The Mindful Comedian
It could happen.
Every comic I know that has been at it for a while and that I respect has told me that if you are not bombing once in a while, you really aren’t pushing yourself. Well, if that’s the case then I may be pushing myself right off a cliff.
I have had two experiences this year alone where I was “eating” it from the start. The good news is that I was able to recover but no matter how much I tell myself that this is “supposed to happen”, it feels like absolute shit. It’s horrible and it makes me question not only my comedy but my ability to make life decisions, also.
Last Wednesday, I had a performance in Philadelphia that started out painfully for me. I couldn’t seem to connect and I just wasn’t able to find the right vibe with the audience from the get go. In addition, it reinforced another recent performance where I had a similar experience.
It got better a few minutes in but 180 seconds of “finding your way” on stage can feel excruciating. What made it worse was that, unlike most shows I do, I had people in the audience that were friends. That’s the worst. That’s like missing the free throw in front of your entire family and friends and them telling you that “you did your best – it was a tough game.”
I noticed a difference that evening, however. My usual negative self-talk was quieted to just a murmur. Don’t get me wrong – it was there. However, I was allowing myself to change the narrative a little and reinforce to myself that I just had an off night and that it happens to the best of us. It’s not as if the feeling of disappointment wasn’t there, but this time, it wasn’t the only overwhelming feeling available to me for hours on end.
I think, for me, the practice of mindfulness meditation, has helped just from the standpoint of understanding what it is that seems to be guiding us in terms of our thoughts. It does two things: 1. it helps me recognize the thought as being there and not place any judgement on it (ie. “I feel really, really shitty right now” vs. “I feel really, really shitty right now and suck at everything and don’t belong here and will never get asked back to this club”. 2. It helps me put things into perspective (ie. “I am doing something that is off the track, risky and makes me feel alive and sometimes it’s going to suck but as long as the important people in my life are ok, what else matters?”).
Perhaps this is a natural set point for a lot of people. These are the ones that seem to, more than not, wade calmly through the waters of life regardless of how rapidly or intensely the flow may be at any given time. I am not one of these people. It is interesting how many times people have commented on my “calmness” or similar trait only to learn that I am the duck who is constantly paddling under water to make sure I can at least appear to stay afloat.
Being a comedian is one of the most humbling experiences I have ever had, next to being a parent (and in the past, a spouse). There is no escaping the reality of the moment, whether good or bad, with an immediate feedback that can change week to week, day to day and moment to moment.
Think about situations in your life that may be similar – such as relationships, a tenuous work environment, a physical activity or managing the unpredictability of living with some sort of illness. It is extremely difficult to be “in the moment” without having those feelings fester and grow sometimes. Maybe 5 to 10 minutes of focusing on our breath and qualifying our thoughts as nothing more than just that – thoughts – without meaning, is the best friend a comedian, or anyone, ever had.
Until next time,