I’ve just watched this TED talk on vulnerability by Brene Brown. I think it has important conclusions for screen writers and stand-ups alike. In fact for any artist and perhaps for marketers as well, because after all we are all telling stories right?
Brown says connection is what people want beyond anything else. This seems hard to argue with. We all want the feeling of being known, loved, being part of something. We are at our best when we are entwined in some way with other people.
As an audience of a film or stand-up show we want to connect with the characters or the performer, even if it’s just for an hour or so. Connection, however ephemeral, is wonderful.
We connect best with people who are prepared to be vulnerable.
In order for connection to happen we have to allow ourselves to be seen. To be really seen: warts and all. You need a sense of courage: be upfront about who you are with people, be willing to be naked as Charlie Kaufman would say. You need the courage to be imperfect, flawed, ridiculous.
We often do not put forward an authentic version of ourselves because we feel ashamed of who we are. Shame about who we are also causes us to put forward a diluted version of ourselves. People who experience high levels of connection live lives of authenticity: they were willing to let go of who they think they should be, in order to be who they are. Shame is the feeling of being unworthy of being loved. It’s the feeling of “I’m not good enough” in some way: “I’m not thin enough” etc. In our culture we feel the need to perfect, better than we are. We are bombarded with images of beautiful, rich people we perfect skin and 6 packs.
People who experience connection fully embrace vulnerability. People might not like them, but they present themselves as themselves none the less. They put themselves out there despite the risk of rejection. We often hide our vulnerability because we are afraid that people won’t like what they see. We want certainty in our social interactions. But we can never have that, however we present ourselves.
What is the secret to connecting? The secret to get people to like you as a stand-up, or to get people to love and care about your characters, or to like you as a person?
Show vulnerability. Present your totality. Admit flaws. Be authentic, be you. We’re all imperfect, and people find imperfection seductive. Your imperfections, your characters imperfections, make people feel less lonely. And if you can make people feel less lonely in a world where love is scarce, everybody will like you. But you can only get people to like you if you are willing to present bits of you that are unlikable. It’s a weird paradox.
We are on a never ending search for people who excuse our own mediocrity. People in which we can confide our weirdness and eccentricity, or who at least make us feel it is ok. People who don’t stare at us when we lick all the flavouring off crisps before we eat it. Part of the novelty of a new relationship is finding someone who doesn’t find us revolting. You see: we are all losers and that’s why we like them. We all have the feeling that we don’t want to get found out, that we don’t want people to realise we don’t know what we are doing and are making it up as we go along, that we have wildly exaggerated our expertise and competence, that we are scared, that our past is embarrassing. To be vulnerable is to express this feeling to people, and that way we will find people who accept us despite of it.
You can have too much vulnerability. People who are too flawed are difficult to like, people who are too vulnerable are irritating. Your character, your stand-up persona, you in real life should play jazz with your emotions. I saw some amazing jazz last night, the bass player, the pianist, the drummer, the saxophonist took it in turns to play a majestic solo and then the rest of the gang would join back in at the perfect time when the novelty of the solo had worn off. It was as if they had a sixth sense for people’s patience. The note of vulnerability should be given a solo, but remember it is only part of the band. And it’s when we can play all the instruments at once in perfect rhythm that we make something truly memorable.