Recently I came across a previous episode of Marc Maron’s WTF podcast where he spoke with prolific stand-up comedian, Brian Regan.  As I was listening to Regan talk about his some of his first stand-up comedy performances, the following anecdote stood out to me:

…They had 3 co-headliners, all doing 45 minutes each. At the end of the show, the MC would go on stage, they would draw a clear line in the sand; they would say: “that’s it for our show, we hope you had a good time. We do have some new comedians who are just getting started if you’d like to hang out and give them an audience, you’re welcome to do so. But if you need to take off we understand.” …Most people would get up and leave, and then you’d have, you know, 25, 30 people hanging out… That’s what I went up to for a year… sometimes you’d go up to 4 people… So I had a whole routine built around people walking out, because that’s what was happening… That was my act! And then they moved me up, you know, “hey we’re gonna let you open.” So I get on stage and I’m thinking: “Nobody’s walking out…I don’t know what to do! People are paying attention! And I’m looking around going, “God, somebody please walk out!”…[I got] my whole career built around being horrible!  So I had to start writing jokes for people who were actually paying attention.

While this recollection of Regan’s humble beginnings illustrates the difficulties that come with success, or how anxiety-provoking it can be to be the center of attention; oddly what it reminded me of was the interpersonal rigidity people sometimes develop within relationships.

Like Regan’s early experiences in stand-up, people – through their own relationship history – might grow accustomed to partners who are inattentive or walk out – so to speak.  Subsequently this may lead one to develop their whole ‘routine’ (i.e., attachment style) around that expected outcome; meaning that when one comes across a partner who sticks around and is paying attention, it can be not only unfamiliar but scary.  On this issue, couples psychologist, Dr. Sue Johnson notes,  “… insecure habitual forms of engagement can be modified by new relationships but they can also mold current relationships and so can easily become self-perpetuating.”

According to Regan’s comedic dilemma, the choice that is ultimately left is whether to get off the stage and try to find another gig where people walk out, keep using the same routine despite it no longer being applicable, or work on some new material and adjust to your new audience.

photo credit: theburnsider.com

Reference:

Johnson, S. (2004). The practice of emotionally focused couple therapy. 2nd ed. New York: Brunner-Routledge