An Advice Column I Write to Myself, Letter Eleven — Dear Kelly: Should I Try Stand-up?
Hey. I’ve been quiet. I haven’t asked you for help with anything in a little while. It’s not that I haven’t needed help with anything; it’s more like I have needed help with everything. But. That’s not what this is. I don’t get to ask you to solve ALL my problems — well, at least not all in one fell swoop. So I’ll just deal with this tiny-little-insignificant-thing-that-I’ve-been-ruminating on.
About six/seven years ago, some friends told me I’d be good at stand-up. I’m funny. I have good timing. I have a really loud voice and a fairly present presence. Now, when they suggested this, I laughed it off — both outwardly and inwardly. It wasn’t an idea that had ever occurred to me. It seemed a little bit otherwordly. It didn’t speak to some buried desire I had, didn’t illuminate some deep-seated dream. So I let it go.
About two years ago, I started recording snippets of stand-up routines on my phone. I made these voice memos, and then I’d play them back and think, ‘ah yes. yes this is the stuff. maybe I want to do this’
A couple of weeks ago, someone I recently met urged me to head to the stage. She went on and on and wanted to support me in any way she could, and kept shaking her head, saying how great I would be.
It felt amazing. Her belief in me.
Suddenly — for reasons I couldn’t understand, I felt like my performance was imminent. I could practically hear the clock ticking.
But I wanted more steam.
So I went back to one of the friends who had made the initial suggestion. And he suggested maybe I hone my skills via Youtube or some other medium, prior to standing under a spotlight. I told Nic about the sudden fire under my feet, and he really kind of flat-out told me that I’m actually not that funny. And then I texted a friend, whose response was along the lines of ‘you shouldn’t assume it will be very easy.’ And suddenly — for reasons I could totally understand, I was deflated.
Sorry. This was long-winded. But I wanted to really give you the background and the ins and outs and now I’m going to sit here on the edge of my seat waiting to see if you think I should really put myself out there on a stage and try to make people who have no reason to love me — laugh.
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You are so cute! I have so much to say! This is a ridiculous Q & A! But onward, onward — onward, all the same!
Once again, may I just tell you how very very deeply helpful it is that I know you so well/slash/THAT I AM YOU. Teehee! This isn’t going to be a short response, but it’s certainly not going to be hard for me to see the truth beaming through in the situation, so I’ll just get right to it.
You are a performer.
You always have been. Let’s flashback together, shall we? You began dancing at age four and lived for the recitals. You were a cheerleader who couldn’t wait to perform at halftime. You were in every play offered through your school and even joined musicals in the nearby-biggest city. When your junior high class was studying mental disorders, you tag-teamed with the other class clown, wrote and performed a two-man rap, recapping split personality disorder — much to the thrill of your classmates. When your high school literature class was reading The Scarlet Letter, you fashioned an A out of some paper, and wore it on your clothing for the span of a week, much to the thrill of your teacher. (Or was it just your thrill? You can’t remember but that’s okay.)
And your performances didn’t stop there. You loved being a waitress. Why? Because every table was a new stage; a new scene. Every table of two or party of ten was a chance for you to slide in and convince a group of people to love you. To throw smiles at you. Praise at you. Pennies and quarters and dimes at you.
I’m going to argue here that it’s very possible that you started performing in order to gain approval (which felt like love) from anyone you could. Because your little love gauge was a little off-kilter and you didn’t ever feel like you were getting enough. So you found fairly nondestructive ways to get more. Shit! Some people do cocaine. Some people become bullies. Some people withdraw from society, as a means to stop confronting the lack. You said: fuck the lack. I’ll make people love me. I don’t care how. I’ve got a bag of tricks and I’ll pull every fucking one out.
So now you want to know if you should go to your local comedy club and stand onstage and see if people love you? Why the fuck not, my friend. I’m certain that your friends and your sweet-but-misguided Nic didn’t mean to dissuade you from trying. They likely meant to shelter you from any pain, if pain is something you could possibly take from the thing.
What they couldn’t have known was that your pain is in silence. It always has been. When you are talking or singing or dancing or yelling — that is when you’re free.
So I want to tell you to listen to the girl that’s on fire with excitment for you to tear up the stage. But that’s not even it. I want to tell you to listen to YOU. Your heart revs up when you think about making someone in a dark room laugh really hard. So follow the sound of your beating heart. Also, the odds are pretty good that at least one person in the crowd is going to think you’re dynamite. (Or who will pity you and clap in the name of kindness. Both scenarios are a win.)