Being a man can be tough (hear me out, women). Yes, we are the beneficiaries of patriarchy, but with that privilege comes a prison. There’s an expectation that comes along with “masculinity.” Men of all ethnicities have been taught to suppress our humanity so we can subscribe to an unhealthy form of masculinity.
But the reality is: Men have emotions that aren’t always Herculean. We’re vulnerable, too, and sometimes when no one is looking, we even sweat from our eyes. Thankfully, more men are now speaking out against toxic masculinity. Among these brave new leaders of vulnerability is D.C.-based standup comedian Von Mychael.
The Virginia native is a regular at DC Improv, a six-time winner of Funny Bone’s Clash of the Comics competition and a two-time winner of Amateur Night at the Apollo. He released a self-produced “Quarantine Comedy Special” in 2020 and in 2021, he created his own live sketch comedy show — “The Von Mychael Sketch Show” — at the DC Comedy Loft.
But what Mychael is most proud of is his success battling his ongoing anxiety.
“Anxiety’s different for everyone, but for me it feels like I can’t think,” Mychael says. “It feels like the world is going to end and I get that intense scatterbrained feeling of not knowing what to do next.”
Ironically, Mychael’s anxiety was brought on by his passion: standup comedy. Like most new comedians, when Mychael performed for the first time he bombed, and it was a serious hit to his confidence. If you’ve never done standup comedy before, let me assure you it’s not for the faint of heart. It takes thick skin to go onstage and tell jokes to complete strangers, knowing at any given moment the audience can turn.
It’s hard not to take it personally because you’re not just presenting a joke. You’re presenting a piece of yourself, so the rejection feels personal. It’s this dynamic that can lead comics on a misguided hunt for external validation.
“The entertainment industry is a tough business,’’ Mychael says. “I found myself seeking approval from people and comics and would literally get panic attacks because I felt I needed to please everybody.”
As his comedy career began to pick up, Mychael began touring across the country opening for actor and comedian Jamie Kennedy — but everywhere he went, his anxiety followed. While on the road, he was introduced to the entertainment industry’s solution: drugs and alcohol.
“I started smoking weed and drinking to self-medicate,” Mychael says. “I would drink a little before going onstage just to take the edge off, but when you’re doing shows almost seven nights a week it adds up.”
It wasn’t until his parents came to a show that Mychael realized he needed to make a change. After witnessing his self-destructive behavior, his father (who is six years sober) sat him down.
“He warned me to be careful because nobody becomes an alcoholic overnight — it’s a slow process,” Mychael says. “I was using drugs and alcohol to cope with everything, so I decided to get sober.”
The decision couldn’t have come at a better time because Mychael was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. But the best comedians find ways to transform their pain into art. Mychael often jokes about his mental and physical health journey in his acts.
“You can’t smoke weed with diabetes,” Mychael says in his 15-minute “Quarantine Comedy Special.” “You end up doing weird things, like searching your medicine cabinet for Doritos. I was like, ‘How you gonna do a drug that increases your heart rate? Then I started to think, ‘So do ham sandwiches.’”
Mychael gave up the drugs — and the ham sandwiches — for a cold-turkey pursuit of sobriety for over two years now. He credits his success battling anxiety to a process that strikes fear in the hearts of even the most testosterone-filled men: therapy.
“I’ve learned to stop taking things so personally and caring so much about what other people think,” Mychael says. “I realized seeking validation is a trap because you’re trying to fill something that’s empty on the inside of you. When you don’t know what that something is, you start to fill the emptiness with the wrong things.”
Therapy not only changed Mychael mentally but physically, too. Aside from being drug- and alcohol-free, Mychael went on a fitness journey during the pandemic and lost over 40 pounds. His new mindset began to bleed into his work as well, as he began posting daily affirmations on his Instagram account — a tool he learned from therapy.
His openness and vulnerability highlighted an intrinsic respect for his humanity. Witnessing it encouraged me to deal with my own fears and anxieties.
“Affirmations are important because you get to validate yourself,” Mychael says. “They may feel weird at first but trust me: They work.”
In 2021, Mychael put those affirmations to the test. He created his own sketch comedy show, “The Von Mychael Sketch Show,” where he creates original comedy sketches and weaves them into a show with live standup comedy acts from popular comedians like Jason Weems, Kasaun Wilson and Franqi French. Mychael’s comedic success doesn’t mean his battle with anxiety is over, however.
“When I dropped the flyer for the first sketch show, I felt so much self-doubt that I stayed in bed for almost two days thinking, ‘Who do I think I am?’ But then I realized those are the feelings we’re meant to push through.”
Mychael’s desire to seek out help and willingness to express his emotions equipped him with the tools to brave the journey and help others along the way.
“Whenever I feel my anxiety creeping up now, I try to identify the source and find a solution. At the least, I just keep going because I know I’m going to feel better afterwards. Watch my confidence soar if I don’t give up.”
To see more of Mychael’s comedy, follow him on Instagram @vonmychael where you can purchase
tickets to “The Von Mychael Sketch Show,” hosted monthly at the DC Comedy Loft.
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