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Posts tagged Play With Fire Improv

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For ten years, I watched helplessly as Cameron spiralled downward into anxiety, agoraphobia, and depression. Just the thought of doing stuff outside his comfort zone made him physically ill – and everything was outside his comfort zone.

So how did he go from sick and scared to an improv ninja who now teaches others how to overcome anxiety?

Find out, in this funny and inspiring series of posts he wrote for his blog. If you’ve ever thought being anxious was a life sentence, this is for you:

How I Got Over My Anxiety Part 1: Deciding To Change

How I Got Over My Anxiety Part 2: Seeing A Therapist

How I Got Over My Anxiety Party 3: Meditation

How I Got Over My Anxiety Part 4: Self-Help

How I Got Over My Anxiety Part 5: Improv!

How I Got Over My Anxiety Part 6: Facing Fear

How I Got Over My Anxiety Part 7: Accepting Myself As I Am Right Now

Cameron was a guest on SiriusXM’s Canada Talks Speak Easy with Carla Collins yesterday.

While he was waiting to be interviewed, he noticed another man sitting alone. Cameron introduced himself and asked the man, whose name was Scott, what he was there to talk about.

“Oh, I’m with Commander Hadfield,” Scott replied, indicating the studio.

Cameron’s eyes widened.

“You mean I’ve gotta follow him?”

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They laughed, and Scott asked what Cameron did. He explained that he was there to talk about improv, and how it helped him overcome his anxiety.

They chatted for several minutes, and Cameron forgot all about any nerves he might have had. When the studio door opened, Scott told Cameron, “You’ve got to meet Chris!”

As Cameron told me this story, he said, “The ‘old me’ would have sat by myself, concentrating on not being nervous. Instead I was focused on what was happening now. Laughing with Scott was so much better than focusing inward.”

(Improv analogy, anyone?)

If you’d like to learn more about improv for anxiety (and being here now), check out Cameron’s new website at playwithfireimprov.com.

John Hodgman spoke recently about how Stephen Colbert overcame embarrassment by doing embarrassing things in public, until it no longer bothered him.

This makes perfect sense.

Whether he’s bobsledding in skintight Spandex, or telling George Bush to his face what a douche he is, Colbert’s commitment to character is unflinching.

But for some people, fear of embarrassment can be debilitating.

Katagelophobia, Anyone?

Katagelophobia is the fear of embarrassment, ridicule, or (ironically for comedians) of being laughed at.

I’ve blogged before about Cameron’s anxiety-ridden past. For years he suffered from daily panic attacks, cold sweats, vomiting, eczema, coughing, diarrhea…you name it. Finally in desperation, we went to a shrink.

The therapist, it turned out, had problems of his own. But he said two things that completely changed Cameron’s life – and mine, too.

First, he suggested Cameron take up improv. And second, he said that most anxiety comes from a fear of embarrassment.

We left the therapist after only a few sessions, but Cameron enrolled at Second City. And he did something else that helped him, in improv and in life: he started doing “embarrassing” things, like purposely tripping and stumbling in front of strangers.

At first he would blush and get cold sweats. But he kept on doing it, day after day, until he actually looked for excuses to do silly things in public.

Today he’s so happy, calm and confident that people who didn’t know the “old” Cameron are flabbergasted to learn he wasn’t born fearless.

Disapproval Starts With You

Fear of embarrassment often comes from wanting approval. (“I hope I don’t fuck up on stage tonight. I’ll never be able to show my face again!”)

I’ve seen wanting approval cripple a lot of funny people, especially at festivals, where they put extra pressure on themselves to be brilliant.

Worrying about what your audience thinks is a surefire way to get in your head. When you worry, you judge, and it’s a fast trip to Suckville from there.

Richard Burton used to stand backstage before performances and whisper, “Fuck you! Fuck you!” to the audience. If you can let go on needing approval, you’ll have a much better show. And a helluva lot more fun.

Some people say anxiety before a performance is good, even necessary. I say bullshit. I’ve done plenty of crappy shows where I was nervous beforehand, and just as many good ones where I wasn’t.

It’s natural for some adrenaline to kick in before going on stage, but if having your girlfriend in the audience makes you jittery, click here for some exercises that can help.

Don’t Take Yourself So Seriously

One of my favourite sketches of all time is the Ministry of Silly Walks. It’s so quintessentially British. And yet as John Cleese said, “The aim of any good English gentleman is to get safely to his grave without ever having been embarrassed.”

To err is human. And life’s too short to worry what other people think. Chances are, they’re busy worrying what you think of them.

So if anxiety about making the wrong move, or even just looking stupid in public is holding you back, try looking stupid on purpose. It works.

To hear Hodgman talk about Colbert, click here.

Photo © Laura Dickinson Turner / Second City

Photo © Laura Dickinson Turner / Second City

Colbert kissing David Razowsky while Steve Carell watches at Second City’s 50th anniversary.