubts start to creep back until the next performance and hopefully, the next healing.
The problem is you never know just which side the coin will land on. Heads, you walk off that stage...no, you float off that stage to the roar of approval, or tails, you slink off into the shadowy darkness of the bowels of the club, avoiding stares from the audience and your peers, and curse the day you ever learned to form a complete sentence. And later, on that long, dark drive back to the safety of your home, you wonder (often aloud) to yourself, what in God’s name am I doing?
But it’s just a
Jersey gig, you say. Or Wednesday. Or Shrimp night. Or some shitty bar where tomorrow night is karaoke.
“It doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things”, you proclaim to invisible you sitting in the passenger seat, as you tear down the New Jersey Turnpike. But you know that it’s a lie. How you did up there matters to you and no one else because you took that leap of faith and stood up there in the first place. You have that little voice inside you that has screamed in your head over and over since you were young enough to think that you had the moxie to triumph over all of this. You are the chosen one. And while every person in that audience will have forgotten your name by the time they leave the club, you will carry that show, for good or for bad for years to come. And so you go back again and again, not looking for killer shows (although that would be nice), but consistency of performance levels.
Over time, you develop a thick hide. Most of the time, you learn to laugh off the horror nights and remember the killer sets. In that sense it’s a lot like childbirth, or so I’m told. To be honest, while I was at my birth, I don’t remember much about it. I can only imagine that it was not unlike my first marriage or being beaten on the soles of my feet with wet bamboo rods. Horrors like that definitely deserve to be forgotten. From my mother’s viewpoint however, I’m sure it was quite different.
Fear is at the core of it all, isn’t it? Fear of failure, of pain, of success, it’s all the same. Fear can kill you, ruin you or debilitate you. Fear can chase you, catch you and ensnare you. It can make you powerless and freeze you right where you stand. It is the bully that stands on the corner each morning as you walk to school, waiting for you. It is a wall of fire that roars in your face and dares you to test your tolerance for the pain it can inflict. All you have to do to be swallowed up by it is to give in. Once that happens, it’s all over.
Take me for instance. I live in constant fear of everything, and right now I’m frozen solid. I can’t move right or left, up or down, which is kind of weird, because suddenly, everything is going right for me. My shows have been going quite well, I’m getting bookings, and the possibility of a play about my life could actually come to reality. I’ve got everything going for me. So, why am I so petrified?
Come on Julia, don’t be a dumbass! You just stated why you’re afraid. You might actually be successful for a change and you don’t know how to handle it.
Hmmm... Interesting point, horribly nagging conscience. And what is it in particular that is causing this?
Must I do everything? Think a little won’t ya?
Well let’s see...shows are going well, blog is going well, the Comedy Test Kitchen is going well, the comedy competition is coming up...
The comedy competition ...is...coming...up...must write...must compete...
That’s it isn’t it? Tell these nice people what’s going on.
Sigh. Alright, here it goes. Now you have to understand that I absolutely suck at competitions. From the time I tossed a ping-pong (age 6) in a futile effort to have it land in a tiny goldfish bowl at Palisades Amusement Park, to trying out for the football team in another vain and humiliating attempt to prove my manhood, to Star Search and Letterman, I have always seriously, undeniably, majestically and miserably crashed and burned in an awful metaphorical conflagration, the likes of which made the Hindenburg explosion seem like the pilot light on your stove.
Are you getting the picture so far? Good. Now with these images in mind will someone please tell me what in God’s name I was thinking when, after a twelve year absence from the stage, I up and entered, not just a comedy competition, but one for women only? And, not just the competition, but the professional category of that contest! Me, a sixty year old, transgendered, newly out of retirement, arthritic, lesbian comedian; what the hell was I thinking?
It was an impulse, a whim; I swear. But now that I’m entered....Oy...now that I’m entered....
Have you ever had one of those defining moments in your life? You know, the ones that scream out at you “If you walk away from this and don’t deal with it, you will carry this with you for the rest of your life like a cinderblock around your neck.” Well this is it for me. This is the time I need to decide if I am going to let fear beat me yet again.
It’s not that this contest will make or break me. I have too much skin in the game already to let a contest define me. But this is about ME letting ME break ME. This is about making friends with me for a change, and believing that win or lose, I will not shame myself under any circumstances.
It’s only May, and right now I’m quaking in my fuzzy slippers over something that won’t happen until July. Logic tells me that if I let this fear get a hold of me, they will have to carry me in on a stretcher come show time. So, there’s only one way to deal with it. I have two months to work, to write, to rehearse, and perfect my sets. I have two months to believe that I can do this. Two months to take back my life.
In the last twelve years I have allowed myself to be shamed over my decision to live the life that was in my heart and soul. There have been times when cruel words and even crueler actions have driven me to places so deep inside that I never wanted to come out. But I refused to trade one prison for another, and instead I turned to the spirits that surround me, and they lifted me up to face another day, and all the days that followed.
Ten months ago, if you had told me I’d be back doing the thing I love to do more than anything else, I’d have laughed at you. But I’m here. I’m doing it. I’m friggin doing it!!!
You can do that too; every one of you. Tomorrow, the next day, or soon, face a fear and walk through it, all the while screaming at it with every ounce of strength you have inside. What you’ll find is that fear doesn’t exist. It never did. It’s the monster under the bed and it grows inside you if you feed it. The only way to starve fear is to deny it what it wants; your mind and your willingness to give in to it.
I will probably look at this post tomorrow and wonder what drug I was on when I wrote it. Sometimes stuff just bursts out of me like the alien in the movie, um... Alien. But I would be less than honest if I refrained from putting my truth on these pages. Some of you may think, “She should keep that stuff to herself”, but I suspect that more people than not have been held back by the same feelings which I’m going through right now. And sometimes all you need to know is that you aren’t alone or crazy in feeling the way you do about something. So, if someone reads this and it sparks them to move forward, would that just be the coolest thing in the world?
Over the next couple of months, I hope to post my progress on this endeavor from time to time, both the good and the bad. I hope you share with me some of your victories too, because sometimes it gets a little lonely around here, and I like to hear from you.
So.... onward and upward for us all! And by the way, thanks for listening. I feel better now.
That’s it. I’m done bitching. Everybody hug, everybody eat. Abbondanza!