Getting on stage doesn’t make me nervous . . . anymore. After the first open mic and the first time performing in front of an audience, the nerves just went away. There’s no more fear involved in stepping on that stage and picking up the microphone than there is in getting up in the morning and brushing my teeth. After two years, there’s absolutely no reason to feel the slightest bit nervous.
Unless, of course, you’re performing in front of your mother for the first time, ever. You know, your conservative Irish Catholic mother, who asks you every year not to send Christmas cards to her friends because she’s afraid of what you’ll write inside. Who used to have a dark, twisted sense of humor but has mellowed as she’s gotten older, so it doesn’t matter that she’s the one who taught you to laugh at Challenger jokes two days after it exploded. Who has had thirty-six years to hone that look of disappointment and disapproval into a nanosecond long laser-focused beam that will turn you into a pile of dehydrated Jell-O powder.
As you listen to your parents discuss how much they dislike the crude comedy of today and even the comedy performed by legends such as Richard Pryor, you sit at the dinner table and shrink into your seat and try to breathe. Your sister tells you that she tried to watch your stand-up videos in the past and couldn’t sit through them. Her disapproval is less burdensome but just adds to the anxiety that builds through the night.
You sit away from the family, moving to the back of the room to join old friends and even older loves. They tell you how eager they are to finally watch you perform. One of them jokes, saying that he hopes you don’t just think you’re funny. You die a little.
Finally, the show lurches to a start, and the audience quickly turns restless from the amateur sets being awkwardly delivered and the unedited material being vomited onto the crowd. You wince while your mother endures a set by a comic about rape and incest and giving himself head. The club becomes smaller and darker and you can’t stay inside another second longer.
Outside, the cool air drapes around your shoulders like a thick blanket. Deep breaths and mental exercises keep things in check. You tell yourself positive things and remind yourself of previous successes. You’re not new. You know what you’re doing. You can do this.
The show draws to a close and it’s your turn. For almost twenty minutes you work your material the way you’ve been doing it for two years. You don’t dare glance at your family’s table, riding on the laughter cascading from the audience instead. The energy of the room crackles around you as you ply your craft with skill.
Your set ends and the show is over. Your mother stands up and hugs you, kisses you on the cheek, and praises your performance, your material, and your ability. Your family and friends try to rein in their surprise that you were able to entertain them and make them laugh after so many years. You know that they finally understand why this is something that you have to do – because you love it, because you’re good at it, and because it is you.
And, finally, you think to yourself, “Thank God I didn’t do that joke about anal bleaching.”