Rachel Schwartzbaum '19
Scarsdale High School, Scarsdale, New York
When people ask me what it feels like to perform a stand-up routine, I lie to them. I tell them that it's an incomparable experience. Using passionate imagery, I describe the rush of standing on stage to face a crowd of eager eyes. With alliteration and flowery language, I boast that I've bared my vulnerable comedic soul. And just to be sure that I sound as pretentious as possible, I'll recite my entire response in iambic pentameter.
My true feelings about performing stand-up are not nearly as poetic. If I were to honestly describe my pre-routine thoughts, I would use a very different set of literary devices. There would be repetition: "Oh my god! Oh my god! Oh my god!" Some innovative use of simile: "I can't do this, like, you literally don't understand." And, of course, a great deal of hyperbole: "I'm going to walk on stage, lose my notes, forget my entire routine, and then fall down on the floor and cry. And then spontaneously combust."
Junior year, as I paced backstage before my first routine, dangers such as spontaneous combustion dominated my thoughts. Armed only with a microphone and two pages of one-liners, I prepared myself to face a room of menacing teenagers. I began to wonder why I had arrived at this moment, hoping that my answer would allow me to rationally conquer my fears.
I thought of my younger self, a seventh-grade girl drowning in braces, acne and Pink Sugar perfume. There was nothing I wanted more than to be adored by my peers, and I had aimed to achieve that adoration through comedy. Unfortunately, my intentions were far better than my execution. In hopes of earning status through laughter, I would make poor attempts at telling jokes. The worst of which started with setting my watch two minutes slow, then, when someone would announce the time, I would shout, "Not on my watch!" I soon learned that it is immensely difficult to find respect through comedy — especially when you're bad at comedy. Not only was I consistently met with a sea of blank stares and the ever-dreaded "pity laughter," but the incorrect time on my watch would frequently make me late.
Backstage, as I made my fifth lap around the pacing track I had created, it became apparent that obsessing over my comedic origins would not provide me with the comfort I needed to perform. I began to wonder if pursuing comedy was even worth the effort.
My anxiety had now trapped me in a firm headlock. I rapidly began flipping between my two pages of notes, while reminding myself to breathe. Reading through the pages again and again, it struck me that nearly all of the jokes were at my own expense. "Self-deprecating jokes are always great," I smiled bitterly, "Well. maybe except for when I tell them."
But in that moment I realized that the self-deprecating jokes were there for a reason. When attempting to climb the mountain of comedic success, I didn't just fall and then continue on my journey, but I fell so many times that I befriended the ground and realized that the middle of the metaphorical mountain made for a better campsite. Not because I had let my failures get the best of me, but because I had learned to make the best of my failures. By the time my shaking legs arrived on stage, I had resolved to embrace my flaws, and use them to my advantage. After all, even if I did walk on stage, lose my notes, forget my entire routine, fall down on the floor, cry and spontaneously combust, it would make for one hell of an opening joke.
"Hey guys, my name is Rachel Schwartzbaum. I'm going to try my best to do some stand up for you tonight, but if it doesn't work out, don't worry. I do accept pity laughter."