I had one of the most fun experiences of my life on Saturday. I got to perform in Picture This! at San Francisco Sketchfest. It’s a hilarious comedy show with a brilliant premise. Stand-up comedians perform while animators illustrate their stories, off the cuff, on a giant screen behind them. The comedians then riff on the drawings, the animators react to the riffs with more drawings and back and forth it goes.
When I got the email asking if I wanted to be in the show, my immediate response was to laugh out loud and think “No fucking way!” The idea of performing in front of a crowd was terrifying. I’m used to making art quietly at my desk, or huddled in the privacy of my apartment and I take great comfort in that solitude.
The next immediate thought was how cool it would be to do the show and how great it would be to be the kind of person that says yes to that kind of thing. I’m a huge fan of stand-up. My wife and I go to see comedians all the time and we go to Sketchfest every year. Some of my creative heroes are stand-up comics and the idea of being a part of it for a day seemed impossibly cool.
The two conflicting reactions fought it out in the back of my head for several hours with the “but it would be so cool” side slowly gaining ground. It was remembering Ian MacKaye say that “When something scares the shit out of you, go towards it. You’re about to learn something.” that made me finally say yes. After responding to the email, I realized I was more excited than anxious.
But anxiety has been my traveling companion for a long time and the next morning I woke up in a white hot panic. I don’t even like it when people sit next to me on the train and watch me draw. Now I had to do it in front of an entire audience. Over the course of the day the panic would subside and then a wave of excitement would overtake me, followed by another wave of panic, and then excitement once again. Gradually the waves of excitement were becoming more numerous and the panic was receding.
Deep down I knew I was qualified. I’ve spent an enormous chunk of my life drawing funny images and whenever I can’t think of something to draw I put pencil to paper and improvise a drawing as it’s happening. It’s a guaranteed prophylactic for artist’s block and it also turns out to be great practice for Picture This!
I usually have an underlying sense of anxiety, even if I’m just brushing my teeth or eating a sandwich, but on the day of the show I felt weirdly calm. I was about to do something fun and I knew it. I met the other artists at the venue and we were showed the equipment we would be using. I had thought we would be drawing on a Cintiq (a computer monitor that allows you to draw directly on the screen), but it turned out we were using a drawing tablet (a screen-less plastic tablet that you draw on while looking at a separate monitor).
I hadn’t touched a drawing tablet in about 8 years and the normally anxious me would have freaked out at the realization that I was going to have to become un-rusty in front of an audience, but I pulled it together really quick. The show was going to go however it was going to go and I was distinctly aware that my job was to assist the comedian in being funny, not impress an audience with my best draftsmanship.
After that, things felt as comfortable as if I did this every day. I met some really cool artists that were also on the show and we drank whisky and joked around in the greenroom until the comics showed up. I got paired up with the very funny Sean Keane and had the time of my life. I was relaxed and smiling throughout the set. There’s a thrill to taking a creative risk in a moment, pulling it off, and getting a laugh from an audience that is incredibly addictive and feels entirely different than getting a laugh with a pre-made animation at a film festival.
Back in the greenroom, there was the option to do a lightning round with another comedian. I couldn’t wait to sign up and got paired with Josh Androsky, who was also hilarious and a blast to draw for.
I don’t know if it’s permanent or a temporary afterglow, but the entire world seems much less scary now. If I ever get asked to do something like this again, my immediate response will be “Hell fucking yes!”
Thanks again to Brandie, Sam, Sean, Josh, and Smo. What an insanely fun show!
And yes, I am a little creeped out by the synchronicity of Sebastian and me performing for the first time.