Ten years ago I got an email from a man I had performed with during a variety showcase. This guy criticized my act and condescendingly told me how he could have done it better because of his “years of experience” and “expertise”.
At the time I was just trying shit out onstage in hopes of getting better and finding my voice. I was young. I had no direction or style. I barely had any stage time under my belt. I was just minding my own business and here was this guy invading my inbox with his “holier than thou” attitude.
I was devastated. And upset…and angry…and shocked. So I spent the next 24 hours crafting the perfect response, sent it off, and thought to myself: “That’ll show him.”
I never heard back. But that guy’s words echoed in my brain, haunting me for weeks afterwards. And gradually I started to make changes to my show just to move on and get that email out of my head.
Even though his ideas were horrible and I didn’t have to prove myself to that guy, it still bothered me enough that I went out of my way to appease a person I’ve only seen one night in my entire life. Unbelievable.
Flash forward to this summer and a similar experience…
An audience member emailed me to give some unsolicited advice about my show. He was cordial but slightly demeaning, telling me that I shouldn’t do certain things because he didn’t like it.
My first instinct was to laugh. Seriously, who emails a performer to tell them to change their act? If I don’t like something I just move on and assume it wasn’t for me to begin with…
After that, I started thinking about how to respond. I needed to be firm, but polite. I wanted to hold my ground and explain myself. But then I caught myself and had a wonderful realization: “I don’t owe this guy anything.”
I realized that it was a horrible decision to let one person dictate the direction of my show. No single person should have a say in my material, my wardrobe, my style, or my approach to performance. The only person who decides where I’m going is me.
It took me a decade of shows and thousands of comments, messages, calls, and e-mails to understand that, but when that thought came into focus it was crystal clear:
“No one else gets to determine the direction I’m going in.”
As I was sitting at my desk, pondering that email, another alert came in. It was another email, from a different audience member who had been at the same exact performance. She wrote:
Talk about perfect timing. That was all I needed to hear to know that I was on the right path.
Oh, and I only responded to one of those emails…but I’m sure you put that together already.
Comedian Gary Gulman has been sharing brilliant tips of twitter all year. (Coincidentally as I was working on this post this week he posted this tweet. Glad to see I was thinking on the same page as one of the greats.) If you’re looking to be a better writer/performer or just enjoy good stand up, you should probably go follow him.
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Here’s a killer photo from a gig last week at Stony Brook University in Long Island: