Disclaimer: Five years ago, I set off on a journey that I never anticipated would change my life in such an incredible way. The goal was to try 52 hobbies in 52 weeks. At the onset, I had intended to write a book compiling the experiences and sharing them. I wasn’t sure at the time if the book would be a quirky coffee-table accessory or if something else might evolve. As it turns out, I never published the book, but I did write most of it. Over time, I’ve gone back to it, time-and-time again. With the five year anniversary of the project, I’ve decided that it’s time to start sharing it: One chapter at a time.
Never Have I Ever (Until Now): Chapter 1 – Vulnerability
“Are you nervous?”
I turn around. Standing there is a 4-foot 11-inch young woman.
“No I’m not….”
“Really—cause I’m shitting my pants,” I joke.
“Okay…maybe just a little. Should we go buy diapers?” The young woman adds.
We share a laugh, and strike a short conversation.
It’s October 11, 2011. I’m about to do my first stand up comedy show, ever. As it turns out I’m also about to do something else for the first time as an adult: I’m feeling like I’m about to shit my pants.
Even if I didn’t do my first official hobby until February of 2012—this is really when I felt my life take a change for the better.
Prior to beginning my true quest, I met a stranger who took me under his wing. Who I warily let into my mind and into my heart, who I let see me struggle and who I let see me frustrated. In short: who I really let see me. By no surprise, I met Justin, a New York City comic, through the internet. After sarcastically responding to something I had posted on someone else’s wall, Justin apologized and told me he was a comic, that I shouldn’t take anything he said so seriously.
I laughed it off, but not before responding to him by saying, “comedy, eh?” That’s something I’d like to try one day.”
He responded by telling me that if I really wanted to try stand up comedy, he’d put me on his show. Though hesitant, I said, “Yes, let’s do it.”
I learned that Justin produced and hosted a show on Tuesdays at Gotham Comedy Club, so I bought a ticket to his next show—which happened to be August 26. This day also happened to be the day that a rare earthquake struck New York City. Little did I know that as the ground shook, my whole life was about get shaken up itself.
Following his set, I approached Justin and introduced myself. His blue eyes were welcoming, and he had a giant grin on his face–“Hey Libs! What’d you think? You still want to do your set.”
I hesitated, “Yeah…I think I do.”
“Great, we will write together—it’ll be awesome!”
From there, we were inseparable. We met in coffee shops for two months and spent hours crafting material for my first gig, a nine minute set in the Gotham Comedy Club basement lounge. Through our meetings, Justin helped me mold my jokes.
He taught me how to write jokes in order to surprises audiences: “Here try this. Set the joke up so that you look like you’re going one direction—then go the opposite.”
Well that’s not much different than my every day life….I thought out loud.
“Let’s take a look at one of your jokes….”
This was my chance….
“Some people say the best things in life are free—friends, family—that’s great. But I don’t believe that. I do not believe the BEST things in life are free—and here’s one reason: herpes.”
He taught me how to cut out the junk: “take out anything that’s extraneous. Keep everything short. You’ll lose your audience with too many words.”
He taught me the importance of including gestures and hand motions to make a joke come alive.
And he taught me to slow down: “Every time you think you’re doing your joke slowly—slow down even more.
Above all, he taught me how to appear as though I’d been a seasoned comic, not a beginner. And that lesson started with confidence.
Justin explained that if I really wanted to appear confident on stage, the first thing I had to do was take the microphone stand and put it behind me. This way nothing would stand between the audience and myself. He then asked me to perform stand up jokes in front of him—a one-man audience. And then when he had friends around, he challenged me to do my set for them with a fake microphone.
Justin not only taught me confidence and comedy, he taught me how to be comfortable with the uncomfortable, how to stand up in front of someone and let them see me—really see me—something I struggled with for a long time. Mostly, because for many years I was unable to see me either.
Through one-on-one get-togethers with Justin, and through letting him see me in some of my most vulnerable states, I began learning how to let people in. And then I began to let myself in—to accept and to love myself. And even though sitting down to learn comedy was the prologue to The Hobby Hoarder year, the process of learning the craft, of sitting down with a stranger, of letting someone else see me, and of letting myself see me, opened my eyes to the world of opportunities out there. Justin also reminded me of how good it felt to laugh and how good it felt to make others laugh as well. In a way, stand up comedy was the spark plug to the hobby years—helping me to find clarity—helping me to focus my attention on the physical world rather than the internal world I had felt trapped in.
On October 11, 2011, just as Justin had instructed me, I took the microphone by one hand, and then placed the stand behind me, stepping into the spotlight.
Little did I know, this moment was just the beginning of an unpredictable journey ahead. This comedy show was my boarding pass for the flight I didn’t even know I wanted – or needed – to take; my permission to fly; to face all my fears; starting with my biggest fear of all: Facing myself.