Something weird happened to me just now. I was in the corner store and saw something that really brought back an interesting moment of decision from my teen years. Let me explain. I started doing stand up comedy when I was 17 years old. At that age, no matter the profession, you are impressionable.
I wanted to fit in with the other comics, most of whom where 10-20 years older that I was. Being adults, they used adult material and language. I never cursed in my real life…but to fit in I began to do so in my shows. One of the other things done was “crowd work”. That’s when a comic engages in a conversation with audience members (usually just a device to smoothly lead into previously prepared material). Some comics, and I am one, use “crowd work” to ad-lib and keep the show fresh for myself as well as the audience. Another aspect of “crowd work” is making fun of the crowd. Sometimes a comic will ridicule an audience member (not caring if that person is embarrassed) just to get laughs from others.
This brings me to the flashback that I had. I was in the store and one of the employees “playfully” teased a regular customer about his weight. He laughed…but I could see the micro-expression on his face that told me that the “teasing” hurt him a little. I’ve seen that face before. I saw it from stage as a 17 year old. I was doing a sold out show in New Jersey and the set was going great. I began to do “crowd work”, as I spoke to a man in the audience I began talking about something that hit a little too close to home with this man. He laughed…but I could tell that I had accidently hurt this man’s feelings.
I was able to get out of the situation and after the show he hugged me. I didn’t know it, but he was aware of my choice to back off and move on. He explained why he was glad that I had moved off of the subject, and after he told me why, I was also glad that I had. I won’t betray his confidence even after all of these years, but I had come close to really hurting this guy’s feelings inadvertently. It was at that moment that I decided that I would not allow my comedy to hurt people. I still remember the look on that man’s face…. I saw it again in the store today. The message? Words can hurt, and heal. It’s our choice. I have made my choice.
P.S. (None of that applies to lying politicians, fuck them.)