Welcome to college, where campus involvement is essential and also an introvert’s worst nightmare.
Almost every day of my post-pubescent life, my mother told me, “You’re young; you’re supposed to be having fun. Stop worrying so much and go do something new and exciting.” Back then, I responded with a dramatic, angst-filled eye roll, but it was those very words that echoed in the back of my mind as I stood in the middle of Florida State University’s involvement fair, bombarded by dozens of tables covered in obnoxiously bright banners and overly eager club members swarming nearly every passerby.
The whole thing felt so fake it made my skin crawl, and the introverted and socially anxious devil on my shoulder told me to just run back to my bed and finish marathoning Dexter on Netflix. But I had just started my sophomore year of college, and I knew my pathetic resume would only look more and more bare the closer to graduation I got. I had to do something.
For pretty much my entire life, I was the shy, quiet girl. In nearly every class, both in high school and even still in college, I picked a seat a comfortable distance from the front of the room and most of the other students, rarely raised my hand and groaned to myself every time the words “group” and “project” came together in a sentence.
It’s safe to say I’m not a very social person, so the tagline “When you join a club, you join a family” sounded horrific to me. I settled on writing for a small campus satire publication, mostly so I could put something under “relevant writing experience” that wasn’t a lie. It turned out writing satire wasn’t quite for me, but I did find something else more my style: stand-up comedy.
Some of the people I worked with on the satire publication performed stand-up at a local open-mic night and suggested I give it a try. At first, I thought they were joking. Me? On a stage? In front of people? That was the funniest joke I’d ever heard, and it wasn’t even open-mic night yet. I could barely give a presentation in a class of 20 without wanting to hurl. There was no way I’d be able to do it, and the little devil on my shoulder agreed.
Eventually, I caved and signed up. “Just say no!” is what my middle school teachers would’ve screamed in my face if they knew how easily I crippled under the peer pressure. Starting out small and with people I actually knew seemed the best way to go about it, but I still spent the entire week before trying not to bite my nails down into nothing while I mumbled my jokes to myself over and over trying to memorize them. To an onlooker, I probably looked like a mental patient; for a while I thought I really might belong in a straightjacket. Maybe then I would have a valid excuse for backing out that didn’t make me look like a complete chicken.
That night, I was first on the setlist, as is typical for newbies, but to my nerves it felt like cruel and unusual punishment. I stood at the bar until the show started, clutching onto the counter for support so I wouldn’t pass out onto whatever it is that makes bar floors so sticky. After what felt like hours of waiting and suppressing vomit, I finally heard the host say, “And up next is a first-timer, so give a big hand for Kelsey Dawben!” followed by the crowd enthusiastically clapping at the mispronunciation of my last name.
The bar wasn’t too full, but the 40 people in there might as well have been 4,000. I thanked them for having me and then told my first joke. “Thank you guys for the warm welcome, but it would feel a little warmer if people actually learned how to say my name correctly. I mean, I hear it mispronounced so often, I’m constantly going in and out of an identity crisis. I don’t think I even know what it is, or who I am anymore,” I said in a voice so raspy that I’m sure it was barely audible even with the microphone.
But some guy with bat-like hearing managed to hear it, and gave me my first ever laugh. Hearing laughter was all it took. As my set went on, each joke I told and the laughs that followed boosted my confidence. By the end of that little five-minute set, I finally understood how Leonard DiCaprio felt in the “king of the world” scene in Titanic.
If you told me a year ago that I would be doing stand-up comedy at local places on a regular basis, I would have laughed in your face. Even now when I tell people, they’re surprised that I even know how to talk and say, “What? Really? But you’re so quiet! Tell me a joke!” I’m still pretty shy and quiet in person, and I’m definitely no Seinfeld or anything, but I’m working on it.
So in the end, I guess my mom was right all along, which is still a sentence that my leftover teenage angst has trouble saying. Being young is about getting out there and trying new things, and college is the perfect place to do it. And who knows? Maybe, you’ll wind up finding something you really love. Or you’ll at least make a few people laugh along the way.