Many times we need a reminder that nobody’s opinion but our own matter. Well said Amy Schumer! Original here.
“Wow, you’ve got balls!” This is the typical response when people find out I make my living as a stand-up comedienne. “Nope,” I say. Well, at least the last time I went in for a Pap smear, my doctor didn’t mention anything. What I have is unbridled confidence. I am one of the lucky women in this country who can look in the mirror and like what I see.
I think of myself as a fairly attractive girl and always have, thanks to my mom. I was brought into this world thinking I was gorgeous because my mother was extremely devoted to this notion. I remember being 8 years old, and she would say to me, “Look at you. You’re an angel. You sparkle!” I bought it. I believed I was God’s gift to the world.
I’ll never forget the day I realized I wasn’t quite the Ford model I thought I was. It was the first day of middle school, and I was ready for my debut. I had on jorts (jean shorts) and a huge fanny pack, because where else are you gonna keep your slap bracelets? I walked in as if it was a runway. I was like, “You’ll all get to meet me, kids. Just form a line.” But kids are mean; they let you know what your mother is too blinded by love to see. They told me, “Um, no, you’re gross!” I thought, What? But my mom thinks I am so pretty! Maybe they didn’t get a good look at my curly bangs and Cats (the musical) sweatshirt. I thought they were mistaken. Looking back at pictures, I realize they weren’t. I remember going home and crying not because I felt ugly, but because I was confused.
My mom told me they were wrong and I was beautiful. This time, it didn’t work. She was no longer the authority. I thought of other things she had not been honest about: Santa Claus (lie), Fraggle Rock (not a real place), what really happened to Bambi’s mom (she didn’t go to rehab). I took a long look in the mirror, frowning at myself and my ruffled socks and frizzy hair. I stood there until something caught my eye. It was my eye. I looked at my little blue eyes reddened from crying and thought, No, they are wrong. I like my frizzy hair. I like how this fanny pack makes Mr. Mistoffelees look. I am pretty, and I’m gonna be just fine. I marched into school the next day with twice as much confidence. I had found it in myself.
That day, my confidence was shaken but not blurred. It rarely has been. That’s counting the times I’ve been rejected by a guy or an audition or even a credit check. I have never thought, What’s wrong with me? I always think, What’s wrong with you?
Bombing Out Across the Country
The only other time my self-esteem took a real blow after that was during my third year in comedy. I made it to the top four finalists of Last Comic Standing. I was so proud and had received such positive feedback from the show. Then came the live tour, 42 cities in three months. It started out great. New York, L.A., Chicago — amazing! But then there were the 39 other cities. Night after night, I went onstage and performed in front of hundreds — sometimes thousands — of people. I was so used to laughter and warmth, and then I found myself onstage in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Nothing. Tulsa? Crickets. Billings, Montana? A drink thrown at me! I bombed night after night, delivering jokes to no response. I would panic and tap-dance to the next subject, hoping it would eventually get better. It didn’t. Then the hecklers showed up, yelling “You suck!” at me from the audience.
The crowd could sense my insecurity and was not impressed. It was like going on a date with a guy you really wanted to like you and then listening to him say “Next!” (which they would also yell sometimes). I cried myself to sleep on that tour bus in my tiny bunk more often than not. There I was, living my dream and watching it turn into my nightmare.
One night toward the end of the tour, I was in the middle of my set and delivered this joke: “My boyfriend is always turning on the lights in the bedroom right before we have sex. I shut them off; he puts them on. The other day, he asked me, ‘Why are you so shy? You have a beautiful body.’ I said, ‘Oh my God, you are so cute. You think I don’t want you to see me. Awww.’ ” No laughter from the crowd. But this time, I didn’t just move on. I said, “You guys are wrong! That was funny.”
It broke the tension in the room. I started talking to the crowd, connecting with them more, and taking ownership over my jokes and who I am. From all that dismissal and rejection, something amazing happened. I gave myself that same 11-year-old stare in the mirror again, this time slightly better dressed and with some cellulite. I remembered who I was and why I wrote the jokes and chose to say them out loud: because I thought they were funny. No, I knew they were funny.
For the rest of the tour when the crowd tightened up, I stayed loose because I didn’t need them anymore. I wasn’t up there seeking approval. I was celebrating my work and myself. And once again, I was killing.
The Secret to Being a Fearless Flirt
There will always be people who don’t like my stand-up, just like there will always be men who don’t want to date me. People have different tastes. But everyone is drawn to confidence, if it’s real. So in the same fashion I deliver my jokes, I introduce myself to a guy. I am unapologetic and confident. If it doesn’t work out? Next! Why judge yourself?
I’m not a traffic-stopping model or the smartest person in the room. The more you get to know me, the prettier I become. In my act, I have a joke: “I know what I look like. You’d bang me, but you wouldn’t blog about it.” My real beauty lies in my humor, my strength, the kind of sister, daughter, and friend I am. But more than anything, it lies in my ability to truly not give a shit what anyone thinks of me. Because I know what I think. The other night onstage, after I said a joke about how I’m superstitious and constantly knocking on wood, which is really embarrassing, especially if you don’t know the guy, an audience member yelled out, “Whore!” I fired right back with “Why are you saying that like it’s a bad thing?” I win.
I still stand in front of that mirror sometimes with doubts. But even on my worst day when I’m feeling awful, I smile and say, “You’re doing the best you can. Good job, bitch!”