A common question that I sometimes get asked is, “What got you into martial arts/MMA?” I usually answer “I got beat-up a lot in high school” and that always gets a few laughs. It’s not a completely serious or honest answer: While high school was unpleasant at times, and I had my fair share of bullies, they weren’t always in the typecast mold like Nelson Muntz from The Simpsons or the Cobra Kai dudes from The Karate Kid.

Another important consideration is that bullying isn’t something that ends in high school. There are bad experiences in college, hostile workplaces, or toxic relationships. There are times when ordinary people become victims of the personalities around them, so much so that movies like Revenge of the Nerds and Office Space have comedic takes on adults confronting and dealing with bullying (even if the bully happens to be a no-good printer).

One experience happened to me, of all times and places, when I was performing in a FR!NGE Festival play in University. For whatever reason, one of the girls in our group began to say nasty things about my acting during rehearsals.

Did I actually do something to solicit her comments? Maybe tell a joke that got taken the wrong way, or inadvertently criticize her own skills? I don’t remember saying or doing anything that could have been misconstrued to her, but if I did, it would have been better if she’d confronted me directly instead of making every moment I spent on set miserable and uncomfortable.

For my part, I didn’t respond by confronting her, or asking the director to talk to her. Because she was criticizing my acting, I felt that the only defense was to be a great actor. If I did respond to her comments, I felt that I’d be validating her criticism on some level. Maybe this was just a cop-out by me. It certainly wasn’t the only one.

I didn’t like the atmosphere  missed a couple rehearsals or showed up late to others. This might not sound serious, given that the FR!NGE Festival is meant to be low-key entertainment and fun, but college is only a couple of years removed from high school. For the dress rehearsal, I showed up hungover with no voice– inspiring fear to the director and my cast-mates, as I would close the show with a little song.

Push came to shove on the night of the performance when we were slotted for the evening’s finale. While my bully certainly felt superior to me throughout our rehearsals and had played up the ability of our cast-mates (in comparison to me), something became apparent literally seconds into our play: I was killing it.

The sell-out audience of a couple hundred students and parents had been bored to tears by the mediocre and uninspired performances that had preceded us. When you’re 20ish, you can be a little pretentious and have a false view of how entertaining your work is. For many of the plays, this was the case.

95 to 98 percent of comedy comes down to timing and tone– a pause here, a sarcastic twist there. On this night, I was switched “ON” and broke through the audience’s mask of pretend enjoyment. Even my previous night’s hangover was no bother as I hit every note on that final song. After the play, people were congratulating me for hours, saying that I’d rocked it.

As for my bully, she dejectedly chimed in with praise, as well. There had been no ambiguity over who the star was (until the awards show for the FR!NGE Festival, but that’s another story of political intrigue/corruption. Apparently the event organizers felt no shame in giving each other or their best friends the honorary awards for best play/performance/etc) and she had to admit that she had been wrong about me from the very start.

I never became friends in real life or on Facebook with this girl. I just felt uncomfortable being around someone who had acted maliciously; that ugliness is hard to forget. She became irrelevant once I stopped having physical proximity to her in college, and once I was done acting, she had zero power to criticize me.

I don’t want to say too much about what became of my former bully after college. I saw her in a Facebook photo today– that’s what made me think of this story. I could say “It didn’t end well for her,” but that would be another misnomer: It probably wasn’t going well for her in college, either.

***

While I have a few other stories about bullying, they are just stories. There isn’t necessarily a life lesson or learning experience here. In fact, I would have rather never have been in a compromising position to begin with. Still, I’ll start sharing a little more, if anything, because I’m sure many people can relate.

Advertisements