It happened on a stage above a pub just off Oxford Street.
I was there to do my stand-up comedy routine.
I looked out into the crowd (mostly drunk firefighters from Liverpool on a stag do!)
And all I saw were faces staring back at me.
Their silence screamed: “Go on then, you think you’re funny, make us laugh.”
I felt like a child again: the middle class seven-year-old who didn’t belong with the working class kids.
And I couldn’t make them laugh. I didn’t have a chance.
I mouthed my routine, tried to befriend the hecklers (never a good idea)
Then got off stage, and the hell out of there.
While I was walking home, the self-recriminations began. I was a total loser. I was mortified. What did I think I was trying to do here anyway?
Way after wave of humiliation swept over me.
I genuinely thought, I’m going to have to kill myself.
There’s no coming back from this.
And yet the next morning.
There I was, breathing.
There were still feelings of shame and embarrassment, but they’d faded a little.
Suicide was off the table.
Now I thought I could survive, as long as I never left the house again.
That afternoon, however, I went to the local shop.
Turns out I could leave the house again.
Then the next week, I did another stand-up comedy gig.
This time, a few people actually laughed.
I went on to do 25 gigs that year – some great, some horrific - and got to the semi-final of a national competition for new comedians.
I still didn’t think I was very funny, but at least I’d proved I could do it.
After that, presentations at work became a whole lot easier!
👇 👇 👇
This feeling of ‘dying’ on stage has always intrigued me.
Why was the reaction so strong?
What did I care if anyone laughed at my jokes or not?
Obviously, my actual life wasn’t at risk.
The audience weren’t about to storm the stage and physically attack me.
I wasn’t that bad!
But my mind and body definitely reacted as if I was in grave danger.
I’ve since learned – through meditation and in conversation with people wiser than me – that what is being threatened is your concept of self, your identity.
It’s the story you tell yourself about how you need to be to stay safe in the world.
Obviously, trying to make a load of pissed Scousers laugh was way out of my identity’s comfort zone.
It tried to let me know in the strongest possible terms that this wasn’t what I should be doing.
The freedom here is to see through this identity – this concept of self.
You see, it’s not actually a real thing. It's just a concept.
Once, when I was walking around my local park, I realised this.
My self-identity dissolved and all that was left was pure awareness. Peace. Stillness. Contentment.
That feeling of unconditional belonging I’d never found - in this moment of realisation, the search was over.
It only lasted a few minutes and was broken with the thought,“Oh my God, I am an actual fucking Jedi.”
(That’s when you know your identity’s back on line.)
However, this realisation was a total game changer for me.
Its impact stayed with me.
I saw that the love I was trying to find by making people laugh was already present.
I am always, already home.