I Celebrate Myself, and Sing Myself…Reluctantly

I did stand up comedy for the first time a little less than a year ago. I wasn’t expecting a positive result. I knew that crowds can be cruel, even at places like this that had a reputation as more welcoming than the usual comedy club where being heckled is considered a rite of passage.

I had planned out a comedy routine about an awkward guy situation I had been in: living super close to someone with whom friendship had almost turned into something more before he began dating someone else. I knew the idea of it was funny in that way that painful life situations—like having a window that faced into your coulda-been-boyfriend’s apartment—have an element of humor, but I didn’t know if people would like it.

Walking into that showroom, I felt the same insecurity that I feel in all new places. I felt like an outsider who didn’t blend in, even in the warm environment where the woman behind the bar kindly answered my question about how to put my name in the drawing for the open mic, even though it should have been pretty obvious to me.

When my name was drawn, the woman from behind the bar (also a comedian who was helping put on the show) gave me a victorious gesture, raising her fist. I gave a shy laugh and a nod, not sure what to do with her approval.

The woman introduced me with flourish, and I jogged onto the stage. I don’t get particularly nervous in front of crowds when I have something rehearsed to say, and my thirst for the unique pleasure of making people laugh was stronger than any concerns I had. I told the first part of the joke and got a laugh, which I acknowledged. I continued. People…were really liking it. Even in that small room with that small audience, I could tell people were enjoying what I had to say.

I got the signal light that meant I had thirty seconds to wrap it up, I acknowledged with a thumbs up. To one side of the stage, there was a little, glass-windowed booth where the man and woman who put the event together stood to watch the comedians. Sometimes they would look away while a routine was happening, presumably to get ready to present the next act or organize a later show. Other times they watched.

A few seconds after the signal light, as I was wrapping up, I looked over at the booth. The man and the woman were staring at me. Until recently, I never allowed myself to admit what their faces displayed.

Delight. Their faces showed delight. I acknowledge it with some pride, now. Their eyes and their smiles glowed through the booth’s window, their laughter echoed into the room outside. They were enjoying what I was saying and being really, truly reached by it in the way I had always hoped people would.

Other people had also delighted them, but I had never allowed myself to admit that I also could have. I could never say that I delighted anyone, or that I was “delightful,” because that seemed the height of narcissism.

“Delightful,” is my friend Mary’s favorite word. It means “giving great pleasure or delight; highly pleasing.” Wonderfully pleasing, perhaps? I have listened to the audiobook of Fr. Greg Boyle’s Tattoos on the Heart maybe about a million times. I’m not a particularly churchgoing person, but the book touches my heart and makes me feel affirmed in a way that transcends religious ties. In the book, Fr. Boyle discusses the love of the divine for human beings, and how difficult for us to admit that we are both loved and lovable. Fr. Greg writes, to paraphrase, that we need only to see that we have been wonderfully pleasing our whole lives. It’s hard to act delightful until we know we are.

When we make people laugh, when we delight them, we please them, wonderfully. For me, however, it’s difficult to ever think that I could be wonderfully pleasing. When I looked into those two faces as I amused them, and made something out of the torture of the painful aspects of reality, I saw what I’ve never allowed myself to believe. I saw myself. I saw myself being good. I saw the good in my own human nature. And, for the first time, as I very recently relived the memory, I allowed myself to dip my toe in the idea that maybe, just maybe, Sofia = good? Not good like “proficient,” or “moral and ethical,” just good like, “a good thing.” Maybe I am a good thing?

No matter how many service hours or sorority officer positions or Variety magazine press releases, I’ve never thought I was good. Someone at work pulled me out of my cubicle to tell me that I should have printed out and framed a press release in which my name was mentioned because I was going to “have a lot of them in my office someday.” The idea that I could even have an office was new to me. The idea that I could have an office and a press-release-worthy career stopped me in my tracks.

Loving yourself is hard. It’s easy to love other people because, well, look at them. Many of them are smart and charitable and kind and funny and easy on the eyes, to boot. Not to mention, deep down most of us probably know there’s something lovable about every person just because they’re a person. Yet, it’s hard to extend that belief to ourselves until confirmation of it comes along and smacks us in the face.

Let me save you some time, in case you can’t fit a stand up open mic into your schedule. You, Reader, are a good thing: a wonderfully pleasing, room-illuminating delight. There’s nothing wrong with admitting that.


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