Who Needs Drugs? You’ve Got Fear On Your Side!

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Frank Sinatra once mused in an interview to Larry King that after all his success and the accolades, before he went out on stage every night to perform a thought was always at the back of his mind, every time out.  He wondered if he would still have it when he gets on stage, would that first note be there?  Mind you, it was only for the first 4 or 5 seconds but it’s still there, every time out.

A bit of fear is healthy in life.  It keeps you honest and keeps you humble.  Just a couple quick stories about my fears.

First we go back a couple weeks to my Thursday night mixed bowling league.  To say my bowling has always been inconsistent is like calling the sky blue.  I’ve had my moments, but they’ve been more bad than good.  Anyhow, our league has two strike pots that you buy raffle tickets for.  If your ticket is pulled, you get to throw one ball on a lane you aren’t bowling on that night, with every team stopping bowling for the draws, to see if you can throw a strike.  If you miss, the pot gets carried over to the next week.

A couple weeks ago the pot was at $130.  I bought my tickets on the one hand hoping I’d get called, yet on the other hand hoping it wasn’t me getting picked, but I still wanted the person who got picked to miss.  I know, totally logical thoughts, right?  Well, guess who got picked?

I had a co-worker say that he figured I would be “pissing my pants” being up there with everybody watching.  I told him on the contrary, until I got up to bowl.

Everything about that moment didn’t feel right.  You had to walk over to the lane specified, pick up a ball with very little time for setup or preparation, and throw.  As I stood there with ball in hand I felt the nerves inside.  Although I wasn’t showing outward signs of fear (that I could see), I was shaking inside.  I didn’t have the confidence that I thought I’d possess in a moment like that.  I’ve been in tournaments and team playoffs in the important moments, and been able to fully concentrate without distraction.  But it’s different when you are the only one bowling, alone on an island so to speak, with everybody watching you.

The only thought that entered my head wasn’t like Sinatra’s.  I had the voice in the back of my head telling me “for the love of God, please do not throw it into the gutter!”  When that voice got into my head, it affected my delivery because my release point was off.  I knew it from the second the ball left my hand, so I wasn’t really surprised when I missed a strike.

Here’s what doesn’t make sense though.  Practicing bowling for me doesn’t mean I will do any better in league play.  I’ve always been like that and I can’t figure out why.  Maybe it’s because when I practice or roll-off, you’re up quicker and don’t have to sit as much waiting for your turn.  This means you keep the momentum going and can be a bit more consistent.  But when league play comes, when you start missing shots, you have to sit and wait your turn meaning it’s that much longer for you to think about what you didn’t do right from the last frame or last game.  It’s unhealthy and has ruined my night on many an occasion.

Now to tie this into comedy…….

On February 24th I will be taking part at an open mic night at the Capitol Music Club doing a five minute set.  It’s the first time I will be doing an open mic in the city in over two years.

Doing an open mic is a challenge, especially because it’s the first one I’ve done since I started receiving comedy coaching.  I think open mics are tricky because you never know what you are going to get from the audience from one comic to the next.  Throw in the fact that the open mic is held on a night that’s usually dominated by musical acts, then it’s really hard to say what will happen.

It’s been my experience on stage that people who are there for an open mic, they aren’t necessarily sitting with baited breath waiting for you to give them a reason to laugh.  If they don’t like comedy or they just don’t like you doing comedy, then you are screwed, especially if the first joke doesn’t get you heading in the right direction fast.  Plus I get the feeling that an open mic night means you might need to do a bit of crowd work and think on your feet a lot faster than say, performing at a professional comedy club like The Laugh Shop.

When it comes right down to it, I have more confidence or faith in my ability to succeed in comedy than I do bowling, whereas I’ve been bowling since the age of 6 and I’ve only bee doing comedy for just over three years.  Fear, or the voice of self-doubt can be a good thing to keep you from becoming overconfident, arrogant and an ass.  Comedy and five pin bowling couldn’t be any more different, yet my comedy success has come in a far shorter time span with less practice (than over 30 years of bowling).  It’s kind of disappointing to admit that I’m not a better bowler than what I know I could be, but all the practice in the world won’t help me for the reasons I mentioned earlier.

Then again, my comedy coaching, the hours, money and material I’ve created from my writing sessions with my coach were meant for moments like these, at an open mic night.  I have a clearly defined idea of what makes an audience laugh and why they laugh. You would think I’d have the right ammo and tools now to be able to succeed in such an environment.

Then again, before I hit the stage on the 24th, that thought will be in the back of my mind for the first few seconds…..”will I still have it tonight?  Will I be able to get those laughs from the first joke?”  Maybe taking advice from Sinatra isn’t a bad idea after all.


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