On Overcoming fear. On exposure therapy as a process of overcoming.
On overcoming fear. On exposure therapy as a process of overcoming.
There is such a thing called exposure therapy. Exposure therapy is used to help patients get over their fear of things by slowly nudging in the direction of the thing they are afraid of. Doesn’t matter if it is snakes, spiders, heights, leaving the house, inability to try new things, exposure therapy can help overcome them all. The key is to slowly inch the patient /toward/ their fear. They’re going to be scared, sure, even scared out of their minds, but they’re also going to be courageous for themselves. With each new step, with each new inch they take toward their fear, toward the thing that’s been holding them back this entire time, they get more courageous and they get to see their progress in real time.
Take public speaking. Most people are scared to death of public speaking even though there is no threat to your life when you’re up on stage in front of people. None. None whatsoever. When you’re new, this statement doesn’t matter. People still freak out. The only way to get over it is to expose yourself to it and get up there in front of people again and again and again.
Learning to do standup comedy is arguably the hardest form of public speaking there is. You’ve got to learn to be naked onstage, baring all to the audience. To most people, the very thought of doing that is /Verboten/. They can’t even begin to think about airing their own dirty laundry up there on stage. They can’t because they’re too closed up. They’re wound up too tight. They are far too fearful of what other people think of them.
The essence of stand up is to not give a shit in the best possible way.
Because good standup is all about attitude and perspective. Your ethos becomes, “I don’t care what you think. I’m here. I’ve got the microphone. I’m in charge. You’re gonna sit there and laugh at my shit, dammit!” And that’s your attitude, your outlook, your perspective. You’re leading the audience where you want them to go. They need to know that they’re in good hands, that you’ve got them. That you’ll take care of them and make them laugh with you.
Only to get there requires years of practice standing up. Years of stage time. Years of being in front of people and “failing.” Years of lackluster performances. Years of heartache. Why would anyone want to do this?
Because so few want to do this. Because it is hard. Because it is hard to be in front of a group of people and admit failure, admit that you don’t have all the answers, to admit that you may be wrong, to risk offending people (like you care about that!) and that being right isn’t your priority. Your priority is that the audience laughs. Your priority is creating positive emotions in others. And you’re not always going to get it right.
I’ll say it again because almost no one thinks like this creatively: being right isn’t your priority. There is a difference between being right and being funny. Which would you choose if you could only pick one?
It turns out that there is nothing funnier than the truth, nothing funnier than brutal honesty.
What you’re really doing the first several years standing up in front of people is calcifying yourself. Calcifying your mind. Calcifying your body. Building up skin so thick you’d swear it was armor. Honing your act, which turns into your best friend, sort of like an annuity that keeps on paying you again and again and again. You’re morphing yourself into the Navy SEAL version of a good comic, one where nothing bothers you any more because anything that they can say to you — throw at you — has already been thrown.
The Early years of stand up are exposure therapy to the extreme, at 12+ volume, the Extreme Metal of exposure therapy. And it is up to the comic that chooses to keep standing up to keep on standing up, to keep getting stage time, even if it is at the coffee house down the street, playing to two drunks and the barista. Doesn’t matter: even shitty stage time is still stage time. It counts.
The theme of the early standup is the same as the patient going through supervised exposure therapy: keep going. Even if it is only one step, keep going. Keep moving. Build that momentum that is our natural, human instinct. Because that is us: we are velocity + movement. We are beings in motion. Have you noticed that when we’re not in motion, we’re not as happy; we think something is wrong with us. If you really want to wish someone ill (and why would you?), wish for them to stay locked in the same place for the rest of their lives, immobile. That’s a fate worse than banishment.
Constant stand-up exposure is overcoming fear as a process. Inching closer toward the snake in the cage each day is overcoming fear as a process. Writing every day is overcoming the fear of our strange, inherent “inability” to write. We probably always knew we could do it, we just told ourselves over and over again that we couldn’t. It was the story we told to ourselves & sold to ourselves and to our friends. Same thing with maths. Of course, you can do maths. You just have to invest the time and effort into the material.