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Do you have to be the funniest?

Do You Have to Be The Funniest ON YOUR TEAM?

I have recently discovered a flaw of mine that is impacting my improvising — and not in a good way.

Since I started improvising, I have always strived to be “the best improviser.” You might think that would be a good thing, but in fact, it’s done nothing but fill me with doubt and self-hatred. To me, being the best improviser always meant being the funniest person on stage, and I always think if I’m not the funniest, then I have failed.

Of course, this started way before I got into improv. Growing up, I had two brothers who were good athletes and popular, and two sisters who were good students and popular. Me, I was 300 pounds and ate way too many Little Debbie Snack Cakes and watched way too many re-runs of Dick Van Dyke and The Andy Griffith Show. Obviously, not popular. And even though I was enormous, I was invisible.

The only way I could compete with my siblings for my parents’ attention was to develop a lighting-quick sense of humor. By the age of 12, I had cemented my role in the family as the “funny one,” and this is where I got all my validation. As I got older, into my teens, being funny became my identity. It gave me self-worth, and no one in my family was equipped enough to challenge me for the role.

All that changed when I took for my first improv class when I was a somewhat-depressed, fat 19 year old. Suddenly, I was surrounded by funny people, and though it was the first time in my life I felt I had found my tribe, I also felt threatened.

I was like that boy who was the star quarterback at a tiny high school of 300 students in a rural farming town in Illinois who goes to play football at Michigan State. Sure, he’s excited to be playing in The Big Ten, but he realizes he’s no longer the star.

So from my first class on, I have been striving to be the funniest — to get back to the top of the mountain I came from in my family. I cannot tell you how many shows I’ve done over the years where I am not only counting the laughs I am getting but the ones my teammates are getting, too. This accounting system of self-hate is what I use to determine if I have a good show or not. And on top of it, I tell myself that this is just a device to motive me, when it’s just the opposite.

After years and years comparing myself to my teammates, it has never helped me — NEVER. It’s like playing blackjack in Vegas: You think the odds are in your favor, but at the end of the night, the house still has all your money.

All that comparing myself to others does is bring me down and make me feel less than.

Yet, I can’t stop comparing myself to others and trying to be the “best.” It’s too ingrained. I am sharing this with you because I am hoping that you will have some experience in the “got-to-be-the-funniest” department. Maybe you suffer from it, too, and maybe you have had some relief from it. If so, I would love it if you’d be willing to share. I could use the help.