Do well in school, kids. Sometimes they take you to fancy dinner when you graduate.
— Brie Watson (@brieford) November 30, 2016
My cat just came up to join me as I was deciding to write about a decision I recently made to stop working for a company where I hope to one day work in a more significant capacity, but which for the moment was providing me with more challenges, stress and difficulties than benefits.
The cat is chewing on my sunglasses, which I will now place in my desk. (The cat or the sunglasses? You decide.)
Sometimes l don’t know what decision is the right one to make for my future. So much of what I read in terms of motivational literature has to do with choosing your own path, and being in control of your own life’s successes and failures; not being the victim of circumstance.
But in an industry full of gatekeepers, it’s sometimes difficult to truly believe you’re the captain of your own ship. It’s like, sometimes I just want to dock my ship at a cool space station, but space-parking is full, and maybe I’m too space-early, or space-late to ever be allowed in.
Everything will happen for my highest good. That’s one of the affirmations I try to remember when I get to feeling this way.
It’s just that sometimes I just wish my highest good was at that damn space station.
Today, I used some of the principles of improv to get me through my first stand-up set in two months. In hindsight, I feel really dumb for not having thought of it earlier. Although, I guess I had to fully understand it in improv in order to be able to translate it elsewhere.
I was feeling very nervous for my set tonight. It was a competition-style show, which I detest. Actually, I’m sortof anti-competition as a whole. I’m very socialist in that way. (Down with the free market!) I posted about it on Facebook, my hands were shaking, it was all the nerves I’ve had since starting stand-up all 5 years ago.
So I thought to myself: why don’t you get nervous in improv anymore? What’s different about this?
And I remembered a few things that’ve really hit me in the past few months of my improv study:
- Fuck the Audience – I got in trouble with my longform class (now team) about this one. But I stand by it. If you keep trying to please the audience, you’re never going to get the response you want. It’ll never feel authentic, it’ll always feel forced. At the end of the day, you have to trust in your own brain that what you’re doing is funny. That you, yourself find it funny. And people can laugh, or they can NOT laugh. You have to be OK with that NOT mattering. That frees you up a bit. And the nerves calmed down.
- Fuck Memorization – (for this one, I got a bit of help from my friend Pete, who attended the show.) I asked him why he thinks I feel so comfortable when I host an improv show, which is basically being alone on stage, with a mic (or not) and getting the crowd pumped up by being funny and generally charismatic (much like a stand-up set.) But when the moment comes for me to shift that into that stand-up mode, I panic. I decided it was because you have to have all your jokes memorized, and I’m not great at memorizing lines, (which is one of the reasons I’ve never booked a commercial.) When hosting, you’re more free to keep things loose. Pete suggested looking at my set-list just as a guideline; that I wasn’t expected to go up there and say things word-for-word. (Which is the opposite of a lot of my stand-up teachings.) Don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t mean I should throw away the joke-writing process. I’ve studied that enough to know how a set-up and a punchline works, and how important timing and delivery are, but looking at it in looser terms, instead of memorizing and reciting it as you have a million times, makes the process feel more natural, and for me, less nerve-wracking.
- None of this actually fucking matters – It’s one set in a million. This, I had reminded to me in an episode of The Backline Podcast earlier today. If you have a bad set, just get up on stage soon and try again. Your next one will go better. (My fiancé keeps telling me this too, but for some reason it never quite sinks in.) This obviously applies to stand-up just as it does to improv. (although I don’t have bad improv sets anymore) *blows on fingernails. (Yeah, right!) Seeing this as just a show, and not some big deal competition helped me relax a bit.
- CONNECT – OK so, this may be counterintuitive with point #1. But when I say “Fuck the audience” I really mean forget them in your process / choice of joke-selection / choice of joke-writing. When it’s time to actually get on that stage, I LOVE looking at the audience and connecting with them. It’s something I enjoy a lot while hosting improv shows too, so why WOULDN’T I apply that to my stand-up? It used to scare the crap out of me to break out of my routine and make eye-contact with the audience. But looking at them in the face, reading their body-language, it’s so important! Hosting shows has really helped me understand the energy of a room. I know when to pick up my own energy, and when I can play around with dipping it and sometimes killing it completely. I WANT to make the people in the audience feel like we’re sharing an experience together.
So, I applied these techniques to my set tonight, and I sincerely feel I had a pretty good one. I tried out some new jokes that worked really well. The audience was VERY receptive and it was an all-in-all good time.
I’m not saying this is a surefire trick to a 100% success rate. I know it’s not going to work in a quiet room of only other comedians, but tonight, it worked.
Tonight for the first time, I used improv to help my stand-up.
Yes, And I fucked the audience.
Me, teaching an Intro to Improv workshop to a group of grade 8 girls:
“In life as in improv, it’s important never ever to say nooooooh waitaminute……. let me rephrase that..!”
So, I got my taxes done this weekend.
I try to do this thing, where I take note of everything I’ve accomplished. Not financially, necessarily. But achievements contributing to my dreams, and life-goals and whatnot. On that end, 2015 was great. I did a LOT of shows. I met a lot of great people. I created a lot of fun stuff.
That being said, nothing makes you feel worse about trying to be a self-employed comedian than adding up what you’ve spent to create a show; commission art for the show, book the venue & any additional supplies for the show, comparing it to how much your return on the door of said show was and multiplying it by however many shows you decided to self-produce in a year.
ESPECIALLY when you’ve lost most of your venue receipts because you’ve moved twice in the past year and it’s hard to keep your life in order. It leaves you VERY LITTLE proof to show the government you’re anywhere close to achieving those dreams, and life-goals you thought you were closing in on.
If nothing else, Tax Season 2016 has taught me to be more vigilant and organized. Next year, I will prove not only to myself, but to the Canada Revenue Agency that I am actually closing in on something.
This post came up in my Facebook feed today and I wanted to share it with you. I wrote it when I was preparing my first ever “stand-up” “set”required to enter Humber’s School of Comedy. I wrote the post 6 years ago.
Sometimes it’s nice to be reminded how far we’ve come.
This weekend, I had the pleasure of watching my Dad perform in a production of Mary Poppins put on by the Port Colborne Operatic Society; an organization in which he’s been involved for 39 years! The production was spectacular. The costumes, the singing, the FLYING! I mean, come on!
It hit me this year, seeing the PCOS’ productions every year since I was a kid is likely responsible for my desire to perform. I remember watching the plays and thinking: “ One day I want to be up there!” Although that’s since changed to “I want to be up there, but like…by myself with a microphone… or with a small group of people making things up on the spot… or performing something I’ve written myself… likely with less singing, like WAY less singing.”
My parents put me in performance from a young age. Dancing and playing the piano. I can’t begin to imagine a childhood without live performance, or without art.
So, consider this is a plea from me to you. No matter where you are, or who you’re with, go see live performances of plays, of comedy, of music of whatever you can! And bring a friend, a child, a niece or nephew, a parent or aunt or uncle, a Tinder date, ANYBODY.
You never know whose life you might inspire.