What was a shy, middle-aged Mormon mother doing, standing in a spotlight in a legendary comedy club in downtown Seattle, in front of a packed house of half-drunk critics, confidently wielding a microphone? In the vernacular, Killing It Dead.
A few years back, I hit a rough patch. In a fit of I’d-Better-Do-Something-Drastic-ism, I rashly signed up for a stand-up comedy class at the local community college. A couple of evenings a week spent laughing would be a healthy way to push back the walls, to do something just for me, right? Imagine my shock in the first class to learn that it was a participation course, not the spectator variety. Class members were expected to take turns on stage! For a set period of time! No Stage Left until the light flashed!
Husband encouraged me, reminding me Mom didn’t raise a quitter. “What have you got to lose?”
I spent the week desperately seeking something– anything – funny. I came up with a few “bits” (the technical term; after all, this was a college course). My inner child shrieked in terror. What was I thinking? Who was I to even attempt standing on a real live stage before strangers, let alone say something giggle-worthy?
Tuesday arrived. The heavy microphone shook in my sweaty hands. Forgetting all I had tediously rehearsed, I blurted, “I’m scared. I was talking to my husband at dinner. I knew it’d be my turn first tonight. I said, ‘What if I can’t do this? What if I faint on stage? What if they laugh at me?’”
The outburst of sincere laughter startled me. Taking a breath, I reached into my blouse front for my note cards. They weren’t where I’d tucked them, minutes before! In a panic, I dug deeper, muttering, “I know I had two in here a minute ago...”
As the laughter rang out, I felt an unexpected wave of the Holy Ghost's influence wash over me. Incongruous, at best; was a usually dignified Mormon woman supposed to be cracking jokes in a room full of “Gentiles” instead of at home, tackling the three page To Do list? For that moment, this one was. The Spirit testified that this was exactly what I needed to push back the walls, to regain my sense of Self that threatened to wash away under grief and loads of laundry, Cub Scouts and Girl Scout leadering, Primary Presidenting, supporting a husband who worked ten hour days and raising a boy so accident-prone the ER staff knew us by name, and a mentally ill son who made every day an adventure and the garden and... all of it.
I made it through the rest of my time until the bright light flashed. Shaken by the performance, I stumbled to my seat. Applause filled the small theatre. I heard a man behind me exclaim, “I’ve been to a lot of comedy clubs, and I’d pay $20 to see her again!”
To wrap up the story: That class, and the three subsequent ones, changed my life. I was invited to perform at Comedy Central in Seattle, a couple of scouts demanded interviews, I performed on television, I was clearly on the rise as a stand-up comedian. The Circuit beckoned.
But wait...was that my goal? Not really. After a year, I stepped off the stage. Oh, I still emcee the ward talent show, but that’s about it. However, that experience changed me. It drew out a confidence I lacked, from somewhere deep inside me. I learned I can make people laugh, be it a crowd of two hundred drunks or a twelve-year-old on the verge of a come-apart. I’m lighter, myself. I can see the funny side of just about every situation, sometimes even in the middle of it. I’m no longer intimidated by microphones or spotlights. I can improvise a talk or lesson easily. I found my voice: I can handle rejection. I felt the Spirit encourage me as I developed this peculiar talent.
This is a writing blog, and I didn’t forget that. It just looks like I did. A few years ago, my husband encouraged me to write a book. “Just do it. You have the skills and the knowledge. Just write.”
As I shook my head, I again felt the Holy Ghost nudging me forward, onto a stage where strangers would look at me, my thoughts, my ideas, my concepts. They might turn away, they might laugh, they might reject me or love me, but I had to try. So my first book was birthed. I’m currently working on Books #11, #12, and #13.
Yes, three at once. What have I got to lose?
Yes, three at once. What have I got to lose?
What steps have you taken to develop a talent you didn’t know existed? When daily life threatens to crush the light out of you, how do you push back? I’d really love to hear from you, and I promise not to laugh. Probably.