Like most of you, I have a fear of talking to strangers. We get so unnecessarily self-conscious when we talk to folks we don’t know. I wanted to get over that fear. I was sick of that voice in the back of my head that said, “Dude everybody’s gonna notice that you’re halfway bald and your goatee is crooked, you look like an ass!”
So I started looking up local open mics. To my surprise, there were a lot. I found one in South Philly, a punk rock bar called Connie’s Ric-Rac. From what I gathered, there were (unfortunately) a few hipsters there, but for the most part the bar was full of drunken weirdos. Connie’s also didn’t have a reputation for attracting meat-headed assholes. So far so good, my type of place.
As a writer who has penned some things that have pissed people off, I decided it would be terrifyingly fun to talk shit in front of a crowd of strangers, away from the comfort zone of my keyboard. It’s easy to write contentious stuff. It’s a whole other story if you’re shouting it to a crowd ten feet away.
Or as I call it, the Punch Me in the Face Zone.
I started writing material. At first I wrote a short bit about how bald guys should stick together, and compared bald solidarity to the Black Power movement. I memorized it all. It wasn’t the funniest bit ever written, but there were some chuckles to be had. Maybe even some shock value. I practiced it over and over, then revised it, then practiced it again out of order just in case I screwed it up on stage so I could recover. I was ready, albeit terrified. A week before the open mic, I was already nervous as hell. Just thinking about it made my heart rate shoot up.
Then, two days before the open mic, I realized the bit I wrote – and practiced and memorized – was pretty brainless stuff. I said, “The whole point of going on stage was shout material that would piss people off, what’s the point of going if I’m not going to ruffle some feathers?”
So I quickly wrote a new bit, not nearly as polished as the first. The point of the bit was how people did crazy shit when they were drunk then blamed it on the booze, rather than admitting they want to do the same crazy shit when they’re sober but don’t have the guts. It was in the same spirit of my goal with getting on stage in the first place, about getting out of your comfort zone.
I didn’t have much time to practice. I was working two jobs at the time so it wasn’t like I had all day to memorize the bit and practice it in my bedroom. Obviously, having such little time to prepare made me ten times more nervous. But fuck it, right? The whole point was to get over the fear. Why not pack it on?
The open mic came on Thursday night. Three of my buddies tagged along with me. They were as supportive as you could expect, which was comforting. Real friends have your back when you’re about to make a complete ass out of yourself.
I signed up to get onstage then realized I was the only comedy act. Pretty stupid on my part, considering Connie’s Ric-Rac is a goddamn punk rock bar. How could I be surprised when all the acts were punk bands?
My nerves were gone, so I started pounding beers and chain smoking like I was ten minutes away from facing a firing squad. My biker buddy started feeding me shots. All in all, I estimate I had six beers and four shots in the forty-five minutes before I went up. Suffice to say, I could barely remember my own phone number let along my act.
I went up. The bar was dark but I could see everyone. Half of them weren’t paying attention, which made me even more nervous. I’d rather them judge me as an unfunny jackass right away then hear me say something stupid halfway through my bit.
Then I took a breath. And I just started chuckling to myself. Good God, I was actually doing this shit. The first line of my bit – “If you end up in a back alley with a hot tranny and a dildo up your ass tonight, don’t blame it on the alcohol!” – came out awkwardly. Hell, the entire bit came out awkwardly, but once I got past the first line I felt my fear melt away. I plunged into the bit, got a few laughs and was happy that I was actually remembering what I wrote.
Then my biker buddy stumbled up to the stage with a large tumbler of vodka. He jammed it in my face and I promptly forgot what the hell I was talking about.
“Um…” I said, “Hey everybody, this is my friend Bob.”
I paused, sucked down the drink, and proceeded to forget the entire middle section of my bit. The ending made no sense without it. The laughs died out, though I got a few weak ones when I started yelling about what kind of porn I enjoy. I ended the bit as painfully as I feared it would.
But then I realized something. Aside from my buddies, the bartender and the owner, there wasn’t one person in the bar who wasn’t going on stage. And guess what? They all looked as terrified as I felt. Except for the bands who had already played: Those guys were relaxed, they were laughing and boozing it up.
Because they’d gone up too. They’d gone on stage and did their thing in front of a roomful of strangers.
I hopped offstage. My buddies gave me hugs and a few people even applauded. It was a polite applause, but not a fake one; more like, “We feel ya dude, it’s scary up there.” The way drunks and junkies applaud each other during AA meetings.
We went to a different bar to celebrate. The rest of the night descended into a drunken mishmash of dumbfuckery. I wasn’t celebrating my new career as a stand up comic, I was celebrating the crazy adrenaline rush of facing a fear.
And even though I wasn’t very funny, even though I thought I was going to have a heart attack on stage and felt like a giant jackass when I forgot my material, the simple feeling of conquest, of actually getting up and doing something that terrifies you, is worth all the effort. Try it! Experience the rush of being able to say, “Yeah bitch, I did that!”