I almost bailed on the Intro to Standup class I took this summer. (I wrote about it here.) Some of the people in my class had been doing standup for years; others had only tried it a few times. I’m pretty sure I was the only one who’d never done it before. Or maybe I made that up. I can’t remember. I was a little stressed.
I was thrilled with the first class because I wasn’t required to “standup” at all. We learned the “language of comedy” and did a couple of writing exercises. That’s exactly what I’d hoped for when I signed up the class. I wanted to try to write funny, but I didn’t see myself as a standup comedian—at all.
For the second class we had to get on stage and do up to 3 minutes of material. I found this out when I read the email the teacher sent on the morning of the class. He didn’t send the email on the morning of the day we had class, but that’s when I saw it.
What?! I have to get up on stage today?!
I had no idea what to say. Under last-minute pressure, I ended up thinking of something that had happened at the grocery store the night before, an interaction with my dad and my brother, and a bit about my cats. I got up on stage with my notebook and did it.
After I sat down, the teacher asked me how long I thought I’d been on stage. It felt like an hour, but I said, “5 minutes?”
“Two minutes and twenty-four seconds.”
The following week was worse because we were supposed to have worked on our bits during the week and I hadn’t. I thought about it on the drive to class, but not in a productive way. More in a WhatamIgoingtosay?WhatamIgoingtosay? sort of way.
Turns out, I didn’t say anything. I waited and waited, not volunteering, listening to my classmates, who had all worked on their bits—you could tell. I gave feedback where I could and hoped we’d run out of class time before it was my turn.
We did. I didn’t have to get up on stage that day.
By the time I was driving home, my relief had turned into disappointment. What was the worst that would have happened? I’d have gotten up there and said the same things I’d said the week before. So what? I would have survived. I’d still be driving home, but I wouldn’t be so disappointed that I’d wasted an opportunity to do something scary and exciting.
If I was going to keep doing that—sitting it out—I might as well quit the class.
Is that what I wanted to do?
That feeling of disappointment and seeing the progress my classmates had made in just one week motivated me. If they could do it, I could do it.
(By the way, I did not waste time beating myself up about my lack of courage that day. I just decided to do something different the following week.)
Next class, I volunteered to go first. I wanted to get it over with before I lost my nerve (again.)
I took the stage and did my bit. I survived! My teacher and classmates gave me feedback and suggestions, the most important being I hadn’t really done a “bit,” I’d told a story with a funny ending. I needed to have more “jokes per minute.”
I had no idea how to add more jokes per minute, but I knew I’d figure it out.