Go Ahead, Promote Yourself
One of the hardest things for me to do is to ask people to come to my improv shows. I have been performing on a regular basis for more than 20 years and it’s still difficult. I tell myself “Oh, they don’t really care,” or “Why would they come see me?”
You may be performing at one of the big improv theaters where the crowds seem to come in by themselves, so if that is the case you can stop reading. But for those brave people who go off on your own and start something from the ground up, this is for you.
We are performers and we need an audience. Let’s be honest: If there’s no audience, it’s a rehearsal.
Audiences don’t just show up by themselves. And just because you post an event about your show on Facebook doesn’t mean they’re going to come. To get an audience, you have to ask people to come.
Asking people to come to your show is important because it’s about letting myself be seen, it’s about getting support and it’s about telling the universe, “Guess what? I am serious about what I am doing here; I am legit.”
I grew up in a family where you could not express yourself, where you were supposed to play small and hide. Self-expression did not exist. It was about being invisible, not being a burden — you would not dare ask for what you needed.
When I was a kid and I had a baseball game or a show, I would discourage my parents from coming. If they did surprise me and show up, I would feel sick. I’d get a pit in my stomach and want them to leave. I couldn’t take in the support and I didn’t want to be seen in life, so I certainly did not want to be seen on stage. I did my best to keep my worlds separate.
Now that I’m in my late 40s, this how I still look at things: Asking someone to come to my show would be a burden, because I am burden. Welcome to my world.
So when I started doing Improv Nerd, a comedy podcast and live show, I relied heavily on public relations, Facebook and posters to get the word out about the show. I got some incredible press on the show, and I thought this was enough to pack the house.
It wasn’t. It never is, because promoting is an inside job. You have to believe in yourself; the words have to come out of your mouth. Instead, I was hiding behind Facebook and putting off the inevitable, that dirty little word called self-promotion.
I can tell myself all sorts of lies about self-promotion: that people will think I am a jerk, or that I am bragging, or my favorite one, all I want to do is show up and play. But really by avoiding self-promotion, all I want to do is continue to hide.
This season, my wife, Lauren, encouraged me to do the scariest thing possible, which was to promote myself by telling my friends about Improv Nerd, in person. I was afraid to ask, but I knew this would help me grow.
So I started to ask people — my students, my friends — and every time, when I pulled a post card out of my pocket, I thought I was having stroke. I would stammer a little, my voice would go softer and my heart would beat harder, and I’d say “Hey, I’d love it if you could come to my show. I could use the support.”
And here is the painful part: People actually came. I was filled with lots of gratitude and wanted to run away all at the same time.
These were the feelings that I had been avoiding since childhood. It’s still really uncomfortable for me, and I don’t do it perfectly, but I feel like I have started.
Oh, by the way, my last performance of Improv Nerd this season is this Sunday at 5 pm at Stage 773, and I would love it if you could come. I could use the support.