Got a call from a young comedian today. Didn’t recognize the number, but I took the call anyway.

He said, “Thanks for taking my call. I really need some advice…”

I sighed to myself and thought… I knew I shouldn’t have answered the phone…

Then I heard his voice crack a little.

Dude was hurting.  He went on to tell me what was up. He said, “I have a show tonight. My girlfriend just broke up with me and I’m fu**ing crushed. She won’t even talk to me. What do I do?”

I thought to myself, Did you call the right number? I’m a joke writer!

Then he said, “How do I go on stage and be funny when everything hurts?”

I like to help people. I thrive in it, but when he said that, I could feel myself like, I don’t know–jump–to the occasion.

I didn’t know whether the comedian in me was feeling heroic or schadenfreude;  some kind of sadistic enjoyment that someone else was suffering.

So I took a breath and just let words come out of my mouth. I’m sure it was rambling–like these blog posts the three of you endure from me!

I said, “I’m sorry you’re going through such pain. Don’t fight it. You’re human. Embrace it.

“Allow yourself to wallow in it and experience it, but when that spotlight turns on and they call your name… it’s showtime… got it?!

“Because feeling overwhelmed by emotion is only one part of being human. Another part being able to turn on your own light, shift your emotion and give them a show, even if it’s on a fucking dime.

Because being a performer is not what we do, it’s who we are.” 

I know that might sound cliche or trite to the point of sounding ingenuous, but nothing could be truer.

When I first started in this business, one of my life changing moments occurred when I heard a joke by Rodney Dangerfield (now, you have to imagine his voice saying this joke for the best effect).

He said, “Comedy is in my blood; too bad it’s not in my material!”

And though I laughed at the punchline, it was the set up that I really felt to my bones. I thought comedy is in my blood.  And that was the moment I decided to do it for the rest of my life.

And in the rest of your life, you are going to experience ups and downs, breakups and deaths, but that doesn’t change who you are.

That light still goes on at eight o’clock and that audience has paid good money to laugh. So for that five minutes, thirty minutes or an hour, you have to bring it and bring it hard.

My talk seemed to help this young man on the phone, because his voice changed. He became animated.

“You’re right!” He said. His voice cracked again, but this time for a different reason; he was excited.

“Thank you for taking my call and thank you for the advice, man. Really!”

We hung up the phone. (Okay, didn’t really ‘hang up’ the phone. I pressed a button…)

But, if I didn’t say it on the phone, I’ll say it here: ‘Thank YOU, young comedian!’

After that call, I felt I was supposed to feel proud of myself and, I don’t know–maybe heroic?

But in that precise moment, my eyes filled with tears and I realized, that call was as much for him as it was for me.

In short, we’re human. Allow yourself to feel, to go through the ups and downs of life. But when that light goes on, give them a show and be unstoppable!

After all, being a comedian or a performer is not what you do; it’s who you are.

    9 replies to "How do I Get on Stage and be Funny When Everything Hurts?"

    • Thank you. This was perfect timing for me as well! Struggling to get back out there after break up yet I know I must! Heading to Ann Arbor Comedy Showcase and hoping to do guest set tonight and get back on that horse ; ) Loved this and I am sure many others will too.

    • Michael Faulkner

      Heck yeah. USE IT. Sometimes the funniest stuff is shared pain. See Tig Notaro. A breakup does not compare to a cancer diagnosis,but she went on, was truthful, vulnerable, and killed.

    • Richard Allan Jones

      (ask audience) Do you believe in reincarnation? My girlfriend does. She tells me, nobody can get that stupid in one lifetime.

      I just broke up with with my girlfriend because she lacks ambition. I found out she’s even too lazy to cheat on me.

    • Susan Hill

      If comedy’s in your blood then I’m a sucker for Jwrry Corley’s Stand Up Comedy Clinic!

    • David Abolafia

      I’ve had two serious blows since I started doing comedy.

      First, I was diagnosed with cancer. Could have let that get me down, but instead, while in the hospital, I wrote cancer-related material. Three days after I got out of the hospital, I was on stage at my local club, wearing a hospital gown, doing that material.

      Second, earlier this year, I went through a bout of severe depression. Was entertaining thoughts of killing myself. The night I hit my absolute lowest point, I was set to perform in a comedy competition. I was practically catatonic; I could barely had the desire to put one foot in front of the other, much less get on stage. On the way to the show, we nearly got into a serious car accident (I wasn’t driving); it woke me up enough to be able to do my set. It didn’t cure me of my depression, but it got me started in the right direction: up.

      In both cases, comedy helped me through some seriously dark times. As Eric Clapton sang, “It’s in the way that you use it.”

    • Doyle Brand

      Thanks for the inspiration, Jerry!

    • Rob Greenspan

      Great post!

    • Brandon George

      Deep. Shit, I think I needed that myself as well. Thanks “young comedian.”

    • Karume Asangama

      Thanks for this wonderful aticle Jerry.

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