When I made the leap from performance art to stand-up comedy, my self-esteem took a nosedive. My idealism about the uplifting nature of laughter helped, but it was still a rocky transition from beautiful venues and critical acclaim to six minutes for three drunks at midnight. Drunks who didn't even like me!
At first, the full-frontal rejection was shocking and painful. But the heckling that doesn't kill you only makes you stronger, and I realized I could handle it—despite being a born people pleaser. And the more I handled it without crumbling, the braver I got.
Courage, it turns out, is both an esteem builder and a comedy enhancer! So I also got funnier. Still, a guy with that "you suck" glare could throw me. One night, though, I decided that look had nothing to do with me but, rather, with the guy's indigestion. Learning not to take things so personally was another boost.
Of course, there were many nights when I couldn't win over the antagonistic audiences. I finally accepted that no one is for everyone—and decided to leave the clubs to create a new kind of comedy forum: one that encouraged self-reflection and soul-searching, one for performers who were "differently funny" and for the audiences that loved them. I called it the Un-Cabaret. So, ironically, audiences that hated me had helped me find the chutzpah to launch the show that didn't make me hate myself in the morning!
Beth Lapides is the creator of the Los Angeles–based Un-Cabaret and the author of Did I Wake You? Haikus for Modern Living (Soft Skull).
From the January 2008 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine
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