I was scared to death. Okay, maybe not death because I didn’t die. But I thought I might. I seriously thought my heart could possibly stop. Or explode. Yes, explode was how it felt. I was only in my early 30’s so I was sure it was strong and healthy. Still, it sure felt like it was going to burst from my chest.
Some months before, I had decided that I’d like to try my hand at stand-up comedy. This was in the glory days of Stand-up. Back in the late 80’s and early 90’s there were comedy clubs springing up in what seemed like every city in the country and A&E’s Evening at the Improv was on five nights a week.
I’d been half of a very successful morning radio team and I could usually get a few laughs at parties so I decided to give it a try. I bought a book called Stand-up Comedy: the Book, by Judy Carter and read it cover-to-cover in two days. The book was quite comprehensive and explained everything from the structure of a joke to stories about successful comedians and their roots to telling the reader what to expect when arriving at the club to moments before going on stage. It was very helpful in getting me prepared and, even better, I learned that I already understood many of the techniques she suggested without even knowing it. Meaning I already understood the structure of a good joke or story from having told them all my life. Each weekday evening I watched Evening at the Improv at 8 o’clock to study other comics.
To prepare myself even more, I found out that the two night spots in my area that advertised a stand-up night, had it on Thursdays. So I got out my little day planner and flipped open to a Thursday about two or so months in the future. I wrote on the page, “Do stand-up comedy.” Then I kind of forgot about the date and went back to studying Judy’s book, watching The Improv and trying to come up with some jokes.
Weeks passed, and I began to have a nagging feeling in the back of my mind that I’d better try to contact one of the clubs and see if there was a chance that they’d give a few minutes to a newcomer. I think they called them a Showcase. But days went on and I didn’t call. One day I was taking some clothing down to the laundry at my apartment complex and I met a friend coming out the door as I was going in. Steve had been a marketing guy for local night clubs around the desert. He asked what I was up to and I told him I was between media jobs but I was thinking about trying stand-up.
As fate would have it, he was marketing for one of the two clubs that had a stand-up night and said, “Perfect! Come in next Thursday and I’ll get you a showcase.”
He said, “Then next Thursday.”
“That’s my daughter’s birthday…”
He gave me a look that said, “Do you want to do his or not?”
And I immediately blurted, “But I can do it the next week!”
He shook my hand and said, “Deal. Call me.”
I returned to my apartment and opened my day planner, flipped to that date and discovered that it was the date I’d originally written down as my “do stand-up” date.
It felt like destiny.
I think the next thing I did was go throw up.
And I had that feeling right up until I was walking in the door that night. The nausea had vanished and been replaced with the feeling that my heart would explode. I met my friend Steve who introduced me to the guy who brought in the comedians. The guy was a moderate dick, but said he’d give me five minutes at the top of the show.
When it came time to introduce me, he gave me a nice introduction. It was obvious that Steve had filled him in on my prior disc jockey stardom. There were about ten friends there that night to lend support for my new adventure and perhaps a total of 30 or 40 people in the audience.
I mean, I wasn’t truly horrible. And I got a few laughs… mostly polite laughter. But in the grand scheme of comedians, I sucked.
But the elation of having faced my fears—and this one was huge—was soaring. I can’t remember ever feeling so electrified as I did after that short set. I pushed my comfort zone and the results were incredible and far-reaching.
Again, I’d been unemployed for several months. There were no media jobs to be had. I was squeaking by on unemployment insurance. But within days of forcing myself to try something new and making myself get on stage, I stopped at a friend’s restaurant and bumped into a former radio colleague. We exchanged pleasantries and he told me he was back in town and at a local TV affiliate. I told him I was still looking.
Later that afternoon he called me and told me that there was a one-week fill-in job in the traffic department, scheduling commercials. I was happy for the opportunity. While I was sitting there, a woman from another department asked if I could fill in for her job while she was gone the next week. I took that short-term job. While working in that dungeon, a friend of mine who was the Director of Promotions, tendered her two-week notice. The GM said, “Can you help me find a replacement for you?”
She said, “I think he’s filling in down in the film library.”
So I had a full time job.
One week into that job, the man who they’d hired to be the weatherman for their new Five o’clock newscast decided he didn’t want the job and they were left in the lurch. The friend I’d met at the restaurant two weeks earlier had just been promoted to GM and he told me he wanted me to take on the additional responsibilities of weatherman for the 5 and 11 o’clock newscasts.
“Do you know anything about weather?”
“Uh… it’s outside?”
“Close enough. You have on-air experience and can read a weather map. We’ll add this to your responsibilities starting in three weeks.”
About a week or two later, I thought I should make another attempt at stand-up comedy and I called Steve at the club. I left a message and he tried several times to call me back. When I got his messages, I figured he was trying to urgently contact me so I wouldn’t come in on the night I’d suggested. I thought that they’d cancelled the stand-up that night or had a big name in town and didn’t want me there.
On the contrary, the guy who I’d met my first night no longer wanted to host his own acts and Steve was offering me the gig as permanent host of their comedy night. I told him about my new job at the TV station and he was more than happy to have “the weather guy” as his regular host.
Within a month of forcing myself from my comfort zone, I’d gone from unemployment to having three high-profile jobs. And those jobs lead me to more opportunities through which I discovered that I could produce live telethons and TV programs which led me to start my own production company where I produced TV programs for non-profit agencies.
And it all came from overcoming my fears and pushing myself out of my comfort zone; pushing myself to try something new. It was that single decision, back in 1990, that lead me to find undiscovered talents and sent my life in an entirely different direction.
Facing your fears and moving from your comfort zone is where the magic happens. Maybe it’s time for me to ponder if there something else I’ve always wanted to do and see if I can force myself to try it.