Ways to Conquer Your Stage Fright

Public speaking is a fear a lot of people have, even extremely funny ones.  With this article, I will try to help you get over your fear and at least try your hand at comedy.  I myself had a tremendous fear of getting up in front of people.  I hated being called on in class (it didn’t help that I stuttered until the fourth grade), and when I was in the military, it was actually comedy that helped me deliver my presentations in front of my peers.  When I started performing, it was debilitating.  Once I was opening for this guy at Oregon State University, and when I looked out at this sea of people, I seriously thought about giving it up.  I was about to go outside and call the promoter and tell him I was done with comedy, but something told me to do it and I did.

Memorize your material- This is important.  Remembering what you want to talk about can calm your nerves.  We are afraid of the things we don’t know and what we can not control.  The one thing that you can control is knowing your material.  That way you won’t have to fumble with papers or your phone.  When you have the confidence that you at least know what you are going to talk about, it can steady you before you get on stage.

Give it time- If you have your material in your head ready to go, then when your name is called take a deep breath and when you are on that stage, give yourself a second or two to take in your new environment.  That couple of seconds can give your mind the time to see that it isn’t that bad!  Take those couple of seconds to take a couple of breaths and get ready to perform.  Most crowds want you to be funny, they don’t want to have wasted their evening listening to terrible comedy, so you have that advantage.  Now that you are centered and you have let the room in, start crushing.

Use more of the stage-  Pacing can help you redirect those nerves somewhere else.  When you get on stage and you need your notes, put them somewhere that you have to go to.  For instance:  put them on the bar stool and make sure the bar stool is a couple of steps so you can pace and keep your notes within reading range.  Now you can pace and work off the nerves that are built up and your notes are there in case you need them.  If you have your material memorized then use the stage as the nerves hit to keep it from messing with what you are trying to do on stage.

Eyes and hands-  Comics that are afraid will sometime grab the mic stand as an anchor.  That mic stand works as like an antenna and it can alert the entire audience to your predicament.  Comics who are comfortable on stage and are using it as more of a cane have a different posture than someone that is wringing the hell out of it because they are scared out of their minds.  I would suggest against keeping the mic in the stand unless it helps you use both of your hands. Noise can travel through the mic stand so if you are holding on to it for dear life, everyone in the room can hear it.  Put that other hand in your pocket or talk with it.  It’s a bit harder to see your nerves if you have your hand in your pocket or you are using it to add flourishes to your performance.  What I used to do for years to help with my nerves was I would not look at anyone in the audience.  I had my material memorized and I went up and reacted to the laughs.  I would look at empty seats or look right past people. It really helped me get a hold of what I was doing on stage.

Start easy-  An almost sure fire way to settle those nerves is to get the room laughing when you get up.  Start off with a nice, even keeled joke to get the crowd on your side.  If you start by antagonizing the audience it will not help get those nerves down because you know the crowd isn’t hoping you make them laugh anymore.  This is especially true at open mics where the audience doesn’t care as much about your well being.  They just want to laugh.

I hope these steps help you.  They may not work for everyone but there is something there for at least someone.  I would advise against drinking or drugs to calm your nerves.  Now, taking a shot may help calm your nerves, but too much could make you more sloppy on stage.  I knew a guy that could not go on stage without at least a buzz going.  The problem is he didn’t have it down to a science so sometimes he would be drunk as hell when he got up there!  He would antagonize the audience and they hated him.  He would get sober and then feel bad about his sets.  Once he stopped doing that (as much), you could see the real comedian come out of him.  I would also advise against bringing a whole group of friends and family because that is like a drug in itself.  Your family will laugh at anything you say because they want the best for you (unless your family is terrible).  That will give you an inflated sense of what you can do on stage and as soon as they stop coming out (because they will eventually) all it will take is one bad show to strip away that confidence you had built up.  It is best to develop that stage confidence slowly to the point where a bad show won’t cause you to stop doing comedy.  I hope these tips helped.  Thanks for reading!

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Controlling an Audience

Controlling an audience is one of the key things a comedian has to do in able to be successful on stage.  Controlling, in the way we are going to be using the word, means to get and maintain the attention of the audience.  You would think this is very simple, but it is a skill that many comedians do not pick up. The best comedians on earth all possess this ability to more or less keep every audience member transfixed on them.  We will talk about a couple of ways comedians keep the audience listening.

I am of the belief that you, as the performer, should not have to tell the audience to pay attention.  You are the performer, not a grade school teacher.  On the other hand, I think it is up to bar staff and especially the MC to set a list of guidelines before the show starts.  The MC should be making sure that they have wrangled any rowdy tables and has gotten the entire room on the same page.  That is why you have the MC!  They go up and deal with the headaches and put out the fires so the show can go smoothly once she steps off stage.  Now, that isn’t to say every MC is good at doing this.  I have performed with Hosts that will invite talking, but never tell the audience that the rest of the comedians may not be into that.

So, you are now on stage.  How do you control the crowd?  Well, it seems simple, but you would be surprised by how many comedians can not get an audience that paid to see them quiet.  Some comedians have never really done loud and hostile environments like sports bars or a room that is just generally disinterested, so when the audience isn’t paying attention or into what they are doing, they tend to strike out at the audience and things only get worse from there.  A tried and true technique is to tell the audience to give it up for the host or the previous comedian.  The audience will start clapping and that gives you enough time to do a couple of things (if you weren’t paying attention earlier).  First, you can scout real quick and see the tables or places in the room that are being disruptive to the show.  If they are in the back of the room, sometimes it is best to let them be if you can’t pull them in with the people that are paying attention.  Why?  Because if you focus your time on them then you are ignoring the people that are paying attention and that can lead to a room of folks not liking you.  Second, if you don’t have a planned first joke, it gives you time to throw out something that will instantly get the crowd on your side.  I have seen everything from a quick one-liner to a quick call back to a previous joke.  This is to get them focused on your performance.

Another method is to just get up and with your voice get the room’s attention.  Nothing says you are now performing like getting the mic really close to your face and filling the room with your voice.  This may not work for you though if the rest of your set is you being meek up on stage.  You can also start with a strong joke that will immediately get the crowd listening to what else you have to say.  It could also be that your mere presence makes the audience want to hear what you are talking about.   If you are a white person in a room filled with people of color, they may just listen long enough to see if you are going to make them laugh.  This will be your chance to get them on your side.  If you are a comedian of color, and the room is mostly white, getting on stage and immediately saying the n-word may not be a good thing.  I am not saying don’t do your act, but if you are trying to make sure the room is paying attention you want them to be on your side long enough for them to follow you down any nook and cranny you wish.

Some comedians are just gifted.  They can get on stage and within twenty seconds have the audience eating out the palm of their hands.  Not all of us have that ability, so I hope the tips above will give you a little bit of an edge the next time you are trying to get the room under control.  Make sure you are not screaming at the audience to shut up and things of that nature.  That isn’t your job.  Get the staff or security to handle that.  If you have to keep everyone in check then you should be getting paid for comedy as well as security.  If nothing else is working just find that one table or group that is paying attention and play to them.  Guess what?  Most of the time, if you get a group paying attention to you they will tell the rest of the room to shut up and listen!  I think next time we will talk about when we as comedians should be the bad guy on stage.