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It’s scary to be brave.

Being brave feels like a fight. My chest hurts. My throat. Everything.

The physical feelings in my body say, “No, James, go home. Don’t try. Don’t go forward.”

And I want to listen.

But it’s a trick.

Every successful person who’s been on my podcast knows this trick.

I had Susie Essman come on the show. She stars in my absolute favorite show, “Curb Your Enthusiasm” on HBO. They’re going into their 10th season now. She’s also in Comedy Central’s “Broad City.” And ABC’s “Bless is Mess.”

And she’s done stand up for 36 years.

I wanted to know how Susie pushed back that feeling.

“How did you get to that level of bravery?”

Here’s what she told me.


Susie died on stage. It was 35 years ago. And it was the first thing she remembered when she came on the podcast.

“This is how stand up f***s with your head,” she said. “I remember doing a show here and dying.”

(I do the podcast at Stand Up New York)

“The minute I walked into this room, that’s the first thing I remembered,” she said. “Those things stay with you so deeply. It is so deep in your bones… 35 years later, I still remember that walking in to this room.”

We all feel this way about rejection.

It hurts.

And we get mad. Either at the people or person who rejected us. Or at ourselves for opening in the first place.

Then we change.

We think, “Next time I won’t be so open.”

And we self-sabotage.

Not Susie.

She opens herself up on stage every time. She doesn’t let any death stop her from living.


Susie looked at the walls. We have album covers everywhere.

Of famous comedians.

She saw one.

And said, “Richard Pryor was, to me, the first person I ever saw who just went on stage and ripped his guts open. And his heart. And just let it all out there. And that was so inspiring to me as a comedian.”

Because that’s her goal.

She says, “To me that was always my goal, to just open myself in a way that left me completely vulnerable to them rejecting me.”

And it’s worked out for her.

“Luckily, more often than not, they didn’t,” – she said.

I pitch a lot of guests for my podcasts. And I’ve learned that every “no” takes me one step closer to a “yes.”

It’s the same for stand up. Or business. Or your career.

Falling flat = opportunity to get better.

It’s the same coin.

Just the other side. And you have to look at that way.

Susie never told me how scared she was to start her career. Or go on stage. She only told me about the effort she put in, the rejections, and the love.


Nobody likes a needy employee. Or a needy spouse. Or a needy mother.

We want to see people stand on their own two feet.

If a comedian wobbles, the audience feels it. Then they’re scared. Fear cuts out fun.

It’s over.

I’ve had every type of employee. My favorite are the people who give themselves permission. Instead of asking for forgiveness.They have autonomy.

So I know I can trust them.

If a comedian gets on stage and waits for the audience’s permission, they already died.

This is true everywhere.

In a relationship, at work, etc.

You have to put your heart into it.

Most comics try to get a laugh. That’s their high.

“But the audience doesn’t so much want to laugh,” Susie said. “They want to be taken care of.”

Everything Susie says ties back to any area of life.

Your boss or manager wants to be taken care of. Or they want to know you took care of you.

Sometimes the best way to take care of other people is to take care of yourself.

“When you see a bad comic get on stage and you get that feeling up your spine, that discomfort… it’s because they’re breaking the contract.”

“What’s the contract?” I asked.

“The contract is this: ‘I’m the performer and I’m going to take care of you.’ And when you’re not doing your job, the audience has to take care of the comic. And that’s breaking the contract. And it makes them really uncomfortable. Cause they’re there to relax.”

“So how do you take care of them?” I asked.

“The audience wants you to hear them. It’s an odd thing. You have to read an audience. Hear them. Hear what they need.”

And she doesn’t mean literally.

People talk through their body. You can see emotions in people if you get quiet enough.

Or tune in.

Susie has mastered this. And it’s why she’s so successful.

“It’s my job to shift the energy around,” she said. “When your on stage, you have a sixth sense. It’s like she’s rescuing them. Because she took care of herself, opened up to rejection, put her guts out there, and listened.

And she does one more thing…

Everybody says this. “Be in the moment.” It’s a cliche.

And it’s annoying.

But Susie found a way to make it more attainable. And less aspirational.

She said, “This is why I love live stand up. It’s not like what you see on TV. Because we’re all in this experience together right now. And this is never going to happen again. The collective unconscious of this moment is never going to happen again. It’s like sex. We’re having this experience. It’s a peak experience. And then it’s over.”

And it’s gone.


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