Time slowing down

In "Born Standing Up" [Amazon], Steve Martin talks about how performing meant his mind was constantly racing ahead of whatever was coming out of his mouth.

My most persistent memory of stand-up is of my mouth being in the present and my mind being in the future: the mouth speaking the line, the body delivering the gesture, while the mind looks back, observing, analyzing, judging, worrying, and then deciding when and what to say next.

Lately I've been noticing a similar sensation: Time slowing down. The more I perform, the more things seem to be moving in slow motion while I'm onstage.

Athletes talk about this sort of thing too...how the game slows down when you're in the zone.

Basketball players, when they experience being "in the zone" report that the basket seems bigger, and feeling an almost mystical connection to it. The legendary hitter Ted Williams has said that sometimes he could see the seams on a pitched baseball. Gymnast Carol Johnson found that on some days she experienced the balance beam as wider, so "any worry of falling off disappeared."

Football quarterback star John Brodie told Michael Murphy (author of "The Psychic Side of Sports") that he found periods in every game when "time seems to slow down, in an uncanny way, as if everyone were moving in slow motion. It seems as if I had all the time in the world to watch the receivers run their patterns, and yet I know the defensive line is coming at me just as fast as ever."

I noticed a similar "time slowing down" thing at a recent show. I paused to think about what joke to tell next. Onstage, it felt like an eternity. Like some awful, 10 second-long gap. I got offstage and thought, "Fuck, what the hell was that?"

But when I listened back to it, it was just a second or two, way less than I thought. And I've noticed similar things when I listen to other sets. Onstage I feel like I'm pausing, "umm"ing, fumbling, or getting off track in some other bad way. But when I listen back it comes off as just a minor hiccup.

Hopefully this is a "muscle" that keeps growing over time. 'Cuz there are still lots of times where I get offstage only to come up with a perfect line or riff after the fact. Would be pretty amazing to get to the point where something happens in the room and it feels like there's an eternity to come up with the perfect response.


d said...

Yeah, I experience that sometimes. My brain will be gauging a reaction ("hm, that joke did well") while I'm saying the next thing. It's like I'm using more of my brain than usual...or something.

If I do well in a set though, afterwards it feels like I was barely on stage at all. "I just did 8 minutes?!"

Abbi Crutchfield said...

using more of my brain than usual is a good way to put it. Just like driving. It's nerve-wracking in the beginning, and after a while it becomes second nature, so you can do things like turn on the radio without veering into the other lane.

Things to practice on stage to get comfortable with silence: taking a sip of water between jokes. Folding a towel between jokes. Making lasagna between jokes (I can't do this yet).

Mo Diggs said...

Another important thing I learned: slowing down delivery. Say it slow: what you think is slow is really normal.

Anonymous said...

Hey Matt,

Love the blog - one of the first comedian blogs I found that was actually interesting. It didn't sound desperate or that you're trying too hard. Maybe it's because you have multiple interests and comedy is just another thing you enjoy (I clicked around to see your other blogs too).

I like this post about "being in the zone." As an avid basketball player and a budding comedian, I have noticed similar occurrences. Then I found the following article in Men's Health, which, after reading, made me think of being "in the zone" as being completely comfortable to the point where everything you do is a reflex. Your body already knows what to do. If you think about it too much, you might screw it up.


I think being on stage is almost the same. If you fuck up/blank out, but know yourself and your comedy, you can save your performance with a quick joke/quip without thinking about it, keeping your composure. If you start worrying and thinking too much, you'll freeze.

Not sure how you feel about that, but that's my take for now.

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