This is a lesson of comedy that I am having a hard time remembering.
When I was in college, we used to shoot a lot of pool. In between classes, every Monday and Wednesday night, or whenever we needed to “blow off steam.” While I am considered a pretty decent shooter in most circles, for the guys I was running with at the time, I was definitely the kid with the neck brace on that no one wants to pick for kick ball or whatever the hell team sport. I was bad at breaking. I couldn’t bank. I never took the time to line up my shots. And I will never forget the advice my friend D.B. gave me. D.B. was trying to show me how to break one time and he told me to take a deep breathe. And he didn’t look at my posture or my ball position. D.B. just looked me square in the eye and said, “This game, like most games, is about confidence.”
I have been having, what I am told is, a very normal crisis of confidence. I sit on the sidelines of the stage and I watch all of these people partying their dicks off and blowing the audience’s mind. They work pattern and relationship. They are straight and absurd. They tell stories that transport the audience through space and time. They find the irony and insanity in daily life, and they beat the audience over the damn head with it. I watch them and I jealously know I have nothing. I sit in classes, the same as they have. I have written exercises and had group meetings. I have used games and run full pieces using the skills I have learned, both with some success and some difficulty. Just the same as they have. But for some reason, here, in front of this audience, I look out and I know I have nothing. And the truly scary part is that I think they know too.
In that moment I manage to convince myself that in this moment, in this show, in this comedy thing, on this whole dang planet, I am totally alone. I am nothing and I have nothing, nothing of value to give to this. No support to give. No contribution to make. I belong no where and to no one. I am a poor pathetic empty vessel, and I need to get really content with being a server or a meter maid for the rest of my life. I wonder if it is too late to get into roofing school. I wonder if they have a school for that. I have no talent and no skill and everybody knows it.
Now, now, I know this kind of melodrama lends itself easily to a knee-jerk pep talk or a barrage of advice that rhymes. And believe me; I have had it administered by the best over the last few weeks. But it may be the kind of golden nugget that never appears until you really need it and then you can’t unsee it. Sort of like a magic eye poster.
Fuck the audience.
That’s right. Fuck the audience. So there they sit, right? Knowing that you are panicking, picking up on your uneasy squirmage. They drink their booze drinks and get judgy and awkward. Well, you know what? That’s right, fuck ’em. So what if you do fail? So what if you stink it up and take a big proverbial deuce to the stage? You are the one taking classes, studying comedy, and practicing in friends’s living rooms. You are the one performing to (notice I said ‘to’, not ‘for’) groups of about 3 middle aged people in a converted Burger King on a random Tuesday. And you are the one who is going to stick with it, muddle through this, learn some shit, become bad ass, get successful and buy a skeeball machine. And they are the one who is a temporary entity that will, in all likelihood, only exist in this formation for this one show. The shitty people in this crowd will never come to a show of yours again. So fuck them. And the real fans of comedy will watch you learn and grow, and one day they will be your biggest fans. So they can just get wonderful in the same chairs they got weird in. Fuck them.
So what if you try something and they don’t understand you? Well, you learned how to better present an idea like that for next time, so fuck ’em. Or what if there are other comedians in the audience? Well if they are gaining some satisfaction pretending they never had the yips, I hope they enjoy it. Because either they are lying, or they aren’t even there yet. So either way, fuck them too.
Improv Amendment: But shit, dude, what if the other improvisers you are performing with know you got nothing?
Then, I say, what a fabulous chance for them to shine. Not shine as in, impress-the-pants-off-of-everyone-else-while-throwing-your-frozen-ass-under-a-nearby-bus, but shine as in playing-mind-tricks-on-the-crowd-while-gifting-the-crap-out-of-you-and-making-you-look-like-a-comedy-ninja. Because that is the beautiful, wonderful, sno-cone-on-a-hot-day thing about this whole improv thing. No matter how witty or smart or creative they are, and no matter how well they can play a game or paint a scene, any improviser worth their weight in drink tickets will get your back every step of the way. Nobody does this alone. Because it would be boring. And kind of just a dude playing pretend by himself on stage (ok, ok…I know some people do something like this alone, but that isn’t what we are talking about. Quit being argumentative). Ultimate back-having dictates you are only as good as you can make other people look. Yes And, motherfucker. And if they aren’t willing to at least try to do that, then ya…fuck ’em.
The whole point is this; Comedy exists (in my world, but I am assuming for most of us) as a completely liberated place. A place where you can truly say truly anything. A world that you can make up for yourself. You can delicately build it brick by brick for posterity, or you can make it up as you go along and tear it down the next day and start all over again.
It is the one place where I can take what I have and make it what I want. I can take the advice that I want, and ignore the rest. I can be the kind of person I want to be here. I can be good at this because I said so. I can party my dick off and melt brains because I have endowed myself with the ability to do so. I will succeed at this because I have the dedication, empathy, and generosity to do it, even if it takes a while. Because the very essence of what this is, is up to me. And when I start saying different, fuck me too.
Amy Anderson is a student at The New Movement, New Orleans