Performer Joshua Walters is based in San Francisco; he capped a several-week road trip this spring by playing the TED Full Spectrum Auditions in New York. His wiry, thought-provoking comedy bit about mental illness earned him today’s spot on TED.com. TED’s Will True spoke to Walters just after he jumped offstage that night in Manhattan.
What did you think of your first TED experience?
Wow, it was like being in a dream, like I was living my dream — I could see it happening, but it didn’t seem real. Here I am in this place with red lanterns, it’s a club, it’s glowing, and the sound is so low I can’t really hear anything. I can’t feel anything. I’m really detached from the whole experience, I’ve kind of got a headache, maybe I could drink some more water, I’m a little tired. You know, this is my third week of being on the road. It’s so much stimulus, being up there, I’m like: Is this happening? Is this going? I guess it’s happening, and then I get off and it’s over and people are ‘wow, let me get your contacts — let’s book you.’ And now, I’m just kind of aloof about the whole thing, like I don’t have any focus or charge about it.
What did you think of the preparation for it? Did you prepare differently?
You know, I almost overprepared for this. The last two weeks I’ve been writing, re-writing, scripting, practicing, listening to the audio, doing it at small venues, doing it in front of dinner parties, doing it in front of other people, and there came a point in the last 2 or 3 days where my people really close to me went ‘Yo, don’t over-rehearse, because you’re going to get up there, you’re going to have 4 or 5 main bullet points and you’re just going to let them flow.’ The best moments for me as a comedic performer are the stuff that’s in the moment, stuff that I didn’t write down. So I was just letting it flow and I wasn’t really worried about it. I had a few other theater and club shows in New York this week, and the whole time I would get up and I’d be like. I got this TED thing on Tuesday so this other thing is just practice, just warming up. This is just getting my sillies out! And then, when I was here I had built up to it, and it’s happening, but it doesn’t feel real! I’m just here; I’m just in it. It’s hard to see it.
How did you put your audition together?
I did my talk, but mainly saying the headings, the sub-points. I didn’t go into any depth, but I did it with a lot of charm, and a lot of smiling. I had my roommate record it, and we did a bunch of takes, maybe 20 or 30 takes. And the first take was just so serious; I didn’t really have it down. And by the 10th or 15th take I had the knowledge down, but I was just so over what I was saying that we had to come back a second day to just do it fun. I had to learn to have fun, which I do all the time, you know? I make people laugh like punching their stomach, that’s what I do, and I needed to get back to where it was fun and it wasn’t work, and it wasn’t so serious. And the last take we did I was smiling, I was relaxed, and I knew: This is what it is. It’s got to be enjoyable for you and it translates to the audience.
Tell me about your trip.
It’s been a wild ride man; almost all of May has been on the road. New York, Texas, and I came back to New York … and it’s been really mind-expanding. This is the first time I’ve come to New York with career on the mind, I’ve been to New York a lot of times, but I’ve never had it so focused. And there is just a lot that someone in my field can do here. It’s made me appreciate that I’m at this breaking point in my development and take a step back and celebrate the moment.
Did you enjoy the experience overall?
I did! It was a great way to end my trip here. It was surreal.