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Overcoming Fear: How a Single Moment of Courage Altered My Entire Life

In the early '90s, while in film school, I began performing stand-up comedy at a local comedy club in Provo, Utah, of all places. It was an alcohol-free, all-ages, family-friendly comedy club. That sounds a bit dichotomous, I know.

After months of doing open mics and guest sets, a comedy booker who had been in attendance at a show, and who had a one-nighter at a venue on the outskirts of Salt Lake City, asked me if I had fifteen minutes of material. I told her I did. But I really didn't. She booked me as an opening act for an upcoming comedy night. I was thrilled! I also had to come up with an additional eleven minutes of jokes.

This place wasn't a family-friendly comedy club. It was a bar. A drinking establishment. A den of iniquity, flowing with the spirits of Satan's elixirs. A place I would otherwise never even think to set foot in at the time, lest my guilty, overactive conscience lead me to a confessional for simply being in the presence of alcohol.

I arrived early enough before the show. There were no soccer moms or high school kids on their homecoming dates here. And they weren't exactly the upper echelon of Salt Lake City's nightlife. This bar looked like the place the cast from The Hills Have Eyes would go to get liquored up.

I had stage fright before and got past it, but this was a whole new arena outside any of my previous experience telling jokes. It was like I was hearing Obi-Wan Kenobi's voice when he and Luke walked into that Star Wars dive bar, "You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. We must be cautious."

A nervous comedian stands on stage from the waist up, holding a microphone with a stressed yet humorous smile under the spotlight, embodying the courage to face fears and perform
Facing Fears with a Smile: A Comedian's Courageous Stand on Stage

As showtime got closer, that pit in my stomach was getting bigger. And it was taking root and growing up into my throat. I stood alone in the bathroom, seriously debating just leaving. Not saying a word to the booker who was there but just getting in my car and going home. I knew I'd be blacklisted. But so what!? I was going to film school. I wanted to be in that form of show business. I was just dabbling in stand-up comedy. So what if I left now and never got back on stage, even if it was out of fear.

I was hearing loud and clear the voice in my head telling me I couldn't do it and begging me to leave. Then… there was another voice in my head: my father's.

When I was little, I remember him telling me the story of Lou Costello, of Abbott and Costello classic fame. On the day of one of their radio broadcasts, Costello's son drowned in the family pool. A devastatingly sad and heartbreaking moment for any parent. But that night, Costello still made his radio appearance, doing his comedy to perfection. The radio audience had no idea Costello's son had drowned a few hours before until after the show.

"Do you know why he still went on the radio that night?" my father asked me.

"No," my very young and curious self said.

"Because the show must go on."

That was the moral of the story my father, the consummate, experienced, and professional showman was telling me. That was an impressionable moment, shared with my father, created by my father.

In reality, for him, it was probably just a throwaway conversation, something said in passing while we were in the middle of something else. But that was a moment, less about my father, and more about show business.

That story remains with me to this very day. Its the gold standard, the number one rule of show business. And it was clear to me now more than ever: the show must go on.

Standing there in the men’s room, looking at my jittery face in the mirror I wanted so much to run. Still, I had made a commitment. People were depending on me. Not just the people who were putting a show together, but the audience who was there because they wanted to be entertained. They were looking to laugh, for whatever reason. Maybe just to add a humorous boost to their lives and have some fun. Or maybe they were looking to laugh because they needed ‘to forget about life for a while’, as Billy Joel aptly says in "Piano Man."

The show must go on. And me making sure that show went on was because of them: the audience. My commitment and my obligation were to those individuals.

That night, in the bathroom of a dive bar in Salt Lake City, was the moment the meaning of my father's story, all those years earlier, became tangible for me. “The show must go on.” Maybe I bomb, maybe they don't like me, but at least I had the courage to take the stage, do what I was prepared to do, go on with the show, and find out.

The only thing I knew for sure was what would happen had I snuck away and burned rubber in my 1991 Mitsubishi Eclipse: nothing. The booker would be annoyed, never use me again and the local comics would probably talk about me. But that would be it.

What I didn't know, was what would happen if I stayed. So I didn’t leave. I got on stage and told my first joke. I have no idea whatsoever what that joke was, either. But it got a laugh. I remember seeing some guy in a flannel shirt and trucker's hat sitting at the back bar, with a bottle of beer, laughing with a smile.

That was it. That's all it took for my overcoming fear. The pit in my stomach and my throat withered up and died in an instant. I did my fifteen minutes. I got my laughs, and I got paid. I did something that I loved, that I admired for my whole life: actually doing stand-up comedy for fun and getting paid.

Truthfully, the getting paid part was just the bonus icing on the cake. But I had a moment of clarity where I found my courage: shaking nervously in a dive bar's bathroom, minutes before showtime, when a hard-wired connection, made years before, came online in my mind: “the show must go on.” And it did, and I chose not to run away.

And from doing that gig, I got more work from that booker. And she introduced me to other bookers who gave me gigs. She introduced me to other comics, who introduced me to bookers, who gave me gigs.

One of those bookers went on to book me for a circuit of shows four years later when I was driving through Montana, listening to that Tony Robbins tape about pushing ourselves out of our comfort zone. Which led me to move to California, performing, meeting my kids' mom at one of my shows, having kids, making a few movies, then finding my joy in assisting people to change their lives and their mindset.

Everything’s connected. And out there in the quantum realm are infinite possibilities. If we listen with our head and overthink, the brain will lie to us. We get worried and upset. Then, we collapse the realities that don’t resonate with the power of our true self. Instead, we call forth from the universe a mirror that reflects back to us the reality we don’t want to have. And yet, as we quiet the mind and lead with our energy—a high vibrational energy—then the universe shows up to reflect back to us situations, people, and circumstances that do reflect our inner peace, our confidence, and our ability to be happy and succeed.

John Moyer is a retired stand up comedian turned professional stage hypnotist, and YouTube creator of Sleep Hypnosis and Guided Meditation. @JohnMoyerHypnosis



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