I know what you've heard: many performers, even successful ones, have fragile egos. You may even be a performer who considers your ego a little on the shaky side. You're not alone! But now, get over it, immediately.
Here's the thing: maybe back in the Stone Age, when the fire was starting to go out for the night and everyone in the tribe was bored, tribal ha-ha-man Grog might have been a little shy and delicate. And that was okay.
"Come on, Grog! Please stand up near the mouth of the cave and do your impression of Ug-Ug having babies in the field!"
"Oh noooo," Grog would say. "Grog is scared and shy! You didn't laugh when I did that this morning!"
"But that was when we were distracted by the sun and the wind! Now it is night and the fire is almost out! We are bored and need something to distract us from the pain of being human!"
"Ohhhh kay," Grog says, ambling onto his rock-stage and assuming a crouching position. "Ouch," he cries, "my babies are coming!"
The tribe applauds wildly.
Those times are over. No one is begging you to entertain them anymore. Now there are 500 million ways the rest of the tribe can distract themselves from the pain of being human. 499,999,000 of those ways do not even involve putting on pants or leaving the comfort of an upholstered piece of furniture.
The time to be a performer with a fragile ego is loooooong gone. It's the audience's turn to be fragile now.
Think about it: they have put on pants. They didn't want to put on pants, and they're not even sure the pants look good. They didn't want to leave the comfort of their upholstered furniture that still has their smell. They have made a brave choice to come out into the scary, scary world to seek their entertainment. They are concerned they may have made the wrong choice. Nine times out of ten, they have.
You are the one on stage; you are in charge now. Your purpose is to assure them that they made the right choice—that they are sooooo courageous and wonderful for putting on their goddamn pants.
It matters not what crazy-fucked-up-trying-to-(dis)please-daddy reason got you on stage to begin with—once you are there, you are no longer the child seeking approval. If you're not mentally healthy and stable enough to be on stage and take care of your audience, you know exactly what smelly couch you should be on, and what degree of pantslessness suits you best.
Here's a paradox: your job as an entertainer is to pay total attention to how the audience is responding to you. You are there to serve them and to please them. But here's the funny part: if you act like you are at the audience's mercy, and will be crushed if they do not love you, they will never love you.
Think of a parent with her child. A good parent will know what is going on with her kid at all times. A good parent will let the kid know that he is seen and heard. But a good parent will not let the child feel totally in control. A good parent gives the kid boundaries, and does not get all butt-hurt if the kid is not happy every second. Remember who's got the power.
Here's a useful mantra: Oh, you did not like that, audience? That's okay! That's totally fine! Get ready for THIS thing, audience! You will totally love it!
FORGIVE THAT AUDIENCE FOR NOT LOVING YOU, AND LOVE THEM ANYWAY.
Don't get me wrong: it sucks when an audience is not loving you. There may be just one asshole in the middle of the audience, sitting there not loving you, but it still sucks, and it happens all the time to everyone, even Dermot Mulroney. But if you get mad at them, or take it personally, no one wins. Forgiveness is your best choice. When an audience sees that you forgive them, they start to like you more. They think to themselves: Hmm, this performer has failed to entertain me, but he seems aware of this fact, and he is not blaming me for not being entertained. In fact, he is making me feel okay about my feelings. Perhaps he is worthy of more of my attention, and maybe, eventually, my love.
Of course none of this is to say that you have to be totally sweet to your audience at all times. Yell at them from time to time, sure, make fun of them if that is your thing. But everything you do, you must do because you're taking care of them, and not vice versa.
They've been so good, right? They deserve a cookie. As the tribal fire dies down, as the pain of being human rears its insistent head, be the grownup and give your audience the goddamn cookie they came for.