Story A Week (SAW) 3: Jan 15th, 2018
by Adam O’Sullivan
I – The Moral
That night, as he falls asleep, he thinks to himself the moral of the story:
“Don’t let fear stand in your way. Don’t convince yourself you can’t do something if you haven’t given it a shot.”
II – The Setup
It’s an often quoted statistic that more people are scared of public speaking than they are of dying. He’s always thought that was weird. Dying is… the end of everything. The end of consciousness. How could you prefer that to anything? But in this one moment he understands. If given the choice of a painless expiration by a silent apparition at this point in time, he might accept it. His body wants to flee. His stomach is not just doing backflips, but may be a contender for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics Diving Team.
Yet he put himself in this position. It’s something he’s wanted more than anything and now he feels like he could just give it all up if it didn’t involve disappointing everyone he invited. In his youth he let the fear get the best of him, but now he’s older and he tends to put himself in a situation where it becomes harder to get out of something than to just go ahead and do it. It’s not quite fearlessness, but it helps him get out of his comfort zone.
When people go to do public speaking, they’re worried the audience will laugh at them. His fears are the complete opposite – he’s worried that no-one will laugh at him.
III – Behind The Curtain
His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy…
He’s nervous, but on the surface he looks calm and ready
Lose Yourself – Eminem
Eminem has nothing on him. Or does he finally realise what Eminem was rapping about? These are thoughts he will have afterwards, not in the moment. In the moment, as he waits behind the curtain for the MC to call his name, as he starts to feel the warmth of the spotlight as it heats up the red curtain in front of him, his fingers and knees sometimes touching it as it billows in a breeze that can’t seem to come from anywhere as the whole room is underground. Like a basement comedy room, and the thought he has while writing this story, 6 months after the fact is: does this make him a basement comedian? No, make that a bargain basement comedian. That makes it funnier.
IV – The Moment
The MC is calling his name, and it’s the most surreal thing he’s ever heard. His first thought is “How does the MC know my name?”, as if the past 5 weeks spent under her tutelage have been wiped from his memory. He walks through the curtain and he hears the clapping, the cheers of his friends, the unmistakeable voices of his university house mates in a table near the back. The lights are bright, and he’d been told that he wouldn’t be able to see anyone in the audience, but he can clearly just make out the faces of his mum and his dad, sitting at a table right up the front and at the seats closest to the stage.
He shakes the MC’s hand, and she disappears as if she was never there. Wait, is he dreaming? If he looks down, will he be naked? If you’re naked in public and no one is calling the police, it means you’re in a dream, right? Out of the corner of his eye he can still see the blue suspenders that he put on over the white dress shirt. No tie – none matched the colour of the suspenders, and no bow tie – too over the top.
He reaches the mic. The clapping subsides. He has the first words of his set on the tip of his tongue and yet:
“Well, it’s not going to get any better than that, thank you, goodnight!”
He walks back away from the mic, following the path of his ad libbed joke. As he does, the exit music swells, and his mind freezes in fear – did they actually think he was too scared to do it? He walks back to the mic and the music dies down again. Whoever is running the music is a professional, and his comedy game is much stronger than mine. He silently thanks the sound guy in his head for helping him with the silly improvised bit.
Now it’s time to start the pre-written material. He launches into a premise that he came up with weeks ago, in the second week of the course, and finishes up with a punchline that was suggested by another girl in the class. He almost didn’t do it – it is technically half her joke – but she begged him to include it, and he’s nothing if not catering to the people who are nice to him.
The room erupts in laughter. Is this a release of nervousness, his from being in front of a crowd of people and theirs from thinking ‘oh, maybe he is actually funny’. How terrible and awkward if he had gotten up on stage and not been funny.
He has one laugh in his pocket. Surely the rest of the night is just gravy.
At the end of the set, he walks back through the curtain and back to the green room at the back. There are hugs and high fives, there are exclamations of “you killed it!” and “we did it!”. These are the friends he has met in the fire of the stage lights, who have shared the terror of public speaking.
V – The Aftermath
Later, when someone asks him about what it felt like up on stage, he’ll comment that he can’t remember much about it. It will be like time has sped up. Seconds to him after he tells his first joke, he’s through the whole routine and offstage. Watching the video later, he’ll realise he was up onstage for 7 minutes – two minutes longer than the suggested 5 minutes. It didn’t feel like that.
Months later, he will reflect upon this moment as he drives to another open-mic comedy gig. It’s his 10th so far. He’ll reflect on how he spent 10 years wracked with fear about getting up onstage, worrying that people wouldn’t laugh at his jokes. Now he does it once a week – and at least half the shows have been ones where nobody has laughed. He’s used to it now. He gets through it and looks forward to the next. For years he couldn’t even comprehend looking forward to the first.
VI – The Moral Reiterated
“Don’t let fear stand in your way. Don’t convince yourself you can’t do something if you haven’t given it a shot.” he says, when people ask him how he can do what he now does so regularly.
He’s living proof.