I was not a funny kid, but I always liked comedy. My cousin and I would get Domino’s and watch Dana Carvey and George Carlin stand up before we were old enough to understand it. We were drawn to anything that had the potential to amuse us. Our childhoods weren’t all that great, you see!
Back then I was a hideously shy, quiet girl who took everything personally. I went to a tiny school in a tiny town with a bunch of bored kids. Bullying was a common pastime, and I was an easy target. I was too skinny, my ears stuck out, and I never fought back. I was berated for my looks, for using words that were too big (I carried around a pocket thesaurus for years — the equivalent to putting a kick me sign on my own back), for finishing my tests too fast, and for getting good grades. This is not a humblebrag – none of that shit gets you liked in school. I had been praised so much for doing well in school by my family that I’d never risk disappointing them by slacking off, but I wanted desperately to be liked and accepted by my peers.
In high school, a handful of “popular” boys in my class would sit around me to cheat off of me during tests. I use the word popular in quotes because in a class of 20 something people, everyone is popular to a degree – just not necessarily in the way that they’d want to be. I was entirely aware of what they were doing, and I didn’t care. Sometimes I’d even whisper the answers to them when I saw them straining over my shoulder. They could use me for a good grade, because it meant that they were paying some sort of attention to me that didn’t feel negative. Turned out my teacher was aware of their little game too, and on one occasion he gave me a different test than everyone else. They cheated off of me and promptly failed. This teacher was a joker, and he wasn’t mad – he just wanted to make them look like dicks, and he took great joy in pointing out what he’d done. He made a big production out of handing them back their tests, all with failing grades, and then having them look incredulously at me, like I had fucked up. Then I got my test back and it had an A on it. Then everyone died laughing. For real, all those guys are dead now. RIP.
The fact that the boys were trying to benefit from the book smarts they always were so quick to make fun of me for having was now publicly acknowledged, but it was done in a way that made everyone laugh. And for once, I was in on the joke!
Despite that anecdote, I never figured out how to fit in back then. I always felt like an outcast, and that me being liked was just not a thing that would happen. I wore my desire for acceptance like a ballgown at a party when everyone else was in ripped FUBU jeans. After years of trying too hard and getting smacked back into my place, somewhere along the line I stopped.
Going into college, I developed a shell. I retreated into myself in situations where I didn’t know people. Instead of trying to seek approval, I acted like I didn’t give a shit. I assumed that if I opened my mouth I’d be made fun of, or something stupid would fly out, so appearing “tough” and not letting people think I cared about their opinion was a safer bet. I dressed in tight clothes and tried to look attractive but then acted completely disinterested when a guy gave me any sort of attention. Something that to this day, I still do to guys I don’t already know. (It’s working out great so far!) Of course, this was all a defense mechanism. I did give a shit. In fact, I gave a metric fuckton of shits. I still wanted to be liked and I was indeed flattered when someone showed interest in me. But showing people that never got me anywhere, so I wore the fuck out of that shell.
Somehow, eventually I had girl friends who weren’t trying to humiliate me, and for once, guys weren’t so much into teasing me as they were into seeing if they could crack my exterior. The tough guy thing served a purpose, but I no idea who I was underneath the act, or what to do with all the residual feelings of rejection. Once I let anyone behind the curtain, I was afraid they’d run.
I moved to Los Angeles and all I knew for a long time was depression. I was alone to the umpteenth degree, I was in love with a guy who made me feel like a nuisance, I had no real friends and my job was completely wrong for me. Stand up had always been one of my favorite things, but now I had a lot more time to pay attention to it. I found it interesting to watch these comedians as they talked about their neuroses and insecurities and painful memories and the general fucked up-ness of family and love and sex and dating and childhood trauma and drugs and everything. They were throwing it all out there, and people were enjoying the stories.
It’s a way of reaching out and exposing the sads and the ughs and the help mes while still hiding behind a lol jk security blanket. It’s a way of connecting with people and showing them who you really are, feeling acceptance, while still keeping your defenses intact. (“Jesus Christ, Amanda, we get it.” – you )
This wasn’t a conscious notion to me at the time, but my personality and how I talked about things and the tone of anything I wrote did make a large shift after I moved to Los Angeles, and I can see the correlation now.
If you are a person who’s been in my inner sphere at any point in my adult life, you’ve probably been annoyed at me at one time or another for making everything into a joke. Laughing everything off. Turning the compliment you gave me into self deprecation. Sarcasming myself into the seventh circle of hell. I know that while it can be funny at times, sometimes it just sounds negative. It’s hard to step away from the only crutch I’ve made work for me and sometimes I feel myself abusing it and sounding like a pain in the ass. It’s so much easier to make fun of a thing you said than be vulnerable and show you that your words affected me in some way.
What is this, my fucking diary? My next post will be about sex or something. Promise.