It is said that mankind’s number one fear is death. The second greatest fear is public speaking. Therefore it is logical to assume if one can overcome the second fear, they become one step closer to leading a life without fear.
On February 1st an open mic night was held in Kuwait. Normal everyday people who believe in themselves enough to brave the stage before a crowd of strangers were each given 5 minute spots to showcase their talents. There were rappers, musicians, guitarists, poets and comedians, I being the latter. Upon my arrival, looking up towards the venue where I would be “performing”, my palms were sweaty, knees weak, arms heavy, like a scene out of 8 Mile. I had never done this before, EVER.
My public entertainment career can be summed up in two events; an impromptu Toastmasters appearance and my now infamous terrible rendition of Psy’s “Gangnam Style” dance after the Kuwait Charity Run’s Half Marathon last November. The runner’s world recognizes me. Just the other day as I was approaching two strangers to ask them to join my running initiative, one of them asked if I was the Gangnam runner, and I told her she was correct!
So, there I was, walking into the venue, my first conundrum came when I could not find my name on “the list”. Later I found out I was checking the wrong one and I was not there as a guest, but as a performer.
I greeted the host who put this amazing ensemble evening together, the Master of Ceremonies, and by far the funniest woman I ever did meet. By day she is a teacher, by night an organizer of unparalleled events. She was extremely sweet and very supportive; she even gave me the green light to make fun of her in my act. I was given the 7th spot (lucky number 7), just before intermission.
As I took a seat I realized I was surrounded by guitars, amps and strangers. I was a nervous wreck but everyone around me was cool as a cucumber. I sat at a table with a poet who later would wow everyone with his deep poetic insight.
I was furiously writing and rewriting my bit, adding new ideas, removing ones that I believed would not get a laugh out of the crowd. I must have seemed quite the nerd sitting there with a paper and pen, with everyone tapping away on their iPads and smart phones.
People started arriving in throngs, packing the venue to capacity. I surveyed the room to get a feel of the crowd and realized that some of my material would not be understood, so again I took pen to paper and amended the ideas. Fortunately for me I had a mentor in the crowd. George Tarabay, an established and professional comedian gave me valuable pointers, the best being to put down the pen and paper 5 minutes before my bit. I obliged.
Due to late arrivals, the show was delayed by half an hour. By then everyone had taken a seat and there was quite a crowd standing at the entrance. The MC took to the floor and the show was on.
It was only at the end of the first bit that I was hit with the stark realization that the majority of Kuwait’s talent happen to be in their teenage years! I took a second look around the crowd, and sure enough, quite a few were probably dropped off by their parents. That represented an untapped resource of talent that only gets a chance to shine during school talent shows or band battles.
The countdown had begun with the cessation of the first act. I was one performance closer to my own. Fortunately, I had friends in the crowd that soothed my nerves, and promised to laugh out loud no matter what (cheating I know).
When I heard the MC mention that many of the performers were making their very first try before a live audience, a breath of fresh air swept over me. She never failed to admire the courage that the performers displayed by standing before a crowd. When someone dares to step up before a group of strangers, to step out of their comfort zone, they discover the amazing ability they have within. One woman shined above all others, with a heart provoking poem written addressed to her unborn daughter. The musicians took center stage and thrilled the crowd with both renditions as well as original pieces. The euphoria of witnessing their bravery was contagious, and pretty soon I was loose as a goose and ready to unleash my supposed comedic relief.
After what seemed an eternity, my bit had finally come up. The MC set the mood by informing everyone that I was a first timer, and that should I fail to make them laugh that they would not heckle me, and instead just stare at me judgmentally. No pressure. No pressure.
My first two jokes were greeted by icy silence. People did not see the humor in the moniker of Stand Up Comedy Kuwait (S.U.C.K.). Nor did they take kindly to me asking the laughers amongst them to tickle the silent ones. Fortunately for me, George took notice of my plight and applauded, which got everyone else applauding, which gave me my second wind.
The most amazing feeling afterward was having strangers come up to me and say “that was good, you really made me laugh”. It was invigorating. I had the material and needed to work on my delivery. The best thing about the whole event was that it can only go uphill from here. Once you break that first barrier of fear, everything will fall into place. The rest of the evening was equally incredible. It is truly breathtaking to be made aware of all the musical talent available in Kuwait, young Romeo’s and Semi-Pro Rockers. The singers stole the show with an amazing set of pipes, and I made sure to let them know that. Finally, with the last performance of the evening redefining people’s understanding of musical talent, the show drew to a close. Everyone was forever changed by their experience, both performers and audience alike.
These performers were not amateurs, they were enthusiasts. They were not practicing a hobby, they were following a passion. And that is the first step on the road to perfection. May they all remain steadfast in their journey towards self-discovery, and continue to enlighten those around them.