This weekend I was invited to be keynote speaker and entertainer to 1500 recovering addicts at the Narcotics Anonymous “Clean and Free 2019” convention. They gave me an hour at the Ocean Shores Convention Center and let me have free reign of the stage, no holds barred, no limit on content, language, or approach, to share whatever I wanted. I wanted to hit the audience with ideas about authentic connection, vulnerability, taking real risks with people we love, and staying true to ourselves and our commitments…and I wanted and to do that in a way which challenged myself immensely while delivering that material. I’ve been slaying onstage speaking recently, so I decided on a totally different approach I rarely if ever try: standup comedy. Its terrifying for me to be that exposed, but if you want to truly live, you go where the terror is.
I had a huge emotional buy in to this particular audience because I’ve spent a lot of time connecting with their community in the past half a year or so, both through writing workshops and in social settings. While I’ve never been in their program, I quit drinking on my own in September of 1988 and that fact alone was enough to connect immediately with the audience. I felt an urgency to share, excitement through the roof to be on that stage, and it all resonated with that audience on a topic which let them - and me - laugh at ourselves. That was the key: looking at ourselves as insecure, frightened, terrified creatures who constantly make huge mistakes. I decided to talk about how romantic relationships with an addict often turn into chaotic train wrecks. Response was ridiculous, like off the charts. I went on to turn the jokes entirely on myself, talking about how I have to break what seems to be an addiction in myself to dating people in recovery, even though we know how these situations will turn out. It was a perfect premise for a comedy set: me seemingly talking about faults in the audience but really recognizing that these faults were totally connected to and similar to my own. The audience was howling in the best way. I was speaking their language. More like our shared language.
Standup comedy in front of 1500 people with no limits to content was both terrifying and absolutely awesome. What can we achieve when there are no boundaries? It felt like liberation of the self mixed with a passionate maniacal creative rage. I loved it. I recorded the first three minutes of it (the intro basically), but won’t be posting it anytime soon. I am going to keep it relatively close instead and just love reflecting on it as an achievement. There have been some solid achievements recently. Winning The MOTH in Seattle, my keynote to a high performance corporate leadership team of just 23 people at a resort in Hawaii last month, and now this. I’ve shared the audio with close friends, and from the comedians in my life who have heard it the response has been really positive and that says a lot. In writing material, professional comedians talk about LPM, laughs per minute. This hit that mark for sure. But more important for me was the challenge. Saying yes to moving into something truly challenging and finding inspiration from within to see what would happen.
It wasn’t the scary monster I had expected. When you unleash and have an immediate need to do so, and when you know your audience and actually care, the truth comes out - and if you’re vulnerable and real - its automatically going to be relatable and probably very funny too. And you likely won’t die from sharing. You just own whats yours, share it like its the last few minutes of your life, and more than anything else, invite the audience into the experience as well.
Afterwards, I got hugs and thanks for hours after the event. That’s pretty typical for that community: hugs all around (and we laughed about that too from the stage). But these were better than typical hugs, because they had sincere words of connection and thanks for reflecting the paths we have taken in a way which made us all laugh at how ridiculous our life choices with one another can be. There was so much courage in that room. The courage to look at ourselves and see imperfect beings trying to get by in a world which makes no sense sometimes. And how all too often we are the ones who create the chaos ourselves.
All keynotes matter, but this one hit a different mark: from a place of necessity, with an audience who truly felt like home.