5 lessons I learned from doing stand up comedy
I did the scariest thing I could ever have possibly imagined: my first stand up comedy. YIKES!
If you had asked me a year ago to do a stand-up gig I would’ve laughed in your face and trembled in my knees. A few months ago I got asked that very question. I laughed and trembled. Then I played small and declined the offer. But then a cheeky voice in my head whispered:
“I dare you to be the courageous and fearless version of yourself.”
With a high pitched voice, I said “uhm…ok”. Followed by a nervous laugh and a thundering tremble.
The experience of doing my first stand up comedy taught me some 5 lessons which I want to share with you today:
1. Do it afraid:
This sounds very Nike of me, but it’s true. You don’t always need to feel ‘ready’ in life in order to take risks. I would never have been ready to do stand up comedy if I kept running away from it. I did it while being afraid because fear is a feeling that can sabotage your greatest talents and dreams.
2. Fake the courageous version of yourself:
Many stand up comedians adopt a stage personality which is a version of their persona that is skillfully amplified in order to generate laughs. When I was writing my ‘set’ I imagined being the boldest, bravest version of myself. It felt like I was meeting a new side of Ursula. I loved giving her permission to freely express herself as boldly and loudly as she wanted to. I had to confront all my demons and tell them to hit the road because there wasn’t space for the two of us to shine.
3. Let fun be your strategy:
On the night if the show I was waiting in the green room (this is the room where artists wait together) with the other comedians. They were chatting about different techniques of comedy, books they’ve studied, the theories that they apply and their gruelling preparation practices. I had obviously not applied any of these techniques. This left me feeling even more green and inexperienced in the green painted walls of the green room. My game plan for the evening was to have fun. That’s all. The comedians that I love watching are the ones who have fun doing it. I could’ve let the fear goblins come at me with “your preparation is wrong” or “you need to go study and read all these books on comedy before performing your set”. Instead, I let the fear goblins cross the road as I reminded myself to just have fun. Besides, I was enjoying playing this new character that was hiding inside of me all these years.
4. Go for it:
Just before it was my turn to go on stage, the MC Schalk Bezuidenhout, asked me what my name was and whether it was my first time doing a set. I responded with a nod and then tried to engage in a joke with him (I’m a huge fan) but halfway through he turned his back on me. If I wasn’t already feeling misplaced, this confirmed that I was on unfamiliar territory and at the bottom of the rank. It’s one thing to do your first stand up comedy, but there’s the other layer of being a woman in a predominantly boy’s club industry. Nevertheless, I had a job to do as it was time to shine… or time to die (either one was possible at that moment). Bold Ursula had balls and had a ball! The audiences laughed and even the MC Schalk told me that I was “amazing” (his words). Schalk invited me for a coffee to chat about my future in stand up comedy, which was the highlight of my evening.
5. This is only the beginning:
Although it felt as if I had made a massive victory to do my first stand up comedy set, I know that any dream or skill comes with discipline, dedication and practice. On my coffee date with Schalk, he shared with me his dedication to the craft. He has literally done his Malcolm Gladwell 10,000 hours (this refers to the amount of time you spend at your craft in order to achieve success). This echoes the famous quote from Gary Player: “The more I practice, the luckier I get”. I know that I might be at the bottom of this mountain, but the route to follow is simple yet tough: keep on and on and on and on and on…..tell those goblins to go away…on and on and….be bold, be brave and on and on and on….
In short, I’ve discovered that my most powerful weapon to overcome fear is by having fun.
It’s about feeling the fear and doing it anyway. So whether you’re trembling is irrelevant. Run towards it. Play the version of you that is bold and courageous because s/he is in there waiting to have a ball!