Two kids punch each other back and forth. Their parents teach them how to breathe. How to lean into it. How to get hit.
The parents want their kids to fight. And fight good. So they can become professional WWE wrestlers someday.
One girl. One boy.
But only one kid makes it.
And the other, after years of training, coaching, pain and practice, he gets cut.
“This is the end of the line for you,” they say. The same faces that sold him the dream take it away.
This happens all the time. And not just with wrestling. Kids are sold on the idea of becoming a lawyer or a doctor or whatever. They grow up. Some make it. Some don’t.
The ones who don’t might even still be lawyers. But some part of them is wondering, “What would I be doing if it was up to me? If I chose myself?”
Stephen Merchant made a movie about this. About the wrestling family, the two kids, the feeling of being left behind, the wondering about what to do with your life. And he made it hilarious.
I had him on the podcast. And I didn’t want to give any of the movie away. But I want more people to talk about it with. So if you go see it, let me know.
The movie is called “Fighting with Family.”
“It’s the story of what happens when you get left behind,” Stephen said. “And how do you pick up the pieces? How do you start again? How do you reevaluate? How do you find new meaning?”
It’s based on a documentary.
Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson saw it. And he related to it. Because he grew up in a wrestling family. Then he brought it to Stephen. “Let’s make this a movie.”
But how do you make something with all these sad undertones funny?
That’s what Stephen is so great at. He’s known to make “cringe comedy.”
Look at “The Office”, “Office Space”, “Extras”, “Hello Ladies” (the tour), “Hello Ladies” (the series) and more. It’s all cringe comedy. And Stephen had a part in all of these (either writing, acting, or directing). And he’s won two Golden Globes.
Most people don’t know how to make the awkward funny. Stephen had to build up this skill.
“It just seemed funny to us to not let the audience out of the room,” he said. “Ya know someone’s just done something really embarrassing or humiliating and [instead] of cutting away to something else, we thought it seemed funnier if you just sat in that moment.”
He gave me an example:
“I remember we were working on ‘Extras’ and Ricky came back from the bathroom and said something like, ‘Don’t go into the bathroom for a second… That was a heavy lunch.’”
They all laughed and started coming up with more and more ridiculous situations. “Can you imagine if you said that on a date?”
“How would she react?”, etc. The idea expanded. And they wrote it into the show.
“When you’re writing together you’re sort of alive to anything that’s happening,” Stephen said.
I wanted to know how I could adopt that. How can I be alive to the things that are happening?
I want to replace anxiety and fear with this “ridiculous muscle” Stephen has.
So I got the formula:
3 Steps to Develop Your Ridiculous Muscle
Step 1: Notice When You Feel Awkward or Uncomfortable
If all you do is start to develop the awareness muscle, then you’re one step closer to developing the ridiculous muscle (the part of you that’s going to get relief and joy out of the horrible things that happen in life).
Think about your week. Did anything awkward happen? Or did something go not the way you wanted it to go? Now use your imagination (that’s step 2).
Step 2: Use Your Imagination
Think back to the last time you felt really embarrassed or saw someone else get really embarrassed. Now pretend you’re on a TV show. The camera zooms in on you.
Are you making a face? Do you burst out laughing? Does everyone laugh with you?
Then double down. Pretend the situation gets more ridiculous.
This is what Stephen does in his standup, movies, TV shows, etc. He zooms in. He makes you sit in the awkwardness.
An example: Stephen went to a New Year’s Eve party. He sees a woman looking at him. So he starts to get ideas. He tells himself, “OK, Stephen, get ready. She’s probably seen you on the tele.”
She walks over.
And says, ”Are you going to be here for a while?”
“Yes, I am.”
Then it happens…
Stephen’s tall. He’s taller than everybody at the party. You can see him above the whole crowd.
And she says, “Great! Because my friends and I are going to meet back at you.”
She rejected him without knowing it.
But he knew.
And it felt awkward enough for him. So now he uses it in his comedy. He acts it out. And gets laughs.
“There’s something really fun to me about being aware of your own failings and then playing them out as yourself again,” he said.
He turns embarrassment into art.
Step 3: Don’t Expect Life to Not Be Awkward
Stephen started his career by doing standup.
He’d go on stage. And pretend to be really arrogant. The audience would go one of two ways: They either loved it and laughed the whole time. Or they thought Stephen was actually this obnoxious character he was pretending to be.
“And on those nights, I was f—-ed. Because I had no act. They just thought I was a jerk and an asshole.”
So he’d double down. He’d storm off stage. And go in the wrong direction on purpose. And then he’d look at the audience and say, “This is awkward… There’s no way out this way.” He’d turn back. And cut through the crowd.
If they still didn’t go for it, he’d be stuck in the embarrassment alone. Maybe that’s why embarrassment is so hard. Because we feel it’s only happening to us.
We forget that everyday is a stage. And that we’re sharing it with hundreds of other people who feel just as awkward and uncomfortable about things you maybe feel fine about.
Insecurity is everywhere.
Stephen explain it this way. He said, “Everybody is a f—-ing weirdo. It’s bullshit that no one’s putting on an act. You choose the shirt you’re going to wear. Maybe one or two people go out without a shirt on… and good luck to them.”
It takes a special kind of person to turn the hardest parts of life into something good.
That’s what Stephen does with “Fighting with Family.”
He exposes the fear of not making it, the pressure to succeed, the discomfort of expectation and so on. He makes it funny.
So our wounds can get smaller.
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