Last night I found myself on stage with a microphone in my hand in front of a room full of complete strangers. I could feel my heart banging against my ribcage, and I wondered if the mike was able to pick up the beats and gasps of my cardiopulmonary system. I’d been wearing a long-sleeved shirt, but ditched it in favor of a black tee. Freedom of movement and looseness were necessary. I was sweating and filled with a very specific kind of fear. The primal part of my system was telling me to run away, to get the hell off the stage. I had to tell that part of my brain though, as well as my heart, lungs, and sweaty forehead, to shut the fuck up.
“We’re doing this,” I mentally said to my rebellious brain-stem, “we’re doing this and it’s going to be great.” At the comedy open mike I’d already seen one guy bomb horribly. At the very least, I would not be the least-funny person on stage that night.
I opened my mouth and heard the parting of my lips amplified by the mike. “I was raised Catholic,” I said. There were a few “Whoos!” from the audience. I proceeded to talk about being an altar boy, and launched into a routine about how I never got molested.
“I was an altar boy for a lot of priests,” I said, “and I never got molested. Ever. What I want to know is-” and here I did my best to adopt a put-out expression, “why the fuck not? I mean, I’m not that bad looking of a guy! I was even sexier when I was fourteen. I ran cross-country- I was fit! And I didn’t even get a wink from a single priest. Nothing! Quite frankly, I feel left out.”
For the next few minutes filled the air with absolutely filthy material about pedophilia, the Catholic church, and how God was an asshole because he cuckolded Joseph. I made jokes about Mary was probably a pushy Jewish mother, and how if God had any manners he would have offered to have had a threesome with Mary and Joseph instead of just going behind the dude’s back.
I chose sex and religion because I thought it would be easy to joke about. Joking about the Catholic church and sex is kind of like selecting Ryu in Street Fighter- it’s cheap, easy, and gives you an overinflated sense of your own skill. The subject matter, though, seemed to make a lot of the audience very uncomfortable. I had a few people laughing consistently (I was pleased that they were other comedians) most of the audience seemed to be squirming uncomfortably as I called God an asshole for knocking up Mary and then never calling her back.
Their discomfort made me in turn uncomfortable. I thought to myself “I’m offending people! Shit! I should have done my routine about ancient Greece!” I realized that working with that kind of subject matter means that you have to not give a shit about the people who are uncomfortable or offended. If you’re going to talk about God giving Mary the best orgasm in history, you have be prepared to deal with the people who think that’s gross. I did my best to focus on the people who were laughing, and stay positive.
I finished my routine, got off the stage, and my heart rate immediately dropped. My back muscles loosened, and I breathed easier. The host shook my hand and told me “right on.” I sat back down. Prior to my routine I’d been too nervous to drink the beer that I’d ordered from the bar. I sat down and almost immediately drank all of it.
As I was sitting down and drinking my beer, my dominant thought was “I want to do that again!”
I felt loose and exhilarated. Despite seeing audience members squirm awkwardly, I wanted to go on stage and do another comedy routine. Punching through the fear, the pressure to perform, and the feeling of actually succeeding at being engaging, actually making people laugh, was a huge rush. I had all kinds of endorphins firing through my system, and I was enjoying a very familiar sensation.
I enjoy public speaking. I enjoy getting in front of groups and being interesting, funny, and engaging. I did speech and debate in high school (where I did pretty well at competitive stand up), was the speaker at my high school graduation. I was in a band in college, and have been a teacher, tour guide, and wedding officiant. Maybe I’m a huge narcissist, but feeling a roomful of eyes on me, and then being able to power through the nervousness and actually perform is my drug of choice.
I love the idea of being alone on stage. There is nothing there. Nothing. Everything that comes off stage has to do with you. The mood, the audience reaction, the vibe of the room- it all comes from your voice, body language, and presence. I want to be that kind of person, the kind of person who can fill a room with just their voice, and make people react with just a gesture. The instant gratification is also nice- as much as I like writing, I can’t see my audience. Closing the gap between creation and reaction is, quite frankly, just neat.
I admit that I love hearing myself talk, being the center of attention, and being able to charm a crowd of people. I will do stand up again, probably soon. It will probably be a while before I do another routine about sex and the Catholic church, though. I have a routine about ancient Greece I’ve been working on, and some jokes about science fiction. I don’t care about my rebellious brainstem- I wanna go again!