It’s nice to write a blog every once in a while when you don’t have all the answers.
This time, I’m going to you for answers, because one thing I’ve learned over the years is if I’m struggling with something, there are other people out there who have struggled with it, too. And if I’m willing to ask for help, I have found people are usually willing to share their experience, strength and hope around how to overcome it.
So, here’s my issue (which, sadly, I’ve talked about before): I believe that my worth as a person is directly tied into how I perform on stage. If a do what I determine is a “good show” everything is fine and I am a worthy human being. But if I do what I determine is a “bad show,” I am a piece of shit and don’t deserve to live.
Yes, there are many things that are fucked up about this, and one of the biggest ones is that my perception of what is a “bad” or “good” show is broken. I can’t trust myself for an accurate read. As you can guess, this is an awful way to live, and takes all the joy out of doing improv for me.
Last Sunday, it got pretty bad for me, we did our Jimmy and Johnnie show at Second City. I’ve felt like I’ve been off my game for the last couple of shows and certainly not living up to the high standards I set for myself. On top of it, a lot of my students who I respect came to the show. And in my head, I assumed that after watching my performance, they were all thinking that not only does their teacher suck, but also “Why is he teaching the Art of Slow Comedy when he isn’t even doing it himself? He is so full of shit. Why should we listen to that chump?”
These were only a small sample of the negative voices in my head on my ride home. In fact, they got so loud that I was surprised I could focus enough on driving to get home safely. I was not being kind to myself.
The sad thing is I have been doing this to myself for years, ever since I first started improvising back when I was in my late teens. The whole joy part of improv is something that has never come to me naturally. It has always been more about myself worth.
After being in group therapy for years, I know why I think this way. I was one of five kids from a dysfunctional and addictive home. Both of my parents were emotionally unavailable and I was neglected. I competed with my other brothers and sisters for my parents’ love and attention, which really didn’t exist. One way I squeezed a tiny bit of attention out of the nearly empty tube of toothpaste was by being the funny one. No one in my family could keep up with my quick and sarcastic humor. Getting laughs for me equaled love.
I thought getting laughs from my Mom and Dad was getting real, unconditional love. It was not; it was fake. It was like using artificial sweeter in your coffee. It tricks your brain to think you are using real sugar.
I didn’t fully understand this when I first started out in improv, which is why I was threatened by people who I thought were funnier or more talented then I was. Now, it makes sense. It was all about my role in my family. In my head, there was not enough love and attention to go around, and if someone else was funnier than I was, it felt like I would lose what little was available.
So how that plays out in improv today is if I do I good show I feel I am loved, and if I do a bad show, I feel like I’m not loved, that I will be abandoned. I have made progress, though. It used to be more severe. Before, I felt I had to be the funniest person in the show to feel loved, and today I am much more comfortable with letting other people get laughs. So, I am not hopeless here.
But I would still like help. I am hoping as you read this that not only can you relate but you are also willing to share your secrets with me about how to overcome this in the comment section below. Because this is killing me. This takes all the fun out of performing. So, I am asking, please help me. I am all ears.