necessity and contingency

I think I’m a pretty good philosophy teacher.

There was never a doubt in my mind – not at any point – that I would be. (Bear with me, the self-loathing’s coming in a minute.) Anyway, it occurred to me today that maybe my being good at teaching philosophy is partly due to the fact that I’ve never doubted my ability to do it.

And then I wonder whether I would be better at stand-up comedy now, if I had never doubted that I would be a great comic. And I wonder if there’s a psychological hurdle that I still need to cross in order to get to that next level. (See?)

When I’m standing in front of a class teaching philosophy…I feel comfortable, I feel confident, I feel funny. When things are going well, I might catch a glimpse of myself in the reflection of a window, moving with that sense of purpose and fun that I see so often in the comics I admire. I play spontaneously with ideas, coming up with stuff on the spot that is better and funnier than anything I could have planned. And yeah, I get quite a lot of laughs. Admittedly in the context of a philosophy class the laughs are easier because that’s not ostensibly the primary purpose of the activity so the pressure’s lower; but I get a lot of good laughs nonetheless, because I don’t doubt that I will. Even when things aren’t going great, I don’t doubt for a second that I’m still going to pull it round.

But in front of comedy audiences in the last few weeks… I seem to have this fearful voice in my head that says, ‘don’t fuck it up – don’t fuck it up or you’ll lose them…’ And then a joke doesn’t work, I get distracted by it, and then (stupidly) refer to it, which gets a good initial laugh of recognition that the joke didn’t work but doesn’t do much for the audience’s faith in the rest of my act…

Most audiences don’t really notice, of course; they still laugh all the way through the set and seem to enjoy themselves; and I’m mostly still doing the kind of open-mic circuit gigs where nobody really kills, so my jitters maybe don’t stand out that much. But I’m sure I can sense a slight feeling in the room of, ‘well, that was averagely competent’; and I can feel the difference between an average gig and really good one. And it’s a good few weeks since I’ve done a really good one.

It hasn’t always been like this, of course. There’s been patches when I’ve got on a stormingly good run of gigs, when every audience – big or small – seem to laugh like I’m saying the funniest and yet most insightful things they’ve ever heard; when every line seems to get a really good, honest laugh and the best ones get spontaneous applause; when girls have come up to me after gigs and told me how great I was (obviously I thank them politely and go home to Nan)…when I’ve thought, ‘maybe I really am able to do this well…’

But that feels like short runs of gigs – maybe 10 or 12 at best – and more significantly, it never feels like that success was inevitable or necessary. It always feels like it will come to an end. (And most annoyingly, it very rarely seems to coincide with really important gigs like the competitions, or open spots at the big clubs).

So I’m guessing the difference really is just confidence. It’s quite likely that I’m a confident teacher because I come from a family of schoolteachers; of course it’s inconceivable that I won’t be a good teacher. It’s the family business.

But annoyingly, neither of my parents are comedians.

So I guess I worry that that makes a difference; though when I can think rationally, I know that it’s not the genealogy, but the worrying, that really makes a difference.

In short, as Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself…”

“…oh, and having crap material. Obviously” 

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2 Comments

  1. interesting article mate…
    perhaps if you spent more time writing material than writing your blog you would not feel like this… 🙂 Only kidding – I am really enjoying reading your thoughts, you need to write more though so I have something to read when I am eating my california roll of a lunch time!

  2. “Even when things aren’t going great, I don’t doubt for a second that I’m still going to pull it round.”

    You do in the end… I’m witness 2 that 😛


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