Day 2 of Bouffons at Gaulier.

One thing Philippe Gaulier is famous for is “making people cry.” This is something I’d heard a few times before coming here.

But what does it actually mean when someone cries (or otherwise responds with strong emotion, like anger) as a response to one of his insults?

Today, we had a few cases where something he said hit a nerve with the performer…

… when an insult left a mark.

Was he being particularly harsh today? No, not really.

It seems that his insults and comments sometimes hit a performer in a place where they have some personal anxieties. Not, I don’t feel, in a bullying way. It’s not like he learns everything about people’s lives beforehand and then gives the insult he knows will press their buttons – quite the opposite, he forgets who people are a lot of the time (he is 79 after all).

His “insults” are only based on what he sees in front of him on stage, and sometimes they just hit a sore point.

And this makes sense, I guess.

I often talk about the stage being like a magnifying glass.

As an audience, we see whatever the performer brings in a magnified way – every tiny movement can have significance.

And as a performer, our emotions are often magnified too. If you tell a personal story on stage that is still emotionally raw for you, more than likely you’ll end up crying even if you’ve told the story offstage before. This is one reason that family members at funerals often break down completely when reading the eulogy that they’ve been rehearsing at home for days.

Yesterday, Philippe told me I was not “lovable” on stage when I speak.

And, I feel that was probably because he was seeing a magnified version of one of my deepest fears – that people really don’t like me. This affects how I bring myself to the stage, which, in turn, makes me appear unlovable.

What we believe about ourselves can contribute to the perception of how people see us.

I didn’t take Philippe’s comment to me badly, I don’t think. But then he gave me it in a very nice way – followed by a little personal workshop where I was allowed to show myself on stage for perhaps the first time here. Who knows how my brain would have taken and ruminated on that comment if it had been given alone, without that emotional cushioning.

But, one of Philippe’s comments yesterday to a classmate made me see deeper some of the wisdom behind the “insults” method, even if it is hard to receive it sometimes.

The classmate had made a derogatory comment about herself. This was immediately after my little personal workshop, where I had also criticized myself… because, well, that’s how I talk to myself most of the time.

Philippe said to her: “Don’t criticize yourself… that’s my job.”

It was a joke, as almost all of his comments are.

But it also showed a powerful truth.

The point of his insults is not so that you take them on board and believe them about ourselves.

Quite the opposite.

When Philippe says to the audience about a performer “Is she a little bit boring. Or much much more than a bit boring?”…

I don’t think he wants the performer to believe that they are a fundamentally boring person. If that is one of the performer’s fears about themselves, this is the type of comment that might feel like a stab in the heart.

Instead, I think that Philippe wants us to NOT believe such critical things about ourselves.

That he wants us to hear his insulting comment and respond by saying to ourselves “No! I am not boring! And now I’m going to prove it by doing something wonderful!”

When Gaulier criticizes us, it is a game. A little pointer to move us away from the bad and towards the good.

But when we criticize ourselves, we believe it.

So… “Don’t criticize yourself. That’s Gaulier’s job.”

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