I’m probably gonna blow your minds right now, but I don’t like attention. It’s true. At least not on a big scale. Don’t be shocked, I have alway been one to generally kick the spotlight away once I felt it burning too bright. Definitely not an “All eyes on me” kinda guy. Maybe it’s shyness or fear of embarrassment. Maybe I just don’t feel like I have much to offer a large amount people fucking gazing in my general direction. For instance, I’m perfectly fine with cracking some jokes at a small get together and making people laugh…shit,who doesn’t? But you put me on a stage with a mic and tell me to do the same thing to a room full of people…no fucking way.
Louis CK has a routine he does where he pokes at the audience by telling them they already paid their ticket, he has their money now…and he can do anything he wants for the rest of the show and they have no say. He could just come out on stage, shit in his pants, turn around and leave, and call that his act if he wanted to.
It’s a funny bit..and it’s also kinda meta for me when I hear it because that basically would be MY bit if I ever tried to do stand up. I’d walk on stage, see all the people staring at me, shit my pants…and walk off. Not for humor, but out of mortal terror. Lucky for me, I learned this personal lesson of my own limits early in life and in a pretty benign setting.
In sixth grade, I was picked to be the lead in the school play. I didn’t ask or audition, the teacher just kinda picked kids at random, so I got nothing to boast about (even though she totally wanted to bang me). But I was cool with it. Hey, the star of the show! Sweet. I could take that in stride.
It’s important to note that I had the distinct pleasure of attending a Catholic school in my younger years, so this wasn’t Les Miser-whatever or Miss Saigon or some other respected work of art. No, Catholics like two things: Jesus and guilt. So the play was basically an attempt to contemperize those themes. I was playing a clueless, Godless, TV reporter who interviews people from the bible about the meaning of Christmas and finally comes to his senses that skepticism is bad and Catholic Jesus is the fucking shit. Uh huh. Jealous? Hey, I was eleven and got to wear a page-boy hat and use a working mic on stage, sweet fucking deal.
We rehearsed it for a couple of weeks and I was nailing my lines like a champ. I was even getting cute with the mic-swinging it around from person to person by the cord, the page-boy hat tilted a little to the side. I was gonna convert in fucking style and blow these Jesus freaks away! Shit, at the next mass, the priest might even let me drink some wine! Hells yeah! Gettin’ tipsy by the tabernacle. It was all aces until the big night when the auditorium was filled to the gills with parents, priests and bible-thumpers alike. If Jesus is real, he was probably somewhere in the back too. Word had gotten around about my talents, he wouldn’t have missed it. I was cool, calm, and collected…ready to fucking throw down some Jesus preaching for the rationally handicapped.
And then I looked at the crowd.
Hundreds of eyes, dark pupils fixated and wide…waiting to stare at ME. Expecting ME to go out there and entertain them. Satisfy them. And don’t fuck it up. Right then and there, something snapped. My bullshit fantasies of on-stage domination never bothered to include the very real chance of failure. Funny how you always skip over that part in your brain. As the teacher pushed me out on stage, my knees started to buckle. I could barely hold the mic in my sweaty, trembling hand. I stood in front of those demanding, demonic faces with my heart pounding so hard, I’m pretty sure the mic picked it up and started booming it in quadrophonics around the auditorium. My mouth opened for my first line, my tongue dryer than a granny’s cooch. Rather than belt it out, it squeaked out like a helium fart as my vocal chords quivered under the stress. I heard giggles and then my brain just kinda went into Protect-Mode. I soldiered on in a feverish haze, working only on my rote memory of the lines…delivering them like a robot from the 60’s Twilight Zones.
Eventually, we came to the scene where I had to interview Joseph…who was played by my best friend at the time. It was a dialogue-heavy scene that started with me asking his name.
“H-Hello, sir…who are you?”
I froze. My brain turned to noodles as my friend stared at me and tried to mouth my next line. I couldn’t grasp it. He might as well been speaking in tongues. My bladder started to quiver. Fuck it, gotta bail.
“Umm….thank you. Good bye.”
Just like that, I cut out an entire scene and all of my friends dialogue. And that kid had practiced that shit hardcore. He had that scene down and had half his Jesus-loving, redneck family in the seats watching. Not important…I was in crisis mode and just trying to get through this trauma without wetting myself. For all I know, I could have extinguished the flame of a future master thespian, destined for Broadway and the silver screen. (Hah, wait..no, fuck that. He was fat and ugly and stayed that way. And he tried to steal my girlfriend in 7th grade so I actually hope he died choking on his own vomit in a gutter after an all-night glory-hole binge.)
I uttered my last line shortly after, mercifully bringing the play and my brief acting career to a close. I stumbled off and walked past my teacher as she glared at me like I had just taken a shit on stage. I actually thought I might have but looked back and saw the gleaming wood unmarred. But I had had it. I felt betrayed by own stupid ego…and by that bitch teacher for picking me. I was eleven, I didn’t know what the fuck I wanted or what I was good at. That bitch should have warned me or something.
“Rick, there’s chance the entire night will end in a complete cluster fuck leaving you with childhood PTSD and a life-long urge to piss your pants when ever you see a stage. Are you sure you want to do this?”
She opened her mouth to say something and I cut her off.
“Shove it.” I said and threw the still hot mic at her. She fumbled and caught it, causing a piercing scream of feedback to rip through the speakers and an echo of groans came from the audience. But I had learned something: If I ever have that many people staring at me again, it better be at my funeral.
So now I live comfortably within my own limits of outside attention. And if my kid ever decides she wants to try out for the school play, I’ll support her…but not before I recount this little tale to her so she can walk on that stage fully prepared for what she’s in for. And if she does piss her pants, Daddy will have a fresh pair for her in the car.