Fear is exhausting. Constantly fighting, flying or freezing leaves me with nothing but fatigue. Everyone has fears and phobias, but I have so many: heights, drowning, clowns, abandonment, failure, Ferris wheels, horses … the list goes on. When I say I’m tired of living in fear, I’m not speaking metaphorically. It's time to face a few of them.
I’ve been a nervous wreck my entire life, but the semi-controlled risk of stage performance calls to me. To do comedy, as I often do, I require a delicate balance of nervous temptation and planned tomfoolery. My solo stand-up is sewn-up spectacle. Even improv comedy gives me the plausible deniability that comes with playing a team sport. (Maybe we all screwed up and not just me.)
Singing, though — that’s another ball of fear, all together. I’ve done karaoke three times in my life. At an eighth grade dance, I belted an un-edited version of Alanis Morissette’s “You Oughta Know” before being kicked out. As an adult, I have drunkenly slur-screamed 4 Non Blondes’ “What’s Up?” twice. Is karaoke a fear I can face without the aid of youthful rebellion or liquid courage?
The Wave Lounge at Blue Lake Casino is, apparently, where karaoke stars go to shine. I’m just hoping to not collapse on myself like a black hole, so the idea of “shining” just adds a 10-pound weight to the lump in my throat. Everyone reassures me this is guaranteed to be “ridiculously fun.” I’ve been lied to before, though.
The nervous shakes start on the drive to the casino. They evolve into a series of twitches and tics by the time I enter the sprawling lounge, a sizeable stage at its center. A black backdrop looms upstage, poked full of bright lights like a DIY planetarium. This adds a cheesy factor that would normally excite me; if this were a comedy open mic, that curtain would be a solid two minutes of material. But the curtain is just reinforcing the black hole metaphor that haunts me.
My breathing is already shallow — then I see the song catalogue. It’s is an intimidating tome and it's making my neck sweat. This isn’t even the complete catalogue. There's a small binder labeled "New Releases." I'm not hip enough for the binder. I should have picked a song days ago. After flipping through the pages, I sign up for Harvey Danger’s “Flagpole Sitta.” I know it by heart and if my vision goes blurry, mid-panic attack, I will still know the words.
Five people completely nail their songs while I’m waiting for my turn. A rendition of “Electric Avenue” is so solid that I actually feel like I'm out in the street, out in the playground. I’m tone deaf and devoid of any sort of musical skill. I’m about to humiliate myself in front of a room of people who are all way better at this than I am. Then KJ Lenoard booms from the PA, “Bev, you’re up.” Damn it, why is it always “Bev” or “Deb”?
I assume I floated or flew onto the stage. A handy informational slide pops up and displays the song's key and bpm. Neither of those things mean anything to me and my interior monologue snickers, “You’re screwed, Bev.”
I'm still trying to adjust the mic stand as the song starts and I realize it's a wireless mic and everyone is just watching me do a panicked version of a Mr. Bean episode for no reason. Clammy-palmed, one of my hands grips the mic as the other slowly pets the back of my head. The rest is an off-key, missed-beat blur, words forcing their way out of my throat. I trip my way off stage at a silent movie pace and sink into my chair with a grunt. A hand appears a few feet away from my face and I'm taken aback. This is a request for a high-five — from a stranger. It's the first of so many.
When I yank myself from the throws of my red-cheeked adrenaline rush, I realize how much ridiculous fun I could have here. Positivity and encouragement run rampant, every song is a happy novelty and people are dancing like nobody is watching. By 10:30 p.m., the crowd has thinned, but a half hour later there are still 42 people high-fiving the hell out of each other.
I love this world. It’s full of fun-loving dorks and I want to join their ranks. I want to be their mayor. I’ll have to step up my game to earn their adoration, though. Next time, I’ll really have to sell it. Next time, I’m going to channel the spirit of Ronnie James Dio and perform “Holy Diver” with so much energy that everyone will want to ride the tiger. And there will be a next time because now, I’m a karaoke person.