Performance

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I’m terrified. I’m a professional performer, but in 90 minutes I’ll be sitting down to my first ever singing lesson.

Here are a few of the reasons why I'm scared.

The lesson will be private. One-on-one. And the instructor, Mady, is, by all accounts, an incredibly delightful, non-intimidating person. I’ve performed on stages in front of 5000+ person crowds. I’ve spoken to hundreds of thousands of people around the US. I’ve done stand-up comedy on a stage in a country where the material I was performing could have landed me in jail, or worse.

So why am I so nervous about this?

Continue reading → “I’m terrified. I’m a professional performer, but in 90 minutes I’ll be sitting down to my first ever singing lesson.”
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Remembering What You Do

"A living cell requires energy not only for all its functions, but also for the maintenance of its structure." - Albert Szent-Gyorgyi

What do you do?

No matter your answer, if you’re anything like me you probably have an iceberg-esque situation on your hands, with 10% of your time spent doing what you do and 90% of your time doing maintenance to allow that 10% to happen.

I’m a “social justice comedian.” Tonight, I got to do that. I performed my show at St. Martin’s University in Olympia, Washington. It was a blast. During that hour, I remembered, for the first time in too long, what I do. Because the vast (vast!) majority of my time as a social justice comedian is spent not being a social justice comedian.

The 10%/90% split is ambitious. Last year, only roughly .006% of the time I spent working was me onstage. The other 99.994% of the time I was reading emails, writing, writing emails, meeting, reading emails, traveling, designing, coding, and writing email. Now, in my case, I don’t need to spend most of that time in those ways. In fact, most of the work I do actually gets in the way of me being able to do what I do. But even if I was just focusing completely on my show, I wouldn’t be spending the majority of my time on stage.

When I’ve gone a long time between performing my show, I get depressed, and find it harder and harder to do the 99.994%-type work I do. It’s easy to lose site of the forest for the trees, and to forget that every email I read and send, every article I write, every little promo thing I design — all of them are little steps that get me to my next time on stage. If I can find the joy on those things that I find in performing my show, my life will become the kind of dream that right now only ZzzQuil can induce.

I’m going to start trying to remember what I do while doing everything I do.

Updates

Let Your Teacher Grade Your Test

It's difficult to wait for feedback, but unless you're responsible for judging yourself, you're likely doing yourself a disservice by filling in the blanks.

I did a show earlier today, which isn’t that odd, or thought-provoking. I do shows a lot. It’s what I do. But the show today was different from any show I’ve done, because it was over Skype. That was a first for me.

Doing a show over Skype is different for a ton of reasons: there’s a delay between delivery and reaction, it’s hard (or impossible) to hear laughter, I was sitting down, I didn’t have to wear pants, I can’t feel the energy, and more. It was weird on so many layers. And while it was awesome to make a show happen hundreds of miles away without the costs and inconveniences of travel, I didn’t feel great about it afterward. And, honestly, that was the only thing that was not new about the show.

It’s fascinating to me how often I will decide after a show that it didn’t go well. In my head I’ll hear things like “I know that I could have done better,” or “I have done better,” or “I didn’t vibe very well with that crowd,” or “the economy is pretty weak right now.” I focus on that bad. I’ll be sure. Even though it’s ridiculous to be sure. Pretty much all of the data, if I decide to actually allow it into my brain, would push me toward another decision.

I’ve performed hundreds of times, in dozens of different formats, for just as many types of crowds, and types of people. And the vast majority of those shows have gone well. So, just going from statistical likelihoods, I should lean toward “this show went well” instead of “this show went terribly” when not presented with other data. But there are always other data. Did people laugh? Did people’s heads nod? Did I get most of my words out in the order they are supposed to be said in? And in most cases, as well as in the case of the show today, all signs point toward good show. Yet, despite all of these data, I am sometimes able to convince myself that a show didn’t go well.

And that’s what I did today. I was so sure the show today went poorly that I texted my manager/bud Chum today after my show and apologized preemptively. I felt guilty. After the show, I was sitting there and wondering what I could have done differently, how I could have given them a better show, where I fell short, if I should ever accept a Skype show ever again or just turn my computer off forever. I knew I gave it my best — I would never do anything else — but I blew it. Then I saw this:


That’s Mary, the person who coordinated the show, who reached out to me after (with no prompting) and told me how wrong I was. Mary’s tweet unknows everything I “knew.” And that’s happened every time. If shows went as bad as I beat myself up for every time, I wouldn’t have a job. If the things I wrote were as poorly received and terrible as I convince myself as soon as I publish them, I wouldn’t be writing this write now (ha! That’s now how you do words!). There are so many times in my life where I decide things are bad before they are even things, even though I, intellectually, know how ridiculous it is. But I still do it. I’m grading tests I’m not qualified to grade.

When completing a test in school, regardless of how great or not-so-great we were feeling about it, we wouldn’t write the grade at the top, would we? Did you? I didn’t? Particularly if the test didn’t go that well. I wouldn’t write a bold-faced “F” at the top, hand it to my teacher, and walk out of the class with a peace sign up. But that’s what I did today. And that’s what I do, and have done, in so many times aspects of my life. I grade tests I’m not qualified to grade, and start allowing my body to react to that grade, before ever giving my teacher a chance to respond.

I’m going to try to start letting the teachers in my life grade my tests, and using the time when I’m waiting for my grade as recess.