Unlike some of the other Talent Factory members, I haven’t really got a stage name (which, I feel, has stifled my attempts to climb the leaderboard of the UK battle rap scene). Everything I do as a performance is as Alex.
Including the final of FameLab this year.
Based in the Imax Cinema inside the Science Museum, I was up against 9 others to be the best at explaining a topic (in under 3 minutes) to win a prize of
£1750 £500 £1000 and a spot in the International Final.
So mildly stressing as a concept.
Now, I’m not a confident person.
That statement often surprises people. More often than not, it is the outcome of a conversation where it is mentioned that I perform on stage, either doing comedy or rapping or both.
Stage Alex, however, is one of the most confident people out there.
It just so happens that Stage Alex has faked his confidence.
Now most of these thoughts are things that I’ve learned over my life but have been truly harnessed and understood for the first time during my time in the Talent Factory.
The Crowd Don’t Know What To Expect
There’s a very common danger, whenever you are performing, to have the following thoughts:
- I am going to be very bad at this
- My performance isn’t going to go how I’d planned.
- Why did I do this and how do I get out without the promoter seeing me?
For a performance of any kind where there is an audience, I like to think that there’s a general contract. They’ve come to see a show, I’ve come to be part of one. Aside from the general theme of the night and the single sentence that is sometimes provided on the show bill, the audience has no idea what the performer is going to bring to the table.
And that realisation is incredibly liberating.
From the moment that you get onto the stage, the audience don’t know what you’re going to do exactly. So that means that the only person you’re comparing against is your own perception of yourself.
You missed an entire section of a story? It’s fine.
You went off on a tangent and didn’t hit the punchline to every joke? It doesn’t matter.
You spent too long interacting with the crowd and had to finish a song halfway through? Not a problem.
The audience wasn’t there for the hours you spent working on your material. They don’t know what’s going on in your head while you’re on stage. They don’t know that that little notebook isn’t a prop and actually contains your gig notes. They don’t know how you planned to intricately weave one story into another.
You might be berating yourself after the performance that it was only 60% as good as what you practiced the night before. That doesn’t matter. The audience have only seen it once and, as we’ll see, it was the best of its kind.
You Are The Best
Something that gets me through my PhD-based Impostor Syndrome is the idea that there is nobody else working on my exact field and seeing the exact data that I am. And for that reason, I am the best in the (sub(sub(sub(sub))))-field that I’m in.
Coincidentally, it’s the same logic that helps me feel confident on stage.
Unless you are plagiarising a routine from another performer, chances are your performance will never have been done before by anyone else. That means that your performance is unique. That means that, for the time that you are performing it, you are the best at what you are doing.
This logic might sound highly infantile but it is the truth.
Whenever I’m worried about trying something new on stage, it is this logical deduction that gets me through my worries. Even if something doesn’t pan out, I am the best person doing it.
The Audience Wants You To Be The Best
Psychologically, nobody likes to feel stupid. It’s why people share science articles that they don’t understand and laugh at references that they don’t get.
I’ve found this to be extremely handy in 2 ways.
The first is that no audience member wants to feel like they’ve wasted their time in coming to see you. They want to view themselves as being the clever sort of person that makes good choices with their time.
This ties into the second point – they are looking for any excuse to laugh. They want to show themselves (and others) that they make good choices. This is heightened even further if the event has cost money.
So the audience is primed to laugh and are looking for any excuse to do so. It’s not a huge uphill battle to get laughs. This realisation is wonderful for any pre-show nerves.
Own the Stage
Back to FameLab.
A major stress factor for me was the fact that, at the time, it was the largest audience that I’d ever been in front of and I was the first competitor on for the night.
A useful tip that I’ve learned from Steve is the importance of messing around on the stage.
Everything from pacing up and down to just sitting in front of the cameras while tech fiddled with lights. By enjoying the stage in a non-performative manner, I was able to make it feel more familiar.
This was really important as it allowed me to have an idea of just how big the space I had to work with was and made me spend less energy focusing on where I was moving (and more on actually performing).
Psyche Yourself Up
When the Imax began to fill before the performance, I blocked out the outside world with some motivational music to get me in the right headspace.
Music, I find, helps me shift psychologically into the more performative version of myself required for the stage. Some people like quiet, some people like sipping on a drink and going over lines – whatever your method is, find some time to do it before a show.
So in short:
- Only you know what you’re doing
- You’re the best at what you’re doing
- The crowd wants you to be the best
- Take some time to own the stage
- Psych yourself up.
In the video below, you can see how the above skills allowed me to feel comfortable in a setting that I didn’t have much experience in.
And it’s these skills, more than anything, that helped me win.
Up on stage a comedian is coming to the end of their 9 minutes. There have been laughs along the way, the tension is rising in the set, and there’s a sense that the room is with them. They gaze out around the room, making eye contact with the audience, inviting them in as they prepare to deliver their final punchline. They’re relaxed, owning the stage, taking their time. The last joke lands and the audience burst out in explosive laughter, followed by a well-deserved round of applause.
What was the performer was feeling as they walked onto the stage?
Tense, nervous, and uncertain. They just hid it well.
Confidence is a tricksy beast. Too little, and the nerves get in the way, blocking the transmission of your jokes and ideas to the audience. Too much and, well, there’s a reason why not only would most people be familiar with the word “overconfident”, but also its close friends “smug”, “conceited” and “foolhardy”. As comedy performers, however, it seems our problems are much more likely to be lack of confidence than coming across as more brash than we wanted. So how can we deal with that?
I’ve found that one of the most important things to remember is that the audience can’t see inside your head. While compering a gig recently I wasn’t sure how I’d done, as it felt like some of my jokes had fallen flat, but after the gig some of the audience members told me that I’d seemed in control and confident. Despite being unsure I’d tried to keep the same tone and body language throughout. Avoiding shrinking into yourself, moving deliberately rather than quickly and sharply, and slowly scanning the audience so that you can make eye contact with them (yes, even if you can’t actually see their eyes thanks to the stage lights) can go an awfully long way. Having the right body language can not only help to convince the audience, but also yourself. If you’re struggling with this, why not try creating a more confident character, like Aimee’s Dr Jiggs Bowson, that you can inhabit while on stage?
Another way of increasing your confidence is to get your prep right. Firstly, just making sure that you know your set well can work wonders. Beyond that, showing your set to other people can help you make sure you’ve got it right. I’ve got a bunch of notes from the Talent Factory team about my sets, pointing out both the good and bad things that I’ve done. Having friends who are willing to criticise when needed (in a constructive fashion of course) means that I can feel more confident about my material because I know that I can trust their positive comments about my sets too. Also, I know it’s inevitable that you’ll compare yourself to other people, but do try not to. They will be at different points in their comedy or performance journey to you, both because of differing amounts of experience and the fact that people develop in different ways and at different speeds. Instead, try comparing yourself now to yourself in the past, and take your confidence from the improvement.
Good luck, and get out there and give things a go!