I am a slow learner. And I’m conflicted about learning new things: My soul loves to learn while my ego hates it.
Last week, I wrote and performed a new solo piece for a storytelling night called Louder Than a Mom. It was about when I was growing up and we’d go out to dinner as a family and my mom would ruin it by embarrassing us.
The last time I did Louder Than a Mom, I felt I could have been better prepared. So this time, I really wanted to do a good job.
I was willing to put in the work, which meant doing things differently.
So, I found an open mic in my neighborhood in the back room of an Irish bar to try out the piece before going up at Louder Than a Mom.
The day of the open mic, I had the thought all day of blowing the open mic off, but I made the mistake of calling my friend Darryl, who talked me into going.
Walking in, I felt as terrified as when I did when I was 18, walking into my first improv class. By the time I got up there to do my piece, there were only about eight people left sitting in the audience in folded wooden chairs. I didn’t care. I told my story, and because I didn’t have it timed out, I had to rush the ending.
It was far from perfect, but I got a sense of what worked and what needed to be cut from the story for Louder Than a Mom. More importantly, I was proud that I did not bail on myself, a habit I’ve had since I was a kid.
A week later, I was on the stage at Louder Than a Mom, and the audience was packed and my performance went really well. The piece still needs work, but it was a huge improvement over the open mic.
I remember interviewing Mike Birbiglia for an episode of Improv Nerd and he commented on why creating a one-person show takes so much time. At the time, I didn’t fully understand what he meant. But now I do.
Writing is its own process. It’s pen to paper. It is controlled. But then when you take what you’ve written and put it up in front of an audience it takes on a life of its own, and hopefully, if you’re lucky, you will lose control of it.
When you perform something you’ve written, it shows you things you didn’t know weren’t on the paper. It will surprise you. It is exciting and scary, and mostly it is messy.
I had forgotten that you can’t find your authentic voice without putting it up in front of people — that is where the courage comes in.
When you’re writing, very few people see your rough drafts. But when you’re doing solo work, hundreds of people see your rough drafts as you work out what the story is really supposed to be.
Recently I read a great quote from Micheal Keaton that he said during a commencement speech at Kent State University that summed up what I went through perfectly: “You have to take risks. Put yourself on the line. Don’t be afraid to look foolish, makes mistakes, take chances. It is one of the best things you can do. And what that will lead to is self-discovery, and it will lead you back to your natural, authentic self. And I really encourage you as you get older to go back to who you were when you were a kid, because that was the most authentic you there has been.”
What will make you stand out is your authentic self. That is the thing that will attract people and opportunities to you like magnets. And to get there, you must look foolish and make mistakes, which as improvisers we get, but when I do anything outside of the realm of improv, I have to be reminded of. And that’s why I’m such a s-l-o-w l-e-a-r-n-e-r.