Sean and I watched Neal Brennan’s stand-up special 3 Mics on Netflix earlier this week. Neal Brennan was the co-creator and co-writer and co-everything else on Chappelle’s Show, which meant a whole lot of success all at once, and then even more abruptly, nothing at all. He has since reinvented himself as a stand-up comedian, but what you get from watching 3 Mics isn’t your typical routine. It’s got plenty of laughs, particularly from the “one-liners” mic, but he’s most riveting when he’s at another mic, a less funny mic, the one where he talks about “emotional stuff.”
He talks candidly about his depression, his childhood, his career, his father’s alcoholism and emotional abuse. He talks about the void where self esteem usually goes, and how he spent many years all too happy to hide behind his more gregarious partner, Dave Chappelle. Still fighting his demons, he is nonetheless up on the stage, and he’s getting very honest about how hard it is for him to be there, and why it’s so important that he stay.
Which set me to thinking a couple of days ago when I was at a USS concert. Ubiquitous Synergy Seeker is the best band you’ve never heard of, an electronic-based alt-rock duo (comprising a singer-guitar player named Ash and a hype man called Jason) who describe themselves as “camp fire after-party” and sound kind of like if kurt cobain and kanye had ever met and made an album – only not, it’s way more unique than that, and so, so listenable. Singable. Danceable. Turn-uppable. Bliss outable. And it just so happens that the singer-guitar player dude, Ashley Buchholtz is a notoriously shy “hyper-introvert” who’s battled his own demons, struggled with self worth, and even now, to a crowd of adoring fans, admits that singing the songs we paid to hear is hard for him – his greatest fear, actually.
So that made me think about how we view performers as people who are outgoing, and who seek the spotlight, even though that’s not always the case. And as I read up on actors I’d heard were particularly shy, I heard over and over that performing was a way to overcome shyness, but for a lot of people, it’s never completely overcome. Carol Burnett felt she could only perform “in character” and would clam up if she was just being herself. Barbara Streisand rarely performs live because even after decades of super-stardom, she’s still a pack of nerves before every show (so, reportedly, is Adele).
Adam Sandler is so shy he rarely does press and when he does, it’s almost always in character. You’ll notice that when he sings, it’s almost always in another voice; funny accents help him overcome his nervousness.
Kim Basinger struggles so much that when she won her Oscar in 1997 (best supporting actress – L.A. Confidential), she was hardly able to speak. She has agoraphobia, panic attacks, and social anxiety: some days, leaving the house is more than she can bear.
Kristen Stewart has a reputation for being cold and distant, but the true source of her reserve is crippling shyness. She worries so much about what others think of her, she can barely stand to talk about herself, and comes off guarded and sullen in interviews.
Nicole Kidman has overcome the stutter that made her so shy as a child, but even now there are days she can’t stand to walk into a restaurant or a party alone. Richard Gere was so shy as a child that his parents wondered if he could even speak. Evan Rachel Wood was too shy to even order a pizza.
Courtney Cox has said that her shyness has limited her career. Being too nervous to audition, to risk rejection, she hasn’t pursued a movie career like other Friends.
Mark Ruffalo describes himself as an introvert and a bit of a “depressed person” who negotiates happiness for himself on a day to day basis. Director Tom Ford thinks of himself as a loner, and “Very introverted. I’m very shy. I’m very emotional.”
Of her anxiety, Jennifer Lawrence says “I have a prescription.” She doesn’t think it’s likely to get any easier, either: “No, I’m always just very nervous. I never feel like, ‘I’ve got this.’ I’m always very nervous and aware of how quickly people can hate you and that scares me.”
Sarah Silverman adds “People use “panic attack” very casually out here in Los Angeles, but I don’t think most of them really know what it is. Every breath is labored. You are dying. You are going to die. It’s terrifying. And then when the attack is over, the depression is still there.”
Emma Stone’s panic attacks were so intense when she was little, it led to agoraphobia. She manages them better today, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t get them, it just means she’s learned some ways to cope. The red carpet life must be extra-stressful for anyone who suffers with social anxiety. I think it’s really cool to pursue your passion even when it butts heads with your fears. I applaud anyone who has to work hard just be among people, and I’m even more impressed with those who find a voice with which to speak out, and to remind us that we’re never alone. Someone else is feeling it too.
Words of wisdom from USS: Chill out. Be easy on yourself.