If you ask someone to enumerate his/her greatest fears, public speaking will likely appear near the top of the list. Also, you will look like a creep. Don’t just go around asking people their greatest fears. Even if you have a clipboard and/or digital voice recorder. It’s weird. Weirdo.
But still. People are terrified to get up in front of their peers for any reason. I know because they tell me all the time. After finding out I’m a standup comic, the most common thing I hear is: “Wow. I could never do that.” Sometimes I can already tell because the person is boring. Other times I’m surprised. As a performer and general yammerer, the idea of not wanting to be talking in front of people is kind of foreign. But it’s a big deal for people. Once, a former Marine came up to me after I finished doing karaoke and told me: “It’s so brave, what you did up there.” Although, in retrospect, he could have thought I was developmentally disabled. I am not a great rapper. Just kidding. I killed it. (“It’s Tricky” by Run-DMC if you’re wondering.)
I guess my big hangup is: What are people afraid of? Is it the disapproval of your friends/family/co-workers/assemblage of strangers? That I get, to an extent. Sure it seems scary. But comedy is like science. It takes a lot of failure to get to the success part. So early on as a comedian, you build up somewhat of an immunity to bombing. “What if they don’t laugh?” is a question people ask a lot. And they ask it in a hushed tone, much like you would ask: “Oh my God, are you gay?” after saying something homophobic. The answer is, it happens all the time. Ideally less and less. But your past failures form an insulating cocoon around you an protect you from future shame. Yep. That’s how it works.
Dying onstage, though, is less scary once it happens several times. Which is the opposite of how must fears work. Usually, when something bad happens, you get terrified of it. Like when someone gets in a car accident, and they start having an irrational fear of text messaging.
My biggest fears generally involve irreversible physical trauma. Here are some of them.
1. Getting stabbed in the face. (Not necessarily that anyone wants to stab me, but the fact that it could happen by accident is scary too.)
2. AIDS. (Goes without saying, I think.)
3. Wearing pants with a zipper and no underwear. (I never do that ever for any reason.)
4. Getting face-AIDS from a pants-zipper.
(That last one is probably fairly unlikely.)
That’s not to say I’m better than anyone else. It is not regular to move through the world afraid of face-stabbing. I’m rarely in a position to be stabbed. I don’t hang out with gang members or pirates. I am not a sword swallower. I don’t live near an amateur tattoo/pizza parlor. So I get the idea of being afraid of something that is probably not immediately dangerous.
I guess my big thought is that people are generally fairly decent, and you spend all day talking to them one-on-one, so it’s okay to use a microphone to talk to several of them at once. But I understand. It’s not easy. “It’s Tricky.”