Last Thursday night I had the opportunity to do a set in the Glimmer Theater at the LVH, formerly--and better known--as the Las Vegas Hilton. I was the second comedian to take the stage, and until it was time for my set, I sat in the second floor balcony and watched the show below. The only other person up there was the sound guy.
At one point, I felt a presence in back of me--over my right shoulder, to be specific--and knew it to be my father. Who died in 1999.
Ed Haber was a funny, funny man. Truly hilarious. And he would be giddy out of his mind by the fact that one of his kids was performing stand-up comedy in a legendary Las Vegas venue. But would he ever have imagined that kid would be me?
I doubt it. My sister Lori is a riot, a walking party. I always tell people that if they met Lori, they would look at me and go, "... meh." Every goddamn thing out of her mouth is hysterical. My brother, Steven, has a super quick wit; he could easily go into comedy. My other sister Lisa and my youngest sister, Stacie, also have a very keen sense of humor. Yet I'm the comedian. No wonder my father showed up the night I performed at the Hilton--he probably had to see it for himself to believe it.
My weekly sessions with my comedy coach, Michael "Wheels" Parise, are akin to going for therapy. He's digging into shit and driving me to confess things about myself that are much more comfortable left under the rug. Although I've made a lot of progress overcoming stage fright on my own, I still have some performance anxiety that is getting in the way of my ability to reach my full potential when it comes to performing, and Wheels is like an exorcist trying to rid me of that crap.
The root of the problem, I'm finding, is my inability to identify myself as--and believe that I am, in fact--a comedian. Even until last night, I referred to myself in the banner of this blog as a "stand-up performer," instead of "comic" because I have trouble believing I'm a comedian. I have no problem identifying myself as a writer, and I know I'm a damn good writer. My book is well written and it's funny as hell. So yeah, I'm even a damn good humor writer; my material is strong. And I'm a damn good speaker and presenter. And I have good stage presence. And a persona that people find likeable.
So putting it all together, you'd think I'd be able to admit that I'm a damn good comedian, since evidently I'm damn good when it comes to all the ingredients that make a damn good comedian. What the hell else do I need?
According to Wheels, I need to believe that I'm a funny person.
What I'm doing now is writing funny shit, and then rehearsing it and performing it like an actor. This is causing anxiety because if I mess up a line or the sequence of my prepared material, I'm fucked because I've rehearsed it a certain way. Wheels is telling me that I over-prepare; that I should be able to pull material out of my bag of tricks in the spur of the moment and relate it to the audience in front of me. I just need to go out there and be myself, he says, because I'm a funny person with funny shit to say.
Sure, I say funny stuff, but... I'm a funny person?
You see, I was always "the smart one." (Though all of my siblings are smart, too.) I was so freaked out anticipating the fundraiser show I did in Albany in August because I knew I'd be performing in front of people who'd known me a long time and who'd never have thought of me as the class clown. I can't tell you how many people from my "early years" have expressed surprise upon hearing I do stand-up comedy. "I always thought you were nice, but I don't remember you as being funny," is what I usually hear. But the show in Albany was fantastic, and no one left that venue doubting my comedic abilities.
Wheels is so goddamn perceptive; during our session yesterday he asked, "Every time you leave the stage, you feel like you've just pulled something off, don't you?" And that's exactly how I feel. Instead of being a comedian having fun with the audience, I'm more like a reluctant actor, playing a comedian, and I'm relieved that people actually buy it. Wheels gave me tips on how to break through that barrier, and I'm going to put them into practice on Friday night. I'll be doing a set at Choice's Pub on Cheyenne and Rainbow; showtime is 9:00.
I told Wheels yesterday that no one who's seen me perform would ever suspect my identity crisis; I pull it off so well it's like my dirty little secret. I'm sharing this here because maybe you need to change the way you see yourself in order to achieve your own goals. I would never be able to identify what exactly is holding me back, much less know how to work through it, without his help. I can't stress enough how important it is to enlist the services of a talented coach to help you get to the next level.
Hopefully Dad will show up Friday night so I can show him... I am a comedian.