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Go with Your Gut: Stand-Up Comedy and Instincts Part 1

November 29, 2010

When I was a little guy, I did not like to drink milk.

This picture pretty much sums up my feelings on the topic.

I remember sitting at the dinner table, ignoring the tall glass of ungulate juice that had been thoughtfully provided.  As the meal progressed, my mom’s polite reminders to drink the milk would devolve into veiled threats:  “Amberley’s gets to watch TV after dinner because she’s a good girl and drank her milk.  I guess you’ll still be sitting here doing NOTHING.”

Despite efforts to stall, I would eventually finish the meal, leaving only that now-lukewarm cup of white bullshit, and me going like this:

I’m still not sure who passed by a cow grazing, looked at it and said, “Jeez, I’d like to fasten my mouth on one of those teats and just suck like I was Lindsay Lohan’s career.”  (Burn on you, Li-Lo.)

I wasn’t allowed to leave the table until I finished the milk.  But little did my folks know, they had given birth to one of the most stubborn jerks on the planet.  So I would sit there for hours, waiting alone at the table for bedtime.  Finally, my frustrated dad would send me to my room, the milk still untouched, no dessert in my belly.

I hated that damn milk, what what’s weird was I didn’t know why.  I can remember during these stand-offs, my mom would ask me what was so bad about milk.  I could never give a straight answer.  It tasted fine, I was okay with the colour… I just felt something in my gut that said stay away.

Years later, I found out that I have an mild allergy to dairy products.  It took me forever to figure it out, because there was no obvious cause and effect.  Reactions to the lactose were irregular, and often a full day after consuming the dairy product.  As a result, it was difficult to draw a correlation between the foods and the consequences.  Also, stomach problems run in my family, so I thought it was just an inherited condition.

Looking back on that experience, I realize my gut knew all along that the milk was a little bit of poison for my system.  Even though my logical mind couldn’t put two and two together, my gut was all “Yo, screw this milk BS, let’s chug some water, son!”

This guy knows what’s up…

When you’re a kid, it’s easy to hear the gut because you’re so dumb.  At that life stage, it’s all you got.  Once we start loading up with knowledge, the forebrain starts to dominate and the subconscious gets drowned out by logical thought.

The bad news is, scientific studies show that as you age, your logical side will only get stronger, drowning out the quiet nudges from your gut.  The good news is, I believe that hearing your gut is a skill that can (and should) be developed.  And because I like lists, here are 5 reasons why:

1) Increased confidence

There is a sublime confidence that comes from following your gut.  Your subconscious is the most primal, instinctual part of you.  Sometimes these instincts embarrass us, and we try to convince ourselves they don’t exist.  Giving your gut a voice and following it when you can, ensures that you are in balance between what you want, and what you do.  When you follow your gut, you can be secure in the confidence that your actions are flowing from a place of harmony.

2) Increased “Luck.”

I bet this Care Bear gets laid ALL THE TIME

I always considered myself a lucky person, but I’m not really superstitious.  I realize now, that luck is really just opportunities and coincidences combined.  Your subconscious is ALWAYS trying to put these together.  It’s no wonder that you start picking up on patterns and find yourself in the right place at the right time.  Your subconscious called it by predicting where the coincidences would intersect.

3) Peace of Mind

Listening to your gut requires quiet moments.  Knowing this, I try build “meditation” into my day.  For some people, this is ritualized, like yoga or formal meditation.  For me, it involves simply walking.  Since I live fairly close enough to most stand-up venues in Toronto, I take the ankle express to get there.  The 40 minutes or so of walking gives me plenty of quiet to tune into the gut.

4) People can sense it

Trusting your gut means saying: “Yo guys!  A bush told me we gotta do this stuff!”

Most of the world is filled with people looking to be led.  Nobody wants to lead because it’s scary, and takes confidence.  When you follow your gut, people notice how you carry yourself and automatically trust your judgement.  They can see that your gut has a plan, and you are following it.

5) It’s very zen, dude.

Is this guy drawing an “Enso,” the Zen symbol for spirituality, or a big boob? Let us meditate upon this query.

Comics are not exactly known for their reverence toward spirtuality.  I personally don’t subscribe to any organized religion, but I sure plunder them for wisdom.  It seems to me that a lot of non-western religions are pretty keen on the gut.  The Native Americans call it “inner vision.”  The Buddhists call it “karma.”

My Forebrain: Knock off this touchy feely crap.  People are gonna think you’re a flake.

My Gut: I’m actually with the forebrain on this one, spirituality is so 1994.

You: Okay.  But you guys aren’t the boss of me.

What does it mean to follow your gut?  First of all, let’s dispel some mysticism here.  People think of gut instinct as some kind of magical force that lives in your tummy and always knows the correct course of action.  I think the phenomenon is much more pedestrian.

Our senses gather a torrent of information from the environment every second.  Scientific studies have proven that we retain very little, focussing only on that which is relevant.  This is why autistic kids freak out when they are over-stimulated.  They lack this filter, and are driven bonkers by the relentless storm of data.

So the filter helps us to function by eliminating unimportant information.  What’s wrong with that?  Guess who decides what’s important?  The forebrain.  So it’s a closed system, which is why people are so vulnerable to self deception.

Depending on what you want reality to be, you can filter out information that doesn’t support your vision.  Someone becomes more beautiful when you start to love them, because you are instructing your brain to ignore features that you might normally find repulsive.  Instead, all you can see are their good qualities.  Hence the phrase, “love is blind.”

This happens with self image, too.  We spare ourselves truths that are too hard to swallow.  That’s why I like to tape my sets.  Early on with stand-up, my rational brain would convince me that I had a good set when I actually didn’t.  I would actually believe I did well, then review the tape and realize that I actually bombed.

So what does this mean for our gut?  Well, there is a part of your brain that IS paying attention to all the information that the forebrain discards: your subconscious.  The subconscious doesn’t miss anything.  It’s working all the time, even when you’re sleeping, pulling elements together, trying to make sense of all the data and find meaningful patterns.

The main problem is that the subconscious is the Kelly Rippa to the forebrain’s Regis.

(Though arguably less obnoxious)

Like Kelly, the gut never gets to have a say without being interrupted.  But Kelly’s got good stuff to say, we just gotta tell Regis to clam up for a second.

Come back tomorrow for part 2 of this article, where we will look at how going with your gut can improve your stand-up comedy, as well as a few tips for doing so.

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