I’m so glad I decided to try stand-up comedy when I was a teenager; the experience has had so many lasting effects on my personal and career development over the years. Stand-up is one of those things people find scary, and it is scary. But like most scary situations, it paid off in the long run even when it didn’t go perfectly.
Here are five life lessons I learned from doing stand-up.
Lesson 117. It’s OK to play it safe when taking risk. I know that the word “risk” implies that if you fail, it’s going to be an EPIC FAIL, but I don’t think that has to be the case. The first time I did stand-up, it was in a super safe environment. But it wasn’t long before I was comfortable enough to do competitions or performing without tons of people I knew in the audience. When it comes to risks you want to take in life, start small. Just going a little bit outside of your comfort zone a little is still going outside your comfort zone, and sometimes that’s the most you have the guts to do. Sure, people may tell you the bigger the risk, the bigger the reward, and that might be true. But I still think it’s better to take a little risk than not take one at all.
Lesson 118. It’s really fun to change people’s first impressions. It’s easy to get caught up in what people must think of you and tell yourself you’re too young, too old, too fat, too whatever to try something new or be successful. Um, so what? I’ll never forget when the male emcee told me after an open mic night I did, “That was really funny. And I didn’t expect you to be funny because you’re really pretty.” I mean, backhanded compliments and good, old-fashioned sexism to lead to the best montages of ass kicking in movies, right? Well, that’s kind of what happened to me after that comment. Ever since then, I’ve relished being the “wrong” type for something and that comment is on my mind whenever I walk into a new situation and I know people are underestimating me for some reason or another.
Lesson 118.5. Sexism is real. I used to think that sexism in the workplace was something that happened to other people, not me. Nope!
Lesson 119. Not everything you do is going to get a great response. I got good responses to a lot of the jokes I told, but yeah…there were times when I heard crickets. So what? You move on. I realized that even if I told a joke or two that fell flat, people still liked my routines overall. It’s the same way with life; you don’t get it right every time, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t still damn good at what you’re doing.
Lesson 120. Not everything you do is going to get a great response and sometimes that’s your fault. It’s so easy for comedians to blame the audience for not laughing at their jokes; it’s a lot harder to admit that maybe that joke just wasn’t that good. In the same way, it’s easy for people to blame their critics when they mess up. When someone tells us we’ve failed, it hurts, and we immediately want to blame the person who hurt us. But maybe your shitty performance review isn’t your boss’s fault and maybe your recent failed relationship doesn’t mean “all guys suck.” Maybe it’s you. Maybe what you’re doing isn’t working.
Lesson 121. Success has a lot to do with finding the right audience. I remember telling one of my favorite jokes about sexting on an iPhone during a comedy routine I did in early 2010 and it totally fell flat. Well, the three people in the audience who owned an iPhone thought it was hilarious but everyone else — who didn’t exactly have the look of trendy, early-adopters of technology — was just giving me this look of, “I don’t get it.” I should have seen that coming. Now I could do that joke and, considering that even my mother is aware of Damn You, Auto Correct!, it would probably kill. I’ve learned that sometimes what we think is failure is just a case of misjudging the audience. Even when I hear someone complaining about how her boss doesn’t like her unorthodox method of problem solving or how it’s BS that some guy doesn’t text her back within an hour, I think, Find the people who get you. If you’re unsuccessful because people don’t “get” you, then you need to find an audience that is a better fit for you. There’s a boss who will love your crazy ways and a guy who will always text you back in 30 seconds. Now I try to fill my life with the people who get me and I’m much happier as a result.
Even if you have no desire to tell jokes to a room full of strangers, there is probably something that would be your stand-up — that thing you’d love to try, that you know would be fun and would change you and help you grow. Doing stand-up still gave me tools I use every day. So whatever your stand-up is, stop talking yourself out of it.