By Lewis King, WordSpace’s “Compere Without Compare”
I didn’t look down at the drop. It relished my hesitation. And behind me a hundred hands fought the urge to push. Now that I was here, after making it to the top – at this peak, this pinnacle, this climax – I asked myself: “Can I really do this?”
“Yes,” my disembodied spiritual self said. “But you’ll need to see somebody else do it. Y’know, just to check that you’ll do it right.”
Not an unreasonable idea.
“You go,” I said to someone else. “I just need a moment.”
They leapt out onto the precipice and just sat there. Sitting, there! Like the chasm below was nothing. As though drinking in the view. Their fingers drummed the edge. Then they pushed off and – POOF – they were gone.
I listened for a scream.
Like a cautious ostrich I stretched my head over the top. Had they plummeted to infinite doom?
I looked down.
And my legs forgot why they exist. I tumbled back and hit the solid but safe wall behind me. I saw enough.
They flew, rather than fell. The slope caught and sent them soaring, surfing along on both feet. It was like the abyss was nothing to them. They reached the end and jumped into the arms of their proud parents and skipped away into the sunset.
I rubbed my head, pulled myself up, and took the walk of shame down the staircase, focusing on each step, so to avoid the intimidating eyes of vicious children.
That was me failing to have fun at a theme park. Obviously this was years ago (it was last week) and I’m over this traumatising incident. I can tell you that I finally went down a drop-slide years later at student night at one of them indoor play centre things. And I learnt that it was an incredible thrill.
All this nonsense about slides can be applied to performing your own work. The experience is frightening similar. My first time performing stand up comedy was five years ago. Apart from school plays and ‘Show & Tell’ it was the first time entertaining a crowd by myself.
And like the drop into darkness, I delayed my fall into performing. And I justified this in the same way too: I wanted to see how it was done. So I spent so long watching and appreciating I never performed. And you don’t get better at a thing by not doing it!
I also blamed the lack of opportunity. But then neither did I actively look or create opportunities either.
It was years before I found an opportunity I actually took on. It was at a Stand Up Comedy Workshop at the Headingley Literature Festival*. That’s a story for another time.
It lead me to actually getting up and performing solo for the first time. And this is what happened:
Everyone laughed at me. Of course, that’s what you want when you’re a comic.
Flash forward and – humble boast – I’m doing alright. I compere WordSpace every month, people ask me to host things – I’ve even been paid now and again.
But it’s taken me many attempts to build up confidence, but I only did by letting myself fall into it.
Yes, I’ve spent time watching loads of people reeling off solid material and that’s great for inspiration and ideas, but it won’t actually get you out there. That kid I saw sliding down didn’t inspire confidence in me. Confronting my fears did.
Why was I so worried? It looked dangerous. I thought I was going to get hurt. But I’ve learned that if you are in a fun, safe environment created for that kind of thrill (for example a friendly open mic such as WordSpace) you should just jump.
If you, or a friend, are considering releasing their art and baring their soul to the world, give them a little push.
Take encouragement but push yourself off the edge. Use whatever methods you can. For me it was a one day workshop I saw advertised. Maybe it’s a course. Or a friendly open mic. Or at a night where you know no one will know you, so you’re less afraid to fail. Whatever your way, do it, and repeat it so that one day you’ll learn to embrace, enjoy, and, want to experience the exhilaration.
Yes, some people are naturals. I bet that kid got a university scholarship to partake in the national drop-slide championships. But being inspired by someone won’t make you leave your comfort zone. You will.
Now excuse me while I go to the park and go on the big slide for four hours.
*Water tight proof of stand up comedy’s literary merit! I guess.