I took a stand-up comedy class this summer to learn more about comedy writing. Part of me also wanted to combat my stage fright issues, so I willingly thrust myself into the most uncomfortable scenario in life.
Just walking into the classroom felt like hiking up a hill made of marshmallow fluff. My arms and hands turned to rubber, and I immediately shrunk to about two feet tall.
Chatting with my six classmates, I struggled to relax because of course, all I could think about was how I would have to eventually stand in front of the group and try not to cry, implode, or melt into green goo on the floor.
The teacher told us to be real. He said the biggest laughs come when you bare your guts to the audience.
“Talk about the things that hurt and perceptions other people have of you,” he said.
So of course, I immediately went with my thirty-seven and still single, to get a cat or not to get a cat, conundrum. I wrote about muffin tops and how the mailman delivers my other single neighbor’s mail to me all the time because I firmly believe he thinks we are the same woman. The writing wasn’t hard; the delivery I thought, might lead to imminent death.
When it came time for us to perform, I struggled to ground my mind in the present to truly listen to my classmates. Fear, as usual, overpowered the experience and dominated my attention like a whimpering puppy in a box in the garage at night.
When I almost couldn’t take it anymore, I closed my eyes and saw her face. Since adolescence, my best friend Jessica has been the person I turn to in my scariest moments. No matter where we go or how we change, thinking of her calms me down the most.
Jessica, with her sweeping brown hair and translucent hazel eyes, lights up the room when she walks in. She’ll make the clerk at the deli her best buddy before the mustard is on her sandwich. She’s the kind of person who inspires you to be nice.
At sixteen, I moved away from Jessica in the San Francisco Bay Area to go live with my father in the small town of Lodi, California. Shortly after I arrived, my father and stepmother took a trip and left me alone on their gigantic property. As most stupid teenagers would, I invited about a hundred kids over who completely thrashed the house (maybe the best party ever).
I cleaned up, but missed some trash in the yard and sticky spots on the kitchen floor. I got caught, big time, and my father grounded me for the remainder of the school year. I couldn’t even talk on the phone, so Jessica and I concocted a plan to communicate. We wrote each other letters every single day.
Our missives outlined imperative details into crushes, the addictive qualities of Taco Bell’s Meximelt, memorization of Cypress Hill lyrics, and lines from the Vanilla Ice movie. We glued pictures on the envelopes and wrote jokes to make each other laugh. Those letters really got me through that lonely time. I still have them: about eighty handwritten notes I absolutely cherish.
When my dad died about a decade later, Jessica finagled taking an entire week off of work to come and sit with me. She helped me write a poem for the eulogy and picked out a sweater I could wear at the funeral. Mostly, she just made herself available for hugs and tears I didn’t know how to stop.
To this day, Jessica continues to send me little cards to celebrate my accomplishments. She and her son Cole also record funny videos to make me laugh.
Visualizing Jessica brought be back into the room so I could focus on my classmates.
I patted them on the back and meant it. I laughed at their jokes at the perfect times and commented on bits I loved. I tried my best to be there for them, something Jessica would have done too.
I’m writing this because I believe many of us channel someone or some people. Who is the person you envision that makes your heart stop racing? Who brings you to a place of peace, and have you thanked them or ever told them they do that for you? I think you should, because it’s a really special thing.
Thank you Jessica for being the face and place I go to when I am unhinged. I cherish your heart and your constant positive energy.
My big four-minute stand-up routine started out rocky at best. That old familiar flight response screamed so loudly in my ears, it took all my might not to leap like a frog off the stage and out the front door. Four minutes felt like forty as my heart pounded into my throat. But Jessica and I stayed put and got through it.
Incidentally, I didn’t get anyone laughing until I softened and stopped trying so hard. The group howled when I told them about the time I drank too much and sang not one but two songs into my ex-boyfriend’s answering machine. They also liked my bit about dating pizza.
The teacher was right; people connect with us when we are real, raw, ourselves. I think I conquered some stage fright but overall the thought of doing the whole thing again makes my hands sweat. More than anything, the experience filled me with gratitude.
Isn’t it funny when we go into situations with grandiose intentions and walk away with something totally unexpected? I love that surprise every time.