Public speaking is the number one fear among Americans, according to a 2014 poll from The Washington Post. You've probably even heard that people fear public speaking more than death. While I'd argue the validity of that one, it's pretty clear: speaking in front of a group of people can be fucking terrifying. And if it's your first time, buckle up.
Last month, I set a goal to come up with five minutes of material to perform at an open mic in 30 days. Comedy has always been a passion, and the idea of doing an open mic always floated through my head. It just never happened.
However, living in San Diego, comedy here is hard to ignore. There are five clubs within 20 minutes from me, and I've been to each one.
Coming up with the material was the easier part. It all starts with simple ideas and experiences from everyday life. From there, it's just figuring out if something is there, and creating some structure.
You can be the best joke writer on the planet, but ultimately, it's you getting on stage that will determine if that material lives or dies. That's one of the many fascinating aspects of stand-up, not to mention timing, stage presence, crowd work, etc.
Instead of performing at The Comedy Store in La Jolla as I originally intended (didn't make it on the list), I ended up doing an open mic at a bar/concert venue on their comedy night. As far as doing stand-up, bars are usually at the bottom of the list of where comedians would like to perform. The only thing worse would be at a restaurant where people aren't even expecting you.
You Won't Die
The show was from 6 to 9, so I figured I had some time to chill out before going on stage. Instead, I was called up at 6:15. This is usually where you hear about time slowing down, and your heart racing, but actually, as I headed towards the stage, I was calm. Sure, I was still scared shitless, but I didn't feel nearly as nervous as I thought I would.
I also didn't expect my set to go by so fast. 3-4 minutes felt more like 60 seconds, and I had only gotten through 20% of my material. Of course, there's a good reason for that...
You Gotta Roll With The Punches
It's pretty much guaranteed your first set will not be great. In fact, you'll probably bomb. I slipped up a couple times, and one of my stories ran too long. By the time I got to the punchline, people had already tuned out. However, I got some laughs in the beginning, and my closer did pretty well.
People Don't Care
I don't mean this in a bad way. Obviously, people are there to have a good time and laugh. What I mean is if you have a not-that-great set, it's not the end of the world. People will quickly forget about it as they're inundated with the next guy or gal.
Now, if you fuck up spectacularly, that might be unforgettable. Alternatively, if you're really good, there's a good chance they won't forget that, either.