Super Silence

Thursday September 22nd, 2011 – Chicago, IL

I have yet to experience anything in the human existence that equals the sheer unbridled thrill of being onstage performing standup comedy when it’s going well. It’s an absolutely intoxicating feeling, and can last up to an hour – and sometimes even longer. It’s intense.

There are varying degrees of satisfaction, and depending on an individual audience that feeling can fluctuate up and down from minute to minute. I’ve never surfed, but I have to believe it’s a similar feeling of catching a monster wave. A lot of variables are involved.

I’ve seen surfers speak of catching that elusive perfect wave and what a feeling of pure ecstasy it is when it happens. Then, in a few seconds it’s gone and the hunt for a new one starts all over again. It’s a perpetual pursuit of pleasure, and standup comedy is the same.

I was in one of those hot zones tonight at Zanies in Chicago. For whatever reason, I was firing on all cylinders and the audience was with me and like a master chess player I knew what to do five moves ahead. I was in charge, and they let me bring them into my world.

The ultimate proof that an audience has gotten into a show is what I call ‘super silence’. There are two forms of silence a comedian can experience, and they couldn’t be any more opposite. The first is the excruciatingly painful silence that resonates throughout the room when nobody is laughing. That can vary from one joke to an entire night’s performance.

It’s the ultimate feeling of horror and rejection and causes hearts to race, palms to sweat and rectums to clench tight enough to turn a lump of coal into a shiny diamond. When it’s going badly, there’s an eerie feeling of panic that sets in and everyone has to experience it to have a point of reference to know what to do to make it go well. It’s a necessary evil.

I’ve felt that horror too many times to count, and although it’s not pleasant I’ve learned not to take it personally. It’s an unavoidable risk that goes with the territory, and everyone who has ever chosen to be a comedian has experienced it at some point – and will again.

Then there’s the super silence. That happens somewhere in the middle of a show when there has been a special bond created between the audience and the comic. Every last ear in every last seat is riveted on every last word. The sneeze of a cockroach could be heard.

It’s a special level of attention, and the deepest respect an audience as a group can pay a performer. They’re surrendering their all, and it’s a feeling of pure power. It can even be a little scary when it first happens, but then it becomes the standard of excellence. I love it.

I reached that point tonight about thirty minutes into my set. I’d been pounding them for a long time, and decided to slow it down and let them breathe a little. I felt the sweet hush come over them and immediately knew I was catching the monster wave so I slowed it up even more and let myself savor the entire experience. I dug in and squeezed out every last atom of energy from my being and gave it to them. THIS is why I continue to do comedy!

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