A Note From The Writer: Identity. It’s at the forefront of who we are and what we do. Yet, when someone asks about my identity, I often just give them a funny look. It’s not that the question of my identity is meaningless or irrelevant, it’s just that I have always struggled to define exactly who I am. It’s a difficult task giving you a glimpse into my life, but I will try my best to be vulnerable in this piece. This article was challenging to write and I am glad it was one of the last ones I will write for this publication. Enjoy!
I’m reluctant to call myself an artist; I shy away from proclaiming myself as a comedian. It’s not the fear that others won’t find me funny. Surprisingly, I can shrug those judgments off pretty well; but rather, being funny, the comedian’s primary role, is simply a response to the human condition. I consistently ask myself, usually at one in the morning, am I really doing anything special, or am I just another funny kid navigating adolescence?
A dancer spends 10,000 hours mastering a shuffle or a pilé. A pianist practices their scales despite their fierce boredom. There is an assumption that hard work, as defined by strenuous and time-consuming efforts, is a prerequisite for being an artist. From my experience, this is not how the comedian lives. The comedian derives their material from their natural habitat.
I’m the student and friend who constantly pulls out my blue comedy notebook around campus. If I don’t tell myself to write it down, my best friend probably will. I think like a comedian.
Do foods discriminate against people? Did the peanut community get together and decide that I wasn’t desirable enough for them? “Have you seen Lauren’s large intestine? We are not going in there.” Write that down. Why is my friend’s sorority holding a finger painting session at 9 am on Friday? These planned itineraries make me feel like I’m on a cruise ship. At least on a cruise ship, you can throw yourself overboard. Write that down.
While I will admit that part of the job is just constantly having an ear that is listening for a humorous line, the ability to decipher whether a comment or joke has potential and then further develop the material is the real skill and is what differentiates the comedian. But again, I must remind you, it’s not the same discipline that defines the trumpeter or an opera singer; trust me, I lived with one for 18 years.
To develop material, the comedian must innately have emotional and social intelligence and an uncontrollable determination to find the root of an issue, which most often leads them down a rabbit hole. This is all just a fancy way to say the comedian must have some form of anxiety. The comedian’s anxiety allows them to take any practice, issue, or situation that occurs in our society and break it down from all angles because they practice this form of thinking in their own lives every day. The same way I analyze if my crush likes me is the same way I develop an act, which is why I have often been told I’m an excellent advice-giver. When going about my everyday life, I am consistently deciding whether a joke that was made or a situation that occurred was funny enough to write down so that I can later develop it into an act. Knowing if the joke or comedic premise will be successful is made possible by the anxiety as the comedian is thinking about how everyone and everything perceive things; therefore, they have increased judgment on whether something has the potential to be funny.
The comedian must have anxiety to be a success. Still, they also need to be comfortable with themselves to dedicate their lives to knowing who they are in order to explore themselves and share their experiences with the world. The comedian must be well versed enough to acknowledge the anxious situations and brave enough to sit in that discomfort and to explore it – within that, they can find humor in the mundane life. For the most part, this is in hopes of making people feel less alone, a feeling they often experience.
In addition to anxiety being a significant player in my comedic success, as I have gotten older and analyzed why I so deeply want to be a comedian, I have realized my anxiety has beaten down my own self-confidence, which makes me eager for validation. In my life, validation feels most satisfying in the form of laughs. Anxiety, in the form of low self-assurance, is a major driver in someone’s choice to pursue this career, as why else would someone choose to be on the road 200 days of the year?
My anxiety has shaped my life. It has allowed me to be a comedian, for which I am grateful. Simultaneously, my anxiety has made me feel incredibly insecure and even depressed at times. Often, the same characteristics and traits that help create the best parts of our personalities are also our most significant flaws that cause us immense pain. It begs the question: is my anxiety a gift or a curse?
There most certainly are features that define us. I think of my father as the most caring man I know, something I will definitely write about in his eulogy. This characteristic defines him, and as a receiver of his love, I am immensely grateful. However, I see the pain his big heart causes in his anxiety attacks if I do not text back after a couple of hours to tell him where I am, or when my brother gets rejected from his dream graduate school. His caring nature even causes arguments and pushes people away. In his quest to offer advice and to help others, he forgets to respect other people’s opinions and points of view.
Even when others respectfully reject his advice, he will continue to push back out of genuine care. I have seen how this has weakened his relationships with his sisters. While he himself would happily pride himself on his caring nature being a virtue, it is undeniable that it can hold him back from living freely and happily. The best parts about ourselves, the things that define us, are both a gift and a curse.
The things we also perceive as our biggest flaws can help make us be better and more likable people. A slob, while they may be hard to live with, also might have a carefree and less judgemental personality. Your obsession with daydreaming may be the source of your creativity. A greedy person may also be the most driven and ambitious person you know. A smelly person — wait, no. Just don’t smell. No one likes someone who stinks.
Regardless of where your insecurity and pain come from, we should not constantly be trying to change ourselves, especially the parts of us that are integral to who we are, even if that’s a challenge in the age of social media. These parts make up you, and we are all building blocks in our ecosystem with a meaningful place in our world. So next time you beat yourself up for your chubby fingers, remember it’s the reason you chose piano over the guitar, which is now the most therapeutic part of your life. And whenever I start thinking in circles again, which will probably be any second when I start re-reading this article, I’ll remember that my anxiety is the reason I can be who I am – a comedian.