Following is the full text of David Nihill’s talk titled “Standing-up to Fear” at TEDxManchester conference. David is the Founder of FunnyBizz Conference, bestselling author of ‘Do You Talk Funny?’
David Nihill – TEDx Talk TRANSCRIPT
Growing up as a kid in Ireland, we had pretty much zero percent immigration.
I was the brownest person for miles. Just a hint of a tan. They were like: “Look at him … suspicious.”
And now, we have 17% immigration, and we are one of the only countries in the whole world that doesn’t have a single political party in parliament opposing immigration. One of the only ones.
We can’t because we have shagged our way into all your family trees. Many of you don’t even know it… until that day you get your DNA test results. You’re like: “Look at that! I’m like 23% Irish!”
This whole time, I thought I was a Filipino.
Three years ago, we became the first country in the whole world, by popular vote, to legalize gay marriage. One of the most steeped-in-Catholicism countries ever put it to the people and went, “Gay marriage, what do you think?” And collectively we went, “Yeah, feck it, why not, go on there.”
To put that into perspective, in 1993, homosexuality was actually illegal in Ireland. And then the year before last, we found a guy who is half-Indian, and gay, and made him Prime Minister.
You go to places like America, where I live at the moment, and still they’re debating having their first female president. In Ireland, we’ve had 21 years of female presidents.
We were the first country in the whole world to have back-to-back female presidents. We’ve moved on to gay, half-Indian people. We’re woke as feck over there. We don’t even have Chinatown in Ireland. We let them live with us.
All these things have happened in a fraction of my lifetime. Like our lives are full of huge changes, big huge changes, all the time, all around us.
But for some reason, when it comes to one particular thing, one particular feeling, we assume it can’t really be changed. Fear.
So, I did a bit of an experiment a while ago. It was to do the thing I feared the most… every single day… for a year. It was a horrendous plan. Especially because when I went to university, my nickname was Shakin’ Stevens, after the musical icon, I suppose, if you liked it, at the time.
And it wasn’t for the musical ability. I don’t know if you’ve ever had it, when you stand in front of a group of people, and you have to speak, or you’re holding a bit of paper, and you’re speaking, and you are like: “Why is that piece of paper moving? Why am I shaking while I’m speaking?”
That happened for me every time, and it was even worse. It kind of went through my body. So, the shaking went into my shoulders, down through my hips, and I was just involuntarily becoming a kind of Irish salsa dancer. But –
And it was so bad that people would come to see it. That’s a pretty Irish thing, where they’re like: “Look at him, going to pieces. We’d better see that.”
I should have known, I should’ve remembered, that it was possible to change this, but for some reason, I think for a lot of us, when it comes to fear, we forget that we have the power to somehow change that. Sometimes you just need that catalyst to drive change.
For me, unfortunately, it came in the worst possible way. A friend of mine, Arash, who was the most outdoorsy and athletic person I’ve ever met, within the space of 96 hours went from hiking the John Muir Trail in California to lying in the John Muir hospital surrounded by doctors telling him he’d never walk again, after suffering a severe spinal cord injury. He didn’t want to accept that prognosis.
None of his friends wanted to accept that prognosis, so they all rallied to do fundraisers on his behalf to get him to his goal of getting back on his feet again. And it kind of rubbed off on me. And I was like: “Well maybe I could do something to help.”
So I organized — I just happened to know a comedian who lived next door to me, and I was like: “If I did a comedy show, charity show, would you do it?” And he said yes.
So to Arash, I was like: “Let’s do this comedy show to raise some funds.”
And he’s like: “That’s a great idea man. You’re going to host it?”
I was like: “Oh no.”
He didn’t know about the whole Shakin’ Stevens thing.
Up to that moment, I would have described public speaking as my biggest fear, and as a crippling fear.
But when you’re stood there, and your friend is sat there in a wheelchair, looking at you, that is not the term you ever feel right about using again for a fear. It just made it seem a little bit ridiculous.
And I was like, especially like, Irish people en masse, fair to say, we hate public speaking. But Irish people en masse, we love speaking. We love it.
You’ll be like: “Do you ever speak to people?”
“Oh yeah, all the time.”
“Oh, absolutely, yeah.”
“Oh no, no, no. Not doing that.”
All of a sudden, it just felt nonsensical.
So it was kind of time to at least try and get over this nonsensical fear. But who do you ask for help? Or like, who were the masters of this topic, or where do you go to?
And for me, I was a big fan of the theory popularized by Malcolm Gladwell, that it takes 10,000 hours doing something to make someone a master.
So I was like: “Who are the masters of this public speaking stuff?”
And the answer seemed unconventional but obvious. It’s like, surely stand-up comedians are doing this more than anybody else. Surely they know a lot about it.
It turns out the average stand-up comedian on the way to making an income from doing stand-up comedy, if they’re good, it takes them on average about seven years to make an income from stand-up comedy.
The ones who are dedicated, they estimate to spend about four hours a day in some way, shape, or form, working on their craft. Four hours a day, by those seven years, is roughly those 10,000 hours. And they do it in the worst conditions possible.
Like, imagine, I live in America. They’re having a tough day and they’re: “I’m having an emotional day today. I feel a lot of anxiety. I went to the supermarket. They’d no avocados. It was horrendous. I went to Bikram yoga, and a guy flatulated. It was just no, no, it’s just too much for me. I put four photos on Instagram. Nobody liked them, not even my mother… Now I’m going to go to this comedy club, make it better, add alcohol, sit there, fold my arms, stare at a person and go: ‘Make me laugh.'”
It just sounds like the worst possible environment to do this.
So my plan was getting considerably worse as I went along. Not only was I going to try and do this public speaking for a year, I was going to do stand-up comedy for a year.
And for this terrible plan, I blame Americans. They’re just a lot more positive than Irish people …unnecessarily sometimes. Like, they will support you with anything. You could be like: “I’m quitting my job. It’s a good job, and I’m going to sell inflatable penguins on the Internet.”