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Melissa Makes Her Comedy Debut, Part 1

A STAND UP LIFE is a movement, taking place both online and in real life. Every day, people like you and me are putting themselves out there: facing fears, growing stronger, standing up for others or simply standing up themselves, no matter how challenging it might be. These are their stories.

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Any comic can tell you: the first time you do comedy is a pretty big moment. It’s the moment you tried something you never thought would be possible. From that moment on, anything seems attainable.

It was perhaps the third or fourth time Melissa attended the Burlington open mic when she approached me about putting her name on the list. The crowd cheered supportively when she said it was her first time, but they laughed genuinely at her material. She had done well. And when she stepped off that stage, and handed the microphone back to me, you could tell something remarkable had just happened. I could see it in her eyes afterward – she was experiencing all the emotions you feel the first time you try something you thought you’d never in your life have the guts to try. It’s a moment where everything changes.

Not long after, I reached out to Melissa about the possibility of email interview. She agreed, and what started as few basic questions quickly became an incredible conversation, one that stretched out over several weeks and led to some pretty powerful places…

COLIN: So why had you never performed comedy before now?

MELISSA: I had never really thought of doing comedy, at least not consciously. I had enjoyed watching stand-up, but doing it was not for me. In fact, just being in the audience made me uncomfortable – I dreaded being focused on or singled out by a performing comic. Just going to an event with a large group of people that I don’t know well is enough to make me have to work really hard to show up, just as an audience member! I began to go to Patra in an effort to get more comfortable with being out and about and meeting people. The first thing I noticed as I watched the performances how supportive the audience was.

COLIN: I’m glad you picked up on that. I think that’s one of the signs of a healthy open mic, when the crowds it draws recognize that it’s a commendable act to try comedy for the first time. They want you to be good. So you started going to Patra… when did you first start thinking you might like to try stand-up?

MELISSA: One day I found myself dreaming up what I later realized was a comedy set. It wasn’t intentional, and I don’t know why my mind went there. I scribbled it in my journal and didn’t tell anyone about it for a while. I was simply not the kind of person who could do stand-up.

Then I told my little skit to a few people and they thought it was funny. I began to admit to myself, and then eventually a few others, that I might like to try stand up some day. A few months later, I realized I did actually want to, but how to get over the fear?! Finally I decided I would do it, and to ensure that I wouldn’t back out, I mentioned to a couple of the other comics that next time I was going to stand up.

Photo taken by Melissa

COLIN: I’ve made a habit out of talking people into trying comedy, but honestly, you did the work on your own. The first I heard of it was when you were asking where the signup sheet was! Okay, so describe what happened next. Your name is on the sheet. It’s too late to back out, and it’s only a matter of time before your name gets called. What were you feeling?

MELISSA: I felt terrified, and began to worry that everything I had memorized would fly out of my head. I wondered why on earth was I going through with it, and why I had brought people with me to witness what would likely be a terrible failure. Who was I to think I could do this? What was I thinking?! I am not a performer, I get nervous in the most mundane basic social situations! Why did I think I should do this? My heart was racing, and I felt kind of sick to my stomach. I was terrified and sweating and my shirt was glued to me. I wasn’t sure that my legs would actually carry me to the stage when it was my turn.

COLIN: Yeah, that sounds about right, actually! I could see you in your seat. I know everyone always says, ‘You didn’t look nervous at all!’ but truthfully you looked pretty nervous! Nervous, but ready. I called your name and you took it from there. It was your moment… So now you’re up in spotlights, looking out at the crowd. What was it like when you got up there?

MELISSA: It was scary. I have spent years being painfully shy and socially anxious, so standing up there with a mic and being the center of attention was overwhelming. That being said, once I mentioned it was my first time, and the audience applauded, I realized that I was amongst friends…

Photo taken by Melissa

By some miracle I managed to rattle off the set. The whole situation seemed surreal and although I knew I was terrified and shaking, I also knew that somehow I was also having fun, and that people were laughing. I was actually doing it! Gradually as I relaxed a bit, I began to be able to look out at people a bit more and be more present in my surroundings. I found a couple of friendly faces to focus on and finished up my set. And honestly? I felt alive. More alive than I had felt in a very long time. Perhaps more alive than ever.

Click here for part 2!

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