Fearless minds climb soonest into crowns.
-- William Shakespeare
'What if they laugh at me? Or even worse -- what if they don't laugh at all? I swear to God, if I say something I think is funny and then hear a cricket, I'm gonna freak." "No one is going to laugh...I mean everyone is going to laugh. Argh! You've got to stop this," snapped David. Though it was obvious to me that he'd reached his maximum daily dose of my drama, I couldn't control myself -- my nerves had confiscated the steering wheel that was my tongue the moment my eyes had popped wide open at 7 a.m., and I'd been verbally vomiting my neuroses all over David since he sought me out beneath the covers to offer a cheerful "Good morning!" I had responded by burying my face in a pillow. He graciously tolerated my behavior for over five hours. But enough is enough, even for The Patient One.
I believed David when he told me I'd be great, that I'd be a natural if I would simply relax and stop stressing. But believing wasn't enough -- I needed to hear him say it over and over. It's in my nature to fret about the unknown, and I had no idea what to expect when I showed up at the venue.
In hundreds of surveys (or so I've heard), the fear of public speaking ranks number one more often than the fear of death . When I was asked to emcee at this event, the second annual San Diego Indie Music Fest, I was ecstatic. As the big day approached, I grew nervous, but not afraid. The difference is vast. I was nervous because I felt unprepared -- I'd never done anything like this before. Talking about bands I had never seen perform? Ack! But being the center of attention in a room full of energetic, music-loving people? Bring it on.
While David was busy cinching the red laces on my shiny black rubber corset (a process that can take up to 20 minutes), I pondered the concept of stage fright. It's natural to be nervous, I thought. Even famous actors and rock stars report having to repeatedly overcome the pre-show jitters. But I cannot identify with the terror some of my friends experience at the thought of speaking in front of others.
I have no qualms about drawing attention to myself (hence the feathers I am often found wearing on my head). And, contrary to having a fear of speaking in public, I welcome the opportunity to do so. When I was 20 I worked in the training department in a call center. Once a week I stood in front of a room full of people and taught them how to navigate the DOS system and handle irate callers. Looking back, I like to think I did this with flair, meaning I was myself, in all of my frequently inappropriate and occasionally witty glory.
Where does this self-assuredness come from? After I'd accepted the role as emcee, I gathered my sisters to share the exciting news. Heather said, "Isn't it funny that we're all so comfortable speaking in front of crowds?" I hadn't thought of that before, that each of my sisters, like me, has absolutely no fear of the spotlight.
My sister Jenny proved her fearlessness when she was in the seventh grade. While waiting for a movie to begin, Jenny made her way to the front of the packed theater and called for everyone's attention. When all eyes were focused in her direction, she told this joke: "Why'd the golfer wear two pairs of pants? Just in case he got a 'hole in one!'"
Jenny wasn't aware of the crowd's reaction. "I laughed, my friends laughed, so it doesn't matter if anyone else laughed. I know I didn't get any boos," she told me. This from the woman who also staged an elaborate "trip and fall" that she executed beautifully on her way to collect her high school diploma in front of thousands of people, most of whom had no idea that the embarrassing tumble in the grass was planned.
Jane and Heather express their public bravery in other ways. As a successful saleswoman, Jane has spent a lot of time presenting information to colleagues and customers. When I asked her why she finds public speaking to be exciting, Jane said, "I like being the center of attention." As one of the middle children (along with Heather), I can understand how it feels to receive the attention one craves. Heather, a high-school teacher, has a captive audience every day. She doesn't seem to need the attention as much as the rest of us, but this could possibly be attributed to the fact that she gets such a regular dose of it from her attentive students.
"Hold on," said David, yanking me from my reverie. I grabbed the kitchen counter for balance as he made the last jerking tug on the red strings and tied them off. I liked the feel of the tight corset; with my back held straight and my breasts jutting out like bullets above the rubber, I felt sturdy and strong. (I hate to disappoint anyone with dirty ideas, but I was wearing a black shirt under the corset, so there were no peek-a-boobies.) I attached my black and red feather headpiece, touched up my red lipstick, and said, "All right, let's go. I'm stressed enough as it is, so I won't be able to deal if I am even one minute late."
I arrived two hours before I was scheduled to go on. This was so I could observe and learn from Laura Jane, the emcee for the first six hours of the Indie Music Fest (I had the 6 p.m. to midnight slot). Laura Jane is a professional entertainer -- she changed into a different wacky outfit between each band's set and affected British and Japanese accents as she gave props to the vendors and told jokes as she introduced the musicians.
Because I had no prior experience, I decided to follow my friend Brian's advice. Brian hosts the annual comedy show in Montreal, Just for Laughs , and was the manager and emcee for the Improv in Los Angeles. "Whatever you do," he said, " don't try to tell any jokes. Those take a lot of practice and skill, and if you go out there and try to deliver a joke for the first time to a live audience, you will flop. Just be yourself, kid, and you'll be great."
My sisters arrived shortly after me. Jane, in what, to us, was an obvious attempt to grab a little attention, began "woo hoo"-ing uncontrollably (or, as Heather put it, "Jane's 'woo hoo's are inappropriate, whereas I have timely and appropriate 'woo hoo's").
With plans to ad-lib everything but the band-specific announcements, I was as prepared as I was going to be. Ollie and David helped me adjust my corset (as they would several more times during the next eight hours), and I waited for my cue. I smiled at my sisters, who were standing in front of the stage, ready to cheer me on. My confident and inspiring sisters, who share my parents' ballsy Brooklyn mentality, smiled back and I could see their thumbs high in the air right before the bright spotlight shone in my face, blocking my view of everything but the microphone in my hand.