I once heard Jason Biggs, “Jim” from the American Pie movies, say something to the tune of “If you can’t get embarrassed, then you’re missing out on a lot of funny”. Not an exact quote, but it has kinda stuck with me.
Unfortunately, my little 8 year old self didn’t know or understand this. This is probably fortunate from a parenting standpoint, because this means I didn’t watch American Pie when I was 8. Could you imagine? “MOMMY, WHAT THE HECK IS THAT?!” “That is called fucking a pie, honey.” Yeah, nope.
Sexual scarring possibilities aside, I didn’t see that movie or hear that quote from the extras in time to avoid feeling horrible about the most embarrassing moment of my life. It took place in a grade 1 Christmas play, and I was about 8.
My class was a joint grade 1 and 2 operation. Our poor teacher was the head of this sorry state of affairs, but was adamant that we were going to put on a classroom Christmas play. We were going to go full out, with props, and lights, and the gymnasium stage…
To me, this was my time to shine. I was going to be the best, I was going to stun everyone and show them that yes, I was totally cool. If I could act super well, if I could nail my lines, if I could just be the most awesome person ever, people would be nice to me. This hope stemmed from a healthy amount of bullying and schoolyard douchbaggery directed towards me from an early age; seriously, I thought this school play was going to change everything.
The Christmas play was about the birth of Christ if I remember correctly. We were to all play the part of animals making our way there, and eventually be super happy about all of this baby stuff. 8 year old me didn’t give a shit, I just wanted to show them bullies who was da man, and who wasn’t. I was totally going to be the man, in case you didn’t know. They totally weren’t. That was just the way I knew it had to be. So I waited for the eventual assignment of roles: who was going to be who.
Someone was given the cat. Another person was a horse. Here I sat, waiting for all these animals passing me by; the frog, the lobster, the dog… none of that mattered. All that mattered was when the teacher called my name.
I frantically stretched my hand and practically shouted “PRESENT”. Giving me an awkward look, she then assigned me my animal.
“You’re going to be the camel.”
Oh my fuck yes please. I was going to be the coolest camel on the planet. Dogs? Not a chance. The cat wasn’t even remotely swank compared to me. The bird had to go elsewhere for shiny stuff, ’cause my camel ass was going to blind them. As soon as I got my lines, I started rehearsing and learned my lines in 4 hours.
Seeing as this was two weeks before the play, my parents got very tired of hearing my epic camel soliloquies throughout all of that time. Too bad, I thought, I had to be perfect. Which I totally was going to be. Duh.
My mom worked on my Camel costume personally, tirelessly, and the day before the play it was finished (or she bought it, which is entirely possible). The onesie piece was brown with a beige belly, complete with a tail and a hump on its back. One hump, mind you, which my 8 year old self was keen to notice was actually a dromadaire, but meh, who cared. It was awesome, and I wore it for a couple of hours while practicing my lines yet again. Imagine a big, furry monstrosity with a hump that was perfect for knocking over glasses and chairs like so many pieces of fine china, all while reciting Shakespeare.
That was how it was.
The night of the play, I was ready. The lines? perfect. The outfit? Immaculate. The Phil was ready. I wolfed down my dinner, and made a beeline for the costume. I waited for my mom to help me into my outfit, and I felt great… but then the trouble started.
I looked into a mirror. It was then that I realized that Camels are actually really stupid looking. Why did they have a hump? Or a tail? They were weird horses, really, and I was instantly aware of how stupid I looked. How could I look cool as a Camel? HOW? There was no way.
Mom and I made our way to the school, and the prevailing feeling of doom was upon me. I knew my lines, I thought, I’ll be fine; but I was a camel! They’re going to make fun of me for being a camel, no way they weren’t. I was screwed.
I was shuttled into the waiting area backstage with the rest of the animals in their costumes. The dogs? Totally wicked. The cats were cooler than cats. Even the zebra looked great; and here’s this camel. I could practically hear the snickering.
And so, the play starts. A few animals do their thing. I prayed it wouldn’t come to me, that they’d skip the camel part. A few more. The time passed so slowly that I could practically see everything in slow motion. Then a couple more, and finally, it was time. The camel walked out onto the stage.
I walked in from the left side to glaring lights and what looked like a million rows of shadowy people I couldn’t see. The nerves forced my heart so skip a beat; I gulped, I put on my best acting face, and I started my lines.
As an aside, it’s important to note that, when I’m nervous, I have a couple of ticks: biting my nails into oblivion, fiddling non-stop, and sweaty palms.
As I got going through my lines, my nerves got the best of me. I grabbed the first thing I could and started fiddling with it while concentrating really hard on my lines. This was when I started hearing giggles from the crowd.
Laughing? Why? Nothing I said was funny. Everything I had done was oscar worthy, not giggle generating. I wanted to create a stirring solo of solemn sereneness, but instead it was becoming chuckle palooza.
I stopped, and the laughing got worse. Everyone in the room, and I could only think one thing; they were laughing at me, because I was stupid, a camel, and a loser. Even with the best performance anyone had seen since Muppet Treasure Island (8 year old me had a skewed sense of good movies), everyone was laughing at me. I couldn’t take the ridicule.
I crumbled, fell to my knees, and started crying. “WHY ARE YOU LAUGHING AT MEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE???” I wailed, and the audience laughed even harder. I cried, and was dragged off stage. I don’t remember the rest of the night very well, but I’d like to think I went on a grape juice binge while snorting lines of powder sugar to forget the feelings I was feeling.
So the question was, why were they laughing at me? Imagine the following.
A small boy walks onto stage in an adorable camel outfit. He starts adorably reciting his lines, just like he was told. It’s at this point he grabs his tail, pulls it through his legs, and starts waving it around like a hose at a sexy carwash.
That is why I love comedy: because if you can’t laugh at yourself, you slump down on stage and turn into a sopping wet heap.
What about you folks?