Ican’t imagine what it must be like to be a comedian. You work for hours, days, or even months, to get a tight 10 or 15-minute bit. As you bring your hard work onto the stage, you pray the audience doesn’t deafen you with their silence. If success on the stage is measured by the lack of objects being thrown at you, it’s no wonder why even famous comedians experience stage fright. Because even if you’re absolutely hilarious, there might be a night when you bomb, because you’re also, absolutely human. This post takes a look at a few comedians who have experienced such stage fright, but pushed through it anyway.

What is Stage Fright?

Know your enemy

To truly get a handle on stage fright, we need to know what exactly it is and what physiological processes are involved. We're no experts so we're going to let Mikael Cho talk us through the science of stage fright.

Stage fright activates our primal brain

Jenny Slate Stage Fright Comedy Special

Jenny Slate gets over her stage fright

One way to fight through the uncomfortability of being a person is by doing comedy. One way to fight through the uncomfortability of doing comedy is by announcing a comedy special that centers around that exact thing.

Comedian Jenny Slate has just announced her first ever comedy special literally titled, Stage Fright, that will be a kind of docu-special.  It’s part stand-up, part documentary that gives us a peek inside the actress and comedian’s world, and I’m personally very excited about it. She’s come a long way from the terrible Mona Lisa Spaperstein in Parks and Rec, (though I still miss that amazingly awful character, terribly), and is getting quite a bit deeper. 

Trailer for Jenny Slate's new special

Clips of family and friends telling stories will be interspersed into the special. Stage Fright focuses on Jenny Slate’s crippling anxiety on the stage, and how just by doing the special, she’s asking herself to overcome it.  In a Vulture article, Slate says “...I look forward to being a little scared … I look forward to pushing myself to be confident, because I get crazy stage fright, always have, and I feel proud every time I push through that.” 

In 2017, Slate opened up about her stage fright on SNL, and how she moved forward from the experience.

Jenny Slate talks about her SNL experience

Netflix announced the special’s scheduled release will be on Tuesday, October 22nd. 

Overcoming Stage Fright

Bill Hader shakes off those nerves

Before Barry Block, Bill Hader found success on SNL, but not without multiple anxiety attacks on a daily basis. As an actor and comedian, it was important for Hader to try as many different tactics as he could to battle his inner turmoil. Watch the video below to hear he describes some of those moments.

Bill Hader talks about how nervous SNL made him

Famous Performers with Stage Fright

Mitch Hedberg’s crippling stage fright

It’s no secret that iconic comedian Mitch Hedberg suffered from extreme stage fright throughout his career, and often combatted his feelings while on stage. It affected him to such a degree, that if the audience didn’t respond within his expectations, he would often make comments about them or mumble self-deprecating thoughts into the microphone. Below is some footage from a video essay on Hedberg’s stage fright.

Iconic Mitch Hedberg lived in his anxieties

What I find fascinating about, not just Hedberg, but Jenny Slate, and any and all other performers dealing with stage fright, is their ability to fight through it. They still get up there and deal with their fear. Another comedian, and actor, chooses to use this fear as a way to keep going, and to get better.

How to Get Over Stage Fright

Advice from Zach Galifianakis

Hysterical comedian and actor, Zach Galifianakis, may be crazy successful, but he still admits to getting nervous before stand-up, and that bombing hasn’t become any easier. But, in an article describing the talk he gave at USC, he does mention that his ability to keep at it despite the outcome, gives him more confidence. The realization that bombing is inevitable, and for every great show “he endured 700 that were terrible.” 

Galifianakis also struggled with his insecurities when he stepped into his role as an actor. One article describes that he dealt with his anxiety by  “ask[ing] questions on movie sets to cover for his lack of confidence.” 

Galifianakis is probably one of the funniest, most unique comedic actors of our time, and we wouldn’t get to experience him or laugh with him, if he chose to let his anxiety cripple him. In fact, his hilarious talk show Between Two Ferns, is him talking to incredibly famous people. If that doesn’t stir up some anxiety, I don’t know what would, but yet  he still does it. I’ll leave you with the time he interviewed the President of the United States, Barack Obama.

Only Galifianakis could get away with "shhh"-ing a president

Famous Actors with Stage Fright

Actors with stage fright

Anybody who is anybody can get anxious before they perform. In fact, this section could probably be an entire post, because so many actors experience all kinds of anxieties. We’re all human. Below listen to how Mark Ruffalo, Benicio Del Toro, Michael Caine, Will Smith, and Joel Edgerton deal with their stage fright.

Some actors live in a constant state of stage fright

Stage fright doesn’t need to be as scary as it feels. Veterans like Will Smith to comedians releasing their first ever comedy special like Jenny Slate, the best performers aren’t letting fear paralyze them. It makes them, them. And when they choose to move past it, they not only give us something incredible, they become the best versions of themselves while doing it. And maybe that’s what really contributes to their success.


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  • Alyssa Maio is a screenwriter from New Jersey, now living in Los Angeles. She works as a copywriter here at StudioBinder.

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