I’ve never been one to shy away from the spotlight. As a child, I was known to “sermonize” from the pulpit in church, and I’d always volunteer to read out loud in class. I relished every opportunity to say something funny or personally meaningful in front of a crowd. In high school, my outgoing nature, ease in front of large crowds, and quick thinking under pressure helped me become captain of my school’s debate team. I even got to present arguments to my state’s school board.
Once I left my tiny hometown and moved to the city, I found myself gravitating toward comedy clubs. I very quickly began performing, oftentimes impromptu style, and, less than a year later, I was signed on to a local, all-female comedy show.
I’ve never considered my ADHD brain to be a hindrance in the comedy world. If anything, it’s more like a secret weapon that gives me the upper hand on stage, that magical place where bouncing, bubbling, free-thinking maniacs like us take charge and absolutely shine.
How to Do Stand-Up Comedy with ADHD: Quick Thinking to the Test
The pressure of performing to hundreds of scrutinizing ears under bright lights is not for the faint of heart. Anything can happen. Yes, anything, like forgetting your own jokes, scrambling up lines, dealing with hecklers, doing some crowd work, and stumbling onto topics that weren’t part of the set at all, which often happens for me.
While a large part of stand-up comedy is rehearsing – practicing a set over and over until you’re well-versed enough to deliver your lines, completely memorized (but not showing it) and at just the right timing – rolling with the punches is where your mastery in this craft comes through. Because, as a performer, there are no second chances; you must always be ready to roll with the punches of a one-time-take during a live set.
[Read: LOL! Humor Therapy for ADHD]
Somehow, every time I’m on stage, I manage to fool the audience into thinking that I have my crap together. (Joke’s on them!) How do I do it? With the help of a bulleted list that I keep on stage and occasionally glance at while performing. If I’ve forgotten a joke or scrambled up my lines, potentially disrupting the flow and organization of my set, I look at the next bullet point and find a way, on the spot, to connect the random topic I’ve stumbled upon to the next joke. The list also helps me smoothly skip to the next bit in my set if a joke doesn’t seem to land with the crowd.
It’s in these moments that my ADHD brain actually works best. When I allow myself to shift around freely and think quickly on my feet, my sets tend to feel more authentic, lucid, fluid, and complete.
It’s a big reason I enjoy crowd work. There’s a new crowd to weave through every time, meaning endless possibilities for teasing. Shall I focus on the size of an audience member’s shoes? On the choice of words they used to answer my question? On their unfortunate choice to wear a scarf during the summer or shorts during the winter? Or should I jump through all these choices?
And how about those hecklers? I try my hardest not to “punch-down” as a comedian, but, hey, no one’s perfect! The best thing to do in this scenario is to keep the show light and quickly find a distraction that will satiate the heckler until security can escort them out. No problem for me!
[Read: ADHD Humor Is My Gift and My Curse]
Getting the Last Laugh
Perhaps another reason I gravitate toward a live audience is because performing offers the opportunity to express who I really am and to be truly seen. Sometimes I even feel more like myself when I am presenting or performing on the stage. Because it’s where my brain, funny enough, is free to behave in a way that isn’t always appreciated away from the spotlight.
Stand-Up Comedy and ADHD: Next Steps
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