Therefore, my goal is to exchange my hesitation and nervousness for the life-learning experience of it all. A failure is not a bad thing as it inevitably provides more valuable feedback than success. I shouldn't label them "failures," but "learning experiences." To fully do so, I'll have to kill any and all personal interest in what others think of me. I needn't be bothered with the feeling of embarrassment at making an ass out of myself. If I fail to get a laugh or entertain others, then no harm done. I have learned something that will prove infinitely valuable for the next performance.
I have extreme respect for entertainers that can take it just as well as dish it out. Criticism, insults, put-downs, and even self-deprecating remarks bounce off them and have no effect on that indomitable confidence in their talent. One such entertainer is Howard Stern. I love the part of his movie Private Parts where he realizes that he just has to "let go." It's after that realization that he stops holding back and confidently allows his talent to shine. He kills his hesitation and embarrassment for the sake of building self-confidence. It's at that exact point that he owns his stage self and allows his real self to break through and connect. In other words, he's just himself. He doesn't hold back.
Not caring what others think is a critical, but formidable step in developing this confidence. Other people naturally respect those that have gained such a level of confidence as they have a keen ear to constructive feedback. Any and all criticism has no negative effect on their confidence or self-esteem; it positively builds their stage acumen going forward. Those that can keep their doors open to new ideas and helpful criticism while retaining rock-solid confidence in their own talents are the leaders in this world. I deeply admire this trait and seek to further develop it in myself.
Here are some things I've learned along the way to becoming a more confident, Howard Stern-ish performer:
Practice Makes Perfect
The more I perform, the more confident I become. Each performance is distinct and full of unique experiences, and it's these unique experiences that prepare me all the better for future performances. After each show I know what I did well and what I didn't. I try not to get down on myself; instead, I think of it as having gained a better understanding of my weaknesses.
Preparation Is King
The more prepared I am for a show, the more confident I am. I'm more relaxed and sure of myself when I know exactly what I'm going to do. When I know a new song's lyrics backwards and forwards, I can focus more energy on performing that song well. If I am still struggling to remember the lyrics, the performance will suffer for it. Doing my homework helps immeasurably when the big test comes around.
You'll Never Know Unless You Try It
My head is often a flurry of comedy ideas. Since they're my ideas, I think they're the funniest things in the universe. I wonder if others will find this material funny? Well, I can ask friends and family, but they might be nice and tell me it's funny. Plus, friends and family make the absolute worst audience. The only way to really know if my new idea is gonna work is to try it out on an audience of strangers. I sometimes play at a place called "The Pink Cow" in Shibuya. I consider this venue my testing grounds because the audience is small, relaxed, and seems to have a high tolerance for my comedic experimentation. Maybe it's the hippie chic decor or the shockingly large number of foreigners, but whatever the reason, I feel at ease to try that wacky new idea out here. Although tolerant, the audience of strangers is quite easy to read. I find out lightning quick if my new ideas are funny or not.
Another approach I take is to put my idea on video. No audience to see means no hurt feelings. The YouTube hit count will often tell me how funny it is. I figure that if it's funny enough, people will forward it on to others. Accordingly, I'll open a live show with a comedy video. This will give me instant feedback as to what I did well and what I didn't do so well.
The more I experiment with comedy, the better understanding I gain of what's funny and what's not. Comedy is not a static art form. It's meant to be stretched and pulled in directions never thought possible.
Formulate a Plan B
No matter how much I prepare for a show, something happens that demands a level of ad-lib skills. I consider thinking on my feet a learn-able skill, so it is indeed possible to prepare and practice ad-lib. A common problem I face performing comedy in Japanese is not understanding what the MCs or other native-speaker performers are saying. They often talk too damn fast. This used to bother me a great deal because I didn't want to look stupid on stage.
But comedy is often meant to be stupid. And stupid can be very funny--especially in Japan. I formulated some plan Bs--some things to do in case the Japanese is too fast, and I have no idea what's going on. Once I pulled out an electronic dictionary on stage to look up the unknown vocabulary. It's what I would do in normal life, so why not do it on stage too? Another approach I take is to just go with what I thought I heard. If I don't know a key word, I'll just guess at its meaning or go with a similar-sounding word. These plan Bs have opened up all sorts of comedic possibilities and given me something to fall back on in case I get stuck.
The greatest challenge I face going forward is what avenue I want to explore. Comedy videos posted on YouTube? Live comedy shows in Nakano? Live music shows in Shibuya? More Japanese or mix-in more English? Seek-out TV auditions? Join a talent agency? Perform alone, or hook-up with other like-minded comedians? Focus on web content or live shows? Post my content on YouTube or keep it exclusive to my own website?
My gut tells me to try a bit of everything to find my groove. Trial and error may forge my future pathway, but I honestly don't care too much about the destination. The road itself is a freakin' blast.
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