I’ve mentioned my love/hate relationship with performing stand-up comedy many times. I love it when all the conditions line up perfectly: when the room has no bleed-in noise from the bar, the sound system is good, the host is professional, when I’m not the tenth comic up performing to an exhausted crowd, when my nerves are in check and I’m not consumed with stage fright, when I don’t feel fat and have a acceptable hair day, when the moon is in the seventh house and Jupiter aligns with Mars… you get it.
Of course, rarely do those conditions unfold just so, which is why I’ve said a million times that I really don’t enjoy doing stand-up. So why do I do it? Why put myself through that?
One reason is because I usually do pretty well. Every comic has off nights, and I’ve certainly done more than one set that seemed like the longest 5-15 minutes of my life. But overall, I do okay. If nothing else, I always feel my material is solid; I'm a good writer.
My set Thursday night at the all female G-Spot comedy show went well, which is a miracle because I was in a miserable mood. Before the show, I was backstage with the three other comics. One, my beautiful friend, Dareece, is relatively new to the scene; she’s been performing less than a year. The other two gals, Lynn and Shelley, have been around for a while. They’re both from New York and have a super confident, brash, and in-your-face style reminiscent of Joan Rivers. Shelley laughed about how she performs her material to anyone who’ll listen, including fellow riders on the bus. Lynn beamed as she told us how much fun she has performing and that she can never wait to get up on stage.
My blotchy neck and I sat over to the side, and as I nervously went over my set list for the umpteenth time, I felt like a person who hasn’t surfaced in ages: I felt like little Linda Haber, the 10-year-old shy and quiet bookworm of my childhood, studying her notes before an exam.
As anyone in Albany can tell you, little Linda Haber was not particularly funny. And there I was, about to present myself on stage in front of a room of people for no other purpose than to make them laugh. Out loud.
Why aren’t I more like Lynn and Shelley? I thought. When am I ever going to actually enjoy doing this? What’s the matter with me?
It was weird feeling like that, and I really wanted to run off and forget about doing comedy forever. But I couldn’t; I had to go on and act as if I were enjoying myself. And so I did.
My set went smoothly and my new material was well received. And as I watched Lynne’s and Shelly’s performances, I realized that yes, I have an entirely different style than theirs. I’m more subdued, but there’s nothing wrong with that. There's no one "right" style to do comedy; look at the differences between Lewis Black and Stephen Wright. Or Joan Rivers and Rita Rudner.
Furthermore, it would be wrong of me to try to mimic Lynn’s and Shelley’s style; that’s not the authentic me. And while “acting as if” is a great technique to psyche yourself up, you have to balance it with authenticity. The further you are from being the most authentic version of yourself, the harder life becomes—no matter what you’re trying to do.
I learn something every time I get on stage. That’s why I have to keep performing, and in time, maybe I’ll even start to enjoy it.