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TRACI SKENE has appeared on VH-1's Standup Spotlight, A&E's Comedy On The Road and Lifetime's Girls Night Out, all of which has done her absolutely no good.

Traci Skene


Traci Skene

SHECKYmagazine Chief

Imposter Syndrome

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 onstage.

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 said "no."

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 terrors.

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 was horrifying.

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 gynecologist."

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 standup comic?

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. HOME Back to the Top