In this space last week, I talked about vulnerability on stage, particularly when it comes to sharing painful feelings. This week, the focus shifts to fear.
You remember the Roosevelt family, the political dynasty that produced two popular presidents and a bad-ass first lady? Every one of those folks had something to say about fear. I know you’ve heard these:
"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."—FDR
"The danger lies in refusing to face the fear, in not daring to come to grips with it. If you fail anywhere along the line it will take away your confidence. You must make yourself succeed every time. You must do the thing you think you cannot do."—Eleanor
"The credit belongs to the man . . . who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; . . . who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."—Teddy
Do you think they cribbed off of each other?
I love acronyms. They are often clever encapsulations of much more complicated and often abstract constructs. I have a new one for you, and I am proud to say that I made it up all by myself (quite by accident, but don’t tell anyone). It will be my enduring contribution to the literary oeuvre of improvisational comedy. Prepare to be impressed:
F R E T: Fear, Risk, Exposure, Triumph
I think it is a great irony in human relations that the willingness to fail may be the characteristic we most admire in others, but fear of looking stupid cripples our willingness to take those risks.
Next time the scaredy cat claws its way to the surface, think FRET:
Acknowledge the FEAR Choose to take the RISK EXPOSE your vulnerability TRIUMPH in your high achievement
Improvisers are a singular bunch. Think about what we do. We go on stage naked, without a script or much of a game plan at all. Maybe an initiation or a gesture. We run an immediate risk of looking stupid. But, hell, looking stupid is funny. Why? Because people in the audience either 1) do improv and can totally empathize with the performer’s plight, 2) don’t do anything like improv and admire the bejeezus out of people willing to face the risk of stepping out from the back line and seeing where the journey takes us.
When your friends and relatives see you on stage for the first time, don’t you get a post-mortem like this? “Gee, that was great. You were so funny! But I could never get up on a stage like that.” By the end of Level 1, I was saying, “Of course you can. Everybody can.” For a time, I thought, “Why do they feel that way about themselves?” I figured they were afraid of freezing up or looking silly. Classic stagefright precipitators. Maybe it’s more fundamental than that even. Maybe they are afraid of taking the risk, of appearing vulnerable, of ceding control to a process or another person.
Next week, we will explore practical ways to apply that cool FRET acronym to help us all deal with the insidious fear of emotional exposure. This week, I will leave you with another favorite quote of mine. Because it deals directly with vulnerability in comedy, let it inspire you.
"Yeah, we are cool motherf******. We are rockstars—when it comes to what we do. But we are f**k-ups, but we know it. We know all of our flaws. We know all of our dimples and zits. We use it, and use that to make you understand us more. It makes people like you more. When you are on stage talking about how f***ed up you are and people relate to it, I don’t know if there is anything more powerful. That’s how people get sober off drugs, just being completely honest. That’s what kind of power lies in stand-up comedy.
"Being as vulnerable as you can on stage. And then adding making people laugh at it. That’s why I get mad when people get offended at comedy. It’s like wait a minute, the person that gets offended, okay f**k you, but what about the other person that it helped?"—Comedian Robert Kelly, Paste Magazine, 1/9/2015
Mr. Kelly plays the brother of Louis C.K. on Louie.
Carron Armstrong is a Level 4 student in the Dallas Comedy House Training Center, where her husband, Gary, is in Level 2 and her daughter, Haley, is in Level 1. She is pleased that they form DCH’s first improv family dynasty (as far as she knows). Their legacy will be a new house format called the Armstrong.