Every time I hear someone say they could never go on a stage
and tell jokes, they cite the same reason: they don’t have the guts to be in
front of a crowd and try to make them laugh.
Bill Maher once said that there isn’t much respect for standup- the only
thing that separates a comic from everyone else is the guts to go on
stage. Not writing, timing, working and
working, but just a lack of fear of possibly making an ass of oneself.

The fact is, you will meet few extroverts in standup. Most comics were not the funniest amongst
their group of friends. Many comics get
the same feedback from friends and family when they announce their plan to try
performing for the first time, “But… you’re not funny.”

I encourage people to try it, to keep at it, but nothing
makes my cold heart sing more than seeing the person that was funniest at the
bar, the funniest amongst their friends, the one that everyone said should be a
comic, go on stage will all of that “I know I’m funny!” confidence and then die
a slow death, literally shrinking under the lights before slinking away, never
to return. I like it because of petty
jealousy of their lives in the real world, of course, but mostly because it
proves that confidence is not what standup is all about.

And thank God for that, because if extroverts are rare, a
confident comic is a unicorn. Always
recognizing room for improvement is a powerful tool for developing, but we
usually focus on what went wrong and not at all on what went right. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen
someone go on stage, do ten jokes, nine kill, and the comic walks away miserable
about the one that didn’t work. That
desire to be perfect drives us, but it’s frustrating to not be able to
celebrate success.

As far as fear of being in front of a crowd goes, I’ve seen
many different levels of that. Most of
the comics I’ve met, it really isn’t an issue at all, but I’ve met a few that
are damn near crippled by that fear, and the closer it gets to showtime, the
more miserable they get. Good for them that
they go on anyway, they are braver than most people I know. If you’re not afraid of being in front of
people, going on stage is not brave. (By
the way, don’t ever tell a comic you think he or she is brave. Say we’re funny. Lie if you have to.)

Being nervous is also something I’ve seen in many different
degrees. One would expect someone with
little to no experience to be very nervous, but I’ve met comics with years of
experience that still pace and wring their hands before a set. Comics that have enjoyed a lot of success and
plenty of love, but still second guess themselves.

Myself, I remember being very nervous before I went on a
stage for the first time, and I notice when nerves manifest themselves while I’m
performing- talking faster, mumbling, sweating, etc- but I rarely feel nervous before
I perform. I know how that sounds, but I’m
not showing off. I’m not afraid of being in front of a group, I like everything I say (it’s getting the crowd to
like it, aye, that’s the rub), and, most importantly, 99 times out of a 100 I’ve
got nothing to lose and not much to gain, either. Success at an open mic rarely has more
benefit than bombing at an open mic.
Obviously success is better, one wants to come back, make good contacts,
maybe someone in the crowd is looking to book a comic for a corporate gig, etc,
but in the end it doesn’t really mean much more than not feeling like shit for
a couple of days. Which is a great
reward, actually.

I get more nervous before a paying gig, or when I perform
somewhere for the first time. Nothing
compares to how I feel before the show starts at my own club. First with Taboo, now with Crossfire, the
last hour before showtime I’m miserable, pacing, worrying. Not so much about my own performance, but
about how many, if any, will come to the show, will the comics have a good
time, will the venue want to keep me around.
I’ve been fortunate that most of the shows have gone well and I can feel
good about that for a little while. Then
the emptiness returns and I’m off chasing the next high.