How to Not Shit Your Pants Part 2

(Or How I Cured a Fear of Heights and How to Get People's Attention When You Perform)

You asked for it! You said, "We really need a follow-up to this post. Any more hot, steamy tips on how not to drop a load in your pants?" Actually, I do have another. Kind of. But this is more of a tip on performance and presentation that I'm sneaking in through the backdoor (so to speak).

Andy, do you need to see a gastroenterologist? Why is this such a big concern for you?

No, no. It's not that. It's just something that's completely universal we can all relate to. Shitting our pants is one of the first things we ever did, and is often the last thing you do in life as well. But in those middle years you want to kind of avoid it as best you can. 

So let's say you're ten minutes from home and you start to feel the rumblies in your tum tum. What do you do? Well... if you're in the position to, maybe you take the advice in my first post on the subject. But maybe you're in a subway car, or on a first date, or taking your church's youth group out for ice cream sundaes (trying to avoid the Hershey squirts while indulging in some Hershey squirts) and you're just not in a position to start jerking off. What's the plan? Well, I suppose you start heading to the nearest bathroom as fast as you can.

But now you're five minutes away and "as fast as you can" isn't going to cut it. What do you do? Here's what you do. You slow down. If you're in a car you begin to take the scenic route home. If you're walking, you stop and look in a store window.

What I've found is, in almost any situation where you're trying to combat or contend with something impulsive or instinctive, often the best technique is to act in a manner that would appear to make you more vulnerable. 

I don't know the science or the biology or the whatever of all of this, but I do know the part of your brain that is regulating these instinctive things is the dumb part because you can lie to it.

I realized this once when working on a project that involved standing near the edge of a skyscraper in Manhattan. I don't have a panic-inducing fear of heights. I just have your general unease about heights. The kind of thing where my genitals tingle watching something like this.

I was standing on top of this building wondering if I was really going to spend the next 8 hours feeling woozy. And I thought, "I'm just going to step closer to the edge, as if I'm completely cool with it." And once I did I was much more relaxed. 

Now, if someone had pushed me towards the edge, I'm sure I would have shit my pants (to bring things full circle). But intentionally making myself more vulnerable had short-circuited my natural response to heights. The way I imagine my brain processing the information is this: "We don't like heights!... but we just stepped closer to the edge of this building for no we like heights?, obviously we're not concerned about them enough to warrant a fear response." And that was it. After that it was much less of an issue.

I find lying to yourself in this way is the key to controlling the instinctive and impulsive parts of yourself, and I use it all the time.

If you have to take a dump and you instead slow down and smell a flower, that can often be a good last-ditch effort to impose the will of your neocortex over your reptillian brain. (And if worse comes to worse and you do shit your pants, then at least you have your nose in a flower.)

I've found you can pull a similar trick on other people.

It's understandable that when performing magic for people we want them to be engaged and tuned in to what we're doing. But the mistake I see a lot of performers making in a casual situation is to try very hard to grab their spectator's attention with what they consider to be good performing or storytelling technique. So they'll do a lot of dynamic soft then loud talking. Speak quickly. Follow a tight script. Use different voices. Mimic the emotions they want to elicit. 

Essentially they'll do something similar to this bit of storytelling in the 2004 National Storytelling Championship.

This is not a good way to interact with normal humans in a casual situation. Some of these techniques may be good when you already have people engaged in what you're showing them. But these aren't good techniques if you feel like you're losing your audience or that you haven't won them over yet. You would think they would be. You'd think if people were fading off then if you sped up your speech and got really animated, then people would be more interested. But I've found it to be just the opposite. The more of a "show" you put on, the more people naturally push away (unless, as I said, they're already completely absorbed by what you're doing). 

I think their brain instinctively thinks, "If what he had to say was that interesting, he wouldn't need to put this much of a show behind it."

So if I feel I haven't yet connected with the person I'm performing for, I slow way down. And I recommend you try it too. It's going to feel like the wrong move. It's going to feel like smelling a flower when you have to take a shit. But I believe it's the right move. I don't think people want to be sold a story (in this case in the form of a magic trick). I think they just want to see an good/interesting one. So when you're a little quieter and a little more relaxed I think people flip their expectations. "He must have something good to say if he can deliver it so plainly."

As I said, this is advice for a non-performance situation. And not all of them. Once you have people on your side, then you can get them more involved and riled up with those storytelling techniques. But that's not the way to get them on your side. Do the opposite to intrigue them.

It's kind of like dealing with someone you're romantically interested in. Once you're in a relationship you can send flowers and offer back-rubs and declare your love and those will all be welcome gestures. But you don't do those things to create a relationship with someone who is not yet into you. In fact, it will often backfire because the other person is like, "Why is he trying so hard? Clearly this must not be a good deal for me if he needs to sell me on it so much."

There aren't a ton of great examples on video of a good way to do this. That's because, as I said, it's about saying things in a non-presentational kind of way (the type of thing you're less likely to record and put online). But I do have one good example. When I find myself overcompensating in a performance and I want to get myself to slow down, this is the video I think of in my head. It's Gruff Rhys describing the story behind the song Ohio Heat. Listen to the pace he tells the story. Listen to how he is remembering the elements in real time (rather than repeating something he's told a million times). I'm not saying this is a great story. In fact, there isn't really much of a story there. I'm just saying this low-key style is one I find people are drawn towards simply because it doesn't sound like you're trying too hard. As someone says in the comments, he "tell[s] a fairly mundane story and mak[es] it sound like the most magical thing that's ever gone down."