Coming Out is a hard exercise for some people. It is wonderful for others. Having it be hard and/or wonderful doesn’t predict that much in terms of your future in this work. The biggest predictor is how honest you are willing to be about your own experience.
Here are two stories about two different Naked Comedy workshop participants in two different cities. Both of them we’ll call Lucy.
Lucy #1 is in her mid-20s, wears a goofy t-shirt, loves improv. She looks very nervous before the exercise. She goes backstage and pushes her stretch pants up into bulky little shorts. We sing the clown entrance song for Lucy, and she enters nervously, eyes fixed on me.
“Good,” I say. “Relax your jaw.” (I will talk more about jaw release in a later blog entry. Together, we will worship at the altar of jaw release.)
Lucy’s jaw releases and her mouth opens slightly. Suddenly her face appears to open up, and the audience laughs at how open and lovely she is. She looks surprised.
“They like you,” I say. “Do you know why?”
Lucy vigorously shakes her head. The audience laughs louder.
“Because you’re being honest,” I say to Lucy. Lucy tips her head and stares at me, taking that in. Her eyes are wide. Everyone in the audience is leaning forward in their seats, taken with her.
Lucy goes through the exercise, moving from one audience member to another, seeing and being seen. Each new person she sees engenders an entirely new reaction in her. Some people make her immediately light up with delight, others make her look curious, or nervous. But she is totally with each person, and the audience is engaged with every little way her energy shifts.
“How was it, Lucy?” I ask her when her attention comes back to me. In this exercise, the person is not allowed to speak; she has to answer the question non-verbally. She smiles slowly, like she is still deciding how she feels. She tips her head left to right to indicate, it was so-so. Her eyes roll with the magnitude of what she has done, and the audience laughs again. She looks mystified at their laughter.
Afterwards, in the debriefing, Lucy says she doesn’t understand why everyone was laughing. “I was just reacting to what I was getting,” she says.
“Exactly, Lucy!” we all say.
Lucy starts to get it.
Here’s a story about another Lucy. Mid-to-late 30’s, tattoos, very into yoga and dance. We sing the clown entrance song for this Lucy, and Lucy enters the space with her t-shirt up around her neck and her sports bra showing. Great choice, Lucy! But she also has a big huge grin on her face, like Mama Rose was standing backstage whispering to Lucy as she entered, “SMILE, GYPSY. THEY WON’T LOVE YOU UNLESS YOU SMIIIIIIILE.”
“Go back,” I tell this Lucy. “Why are you smiling? There is nothing to smile about yet.”
Lucy leaves and enters again, less sure. Slightly more interesting.
I ask Lucy to release her jaw.
Lucy’s mouth is still smiling, just close-lipped now.
“Stop smiling,” I tell Lucy. Lucy glares at me.
“Good!” I say. The audience laughs. Lucy shakes her head, confused. I say, “That was honest, and the audience likes you being honest.” But Lucy doesn’t really see. She won’t relax, she won’t just be. Her jaw stays tight.
As her eyes move from one audience member to another, we see her discomfort with being seen, and her inability to see us. She just doesn’t look interested in us. Her eyes move from one to another, completing the assignment, but not stopping to connect and wonder at the uniqueness of each audience member’s gaze. She can’t see past herself. Her eyes finally come back to me. She looks vaguely pissed off, or like a photocopy of a pissed-off person.
“How was that,” I ask. She shrugs, then gestures that it was “ok.”
“Really?” I say. “It was okay? You looked miserable up there.”
She shakes her head, shrugs, sticks to her story: it was okay.
After the exercise is done and she has come out to debrief, Lucy explains that she has had some major dental work, and that was making it hard to release her jaw, and that was what was frustrating about the exercise.
But come on. It didn’t have dick to do with dental work.
Lucy’s jaw was tight because she didn’t want to let the exercise in, because she was not comfortable being seen without a big fake smile on her face. Why? I’m guessing that Lucy was holding a lot of shitty feelings inside, so if she had released her jaw, she probably would have bawled her eyes out. And while that would have been awesome for the rest of us, Lucy was not ready to be that vulnerable on stage. On that day, she was not ready to be a clown.
Remember: The word “CLOWN” could originate from the old English word “CLOD,” meaning wet earth. Clown is wet! So don’t worry about getting moist on stage. Moisture should be the goal!
Plus, when you cry on stage, you give everyone in the audience more than their money’s worth, no matter how much they paid. We love watching people experience things, and pain is one of our favorite things to watch!