Hi Daniel, I have two questions: 1. You're pretty open about your anxiety regarding unusual social situations. Do you have any strategies for dealing with events where you know you'll be meeting a lot of people, like conventions or meetups? 2. Is there anything people can do to minimize your discomfort when they meet you in these situations? Is there something you wish people would do or would stop doing?
1. There’s really no completely bulletproof way to prepare for meeting a lot of people at conventions; even if you DON’T suffer from anxiety at all, it can be an exhausting and draining experience. You just do whatever you can to reduce stress in anticipation of the event. I did two panels at C2E2 which necessitated meeting a bunch of strangers after, shaking their hands, and trying to engage with them in as meaningful a way as possible in the limited amount of time we had together. In anticipation of the first panel, I took a Lyft to the event and sat in the back seat listening to musicals in my headphones. I do the same thing whenever I go to one of our live podcasts; I never drive, because I don’t want to be stressed about traffic or get frustrated by someone I think is a bad driver (literally anyone on the road who isn’t me). I put headphones in and say verbatim to every Lyft driver “Hey I’m going to be listening to a podcast back here, so if I don’t respond or anything, that’s why. Feel free to play whatever music you want, it won’t bother me.” This ensures that I won’t have to make small-talk with a stranger while on the drive to make small talk with lots of strangers. Even if the driver doesn’t believe that I’m listening to a podcast (I’m not), the message is still clear and delivered fairly inoffensively: I’m not available to chat right now, and it’s me, not you. I listen to musicals specifically because I like them and because they conjure up so many visuals in my imagination that it’s really easy to tune out the rest of the world and get lost in them, whether I’m imagining what the show looks like or imagining being one of the characters, singing and dancing like an asshole. Some people mediate, probably, but this is one of the things I choose to do. In the twenty minutes to an hour before I have to do a convention or live podcast or stand up, I’m free of responsibility and locked into a world that has nothing to do with any of those things.
For the other panel, I took a bike instead of a Lyft to the event. This is also helpful and common for me. Physical activity always makes my brain feel good and always helps me shut down my anxiety for a while. Immediately before any live event in front of people, you can probably see me jumping up and down or doing some high kicks or lunges or just generally pacing around. All of these things calm me down.
The MOST anxiety-reducing tool when it comes to these live events, though, is having my friends there. At this point I have a psychic link with my buddies, so if I’m feeling trapped in an uncomfortable conversation with a well-meaning stranger with questionable ideas on boundaries, all I need to do is make eye contact with Soren or Cody and if they’re free, they’ll come grab me and say some variation of “I’m so sorry to interrupt but I really need to take him away right now” (and I do the same for them). We don’t have a specific code word or hand signal or anything, we’ve just been doing this long enough that we can recognize an uncomfortable situation when we see one. So the short version is, if you know you’re walking into a situation that will be riddled with potentially uncomfortable moments, make sure you OD on things that make you comfortable in advance, and in my case that’s musicals, physical activity and supportive friends.
2. That’s very kind of you to ask! 99 percent of the people we meet at conventions or out in the world are very kind and polite and don’t cause tremendous amounts of anxiety. Chiefly I would just say, like, don’t just grab me? Or any of us? Whenever someone asks to take a picture with me, I will 9 out of 10 times say “I’m going to put my arm right on you now, okay?” I do this because it usually gets a slight laugh (the phrasing is intentionally awkward) and also to put it out there for anyone within earshot that it doesn’t take a lot of time or creativity to a) get consent and b) prepare someone for physical contact.
At C2E2, some giant fucking asshole wordlessly rushed Cody, wrapped an arm around him and took a picture with him and then stomped off like the dumb fucking goon sasquatch that he was. After Comikaze last year, someone grabbed my arm while walking down the street, blocks from the convention, to ask for a picture. Support is always great, and I understand excitement, but it still sucks to be suddenly grabbed. (By the way, I’m totally aware that this experience of sudden, unexpected physical contact that I and my coworkers experience once maybe every 7 months is a near constant occurrence for, like, all women everywhere in all circumstances. If you’re a person who sometimes gets excited and grabs internet comedy writers, stop doing that, but if you’re a man who sometimes gets excited and puts your hand on cute women in the street and at bars and parties and work and parks and stuff, that is a much BIGGER problem. If you’re the kind of person who grabs internet comedy writers AND women strangers out in the world, it would be great if you could stop BOTH of those things, but if you could only stop doing one, definitely make it be the “grabbing women I don’t know” one. That is a way more pressing concern.)
Regardless of all that though, if you meet me or one of us at a convention or whatever, you don’t need to focus TOO much on reducing our discomfort. You’re not walking into my home or climbing into our office; we came to this event because we wanted to perform for you, and part of that involves meeting you to thank you for reading our articles and watching our videos, because we don’t have jobs if you don’t do that. We know what we’re walking into, and we’re doing it on purpose.