There is a moment immediately after the set ends that sets everything in motion. Right after I thank the crowd and hand the microphone to the host, there is a feeling in my gut. Yes! I killed it. Shit! I died. Meh, I did it better in front of the dog but that old guy seemed to be feeling me. In that first private second as I walk off the stage before I’m acknowledged by another human being my stomach tells me how well I did.
It doesn’t matter what the audience says; I am my harshest critic. For however much peace or comfort I feel while I am performing, I begin to think about what needs to go better the next time as soon as it’s over. On the rare occasions where I feel my set went “perfectly” I’ll bask in the afterglow for a little while. I’ll think about the exact cadence that I used, the specific phrases where I knew I had the crowd and I’ll make a mental note to repeat it next time. On the more usual occasions where my set goes well but not exactly as I planned it, I’ll fixate on the part that I didn’t like. Why did I say that line that way? I bet if I had led with the liquor store joke, they’d have appreciated why I hate kids more. Etc. Etc.
For the remainder of the ride home and, depending on how far the set was from my expectations, the rest of the night all I’ll think about is how to perform better the next time. It’s in that moment that I feel the hungriest.
I’m desperate to find another stage, another chance to prove myself or to validate a past conquest. I want to immediately tell another joke, perhaps the same routine to a brand new crowd and relive that moment. This is the life. I can do this. Every stage presents different opportunities. Sometimes I know that I’m in for an uphill fight heading into the building. Every comic has contended with the rowdy bar with the TV still on in the background, the rude texter in the front row, the microphone that cuts out mid routine, the audience of twelve in the room that seats 200, and so on and so painfully forth. I’m finally at a point in my life/career where I can welcome the challenges and the cruel twists of fate that this chosen path brings. Nights that don’t go well are opportunities to grow. Nights that do are simply less painful opportunities to grow. The beautiful thing about comedy is that if you wait long enough, any disastrous and nut-twisting event becomes material. The only truly bad experiences are the ones I don’t use to learn from or write down to later profit from.
The car ride home from the show is a lot like the metaphorically slow drag on a cigarette after a night of passion. Still in the performance glow, there is time to reflect on all that went down. I process that initial gut reaction and weigh it against the crowd and peer feedback I receive. I know that all the preparation and time spent for that literal fifteen minutes of fame is complete worth it. I know that I will want to push myself harder the next time.
As I take off the mask and cape I wear onstage and morph back into my mild-mannered self I appreciate the opportunity to entertain others and start the prep for the next time. The journey continues….