A wise gentleman once said to me that all of life is a performance, but none of it really matters as long as we have love, laughter, health and happiness.*
By this chalk, as long as there has been human life as we’d recognise it, there has been the need to perform. Inevitably, as long as there has been the need to perform, there has been performance anxiety. Stage fright.
Stage fright is a killer. It can fray your nerves (well, let’s put it this way, my nerves – I sincerely hope you don’t get it, too) and distort your thoughts. At least until the moment when you actually hit your mark, everything flows and you realise once more that worry is waste.
Now, gentle reader, I must confess that I know next to nothing about Garry Shandling. I am sorry that he passed from this world recently, and I am sad that he left a hole in the hearts of so many who loved him. Somehow, though, I don’t think I have ever seen anything he has done. But I am now convinced he had attained some level of Zen mastery, and I want to know more about him. One aspect of this Zen mastery is perhaps the perfect way to overcome stage fright.
Filmmaker Judd Apatow speaks movingly and with great affection and admiration of his close friendship with Shandling in a recent Nerdist podcast. He was entrusted with Shandling’s complete archive when putting together a memorial tribute to the dearly departed Mr S. This archive included a veritable mountain of wall-to-wall hilarious TV chat show spots. It also included Shandling’s journals. Apatow describes these journals as a huge repository of perfectly-judged jokes alongside writings on Shandling’s Buddhist views on life.**
“You’re already Garry Shandling”
Apatow shares just one pearl from Shandling’s journals. It is invaluable. Here is what Shandling has to say on stage fright:
“There’s one page where he wrote: “Stage fright.” Basically what he said was – I’m paraphrasing: ‘There’s no reason to be afraid onstage, because your goal on stage is to be Garry Shandling. Even if you’re nervous, you’re already Garry Shandling, so you’ve attained your goal. So just be Garry Shandling. That’s all that you can do, so why do you even have to think about it? Because you are Garry Shandling.’”
This is Zen wisdom so simple and so perfect that it almost shouldn’t need stating. You are not there because of what you might say or do, but because you are already you. To quote a very old piece of Samurai wisdom: “The arrow is already in the target.”
More on Shandling, more on Zen
As I mentioned above, Garry Shandling’s work somehow completely passed me by while he was on this Earth. I would like to make amends. This is where you come in. Please point me towards anything by Mr Shandling that you think I should see. Alternatively, if you would like to share any Zen insights on the living of this performance that we call life, please also pitch in!
UPDATE 1 (Sunday 15 May 2016): “To be myself and to know that is enough.”
My good friend Heather Bussing has posted a quite beautiful and very honest Facebook comment in response to the the themes of this post. I am indebted to Heather for her very kind permission for me to reproduce her words here:
have worked with fear and anxiety a lot. It was installed for survival,
but now is mostly concerned with whether other people like me and what I
am doing. Yet, I have very little control over what others think. So I
end up completely overwrought about things I can’t control, which really spins me off.
“Sometimes I can explain this to myself and talk me off the ledge. Sometimes not.
zen approach is to start exactly where I am with all my fear and
insecurity, to invite it along for the ride. It just doesn’t get to
drive. When I quit trying to fight it or fix it or get out of it, then
room opens up to breathe and remember that if I am excited about what I
am doing and saying, the audience usually will be too.
also love teaching and learning and thinking in public. Not having to
be right or perfect leaves room for others to participate. The mistakes
are what opens the door for the next idea – mine or others. I love
“The key is exactly to be myself and to know that is enough.”
I love this approach from Heather, to invite insecurity along, to embrace mistakes, and to know that oneself is enough. I hope also that you will be as assured as I was by Heather’s response to my concern about her reference to ledges:
“My internal existence has always been a bit ledgy. I try to jump from places of delight though.”
* I’m paraphrasing, so should said wise gentleman ever read this, please forgive me if I went astray with my recollection of those final four factors.
** Judd Apatow says of Shandling: “Garry was a Buddhist and really believed in trying to get rid of your
ego and non-attachment. His writings are all about that. It’s about let
go and being in the moment. As a comedian, he wrote about that. The most
important thing you can do is to not be self-conscious.”
- Image of Shandling via a tweet from @nydailynews.