By: Justin Tuttle | Twitter: @tuttlecomedy | Posted: April 14th, 2014
Every year polls are taken on the biggest fears in America. And every year "public speaking" is at the top of the list. Most of the time it's above death. People admit to being more frightened by the thought of public speaking than they are of getting cancer. (Insert a long reading pause here to fully absorb that.)
But why? We all talk to people every day. Surely a large group of them can't be that much different. What's the worst thing you think will happen?
Answer: Everyone silently stares with their judging eyes as you forget what you were going to say and sweat through that poorly chosen grey shirt, showing off your abnormally large pit stains. (Seriously, you should get that checked out.) Then the sea of people in attendance leave, remembering you as the person who ruined everything good in the world. It's a nightmare come true!
Or in other words, people are scared of "bombing". Comedians do it all the time. And you are right to be scared. Cause it sucks. It's a pride crushing feeling. You are all alone up there on that stage. And you are even more alone after the show when people try to avoid eye contact so they don't have to fake a "good job" thumbs up as they cross your path.
As a hopeful comedian, you are going to bomb. Probably a lot. You will bomb so bad that you will want to quit on the spot. And when you bomb, you will think everyone who saw it will remember you as the worst performer in the history of comedy. How could they think anything else? You died up there!
But here is some good news. (And it's not going to sound like good news at first.) If you are on an open mic or a showcase show and the audience hasn't specifically paid to see you, keep this in mind:
No one cares. I mean that in a loving way, but no one cares about anything you said.
"Wait! My family was there!" Alright, they might care and/or disown you, but that's an exception.
An hour after MOST audience members walk out the door, they forget everything they heard. In a snap, it's almost been erased from their minds. They return to their lives. They are back to their friends, and their jobs, and their hobbies, and their binge watching of television shows they claim to love yet waited 9 months for them to be available on Netflix to see. You and your jokes never enter their brain again.
Sure, some may remember a joke that hit home with them or a joke that really offended them. Of course, if the entire show was horrible they might hold on to feelings of not wanting to go back. And yes, the next time they see you walk on stage they might have a slight recollection of you not doing too well the previous go around. But they can't recall why. Or remember anything you said. Or even if you are the person they are thinking about. In fact, you might have been their favorite! They don't know.
Most comedy show goers are forgiving. And it's not because they are generous people. It's because they aren't attached to you or your material enough to harbor feelings of dislike. I know this sounds negative, but look at the bright side. You get a clean slate with every set. No one but you is keeping track of your wins and losses. And if you are writing down your comedy sets as "wins" and "losses", go in the other room and smack yourself with a bag of frozen peas.
There is no losing. There is only progressing and not progressing. So the next time you hear crickets on stage and want to go home and drown yourself in a bathtub of pudding, keep in mind you are probably the only one who remembers it. (And maybe some of the other comics, but don't worry about them, they are dicks.)
Not only can you live through everyone else's biggest fear that is public speaking gone awry, but you can use it to make yourself a better performer. And possibly a better person.
I haven't figured out how to do that last part yet, but hey, anything is possible.