As a comic, you’re alone on stage armed with only a microphone and your thoughts. Musicians have an army and a whole arsenal of weapons; they can hide behind an instrument and their band. They break a string, forget some of the lyrics…no problem, just mumble it out like Elvis and the show goes on. The comic remains a solitary figure with his balls on the chopping block, standing before a crowd of judgmental strangers, with those very same strangers holding the axe.
Of all the things people fear the most, even more feared than death is public speaking. Politicians are really good at it because they lie. Comics are just disturbed. Whether it is profound or vulgar, a comic always has something to say.
This incessant need to express oneself can drive one (and those around them) batty, especially if you think every thing you say is funny and/or poignant. When people ask if I am funny, I usually say, “sometimes,” because for the remainder of the time, I’m as serious as erectile dysfunction. (Perhaps not the best comparison; impotence is only hilarious if it’s not you.)
On stage, the comic’s expression of self must be coupled with a sense of honesty that the audience can relate to. To be on stage is to experience a sense of freedom that allows one to say whatever the hell one wants to say — but always keeping in mind that old adage, “It ain’t what you say, it’s the way that you say it.” I have a difficult time being up front and honest off stage, but on stage I’m not just “honest,” I’m brutally fucking honest. A friend of mine once commented about my lack of disclosure while we were “processing” — New Age speak for “we are fucking and have to talk about feelings”. She said to me that comics, for the most part, are chicken shits. Yet put them in front of a room full of strangers under a spot light and watch them verbally vomit their deepest and darkest. Comedy, it turns out, isn’t all jokes and laughs.
I’ve been guilty of using the stage from time to time as a form of cheap talk therapy. It’s hard not to: a room full of strangers and me with a microphone…oh sweet, sweet temptation! A decade ago, I was in “official” anger management and talk therapy. One of the requirements for therapy was sobriety before any session. At least with comedy I can have a drink or two. Although there was a time, in the beginning, where three double vodka tonics was my warm up, and the drive home was a straight line. In a parallel universe I have died or have been incarcerated many times over.
(Fortunately, that kind of drinking is long gone, unless it’s my birthday and I’m being roasted and served up shot after shot of whiskey. By some estimates, I had up to 15 shots that evening. I lost track after 8 and blacked out on stage after 10. Luckily [for some, if not for me], there’s footage locked in a vault to be released with my first DVD.)
In my pursuit of “brutal honesty” in the rest of my life, my comedy has sometimes suffered. At times, I’m talking more and making people laugh less…or at least that’s what a friend — and fellow comic — tells me. But don’t judge your performance by what a colleague says or thinks. If the audience is laughing, that’s all that matters.
I’m not really trying to be funny on stage, just honest — honest with myself. I prefer the term stand-up philosopher to stand up comic. Ultimately, I’m just another fucking “artist” trying to say what he really means, so as to not to be misunderstood in a world full of confusion. A world that could use more laughter, a world that could stand to take a heavy dose of self-reflective deprecation shoved in its face. A world that takes it self too seriously, so that one is forced to laugh at oneself in order to survive the insanity that we are bombarded with day to day from the news and humanity at large.
In the end, nothing is sacred and therefore everything is funny. Our existence hinges upon absurdity, and all you really have left is the grand cosmic joke with the punch line being one’s own demise. So laugh it up. You’re going to die anyway, and you might as well have a good time while you’re at it.
“Stage Fright” image by Andrew E. Larsen, used under a Creative Commons license.
Marco Antonio Alvarez: a misfit existentialist. Hanging with this guy is like dropping acid and riding alongside Mr. Toad on his wild ride. Born into a pack of wolves and later released into society, Marco appreciates the finer things in life, such as film-making, stand-up comedy, the occasional death match and strange encounters of the fifth kind. You can view his short films, find show dates and other comedy/film info, and friend him on Facebook to stay up to date with whatever trouble-brewing he deems necessary.