I haven’t done stand-up in a very long time. Sometimes I miss it, but a lot of the time I really don’t think about it much. My only real motivations to get back into it are to shut up Steve Swim, who hosts the Maltese’s “Your M.O.M.” open mics, and really, to feed my own narcissistic needs—both of which have not previously been enough to surmount my laziness and disinterest in telling jokes I’ve told before.
It might seem counter-intuitive that as an amateur comedian whose limited repertoire of jokes are all self-deprecating, that I would be feeding my ego to any degree… but I am. Hearing people laugh at the stupid things that come out of my face (hopefully words) makes me feel good. As it should. I hope everybody gains some sort of satisfaction and validation from the things they do, whether it’s telling jokes, cooking, or building sweet Lego fortresses.
To me though, stand-up was starting to give the wrong sort of satisfaction and validation. I wasn’t satisfied with making people laugh and knowing I’d given something to them. I was satisfied by the thought of “Yes! I am funny. Go me.” My narcissism was taking over. It would’ve been the same if the satisfaction of cooking didn’t come from giving someone a good meal, or if the satisfaction of building the Fortress of Ballertude didn’t come from being able to protect Princess Hoopsalot from a marauding Stretch Armstrong.
If I did stand-up for a small crowd, or for a large crowd that was more interested in their beer than my jokes, I would think to myself, “This isn’t worth it.” It was mostly because I knew I wasn’t going to get the same uproarious laughter I received at the Bustolini’s shows. Making ten people laugh doesn’t feed my narcissism as much as making a hundred people laugh.
Recently I did an improv show for a small, quiet crowd and the thought “this isn’t worth it” did not enter my brain. Why the difference? It has to do with the collaborative nature of improv. People with egos that need constant stroking are no good at improv. They try to dominate scenes with their ideas, they try to steal other people’s funny, and they try to outsmart their teammates. An improviser with an ego is like a quarterback who tries to run the ball himself on every play.
That isn’t to say that improv doesn’t feed my narcissism. Of course it does; I wouldn’t do it if it didn’t. You wouldn’t put any passion into cooking if it didn’t make you feel like an Iron Chef, and you wouldn’t build with Legos if it didn’t make you feel less bad about giving up on being an architect. Improv just strokes my ego in a way that isn’t so glaringly selfish. I guess with stand-up, I just gotta learn how to tell jokes about my rampant premature ejaculation without my ego getting in the way.