What stand-up comedy taught me about telling the truth (among other things)
Stand-up comedy has made my life so much better. It might seem strange that a medium that centers on telling jokes would help me reexamine major parts of my personality and my life, but it’s true. It’s given me a voice and an avenue to express myself. Besides being my favorite non-paying hobby, stand-up has been one of the most amazing and life affirming journeys I’ve ever experienced. But you don’t need to a comedian to benefit from the important lessons that I’ve learned from standup. I’ve found that what I’ve learned tends to apply to all areas of my life. The following are some of the most important nuggets of wisdom I’ve gleaned from stepping up to the mic
Funny comes in any size or shape
Before I started stand-up, I would constantly fantasize about being a comic. It’s really embarrassing to admit, but I spent hours thinking about how funny and cool I’d be, and how I’d change the world with my awesome comedy. The problem was I was thinking about it, not doing it. The tipping point came when I got in an argument with my partner because when I asked him if he thought I’d be a good stand-up comic. He said he didn’t know, since I hadn’t done it yet.
I was mad that he couldn’t see how great I’d be, but then I realized he literally couldn’t see me doing stand-up, because I wasn’t doing it. And the reason I wasn’t doing it was because there was an insidious little ad lib to all my fantasies—I thought I’d have to be skinny, pretty, and at my goal weight to give standup comedy shot.
So the thing stopping me from pursuing my dreams was not how funny or brave I was, it was what I looked like. There was nothing seriously wrong with me—I was just a healthy, normal looking girl. But I was convinced unless I was the ideal gorgeous me, no one would take me seriously.
I didn’t try stand-up for the first time until I lost 40 pounds and was at my goal weight. But then my obsession with being a skinny, perfect standup comic backfired: I saddled myself with a knee injury that led to me gaining all the weight back. Thank goodness it happened, because now I know that I’m funny at any size, and my appearance shouldn’t hinder my belief in my abilities. Today I’m technically overweight, but I feel more capable, confidant, and funny than I’ve ever been. I know now that my appearance was just excuse to not accomplish my goals.
As I’ve gotten older I’ve realized that there will always be an excuse to not do something that you want to do. Maybe you think you shouldn’t move coasts until you have a more stable career, or you shouldn’t apply to a grad schools because it will take too much of a toll on a romantic relationship. I’ve realized that whatever the excuse is, it’s just an excuse. If you really want to go for something, you should just do it. Life is too short to defer your dreams, and the other things in your life will adapt to make room for this new pursuit. At the end of the day, you are the one who has to accomplish these dreams, not the pretend ‘perfect’ you that lives in your head.
The best way to grow and change for the better is to face your fears
For weeks before I first did standup, there was a date circled on my calendar: February 12. That was the day I agreed to do standup, and told a bunch of my friends to show up watch me so I couldn’t back out of it. As far as I was concerned, I would explode and the world would end on February 12. That was how scared I was. But I knew unless I made a point of picking a day and time for me to try it, I could put it off forever. So the day came, and as predicted, I was freaked out of my mind.
But then the MC called my name and a room filled with people expected me to get on stage, so I did. I performed my jokes, and people laughed. At the end of my set I ran off stage to sit near my friends. My hands were literally shaking. I would be lying if I said I didn’t drink any entire gin and tonic in one gulp. But I had finally done stand-up. And the cool thing was that after that first time, I could do it again and again. I had taken a big scary dive into something that would become one of my favorite things in the world. Much like jumping into cold water, doing something out of the ordinary can seem daunting at first. However, once you take the plunge you’ll find yourself wondering why you were so afraid in the first place.
Be an advocate for yourself. No one else is going to do it for you.
Prior to starting stand-up, I was not very good at speaking up. I would often endure bad treatment at work, in my friendships, or in public because I was afraid of making a fuss. Now that I regularly make a fuss on stage in front of an audience, I realize the power of my own words. Today, if someone cuts me in line at the supermarket, I tell them to wait their turn. If get catcalled by a stranger, I tell them to leave me alone. If I someone isn’t being kind to me in a friendship I let them know. Speaking up for myself, a behavior that I used to see as radical is now an every day part of my life. I know realize that it is my own responsibility to take care of myself. Self-advocating isn’t “pushy.” It’s necessary.
If you want to change the world for women, show up and represent.
One of my first times doing stand-up, I got heckled. I wasn’t being heckled because I was on stage telling bad jokes. In fact I wasn’t even on stage yet. I was being heckled because I dared to show up to a comedy club with boobs. About a year ago, I got harassed by several male comedians for being a woman at a comedy club. It really sucked, and almost made me want to quit before I’d really even started.
But then I realized that if I left standup behind forever, I was letting all those jerks win. Part of why they felt entitled to say those kinds of things to a woman was because women were (and unfortunately still are) an anomaly in comedy. If I stepped out of standup instead of soldiering on, I was going contribute to keeping women away from the mic. Instead, by insisting on getting better, showing up, and kicking butt I was going to incrementally make standup a more inviting place for other women. The same can be said for many different fields of work or hobbies. If you love it, and it seems hostile to women, the only way to make it better in the future is to keep showing up every day. You can choose to see this as a drag, or you can see it as you being an incredibly important warrior for the women of tomorrow. Either way, you’ll be participating in the time-honored tradition of progress.
Telling the truth won’t make everyone like you, but it will make it easier to find people that do
Pre-stand-up, I used to censor myself and not tell the whole truth to most people I encountered. This could be anything from suppressing an funny joke I had thought of to not expressing my opinion on a topic. It wasn’t that I was lying, it I was just that I was more guarded with my opinions because I was afraid of offending people or making them uncomfortable. After stand-up, I’m quicker to voice my opinions and say what comes to mind. There are definitely more people who have me on a limited profile on Facebook as a result, but I feel more like myself and I have stronger ties to the people around me. Instead of being afraid of the embarrassing, the scary, or the uncomfortable, I embrace it. And my life is much better for it.
Basically, what I’ve taken away from this weird art form is that I’m more brave, powerful and effective than I ever thought I was, and I shouldn’t be afraid of living as myself. But you don’t necessarily need to start doing standup to learn this stuff. These are all important lessons about growing up and living in the world, and I’m pretty sure that I would have to have to learn them anyway. Stand-up just helped me get there faster.
Scarlet Meyer is a NYC-based writer and stand up comedian. You can check out news about her upcoming work and shows here.