The Vulnerabilty of Comedy

I went to a women’s AA meeting today.  I love women’s meetings.  Mixed meetings are great as well, but there’s something special that percolates when a group of gals gather.  I’m sure it’s the same for guys.  Toward the end of the meeting, an ornery spitfire of a lady spoke up and had the entire room busting at the seams.  Laughter brings such a welcome release.

It got me thinking about a recent stand-up comedy show I attended.  The comic’s name is Jubal Flagg, and he is hilarious. He hails from L.A. but has made Seattle his current home (lucky us!).  His show was the first stand-up performance I’ve seen, and it exceeded my expectations in more ways than one.

While I sat in the audience, listening to his thoughtfully crafted jokes, it hit me that stand-up might be the most vulnerable of all art forms.  You have a comedian who has poured blood, sweat and tears into creating material- a 45-minute set, no less (that’s a hell of a lot of jokes).  Then he gets up onstage and delivers his “baby,” having no idea of how the audience will respond.  As anyone who has attended a live performance can attest, an audience is a living, breathing animal: its mood, interests and demands can flip on a dime.  Can you imagine the pressure and work that’s entailed in feeding that kind of beast?

Then you consider the comic’s props: he has none.  It’s just him, a microphone, and the clothes on his back.  There is no ornate set to distract the viewers.  There are no costume changes.  And, perhaps most important, there’s no mask. Nothing to hide behind or conceal the artist’s raw emotions and true self.

The word persona is the Greek term for “stage mask.”  Prior to the show, I think I expected to see Jubal’s persona.  I feared we might experience a watered-down, distant version of his authentic self- but that couldn’t have been farther from the truth.  I was struck by his openness, authenticity and vulnerability.  Here I am with no fucking armor or excuses.  Just him and his art.  Both real, accessible and raw.

In recovery, I’m more aware of the personas we use to protect our vulnerable underbelly.  We want to be truly seen by others, but we often don’t want to take on the risk that that entails.  Being seen requires being vulnerable.  And that’s terrifying.  It’s a beautiful paradox (described by Dr. Brené Brown):  Vulnerability is the last thing I want you to see in me, but the first thing I look for in you.

Jubal allowed us to see him.  After the show, he took pictures with fans (he’s also the much-loved host of the top morning radio show in Seattle) and made a concerted effort to connect with folks.  When I walked up to him, I could feel his energy- just as it was onstage:  open, vulnerable, accessible and humble.  Talk about real.  It honestly blew me away.

Comedians are often associated with substance abuse.  Is it any wonder with a profession that requires so much vulnerability?  Comedy and numbing…using substances to escape the discomfort of “putting yourself out there.”  It’s a topic I’d like to explore further.  Maybe he’ll sit down with me and have coffee talk.  It’s an important subject to crack wide open.

In the meantime, if you are fortunate enough to have the opportunity to see him live, treat yourself to tickets.  And take the time to shake his hand.  You’ll see your true self reflected in his eyes.

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