REALITY CHECK: For the sake of the congregation, please choose another speaker
I’m not sure why, but lately I’ve been asked to do a lot of speaking engagements. Well, not a lot, but many. Not many. Five.
For me, five is a lot.
I’ve been asked to speak at schools, hospitals and, just this morning, a church. According to the pastor, his wife thinks I’m “as entertaining as Don Rickles.”
I only wish this were true. This column may be mildly amusing (or not) but in real life, I’m about as entertaining as socks drying in a laundromat. Gray socks.
It’s a real problem. Regular “Reality Check” readers (both of ’em) are always disappointed when they meet me in person. In real life, I’m just not all that funny. In fact, I tend to be long-winded and boring. If you don’t believe me, just ask any of my ex-wives, whose phone numbers and addresses I will happily provide, assuming you’re not some sort of crazed, psycho killer (nudge, nudge, wink, wink).
But the “boring” thing is just the tip of what is, I fear, a rather large iceberg. Far worse is my utter and undeniable inability to speak like a rational person when standing in front of an audience. I stutter, I repeat myself; for all I know I drool, but I wouldn’t know for sure because I’m so terrified I lose all sense of feeling in my upper body.
And that’s not the worst of it. The worst of it is, I blurt. My blurtings are usually wildly inappropriate, inaccurate, or outright obscene. I have some sort of stress-induced Tourette syndrome.
Over the years I have tried the usual public speaking “tricks,” such as picturing members of my audience in their underwear. I don’t know who came up with this bit of lunacy, but it has never worked for me. It might, I suppose, were I addressing an audience of Swedish stewardesses or a convention center filled with Victoria’s Secret models. But the last picture I want rolling around in my head is that of a bunch of Rotarians in polka-dot boxer shorts and wife-beater T-shirts eating doughnuts and drinking bad coffee.
A doctor I went to while living in Detroit prescribed a double-shot of Jameson just prior to any speaking engagement. There’s a reason I chose this doctor. But the idea of standing in front of an audience of nice, decent church folk while half in the bag is not one I really want to entertain.
While it’s true that a generous shot of good whiskey does calm my nerves, it also has the unfortunate side-effect of making me think my every utterance is brilliant, hilarious and otherwise on a par with the teachings of the Buddha. This is fine for a Saturday night at Driftwood Bar & Grill, but probably not the state of mind one should aspire to when speaking in a church.
Also, booze only worsens my blurting problem. After the application of even a couple drinks, my address to the congregation would probably go a little like this:
“Hi folks! Thanks so much for asking me to be here today. I’m nervous, so I’m a little bit drunk and picturing you all in your underwear. Hope you don’t mind. I wish you could all see what I’m seeing right now, in my head. You, especially, ma’am; I mean, whoo-ee! I didn’t even know Frederick’s of Hollywood was still in business!
“Um, anyway, I could go on forever about the underwear thing, but I can tell by the torches and pitchforks I should probably move on to my main topic, which is, um … the debilitating effects of Jameson on nervous columnists.
“No, wait, I mean, writing. Yeah, I can talk about writing. But really, the whole underwear thing is SO MUCH more interesting, right? Let’s get back to that for a minute…”
Things would go downhill from there.
I know this because I have done a few speaking engagements in the past. I am never invited back for an encore performance.
So, Pastor Baynai, for the sake of both your reputation and my own continued popularity with your wife, I’m going to have to decline your offer to speak at the pancake breakfast. I hate to disappoint, but honestly, this is for the best.
However, if those Victoria’s Secret models are still looking for a speaker …