The Gift of Total Breakdown
I recently had a complete breakdown on stage during a comedy show. And it was one of the best experiences of my performing life. I say that because during my breakdown which included swearing and crying and generally having a rough time, I was being incredibly authentic and vulnerable. And eventually funny. And in that moment the audience began applauding and shouting “we love you”. Which was followed by an hour of a killer set and a standing ovation. I’d say it worked out.
Some background. I have been doing stand-up comedy for many years, and I have bombed many, many times. Bombing for me was a badge of honor, because it meant I’ve taken a risk, I have put myself out in the world in a way I am not sure I will succeed. And I’m proud of that.
Of course, I’ve had many amazing shows as well. But bombing offers an opportunity in some ways for more growth. Especially if you’re planning on being a professional performer. But it can put your ego into a state of panic. And ultimately, finding the strength to recover from a painful experience on stage may point you to some of the most important tools of your career.
Your Post-Show Self-Care Toolbox
A few tools I use when my ego is stinging after a bad set include “phone a friend”, Emotional Freedom Technique (tapping on body meridians to deprogram the pain body), prayer, and chocolate.
My toolbox is plentiful, and you probably have a bunch of tools in your kit as well. The main question is, will you use them when the time comes? Will you walk off stage and remember to love yourself? Will you remember that just stepping in front of the spotlight makes you more courageous than every other person in the audience?
Nothing is more important as a performer than how you treat yourself the minute you step off stage. Because that’s what determines whether you will want to get back on the horse or not. So whatever “ritual” you choose to support you, to affirm you, to celebrate you, becomes part of you. Many comics coming off a bad set imbibe the sacred elixir of self-pity, whiskey, and if they’re lucky, a night of (possibly meaningless) sex as there post-show anti-pain ritual.
But there are so many better options for self-care that will alter not only the quality of your life but also the quality of your next performance on stage. I encourage you to connect with friends, eat a healthy meal, drink some tea, take a bath, or even go out dancing. Journaling about how you’re set went, writing a love letter to your comedian self, and later looking at how you can do better next time will prepare you for future performances.
Masculine and Feminine Essence
Both men and women need applause and appreciation and validation when coming off stage, but especially women (or anyone who identifies with having a feminine essence) I believe need validation even more after putting ourselves out there. (I’m sure some of you might disagree.) Ironically, I find that as a female comic, I receive way more opinions, advice, and feedback than my male counterparts, and I have way less use for it. Sometimes men (and anyone who identifies with having a masculine essence) can thrive with challenge, like “next time you might try xyz.” And they benefit from that. But my experience as a woman is that I hold off for at least a couple of days before either looking critically at my own material or performance or allowing or inviting other people to give me any kind of critical feedback. And if I don’t trust someone, I don’t need their feedback at all. Ever.
In the second part of this post, I will share the ultimate tool for post-show self-care that I believe every comedian and truly every performer should give themselves in order to take their stage presence to a whole new level.