Sleep Paralysis/ Bombing On Stage/ Love

Well slap me sideways and leave me on the side of the highway, it must be Monday. I feel like a human again, so that’s good. I had a four day stretch from hell. Sweet mother of a dumb kid who lives at Chuck-e-Cheese what an absolute battle.

Sometimes life smacks you across the balls and at the time you’re not really sure why or how it got this way, but once it passes you begin to understand. I had a couple of paid shows last week, one on Wednesday and another on Thursday. Tuesday was a great day leading up to it. I felt good and had one of the best sets of my life at Capital City Comedy Club, so I was excited to perform on Wednesday and Thursday and keep building on everything I’ve been working on.

The universe had other plans. During the night on Tuesday/Wednesday I had an awful bout of sleep paralysis. My body was stuck between sleep and wakefulness as I was struggling through a lucid nightmare of epically anxious proportions.

It’s a bit difficult to explain, but imagine being awake and knowing that you’re having a nightmare, yet you can’t get out of it; and in the nightmare you’re not able to move. Someone is chasing after you and you’re stuck in sand, or you’re trying to leave the house but you can’t put your shirt on… something like that. It’s a dream, too, so it feels real.

It’s not the paralysis nightmares themselves that are the worst, it’s the misery that follows. It feels like a mouse is running through my brain, interrupting any coherent thoughts I might be able to have. I try to write but I can’t think straight. I attempt to meditate but it’s so uncomfortable it’s hard to even bear, and sometimes the nightmares start again the second I close my eyes. (Yeah, while I’m still awake)

Everything becomes a struggle. My body feels weak, I try to play basketball but the shots are off. I’m not funny, the brain fog is too intense to even come up with a joke. All I want to do is crawl in a corner but that will only make things worse, so I force myself to exercise against my will and simply try and go about my day as normal. The more I fight it, the worse it gets. So, I’ve learned to get comfortable with the uncomfortable and accept whatever fate comes my way.

Sometimes it only happens for a day, sometimes it lasts for days or even weeks. This one was a four-day spell, and it was a full throttle attack.

Comedy is already hard, but performing stand-up comedy when your body and mind are fighting each other and you can’t even think straight is next to impossible. Sometimes I can barely remember the jokes I’ve told hundreds of times, and then the panic sets in. That’s when it’s over. Put a fork in me, I’m done.

So, on days like these I have to be overprepared. I stand in front of the mirror all day rehearsing just so I can go up there and get through my ten minutes without bombing catastrophically. It’s a terrible way to do comedy. You should be present with your jokes, and being overprepared and over-rehearsed causes me to sound like I’m reciting my jokes on stage rather than being funny on stage. But on these days, it’s the best I have. I have to lean on my writing and my prep because my mind has been warped.

So I get on stage on Wednesday and like a robot I churn out the jokes I’ve etched into my mind. It went fine, but it wasn’t good. It wasn’t a disaster, and I was happy with that. Again, a terrible mindset to have for comedy. Or anything really. We want to strive to succeed, not be afraid to fail. Anyone with an anxiety disorder knows, however, that sometimes your mind will turn on you. It will tell you things you don’t want to hear, and stopping it is like trying to turn around a train with your finger.

It’s a battle. On these days, every time I tell myself to strive for success my mind pongs back another negative thought. I simply have to accept them and let them pass. I can’t stop them from coming, I can only watch them and keep telling myself how silly they are before they inevitably get tired of bothering me.

So I made it through Wednesday’s performance without eating a giant bag of dicks. Then, Thursday came. The sleep paralysis was worse, the anxiety was eating at my soul. I was tired. I was tired of fighting so hard on Wednesday and knowing I had to do it again, my head spinning with dread.

I started to feel a little better before the performance while I was driving. I was feeling emotional and I thought it maybe would be a good idea if I really tried to open up on stage. I had been having more success with comedy when I started my sets talking about some of my issues like my inflammatory bowel disease. Tonight I was going to dig even deeper.

So I went on stage and I dug. I dug into everything that’s wrong with me, one thing after another, ripping myself a part… and the audience hated it. The laugher was almost nonexistent, but I couldn’t even find sympathy in their eyes. I’ve never felt so lonely in my entire life. Everyone stared at me, confused. I tried to switch gears and tell some one-liners, but nothing worked. I was in a black hole and there was no getting out of it.

Nobody knows what lies on the other side of a black hole, but I tend to think it’s a portal to something greater. Nothing made sense to me for the four days I was stuck in it, but I had a moment of unparalleled beauty on the fourth night that seemed to represent my arrival into a different galaxy.

I realized I have a lot to work on when it comes to my performance skills, but my main breakthrough came in the realization that this journey must be done with love. In comedy and in life, I have to learn how to love. It might sound silly, but for reasons I won’t get into It’s always been hard for me to love. It’s not that I haven’t felt love or that I haven’t loved other people, but I’ve only let part of it in.

There’s still a big part of me that runs away from love, and things begin to go haywire for me when I isolate myself from the feeling. The pain I had to endure last week was a sign that I wasn’t orienting myself properly in the universe. My life became all about me and I lost sight of what it means to be a human being.

It’s one of the hardest things to wrestle with when you decide you’re going to be a comedian. It’s simultaneously the most selfish and selfless thing you can do, and that’s confusing. You’re stuck between being a hero and a martyr. You have to sacrifice yourself to a certain degree in order to bring about joy (laughter) to the audience, whether it’s living through the pain or struggling through the silence early in your career.

When you have success, you feel like a hero. And that mindset can help you in comedy. Sometimes it doesn’t hurt to be delusional in this field. Confidence can carry you to sold out theatres. There’s plenty of conics out there, some of them even have specials on Netflix. But that’s what they are. Cons. A true comic does it with love.

So how am I to check my ego at the door and move forward in this journey? With love, to start. With realizing that none of this is worth a damn if there’s no connection. Maybe by understanding that the goal is much higher than my own success. By knowing that I don’t have to prove anything on the stage. I don’t have to be a famous comedian in order for people to love me. I don’t have to constantly try to accomplish something grand in order to feel like I’m worthy.

The whole reason I got into this crazy art in the first place is because I love it. I know I have to overcome my fear of the stage in order to turn it into love. It’s not an easy task, but nothing worth doing is easy.

Jason Brendel
Jason Brendel

Jason Brendel is an author, poet, and comedian living in Austin, Texas. Navigate the buttons below to follow him on social media, make a donation, or purchase his collection of laugh-out-loud poetry on Amazon.


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