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As a standup comic, I am accutely aware of my limitations.
Of course, this is not to say that I haven't surprised myself in the
past. There was the time I did an hour-long one-woman show at a VFW Hall
when I was convinced I only had 45 minutes of material. There was the
time I did a 30-minute squeaky-clean set at a resort hotel when I wasn't
quite sure if I even had 30 seconds of family-oriented jokes. There was
the time I taped Lifetime's Girls Night Out and was told shortly
before the show that I couldn't do any of the material I had done on
A&E's Comedy on the Road (even though I was planning to do
virtually the same set). In each situation, I didn't panic. I just
trusted that, somehow, I would find a way to rise to the occasion.
Perhaps my biggest limitation as a comic is my seeming
inability to easily break in new material. Some comics, my husband Brian
McKim a prime example, look forward to trying out new jokes on stage. When Brian taped his Comedy on the Road, half the material in his
set had never before come out of his mouth. He wrote it for the show and
he did it for the first time while the cameras were rolling. I almost
regret writing new material because I know how badly I will mangle the delivery the first few times I try it out. That's why I write most of my jokes
A few weeks ago, my husband received a call from a booker that
we hadn't heard from in quite some time. Monsieur Booker wanted to know
if Brian would be interested in doing a corporate imposter show for a
contractor's banquet. The concept of a corporate imposter show is very
simple: Instead of being billed as a standup comic, the comic is introduced as some sort of speaker with some sort of expertise and midway
through your presentation you reveal--much to the relief of the crowd--that you are actually a comedian. Monsieur Husband was intrigued by the challenge. I, however, knew that I wasn't the least bit capable of
pulling off such a ruse. "I'll drive you to the gig," I told
him when he got off the phone, "Other than that, I want nothing
to do with it."
Imagine my surprise when, a few weeks later, I spoke to the very same booker and discovered that Brian and I had been billed as "husband and wife motivational speakers specializing in stress management." I should have said "no." I knew my limitations and I should have immediately
As the date approached, I became more and more stressed. (So
much for specializing in stress management!) I couldn't sleep. I wish I
could say that I couldn't eat, but sadly, with me, that is never the case.
I decided to try to make the best of the situation and prepare for the
evening as if it were a televised Friar's Roast but, for some reason, the
process was completely overwhelming. As most good corporate comics do, we
requested information about the company so we could tailor our speech to
that night's events, but the info never arrived, causing me further night
I had no idea what I was going to do. I'm not sure what scared
me more: having to perform all new material or having to perform that new
material with my husband. While Brian and I work together almost
exclusively, we've never actually been onstage together. The thought of
performing with each other for the first time under these circumstances
Eventually, it was decided that I would pretend to be the motivational speaker and that Brian would just do straight standup after our secret was revealed. On the way to the gig, we finally began writing material. Brian was convinced all along that we could write the presentation in the car on the way to the show. His instincts were correct. The jokes came easily and while I piloted the SHECKY! Limo, Brian wrote each bit on 3x5 cards and put it them in a cohesive order. At that point, I was fairly confident that I would rise to the occasion and do a competent job.
And then we pulled into the parking lot.
I've never really experienced the type of stage fright I've
heard others talk about. Certainly, I've had my share of pre-show
jitters, but I've never actually been paralyzed by fear. I guess there's
a first time for everything. As we sat in the parking lot preparing for
the show, I had
a complete, utter, absolute meltdown. It became real clear, real fast,
that I was not going to be able to do my part. Nothing like this had
never happened to me before and the shame I felt was staggering.
Miraculously, Brian remained calm even though he was watching his wife go
off the deep end.
He sprung into action and took control. Brian told the booker
to tell the others that I was violently ill back at the hotel and that he would have to do the presentation alone. After he was introduced, he explained
my absence to the audience, waved the 3x5 cards in the air, and told
them he would be delivering my portion of the speech. "I'd like to
start off this evening," he deadpanned, "by telling you an
inspirational story about my latest visit to the
Brian will forever be my hero. About 80 per cent of the material we
had written for the event went over exceptionally well. His regular
standup act went swimmingly. Of course, I didn't see any of this. I was
too busy being "violently ill."
I'm still mortified by my behavior and it will take me some
time to figure out just what I found so terryfying about that particular
situation. Maybe I suffer from an imposter syndrome in real life? Maybe
it was too much like delivering my junior high school graduation speech?
Maybe I need the validation of people knowing up front that I'm a
Or maybe I was suffering from a delayed reaction to the death
of my friend Karen Saccone? Karen was the wife of standup comic Mike
Saccone and I learned of her passing just three days earlier, at another gig. I was told the news just an hour before I was to go on stage. At the time, I knew that I couldn't cry because I had a show to do. Instead I just sat there mumbling obscenities and picking at my dinner. I hit the stage that night with an incredible burst of adrenaline and worked the room like a salesman works a used car lot. The next night was different. On stage I
was shaky, uncentered and easily annoyed. I did my time, but I practically gave up midway through my set, which is completely uncharacteristic of me. The entire
weekend left me feeling drained and insecure.
In some ways I should feel lucky. As a comic, a bad day can
only result in a bad show or, in my case, no show at all. If a doctor
has a bad day, he could kill someone. I may have let some people down,
but in the end, the only thing that was hurt was my damndable pride.
Perhaps someday soon I'll calm down and finally discover that there are
indeed limits to my limitations.
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