Ten years ago, in the midst of chemo for breast cancer, I struggled to find joy and laughter. Hence we went to a lot of unmemorable stand-up comedy. But there was this one guy, super schlumpy, oily, cruddy teeth, a large belly, a funny little fedora, a t-shirt that forgot its job was to dress a human not a mattress, super smart and hilarious. Eddie Pepitone stayed with me. Yes, because I laughed a lot, but also because he hit some really hard truths about the way we treat ourselves.
“I wish I was you,” he says to the audience early in. “I wish I was you because I am told that I am so funny and I can’t enjoy it. To me it just my horrific life that I am giving to you. But for you, this is terrific!”
And it was. At the end of his 25 minutes or so he talked about how he’s always heckled and he got to thinking, what would it be like if the heckler really knew him, knew his tender spots. Then he put down his mic and stepped into the audience to heckle himself. It was funny. And then it was hard:
Why do you eat pastry in the middle of the night?
Napoleons are daytime food!
You never floss!
Why the hell are you such a slob?
Why doesn’t your mother love you?
You never lived up to your potential!
The audience got quiet. We were witnessing someone in pain. I mean, it was a performance, but it also felt real. And, the thing was, everyone has some part of that pain, right?
Everyone in the room got it. I think that getting it, recognizing it, made us all recast our inner critic as a crummy heckler. Someone we don’t have to listen to. Some voice that’s just trying to ruin our fun.