Inside the Head of a Performer VI: The Big Show – Part 3
I had added the Douchebag Dance to the set list and really only had about 8 more minutes to fill. But I went to see Dave Chappelle at UMBC about 10 years ago and he was over an hour late. He said he went to the University of Maryland by mistake but we all knew he was high. Both could be true. For an entire hour, the poor Student Events Board president tried to convince the crowd that he was coming, but the crowd was getting unsettled and angry and were likely already drunk or high themselves. Eventually, when the SEB guy walked onto the stage, the crowd would boo him and yell obscenities. Most of the crowd left before Dave got there, including me. I was determined to be prepared with enough material to make sure that wouldn’t happen to me this time. Only I didn’t want to rehearse. Or write stuff. Or think.
I realized weeks before the show how largely unmotivated to put in the effort to prepare that I was. The stress of planning the wedding, writing my final portfolio for my MFA class and this concert was shutting me down. I would get home and turn on a basketball game and feel guilty I wasn’t rehearsing my material, editing the wedding video or a thousand other things. Something about even looking at my notes from past shows was irritating me. I was mailing it in. I already knew that I had about 4 minutes of high-brow dick jokes that have gone over well for years and a few other bits that could certainly eat up the rest of the 4 minutes I’d need. It wouldn’t take long at all to rehearse. And so I didn’t. For weeks.
“So you nervous yet?” I had to field this question about 17 times a day for a month. I had actually reached a point of nerve saturation where I could no longer feel the anxiety I originally did when I got the e-mail. And I think the longer I put off preparations for the show, the longer I put off the anxiety. I’m not proud of that, but I think with everything happening in that month, I had reached stress level shut-down mode and this was my body’s defense mechanism. Somehow if I didn’t prepare for the show, I wouldn’t be nervous about it. This was, however, at odds with my need to be prepared. The anxiety over not being prepared was beginning to mount a counter-offensive against my anxiety over thinking about the show. It was a storm cloud brewing and only a matter of time before these two fronts collided. And lightning struck about a week before the show when I heard this.
“You should put that in your act.” This is another statement I hear about 17 times a day when people find out I do stand-up comedy. Some people think it must be so easy to be a stand-up comedian. At least in terms of finding material. People will say this to me whenever ANYTHING happens. And in some cases, when nothing happens. True story: I was eating something and dropped it on the floor. “You should put that in your act.”
How – in the hell – could I put that in my act?! Sure, people laughed when it happened and I may have even said something contextually funny at the moment. But this is not a stand-up routine. And the person who said that to me was dead serious and an alleged fan of stand-up comedy. How should I put this in my routine? Should I tell people I dropped my food on the floor? Or should I actually come out with a piece of pizza and throw it on the floor? The second one would probably shock a lot of people, but I don’t think the bit as a stand-alone piece is ready for the stage just yet. At least this incident gave me the jolt I needed to start turning the flywheel.
to be continued…