performance tips


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:

I was at your Friday night show. I was visiting my in-laws and suggested an adult night out for the six of us for dinner and your show. I was slightly nervous planning this evening, because what if the show was a flop?!?! The most difficult to please person said to me on the way out, “this was a winner.” Yay for you and me!! Ha ha! I loved that you got so many people involved in your show, made it personal and interactive. You are witty and engaging and I was sad when it ended! Days later and we are still talking about your act. Well done. I’ll have my eye out for you to come to my area. Best of luck with your career - you do fantastic work!

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.

Other Thoughts:

  • 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.

  • All upcoming shows are posted here.

  • Are you subscribed on YouTube? I have some awesome video projects coming up soon.

  • Here’s a killer photo from a gig last week at Stony Brook University in Long Island:

It's Not About You

Here’s a confession:

I started performing for selfish reasons. It was all about me.

I wanted to show off, I wanted to be the center of attention, and I wanted people to like me.

In the beginning performing is addictive. It’s a rush. You shake with nervous anticipation and hit the stage full of adrenaline. Applause from a good show will carry you to the next show; when you can finally get in front of an audience and feel that rush all over again.

But being a show off can only get you so far. When I started performing full-time I quickly realized that I needed to approach things differently.

For me to have a sustainable career I realized that I needed to make what I do about other people. It couldn’t be self-serving or narcissistic. I didn’t want to be the center of attention any more - I wanted to be the link between people and an unforgettable experience.

When I started making my work about other people everything changed for the better. People were more into what I do because it was about them. I still received applause and still got a rush, but now it was because I was cheering someone up or encouraging others. The amount of positive feedback I received for my performances increased exponentially. When you don't expect anything in return it's amazing how much you'll receive.

I hear other artists talk excitedly about the thrill of being onstage or how much they get out of their performances and I sit aghast, wondering if they even realize how much they’re missing the mark. 

It’s not about you. It simply can’t be. 

No matter what you do - onstage or off - it should be at the service of other people. Otherwise, you’re going to have a hard time being satisfied in your chosen profession.

Use what you do to make people happy, help improve their existence, inspire, and motivate. Share your wisdom but don’t be preachy. Encourage others but don’t act like you know everything. When everything you do originates from a place of helping other people you can’t go wrong. You'll be making the world a better place, even if it's just in your own little corner.

There's a wonderful Chinese proverb that goes "If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap. If you want happiness for a day, go fishing. If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody."

The best things in my life have come from helping other people without asking for anything in return. It’s made a world of difference for me and I’m sure it will do the same for you.