Recently (a long time ago in a galaxy far far- actually this galaxy) I was at a bar with a group of friends/ comedy colleagues and acquaintances. I was standing next to one friend and another girl approached us. The approaching girl mimed holding a microphone and said in an old timey reporter voice (which is always hilarious and adorable) “Here we are with channel seven news, here to comment on the recent headlice of local Comedian (Name of Male Comic)* Any thoughts, Lady Churchill?”
She held the imaginary microphone up to my friend who said, “My client has no comment at this point.”
She then took the mic back and said, “How about you, Widow Rutherford?” and held the imaginary microphone up to me.
I said in a gravelly tone, “Well, we don’t get much worked up about lice down at the harbor, not since the accident,”
Another woman interrupted me, “Weird how the widow has the same lisp as Barbara.” Then she laughed.
I stopped and looked down at the floor. A minute later I excused myself to go get a drink and I sat at the bar by myself while my friend and the two other women laughed and enjoyed their evening. I felt like an unfunny leper who had messed up the joke by having a lisp.
Some version of this has been happening to me on a regular basis since I was six years old. The familiarity of the subtle shut down was what stung the most. The words themselves weren’t cruel, but it time traveled me back to being a first grader at camp and struggling to say anything funny or cool and then getting corrected and criticized when I finally mustered up the courage to do so. Every teacher, friend, person I’ve looked up to has pushed for me to be more outgoing and then shut it down once I did so.
That evening my friends and I were doing what my good friend Yogi calls “a social bit.” Yogi defines social bits as funny jokes you do between friends, not something one would do on stage. My favorite of Yogi’s social bits involves him doing a super lonely dance where he mimes eating pizza and masturbating. He probably will do it for you if you ask him.
In Tina Fey’s amazing book “Bossy Pants” she writes about improv comedy: “The first rule of improvisation is AGREE. Always agree and SAY YES. When you’re improvising, this means you are required to agree with whatever your partner has created. So if we’re improvising and I say, “Freeze, I have a gun,” and you say, “That’s not a gun. It’s your finger. You’re pointing your finger at me,” our improvised scene has ground to a halt. But if I say, “Freeze, I have a gun!” and you say, “The gun I gave you for Christmas! You bastard!” then we have started a scene because we have AGREED that my finger is in fact a Christmas gun.”
I’m NOT saying I believe every silly social bit needs to follow Tina’s rules of improv. (Although, I do love rules so much I’d be willing to go to jail for them.) However, it’s clear that by tearing down the fourth wall and pointing out my physical handicap, my acquaintance had grounded the bit to a halt, and made it clear she didn’t think I was good enough at being funny to play along.
I have been consistently told that I’m too sensitive. Usually I disagree, but I’m crying too much to contradict them. I might be sensitive, but I think it’s a strength, because it allows me to sense (that’s the first syllable of “sensitive!” Weird!) when someone is uncomfortable. I like that I’m aware of feelings (mine and others’). Despite my tough badass pleather jacket wearing exterior, I find it’s easier if someone is my FRIEND not my acquaintance before they make fun of me. Additionally, there are some topics people who know and love me steer away from and there are some topics people who dislike me seem to zero in on
Things my friends usually do make fun of me for on a regular basis:
Being nerdy, being awkward, being clumsy, being messy/ dirty, having a little bit of a speech impediment, loving books, living in a fantasy world, being anxious, being a spaz (Basically, anything Sandra Bullock would do in a romantic comedy from my childhood.)
Things people who are not my friends make fun of me for:
being cruel, being bad at comedy, failing at a bit socially or on stage, being intrinsically** funny being annoying, being difficult to like/ love,
I’ve worked very hard on being a confident enough person to believe I’m even somewhat funny or likeable. I have a few friends and I love them unconditionally and would do anything for them, yet I constantly worry that I’m bugging them or being rude or annoying or stupid and not funny. I spend a lot of effort caring and empathizing with the feelings of others and it sucks when someone cares so little about my feelings. It SUCKS being shut down and criticized for trying to be funny and social.
*I took out the male comic’s name because it’s not important to the story.
**Bullies don’t use the word “intrinsically” that is me paraphrasing. Bullies seldom have as apt word choice as I do. Hmm, I wonder if this type of thinking could be why I get bullied…
And finally, if lisps are so nerdy, then why did the best clarinetist at 7th grade band camp tell me mine was hot?