The Discomfort Zone

discomfort zone

Subway Stand Up

My comfort zone was killing me.

Doesn’t matter what age you are: 20 or 50 or 80: you improve and enjoy life when you dive into the deep end of the pool, swim for your life, and survive. YOU LIVE!

Even for just one day.

I’ve been trying to learn standup comedy. I’ve admired this skill for 30 years. Now I want to learn it. So I’ve been performing at clubs. It’s HARD. 60 different micro-skills to learn.

But I wanted to take it one step further.

To go into an audience that is completely not expecting it, and try to do standup comedy.

So I took the subway.

The benefit: getting even more comfortable communicating in front of strangers and trying to get a specific response (laughter). Whether they wanted it or not.

And I also wanted to tighten up my one-liners.

You can’t tell a story on a subway car. You have to have fast, one-liners that are funny. This is a skill I need to learn. A weakness.

In the 1950s, world chess champion Mikhail Botvinnick, hated smoke. HATED IT.

So he played training matches with smoke being blown in his face all the time.

When Tiger Woods was a kid, his dad would throw golf balls at him while he was trying to hit.

The DIScomfort zone is NOT about experiencing pain.

Happiness and well-being are also outside of the comfort zone. You have to travel into your discomfort to find the silver linings hidden. The mystery.

The kiss I pray for only happens when I lean in and ask.

So I did standup comedy on the subway.

I went on the subway for the first time in ten years.

I was terrified. And I thought after I got in there was ZERO chance I would start talking.

Please, I thought, please please please let me get past my fear.

There was the girl on her headphones, the man reading, the homeless guys talking, the schoolgirls giggling, and a dozen others, and me.

Nobody looking at me. Nobody wanted to be interrupted.

I said to myself, “there’s no way I’m going to do this. This was a waste of time.” And I got ready to get off at the next stop.

Then, I figured, why wouldn’t I do it? What can happen? I’m not even really trying to make people laugh. I just want to do it.

So I did it.

I went from car to car each stop and did standup comedy all the way from 42nd Street to the Brooklyn Bridge and back.

One joke: ” I ordered an Uber Pool and they sent me this subway car with all of you people on it.”

Another joke, “I was supposed to get on the Six and a half to get to Hogwarts but I got on the Six by mistake. Can anyone help me?”

Another: “If this subway car is traveling at the speed of light and I’m traveling at the speed of dark…when will I go back in time?”

I learned that having fun and smiling at people is just as important as making people laugh.

Being likable is a hard skill, particularly when everyone wants to hate you.

Terror is not fun. It is pain. But when you push through it, you’re in a new world. A world you never explored before. It’s a mystery, a maze, a game, a play.

Happiness is outside of my comfort zone. Every day.

And I’m happy now.


[Here’s the finished video. I went WAY out of my comfort zone the day afterwards and took it to a new level.]

  • Danny Zoucha

    James, you are a literal wonder to behold. :-D Love that you’re pushing your own boundaries. LOL Makes me feel like I need to seriously up my game.

    • Ricky Demetro

      a wonder to behold? Really? For telling jokes on the subway? An exaggeration I think.

      • Danny Zoucha

        Well, I suppose it all depends on your definition of what a “wonder” is. In this day and age, the technological “wonders” of yesteryear are literal trash. The architectural “wonders” are just more of the same. The great frontier of this generation is the pushing of one’s own personal boundaries for no other sake than growth. I’ve also been hearing about this personal vendetta of his against the public :-D for a little while now. He’s clearly not stopping. And, seriously, what does he get out of it? It doesn’t SOUND like he’s going for a new line of work, with an aim at mastery in yet another field…though I could be wrong. This just looks to me like one guy doing things that 99.9% of the population wouldn’t in order to grow as a human being. To ME, that’s “wonder”ful. If it’s not to you, no big deal. :-)

        • I’am freelancing using the internet, accomplishing normal gigs that only needs from you computer or laptop computer as well as internet access and I couldn’t be more satisfied… Six months have surpassed when i started this and i obtained until now as a whole 36,000 dollars… Basically i profit about 80 dollars/h and work for three to 4 h on daily basis.And spectacular thing regarding this job is that you are able to decide when to work on your own as well as for how long and you get compensated after the end of each week.>>>> http://www.wzurl.me/IkG1rw

  • James Buechler

    I think the only thing is to get your material and practice it,live, for instance in the subway car.

    I did comedy open mics twice, and I had absolutely nothing prepared, and the first time it went astonishingly well and I just came up with a story from my life and the huge room was in rapt silence.

  • Sebastiaan Verbeek

    This is awesome. I laughed out loud at the first joke :)

  • Trying to enter my discomfort zone more often added to the to-do list.

  • Kazeem Olabisi

    You do crazy things that doesn’t look crazy at the end. You’re smart and i am smart enough to acknowledge that

  • “Another: “If this subway car is traveling at the speed of light and I’m
    traveling at the speed of dark…when will I go back in time?”” This is my favorite one….James

  • Gabrial Harmon

    It’s damn tough to smile and laugh in my discomfort zone. Great read. Thanks.

  • Sai Niranjan

    This is awesome James. You’re awesome! :D
    I’m sure a few people would have recognized you. Did anybody?

  • Dawn Larkin

    What a great a great story! You are braver than I. Something I really need to take a look at if I am going to learn to step out of my comfort zone. Thanks for the great story.

  • Will Matthews

    Wow!! You have guts. How do you manage to be so focused?

  • Pam Groff

    Hi James. You’re showing a lot of courage by facing your public speaking fear in public when doing your stand up. Keep pushing your boundaries and soon you will find it will be easier and not so frightening to you. I have a friend who is funny and who also wants to do comedy and his nemesis is getting to a venue locally to try to observe other comics. I keep trying to encourage him and he seems to think he can’t effectively do a routine. I keep telling him about local mic nights. Maybe some night he will go and have some fun. My fear is public speaking to a group, but I have a feeling this is going to be resolved in the near future. Keep up the good work.

  • Eric Riego

    awesome !

  • This is simply superb James. I wish one day I will be able to ditch my comfort zones like you and do whatever I want! Sometimes it’s a high time requirement to live life fully, to get most out of the moment.

  • Alex Breugelmans

    Apart from the fact that I find these jokes not really funny (but that’s me, S.U.C.K.), I want to add this important and much overlooked fact: talking to strangers is easy since you can turn your back and never have to see them again. Talking to your family is not so though, since they will laugh to please you. But talking to people you work with, business relations and so on, and try to take them on your ride is something else. That’s were the dis comes to comfort. In humour, I should always start with common known facts … many people don’t know or even dislike the whole Potter-saga, and are certainly not interested in physics and the laws of time travel. I agree, it’s tough to be a bug. Alex, Stand Up Comedian King.

  • Mitchell Jarmell

    This one thought from the post is worth James’s weight in diamonds. Unbelievable. Thanks. “Happiness and well-being are also outside of the comfort zone. You have to travel into your discomfort to find the silver linings hidden. The mystery.”

  • Will

    Your story and journey is inspiring. Best of all they make me smile.

  • Akshay Nanavati

    Love this James. Couldn’t agree with you more that happiness, growth and bliss lies waiting for us beyond our comfort zone. Really appreciate you sharing this and your journey into the joys of discomfort :)

  • RickyZ

    This would explain why so many of us have that underlying anxiety and even misery attached to them.

    That and those awful one-liners!

  • Ha!
    I’m sweating from watching this, that’s brave!
    To bring an author along and discuss the topic of his upcoming book with random people. That’s an interesting concept actually.
    Have a good one!

  • I’m going to do this with cold calling! It’s just terrifying but starting now!