Stand-up comedian Rhod Gilbert presents a documentary in which he confronts his painful shyness, looking at why he suffers from it and what can be done.
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This programme contains some strong language.
This is me, Rhod Gilbert, bestriding the stage like a supercool colossus,
doing something that most people would rather shallow-fry their genitals than try -
stand-up comedy in front of thousands. Except it's not me.
Well, it is me, clearly, but it's only one me.
It's part of me, but not the whole me, if you get my drift.
Because there's this other me, a me that looms just as large in my life
but that I've tried to keep hidden from the world,
from my friends and even my family until now.
That's right - I am a total loser.
Disaster, isn't it? Total disaster.
A gangly streak of socially awkward piss
who struggles to do the most mundane things like shopping,
talking to strangers or eating in public.
I don't know why I can't do it.
It's something about thinking everyone's looking at you.
Loser Me can't go to a party on his own, has never chatted up a girl,
was often too anxious to go to school as a kid
and once locked himself in a portaloo for an entire weekend
to avoid meeting new people.
But now, after a lifetime exiled in Loser Land,
the 49-year-old me has finally decided it's time to squeeze
the life-afflicting zit that is shyness.
-What is it?
-What is it?
-What is shyness?
-What is it?
So, I'm going on one of those quests
that people you vaguely recognise on TV do...
Wow, this is hard.
..to try and get to the root of what causes me
and 50% of the population at large to feel our lives would be
a whole lot better without the S word.
I'm doing a documentary about shyness.
But the problem is, I'm too shy to go up and talk to anyone.
I'm going to meet fellow losers...
If you're someone who has suffered from shyness, as I have,
you presume that everyone else is confident, don't you?
Yeah, I meant sufferers.
And hoping to resolve the central contradiction in my life.
I'm quite keen to talk to somebody who can tell me
why I would put "I avoid activities in which
"I'm the centre of attention," and then my job is...
..walking out in front of thousands of people
and trying to make them laugh.
Ladies and gentlemen, next up, all the way from over there, it's Jodie.
And - and I'm really worried about this bit - I'm going to put
three extremely shy guinea pigs through my own unscientific
and potentially disastrous experiment
when I get them to face many people's worst nightmare.
-Go on, Jodie!
-Go on, Jodie!
-You can do it!
-You can do this, yeah.
And do as I did, get on stage in front of a live audience
and try stand-up comedy.
If it goes wrong and sets them back,
I'm not going to be able to live with myself.
My name is Rhod Gilbert and I'm standing up to shyness.
I've agreed to make a doc about shyness, specifically my own.
It's day one of the shoot and the crew have asked me
to do something so far out of my comfort zone
I'd rather cut off my balls with a pizza wheel.
I'll need a run-up and a couple of pints of Valium.
And then I'm going to try walking into...
..going up to the counter...
..ordering a coffee...
-Cappuccino with no chocolate.
-Staying in, yeah?
..to drink in.
I'm going to find myself a seat alone...
..sit down - with my back to the room, obviously,
I'm not a thrill-seeker -
and then attempt to drink my drink.
Five stars on LoserAdvisor.
So, this would normally be one of my trigger points.
I have in the past wandered round the whole day
looking in at places, getting half in, looking through the window...
..scoping it out, checking it out and thinking, "Can't do it."
Can't walk in there, order a coffee, sit down.
I mean, that, when I say it out loud,
when I think about it, is completely absurd.
I don't know why I can't do it.
I don't know.
It's something about thinking everyone's looking at you
or something about...
I don't know, I need somebody to tell me why I can't do it.
All I can describe it as is a feeling of incredible
self-consciousness that you're so aware of...
I don't know, all I know is I feel watched in some way.
Of course, I'd love to change myself.
It's tedious. Tedious!
Looking down from my tower of self-loathing,
I can't help but wonder - am I the only shy kid in town?
Statistically, there are loads of us,
so these streets must be a blushing sea of self-doubt.
But how do you spot them?
Where do shy-sters hang out?
I reluctantly agree to give my shy-dar a polish
and see if I can sniff some out.
Well, we're on the streets of Cardiff
and I am going to attempt to get a sense of...
..how many people are shy
and how many people aren't shy. It's very unscientific.
I'm just going to ask people
if they would identify themselves as a shy person or a not shy person.
The problem I've got now is that I feel incredibly self-conscious
because I'm shy.
The thought of walking up to a person, stopping them
and saying, "Are you shy?" horrifies me.
Also, just to make it even harder,
the production team have given me stickers.
Shy, not shy, which is very mean.
It's very, very mean. I don't want to do it.
And that even knowing that they may know who I am,
so it kind of makes it OK.
But I'm still not doing it.
-Talk to them.
-I can't... I can't go and talk to them.
-Yes, you can.
I know you're telling me to talk to them, but...
You're supposed to be invisible, the crew, anyway.
But I can't just go up to... I can't. I can't, I'm too shy.
There we are. It's a documentary about shyness
and I'm too shy to do it.
And roll the credits.
Oh, Christ, I feel a tit.
A disaster, isn't it?
How long are we going to keep this up?
It's the BBC, there's not even a commercial break we can go to.
I tell you what, I'm going to...
I'm going to sit down on that bench and just see if people come over.
-Hiya, mate. Can I squeeze up there next to you?
-Yeah, of course.
-Oh, good man. Good man. Are you shy?
-I wouldn't have thought you...
-I'm shy, yeah.
Didn't have a girlfriend till I was about 19.
I nearly married her.
-Just in case you didn't get another one?
-Can I give you a sticker, look?
-Yeah, of course.
-I'm embarrassed about this.
-No, don't be.
-This is not me, this.
-I'll have a shy one.
-Shy, will you?
-It's my brother's birthday. He's just over there.
-Could he have a picture with you?
-It's your brother's birthday?
-Oh, is he coming over or is he too shy?
-He's too shy.
-Is he to... Is he shy, is he?
-Nice to meet you.
-How are you doing? Are you shy?
-A bit, yeah.
-Are you shy?
-She's definitely not shy.
-Have you ever been shy?
-That's the old you and then that's the new you.
-I feel I used to be shy
because I cared too much what other people thought,
whereas now I'm 30, I just think, like, life's too short.
-You shy or not, mate?
-I'm not shy, but actually what I do for a living,
-I'm a confidence coach, so...
-Are you a confidence coach? No way!
-Yes! Yes, that's what I do.
-I used to be shy.
-I went through depression six years ago.
What happened was I started to really reprogram my mind-set,
my beliefs and I thought, do you know what?
I don't give a shit what people think about me.
That's just what this kid was saying, pretty much.
I mean, he's not a confidence coach, but he was saying
it's that learning not to give a shit about...
So much about what people think. Not shy, mate.
-Would you go to a party on your own?
Would you go and sit in a restaurant or a cafe and eat on your own?
-You passed the test, mate.
When are you shy, then? What situations are you shy in?
-I don't know. I'm too shy to say!
She wouldn't do teaching because she was too shy.
-She wouldn't what?
-She wouldn't be a teacher because she was too shy.
I'm quiet anyway.
-You can't get a word in edge ways with these two.
-No, I've noticed.
Right, you do shut up, now. Right, stick those things over...
Stick those over your mouth.
No, I'll put...
I'll double up on yours.
Now then, we've shut them up.
Would you go to a party on your own?
-I don't think anyone would, would they?
-She bloody would.
-If I was already drunk, I would.
-Yeah, so drink helps?
-You just don't care when you're drunk, do you?
I'm amazed how willing people are to talk really candidly
and openly about how shy they've been or how shy they are.
And most people can tell you really pretty quickly.
There's lots of people saying that they've grown out of it
or they've taken steps to get themselves out of it.
And I think, for me, certainly doing stand-up has really,
really helped and probably, as I've gone on through life,
I've become less shy, but it's still there for me.
I'm not out of the woods.
I'm definitely not out of the woods.
And coming here today and hearing people say
they are out of the woods has made me realise I'm still in there.
I'm not locked in a portaloo any more, but I'm still in the woods.
I know what you're thinking.
You're thinking this is bollocks.
He's making it up.
How can someone who does stand up be shy?
I ask myself that question every day.
And I've always wondered where it came from.
Was I born shy?
Did I inherit it from my parents?
Was there some traumatic childhood incident I've buried under
six tonnes of psychological rubble?
Did I share a shy kid's towel in school?
Is it an STD?
Did I get drunk and sleep with a shy person
who was too shy to tell me they were a carrier?
I have no idea, and I'm in two minds about wanting to know.
But all the same,
like Shylock Holmes, the socially awkward detective,
I've come to my home town of Carmarthen to look for clues.
This is my family home and we are in the lounge, in the posh room
because we're filming.
Er... My dad's in the other room.
Don't tell him we're in here.
It's really striking, looking back through photographs
that I've never really...
Well, I don't remember ever seeing these before.
But, look, that's me on that front lawn out there
playing bowls with my grandad
and I've got my hand...
..in front, blocking the camera.
This is me in a cafe in France
and I've got my hand blocking the camera.
I don't remember being camera shy as a kid.
I don't remember putting my hand in front of my face
every time there was a camera near me.
This is an official school one from primary school.
I'm facing the camera there, but I think a professional camera person
would have stopped me if I'd been like that.
But there's little clues. If you want to look for my shyness
in my youth, I mean, look at this. This is "My friends in school."
Firstly, I couldn't even fill a book of eight.
One of them's me.
And that's the same person.
So, my friends consist of me, one blank space, and one bloke twice.
That is absolutely bonkers.
I used to refuse to go to school when I was in primary school.
I used to get this knot in the pit of my stomach and just feel ill
and I wasn't ill, there was nothing wrong with me medically.
It was anxiety and I knew that at the time.
I never spoke to anybody about it.
I bottled it up completely, I totally hid it.
I don't even think I told my parents.
I never sort of broke down in front of them
and said, "Look, I'm shy, I'm socially anxious."
I never admitted it to them. I never admitted it to any friends.
I just bottled it up, hid it and got on with it.
That's my mum, who passed away last year,
who I think I blame for my shyness.
I use the word blame...facetiously,
but I think it's hereditary to some degree or learned behaviour.
She passed it on to me. She was incredibly shy and reserved.
Wanted to be an actor all her life,
but never did it because she was too shy.
And my dad is the sort of flamboyant one,
the kind of clown, the entertainer.
But I just asked him if he wanted to be on camera and he's like,
"Absolutely no way." He's too shy.
"Shyness is hereditary," he said, and walked off.
So, there you go.
Can't bloody win with parents, can you?
But if I put my youth under the microscope,
most of the time, I was pretty happy chappie.
Good family, great bunch of mates, shit haircuts, but happy memories.
# Shyness is nice
# And shyness can stop you
# From doing all the things in life you'd like to... #
Many of my friends are the same ones I've had for over 40 years.
I still see them all the time,
but I've tried to keep my shyness from them.
But they'll definitely have noticed. Won't they?
Are you surprised I'm doing a documentary about shyness?
Perhaps you doing a documentary about other people's shyness
-I'd have understood, but...
-Yeah, that's what I mean.
Is it a surprise that I'm putting my hand up and going, "I'm shy"?
You've come out as "I'm a shy person."
I've come out as a shy person, exactly. Do you know what?
It does feel a bit like... A bit like that.
It's quite hard to give examples of your own shyness,
but one of the classics for me, when I went to university,
I didn't speak to anybody.
And then I did a month abroad in Salamanca in Spain, right?
And I'd booked accommodation, I had digs, I'd paid for my meals
and instead of going there - I never even checked in -
I just took my bag and I slept rough in the square in Salamanca
and every morning...
Every morning, the bin lorry would come round the square like this
in circles and it would come in and in and in
and I worked out that the best place to sleep
was on the bench in the middle and then I would wash my face in
the tap at the side of the bin lorry because I was too embarrassed
to go and go to this accommodation with shared rooms, hostel kind of
accommodation I guess, you know, and eat meals with people I didn't know.
I couldn't do it. I couldn't do it. But it was...
Yeah, have you guys got anything like that?
Any ridiculous stories like that where you just think,
-"That was shyness"?
No, I don't think to that extent, no.
I think you've set the bar way too high for us there.
Come in a bit lower and perhaps worked up to the bin lorry story.
Anyone blushed? Anyone blushed occasionally?
It's very odd to be speaking about it.
It does feel like I'm coming out about it. It feels very...
I feel very vulnerable.
I sometimes wonder whether I should be doing it at all,
changing people's perception of me.
But I think it's starting to feel like it's quite an important thing
to be talking about, that it's not talked about enough.
I've known some of those guys for 43 years
and I've hidden it every single moment until today.
It's kind of left me really keen to find out more.
More about myself, but more about shyness.
And how many other people's lives it's...
Ruining's a strong word, but having a pretty big impact on.
Apparently, I'm far from alone with my social anxiety.
According to psychologists, 50% of us identify as being shy,
a spectrum that includes the happy introverts as well
as the desperately unhappy ones,
that ranges from those who muddle along with sweaty armpits,
nervous rashes and relentless self-criticism
to those whose crippling social anxiety
means they can't even leave the house.
Some experts say shyness is hereditary.
Some say it's learned behaviour.
Some say you can cure it with medication.
Others offer coping strategies and therapies.
I think I need an expert to tell me
what expert advice I should be following.
So, I head to be Cardiff University School of Social Sciences
to meet Professor Ray Crozier,
lecturer and academic, who literally wrote the book on shyness.
Several books, actually.
First off, is shyness something you're born with?
So, there have been some kind of studies that have followed
children from birth and you can begin to see a kind of shy pattern.
You bring children of the same age who don't know each other,
you just let them naturally play together,
you find some children interact with other children,
some of them are just happy playing by themselves,
but some want to play but they're reluctant to.
So you see them kind of hovering behind the other kids,
maybe trying to move in, but not carrying it through, really.
How would you explain somebody like me, who all my life has struggled
with shyness? For example, when I went off to university,
I just literally stood in my room looking out the window
at everybody else going off to the refectory
or to the cafe, to the bar, to their lectures,
and I just didn't move from that room.
-I would have been one of your kids you observed...
-Well, that's right.
-..who want to participate.
-I was just going to say that.
Looking through the window, unable to.
-Unable to, completely unable to.
So, there might be that kind of history behind this
because I think if you spoke to lots of beginning students,
you'd get maybe similar kinds of stories from them.
They have the anxiety inside, but just got on with things.
At the time, you know, I went to see my tutors and I said,
-"I've got to go. I can't cope with this."
And they said, "Just knock on the door of the guy next to you
"and say, do you want a coffee? It's as simple as that."
-And I... That was the hardest...
Knocking on that guy... I... Well, I didn't do it.
Why is that so difficult?
Something along the ideas of fear of social rejection,
which would make you feel even worse than not having knocked the door.
The origins of all this social anxiety, I think,
are in social acceptance and social rejection.
I think I'd almost have benefited
if I'd had this conversation with you 30 years ago.
If I'd just had more of a context for it, it might have helped.
I think I'd have just chilled out about it a bit.
And also, that it's kind of widespread,
-but not necessarily observable.
So lots of other people that you might have talked to about it
-might also have helped you.
-That's almost step one,
in terms of partly finding a solution,
is just to talk to other shy people, realise it's widespread,
realise that what you're feeling is quite common,
the physical things that you feel in certain situations are common.
Exactly. I think that would be
a very useful first step, really, I think.
Talking to fellow sufferers would probably really have helped.
But when I was growing up,
I don't remember there being a National Shy Helpline.
And I'd have been too shy to ring it anyway.
But these days, it's different.
Near Swansea, shy kids as young as five come to yoga classes to try
and help them cope with the stresses of life in the toddler lane.
OK, guys. Ready?
So, everybody's going to copy me.
Lift one leg up and put it behind you.
Can you go back there and pass me my foot?
Can you pass...?
After a few minutes, a mini shy-ster, Nia, latches onto me.
-You speak to somebody new.
And suddenly I'm witnessing a shy kid in the wild...
Are you too shy to speak to somebody new?
..clinging to my legs for safety...
-Yeah, you can do it.
..hiding her face from the world, finding comfort in my shoulder.
-How do you feel when you feel shy?
Do you feel like you want to hide?
-Do you not want to... Do you not want to make friends?
Do you like having friends, Nia?
Yeah, but I don't want to do that.
So, Huriyah, why yoga for shy kids?
Erm, because I used to be shy and I still am a bit.
I was really shy growing up, but I've been doing yoga since
I was three because with the anxiety of being shy, I didn't sleep.
So when I was three, my parents used to let me
stay up in their bedroom and they had a TV.
Yoga came on one day and I just followed along.
And how did that change things, then? What happened?
Um, it didn't make me
more confident at the time, that's only something that's
come around more recently, but it made me more content in myself,
so today, at the lessons, my job is to get them
confident in themselves and learn to accept themselves
and accept that other people are different from them and that's OK.
Breathe in your happiness...
Finding shy kids may be easy enough,
but looking for adults who admit to being shy is a whole different
ball game, like trying to find a wasp who only drinks Diet Coke.
Because shyness is a silent affliction, and strangely,
we adult travellers don't generally go round bragging about it.
So imagine my surprise when I discovered that my fellow
shysters have been gathering behind my back.
The cheating bastards have been forming shy support groups all over
the country and hooking up regularly to work through their inhibitions.
With a startling 9,000 members,
the UK's largest is the wonderfully titled London Shyness Social Group.
The group's leader is Jas.
It's interesting you say about specific environments,
-cos mine feels very, very much, certain situations.
-And other things, I'm totally fine.
-Yeah, I'm the same.
-Yeah. At work, I'm extremely confident.
I'm a mental health support worker, so put me in a room full of people
screaming at me and threatening me, I'm fine.
Same with stand-up. Put me in a room full of people screaming at me...!
And you're fine!
Put me in a cafe, where I have to order a coffee and I'm screwed.
-That's mine, as well.
-Yeah. Really? You're the same?
-Put it there.
Why is it? What is it about coffee?!
Hi, everyone. So, for those who haven't met me before, I'm Jas,
this is London Shyness Social Group and I just want to explain
a little bit about tonight before we get into it.
The group hosts regular support sessions,
workshops and social get-togethers, attracting everyone from those
who want a little more human contact to people
who are leaving their bedrooms for the first time in months.
It's a real big step for these people.
It is, it is a really big step. But it depends on how you look at it, as well.
Some people see it as really daunting.
For some people, the fact that there is a group out there that
does this, this is comforting.
This is a place where they don't have to pretend to be extroverted.
They can just be shy, and ironically,
when you do that, they're actually really talkative.
There are certain situations where I don't know how to even talk,
because for example, here, it's just way too awkward,
I can't even make eye contact or anything.
I want to become invisible, almost. It's really scary.
I appreciate that for some people, even just being here is a big
thing, so I'm not here to force anyone to do anything, I promise.
Jas wants to do some exposure therapy exercises.
I've no idea what that entails, but look at that mad keen face.
If there weren't cameras on me, I'd lock myself in the nearest
portaloo and have to be forcibly removed by the council.
The exposure therapy exercises that we have in mind for today,
eye contact exercise, where we hold eye contact for a specific
amount of time with someone you haven't spoken to yet.
If I wasn't so committed to this documentary, there's no way I
would come to a group like this, let alone get involved in the exercises.
I don't get my insecurities out in public for no-one.
And yet here we all are.
Well, we were chatting earlier about my particular shyness
where I think I'm ostensibly supremely confident in some
ways and totally lacking any confidence
and feeling incredibly inhibited and tonight, for example,
when I said I was anxious,
I'm absolutely terrified of these exercises you've got planned.
The back of my neck is hot, my forehead is sweating...
I wouldn't be like that before a gig. Even if it was 20,000 people.
It's very vulnerable.
There's nowhere to hide, you know, whereas maybe in stand-up comedy,
I'm hiding behind something of a persona, you know?
Wow, this is hard!
-This is a lot harder than stand-up comedy, I'll tell you that.
-Starting in three, two, one...
Things are about to get worse, with an exposure therapy exercise.
Gazing, in agonising silence...
..into the eyes of a total stranger...
..for the world's longest minute.
That's approximately one minute.
I could not WAIT for that minute to be over. Nothing personal...
Honestly, lovely eyes, but...
-I could not wait!
What is it? What is this?
-What is shyness?
-What is it, Jas?
I would say it's a sense of contextual insecurity or
contextual lack of confidence.
The reason why it's so contextual is
because you develop a comfort zone of some kind with certain
-things in certain situations and certain people, I guess.
So, for example, you developing a sense of confidence
in your comedy, you've had to exercise that, it's like a muscle.
But for some reason, it's not always transferable.
What Jas says makes perfect sense.
It is a contextualised lack of confidence
and I certainly have my comfort zones,
And it would go to some way to answering the apparent contradiction
at the heart of this - that I can be cripplingly shy in normal life,
but completely confident, as long as I'm getting laughs on stage.
But how did I get on stage in the first place? I didn't want to do it.
The truth is, I didn't jump,
I was pushed, by an ex-girlfriend.
Her name is Bryony and she dragged me kicking and screaming to
enrol on a stand-up course at the Amused Moose comedy club in London.
But what sort of monster would make a shy person do stand up?
So that very first time we met, did I come across as shy,
was there anything... Was I different in any way?
Anything unusual you noticed?
The very first time we met was in the job centre.
I noticed you, but I noticed you entertaining your two friends,
so you were making Ash and Jessica laugh, a lot.
So maybe you were feeling shy, but you were compensating by doing
what you normally do, which is make people laugh.
Yes, that's all I was ever very good at, was making people laugh. I say very good.
You were happy in a group of people that you knew already and in
that circle, you have no inhibitions and you are really confident.
But I knew that you were, probably outside of that circle,
you were nervous about certain things.
In interviews, I've always said that I had an ex-girlfriend who
nagged and nagged and nagged for eight years,
is the figure I've put on it...
Could have been that long.
..to do something. Is that fair?
Isn't it? I mean, you were naturally funny...
-You hear that?
So I thought you could be encouraged to think of it more like that.
You think it was shyness though, that was stopping me?
I think it was that combined with just, you know,
"people like me don't do this."
So if I hadn't gone with you to the Amused Moose,
would you have been able to knock on the door, go down the stairs,
-introduce yourself to that group...?
-But you did...
-Not a chance.
..go on your own, after I took you the first few times!
It's like taking someone to a kindergarten, isn't it?
Like, "Here's my little boy, he's going to stand up and do it."
When I went on that course, most of them... You remember?
Most of them, I didn't go to.
Most of them, I rang in sick, sometimes from just outside.
-You used to find excuses, didn't you?
sometimes from outside the venue, I would ring up and say,
"I can't come into night, I'm really ill",
and I was outside, trying to... "Can I do it, can I do it?"
So Bryony realised I just needed a little push.
For eight years.
If she hadn't, how would my life be different now? Who knows?
But it has helped my confidence immeasurably, I know that much.
Bryony reckons I was happiest and most confident
when making people laugh, and she's right.
That's been true since I was a child.
Did I latch onto the fact that the social currency of laughter
is a very powerful one?
That if you could make people laugh, they'd overlook your other failings?
I'm brewing on a theory here and I want to test it,
so I've come to the Comedy Store,
a venue that kick-started my career, to talk to someone who was
with me on the very same comedy course that Bryony dragged me to.
He's fellow comedian Greg Davies.
Blow me down with a malfunctioning Dustbuster, there's a twist,
because he's a shyster too.
And in our 15 years of friendship, I've never even clocked it.
When I said to you, "Will you talk to me on the documentary",
I meant, will you talk to me about my shyness.
I thought you were asking me along to talk about the fact that
-I was shy.
-No, I didn't know... You're not shy. I didn't think you were shy, you're the last person...
I didn't think YOU were shy when we met.
You told me you were shy, I've never personally witnessed you being shy.
-No. If anything, I thought you were quite aloof.
If you're someone who has suffered from shyness as I have,
-you presume that everyone else is confident, don't you?
-Well, I do.
-You're the most confident person I've ever met.
-But I'm not, though, am I?
-No, you are.
Yes, but I'm full of crushing self-doubt even now.
Oh, yeah, you've got no self-esteem.
But I wouldn't have said you were shy!
I've never seen you in a social context appear to be
inhibited or, you know...
But what is your definition of shyness?
Er... Like, I could never go up and talk to a girl. Could you do that?
-Have you ever, in your life, gone up to a girl...?
Not so much now, but in the old days. Did you ever go to a girl...
Even now, I've never approached someone I find attractive.
-Once in your life?
I got asked out by a girl in school, who I liked,
and just the sheer horror of her asking me out, I said no.
Every cell in my body was going, "Yes!",
and just the fact that she had had that self-confidence to say
"I'd like to go out with you", I went, "No!"
-Do you talk about your shyness on stage?
No, because I think going on stage is a weird way of trying to
address self-consciousness, it's sort of...
running headlong at your demons, isn't it, really?
Do you think you're a stand-up now, comedian, clown, whatever,
because you were shy and inhibited as a child?
I think, to a degree, it certainly started happening at 17
when I suddenly thought "I'm going to have to run into the light
"a bit, otherwise I'm going to spend my whole life hiding in corners",
-Did you ever think about doing anything about it, or...
-No. Just surviving!
But a lot of it is fear-based.
I think shyness...
For me, it was always, "I'm going to be humiliated,
"I'm going to be bullied if I draw attention to myself."
A lot of it is fear. I think.
Like me, it seems Greg has wrapped himself in the protective
cloak of comedy, chasing away the shyness, the fear of people
laughing at him, by making people laugh at him, but on his terms.
Comedy as cure? It makes some sense to me.
But I wonder if there's anything more scientific in this,
so I'm finally ready to blast off into outer headspace
and I'm going to go and consult a shrink.
I've made an appointment with a clinical psychologist
specialising in CBT - Cognitive Behavioural Therapy -
at Cardiff University's Department of Psychology.
I feel all my life I've suffered from shyness,
it's been a bloody pain.
So it's been a lot worse in the past than it is now,
but day-to-day now, there are still some things,
particularly the eating on your own in public.
Yeah. Day-to-day now, there are some things.
What has helped me massively is being a bit known.
-That changes the situations that you find yourself in.
But some of the very simplest ones, like just being on your own
and going and eating somewhere on your own, are still there.
They still go on. And some very...
For some people, some very uncomfortable situations are ones
-that you do approach on a regular basis.
-Um, where you are very much the centre of attention.
Would you say?
So people with social anxiety tend to avoid the situations that
make them really anxious, and if they are in them,
they tend to try and stay in the background.
It's perfectly understandable that people try and do that,
but it's actually one of the things that keeps the problem going.
-Do you see what I mean?
So for you, the fact that actually, you've not been able to avoid
being noticed, does, to me,
it kind of makes sense that that would have helped.
So, what I've done, in essence,
is been somebody who's been afraid of being noticed, all that
kind of stuff, been that classic social anxiety sort of inhibitions.
And what you'd recommend for somebody like that is to
confront it head-on and I've kind of done that by...accidentally.
You've done something extra, as well.
We would recommend that somebody confront a feared situation,
but we also recommend that they get feedback about how
they come across and in therapy,
we find ways of giving people
feedback, so we very often film people and have them
watch the film, for people to actually see how they come across.
-Rather than just how they imagine.
-That's really interesting.
So you've actually done that,
you put yourself in feared situations and you've also
got feedback in those situations about how you actually come across.
So this is the answer for all people suffering from social anxiety -
just get yourself a stand-up and TV career and read your reviews. Boom!
-As long as they're successful, Rhod, yes!
As long as it's reasonably successful!
Yes. I don't like a bad review, that's for sure.
Well, blow me.
I think I might have just stumbled on a revolutionary new
cure for shyness.
Alternative CBT - Comedy Behavioural Therapy.
Ker-ching! I can hear the smell of global franchises and ringing tills.
If it worked for me, maybe it could work for others.
There's only one way to find out - I'm going to bag me
some shy people and see if I can persuade them to do stand-up.
This might be self-indulgent madness,
but sod it, it's 2018, it's the way of the world.
"Is shyness ruining your life?
"Do you struggle to go into cafes on your own?
"Have you ever spent a weekend locked in a portaloo
"because you were too shy to come out? Then this documentary could be for you. Love, Rhod."
I launched my message into cyberspace,
fully expecting no response whatsoever.
But would you believe it, I get thousands of replies.
What's that, you wouldn't?
No, nor me, and I didn't.
But I did get enough to carry on with my experiment.
After a fairly random selection process, I choose three very
shy guinea pigs and invite them to hear my cunning plan.
I'm pretty sure none of them will turn up, what self-respecting
shy person would volunteer to get their social anxieties out on TV?
But once again, I'm wrong.
Guinea pig one is Jodie, 26 and hides out in Swansea.
She works part-time as the world's only wedding photographer who
is too shy to ask anyone to say "cheese".
Guinea pig two, Mike, is 29 and stares at his feet around Cardiff.
He's a serial dropper-outer at uni and he's never been on a date.
Guinea pig three, Kate,
is in her 40s and lurks about in the shadows near Leith.
She prefers animals to humans and works in a pet shop.
Certainly, she knows all about guinea pigs.
While we all suffer in different ways and to varying degrees,
I can immediately relate to all three of them.
What is your earliest shy memory?
From about the ages of about five or so,
being in the park
and just all the other kids playing together
when I would be separate, on my own, you know?
I think I've just always been a shy person.
I don't remember being any other way.
It's just I found it hard to make friends in school
and I always was on the outside looking in.
I got bullied a lot in school, so...
Beaten up almost daily when I was about five, six.
-Beaten up almost daily?
Um... I think naturally, I'm...
I'm quite gregarious, I want people around,
-but I find it hard to engage.
-So shyness has kind of...
-had a massive impact on you, really?
-Tell me about the bus tickets.
Ever since, you know, I can remember, I go on the bus into town
with my nan and I'd get her to pay for them
while I just stood behind her.
Just a financial thing, though?!
-Screwing your nan out of...
-I wasn't getting enough pocket money!
Tap Nana up, why not?
-What's the fear, do you reckon?
-Fear of getting it wrong.
Fear of being thought to be stupid or... Which I may be,
I can be. And I seem to be the family failure, really.
And I work in retail, I haven't got anything much to show for anything.
-And why have you...decided to sign up for this?
-I just think...
There's so many opportunities in life, it's time to take one, really.
I'd love to be able to just...
..not have the shyness and be able to have this confidence
and go up to anybody I wanted.
It does affect me, I do wish I was able to do what I wanted,
have my own freedom, so to speak.
-Freedom from yourself?
-Freedom from myself, yes!
I know I need to do something more with my life.
Whether it leads to anything or not is irrelevant,
I need to stop sitting in that comfort area and just go
and do something that's different.
And you can't get much different than this, really.
No. No, that could be true.
VOICEOVER: Oh, bollocks. What have I done?
I've asked these lovely, painfully shy, vulnerable people,
to go away for a few weeks and come up with some stand-up
material based on their own experiences of shyness.
There is a worry here that what I'm asking these guys to do is
really, really beyond the pale.
The most confident, non-shy people would have
nightmares about doing stand-up comedy.
For these guys, to put themselves in the firing line like that,
and try and do this, is enormous.
As they go off to try and channel their inner
Billy Connollys, I think I need my head examining -
Because one area of shyness I've yet to explore is
whether you can tell if someone is shy by looking at their brain,
so I've come to London's Harley Street.
What I'm going to do is measure
the electrical activity from your brain, from your scalp.
EEG specialist Tony Stafford has agreed to attempt to find out,
by putting a thing on my head
that definitely doesn't make me look a twat.
-Is that all right?
It's not a direct measure of shyness.
The EEG will tell us about arousal and anxiety,
so we can infer that this person
is more anxious and they're more likely to be shy.
There is the opposite marker,
something called frontal middle theta that
if you have a high frontal middle theta, you're more likely to be
extrovert and more happy-go-lucky, and less likely to be shy.
Can we see any generalities about it, is it a sign of being...
highly tuned into other people's...
Is it less... You know?
I have just read that they make better lovers.
Lovers! HE CLICKS HIS TONGUE
-..and that would fit with being more...
-I knew there was a reason I was doing this documentary!
-I knew I had to get something positive out of it!
-..more socially adept, basically.
OK, so what I want you to do is just close your eyes and relax
and try not to think of anything in particular
and just be as relaxed and still as can be.
In order to work out how aroused and anxious I am,
the computer needs to record my mind at rest.
Firstly, with my eyes closed...
and then with my eyes open.
But given Tony has just told me I'm a sex god,
-can I keep my anxious arousal in check?
Let me just save that... So this is the spectrogram.
We're looking down on the head here, your nose would be here,
this is the back of your head
and each one of these 19 little graphs
is one of those 19 electrodes.
So this yellow is the alpha,
so more alpha means the brain doing less activity.
I was expecting to see more of this beta brainwave, the busy brainwave.
I'm assuming that the shyness is social anxiety,
so anxiety is a busier brain.
-So constantly alert, on the lookout for threats?
So this is saying that you are low arousal, your brain is not very
active. Actually, this is kind of
the opposite of what I was expecting. I was expecting to see...
So brutal! So brutal, Tony.
"Your brain is not very active."
-So, looking at this, we can't tell that I'm shy.
But we can tell, we have an indicator that
I'm not particularly an extrovert...
Yeah, I think that's fair enough to say.
And you are certainly a lot less aroused than I was expecting.
I'm a sloth.
I wouldn't say that, but... In that direction!
You've got this peak here, which I'm quite intrigued about.
This is not a typical pattern. This is almost like an ADD subtype.
So looking at that, I could have ADD?
-Attention Deficit Disorder?
So I've come here today to see
if you could identify sort of shyness in the brain...
..and what you're telling me is you can't, I might have ADHD,
-but a very chilled out, sort of relaxed version of that?
So I've come in...
..on this shyness documentary, and I've left with...
no answer on that, but three other documentaries to do?
What the...?! I only came in for shyness.
Whilst I come to terms with this latest diagnosis,
I've left my three lab rats slaving on the comedy wheel of hell.
Come in, come in!
Their homework was to generate some hilarious comedy material
based on their debilitating experiences of shyness.
Piece of piss! Right?
So, I think if you can face it, I'm going
to ask you to stand there and do it.
To the rest of us.
How does that sound?
-Well, you know, what the hell, we're here.
-"What the hell, we're here!"
Is that as positive as...? That's as positive as I'm going to get!
And, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the stage, it's Kate!
Good evening, everybody, my name is Kate
and I'm standing before you today as a shy person.
I'm going to tell you a little bit about myself now.
-I suffer with a depression, I also have what is known as RBF.
I don't know if anybody of you understand what RBF is.
RBF is a condition called Resting Bitch Face.
-This is my natural face,
I have cultivated it over the years to
avoid people talking to me, and it works.
-A can't remember what else I was going to say...
-Can I just say, already there,
that's going to get a couple of laughs. You know?
-Yeah, you want to do a bit more? Are you going to do?
-No, it's all gone, now.
-It's all gone?
-It's all gone.
Hello, how you doing? I'm Jodie, I'm 26 and I'm from Swansea.
Yes, so... Shyness.
I was on the coach the other day, coming into Cardiff.
All went fine until we got on the way back.
I needed to get off, didn't I?
There's me, panicking, thinking, "Oh, no,
"I've got to talk to another person and tell him to stop."
I thought about it.
Nah, I did not have the balls to go and say to him,
just go up to him, and simply say...
-Yeah, that's all I can remember now!
-OK, brilliant. OK.
I told you five seconds!
OK, hello, everyone, hello!
-How you doing?
Um, I'm not doing so well.
But it's OK, it's OK. I just have depression. Yay!
Um, yeah. Uh, so yes, OK.
So, yeah, that's unfair, OK.
Sorry, I've lost it, here.
-Do you mind if I... Stop, and then...
-Not at all.
-Do it again?
-Not at all. Do whatever you want.
Yeah. Yeah, yeah. Sorry.
Oh, yeah, OK, do you mean stop? OK, cool.
Hang on a minute, you should get your response!
At least get your response!
It's going to work. All three of you, it's going to work.
It's just a bit more practice...
And just keeping doing what you're doing.
You're doing, all doing the right thing in the right direction.
Those are three brave, brave people,
who struggle with what most people would think are the simplest
everyday interactions, who are one step closer to a stand-up gig.
And if it goes wrong...
..and sets them back...
..I'm not going to be able to live with myself.
Unsurprisingly, my shy, comedy proteges are struggling.
Meanwhile, I'm having a mini-crisis of my own.
Am I doing the right thing?
Interfering in people's lives with my cod psychology?
I decide to ask my wife, Sian.
She married me, but apart from that, she's always had good judgment.
I think your shyness is a good antidote to your outgoing...
If I wasn't shy, I'd be a complete extrovert...
-Yeah, you'd be on all the time.
-Switched on all the time.
-And I don't think I could handle it.
-It's too much.
I like that you have a side to you that is quieter,
-more reflective, wants to be on your own.
-Gives you a break.
No, but it... I can relate to that, you know?
I couldn't relate to somebody who's onstage all the time,
-I can't get in and can't talk to them.
So I think it's nice to have mix.
But I find my shyness really stopped me doing things in my life,
it's got in the way. There's loads of things I'd have done differently.
But how did it...?
I'm sick of it, that's partly why I want to do this documentary.
Can't you embrace it, though?
Rather than trying to change and fix it?
Yeah, maybe the fix is that you embrace it
and that's the same thing.
-Maybe that is the cure, to accept it and...
Yeah, and then do what makes you happy when you're shy.
I wish you wouldn't feel so...
sad about it and regret stuff.
-You like me just the way I am, that's what you're saying.
Does that help? Strangely, yes. Sian reckons shyness can be a good thing.
I should embrace it.
So shouldn't I be saying the same to my comedy guinea pigs,
instead of indulging this "stand-up as cure" bullshit?
I think it's time I gave them an escape route.
To frighten them off, I invite them to a comedy venue in Cardiff
and tell them I booked it for their stand-up debut in a month's time.
Just immediately checking pulses.
How does that make you feel?
-I think that about sums it up.
-It's a good word.
-Terrified. Just terror?
-Why are you excited, what are you...?
Pretty much the same. I'd like to push the boundaries a bit more.
-Just see what I can achieve.
You won't get another chance to do anything like this,
-you've got to take it.
-I'm going to get on stage for this bit.
If I said, "Oh, forget it all, let's forget it, silly idea",
how would you feel now?
No, we've made it too far! We've come too far already!
-Would you be disappointed? ALL:
-I would, actually.
Brilliant, perfect. In that case, we'll see each other back here...
in about a month.
You heard them.
I offered an out, but my guinea pigs
have got the bit between their massive front teeth.
It's out of my control -
all I can do now is try to make sure it doesn't go very, very wrong.
So, over the course of the next few weeks,
we all enter an intense action montage.
I impart my canon of comedy knowledge in a phalanx
This is Jodie's. Who seems to be in bed.
I send them off to drama college for some confidence training.
Slowly, but surely,
my three shysters begin to resemble something resembling stand-ups.
-Or in Jodie's case...
-I was on the coach coming back from Cardiff...
..a lie down.
One short month later, the big day drops with a resounding...
-Nice to see you. Jodie, how you doing?
-Got nervous hysterics, I see? That's good. Mike!
-How are we feeling?
-Nothing, at the moment.
-Nothing? A bit...
No, that's normal, I think.
-You know, you haven't shat yourself. That's good.
I think for me, I was thinking about it as I was driving down here today.
The point of it tonight is ready to get up there and not
give a shit, because we all come to shyness in different ways.
But for me, it's caring too much about what people think
and I think if you can get up there tonight and not give a shit what people think of you,
if I walk up and fall flat on my face, it doesn't matter.
We all care too much about what other people think.
At least I'll get a laugh if I do that.
You'll DEFINITELY get a laugh.
Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome to the stage, Mike!
-Time for one last rehearsal.
-Hello, welcome, welcome.
This is my first stand-up gig.
I don't know about them, but I am getting pretty damn nervous.
To be honest, I'm not doing too well at all.
There's definitely a worry that they will get on stage tonight,
that they'll clam up completely.
And there's definitely a worry that nerves will overtake them
physically so badly that they won't be able to do anything.
It's happened to me, all of those things have happened to me.
Hello, a big hello to everyone! Hope you're all OK tonight.
What I want for them is to get up there and, however briefly,
stick two fingers up to their shyness.
If they can do this,
then it will just be a slight correction in their brains,
of the voices that say, "You can't do this, you're not good enough,
"nobody is interested in you, why would anybody listen to you?"
I can't even get the mic off the stand, Jesus.
I'm so nervous for them. And I feel responsible for them.
I know I'm not, cos they're adults,
and they put themselves forward for this, and they're sick
of their shyness and they're sick of it ruling their lives.
-Good evening, everybody, are you enjoying yourselves tonight?
Cos this train they've got on, I'm sort of driving it.
At the moment, I'm sticking my head out the window, and there's a low bridge coming.
And the reason that's such a shit analogy is I'm getting really nervous.
The nerves are kicking in now.
I'm hoping that once I go on stage, they all just fly out of me,
-so to speak.
-To be honest, it's more that... I freeze.
It's more the fear I worry about rather than...
You know, not getting laughs and stuff.
I'm hoping to achieve getting up on the stage...
Getting through my routine and getting back down off the stage
without making a total and utter tit out of myself.
There will be one person laughing out here, anyway. And that's me.
RIPPLE OF LAUGHTER
To help cushion my guinea pigs a little,
I've roped in some lovely professional comedian mates to warm
up a crowd of friends, families and contributors to this documentary.
-This is good.
-Please welcome to the stage, Michael Powell!
By the time Mike gets up to take the first hit,
the audience are already warm to toasty.
Hello, hello, welcome! Welcome.
I wasn't expecting that!
You know I'm not Rod Gilbert?
Um, so... Yeah.
This is my first stand-up gig.
And the BBC are recording it!
Now, to say I'm nervous is a bit of an understatement.
Backstage, I shit enough bricks that I could build Trump's wall.
So, like I say, they're filming this, so if it doesn't go
well tonight, they'll edit it out,
-put in some laughs, it'll be great.
They can use that, for example.
With laughter the wind beneath his wings, Mike starts to soar.
Any single ladies here tonight?
-It's your lucky day.
Because I'm desperate!
I'm thrilled for Mike, but I also know the other two's hearts
have stopped, watching from their nervous nest.
Um... Being shy...
I find it hard to get a date.
Uh, I've never had a date.
I've never had a date in the cinema,
never had a date in a coffee shop,
I never had a date in a restaurant...
But today, I bit the bullet and got myself a date.
And here it is.
I hope you have a good night, enjoy the rest of the show!
Mike has grown a foot taller during his set,
owned his shyness and stormed the gig.
Next in line, Jodie.
Hello, how are you all tonight? All good I hope? Good!
I'm so nervous right now, I'm not going to lie.
I'm not going to lie,
I'm sweating in places I didn't even know could produce sweat.
It is that bad. I... I'm sweating like a nun in a brothel right now.
Now, I know
some of you in this room are probably at least somewhat shy.
Let me just give you a few examples of how this certain...quality...
has made my life more, interesting, should we say.
Now, a little while ago as well, I signed up for a Netflix account.
You know, because I'm on my own, in my bedroom a lot, watching TV.
But I had to cancel it because funds were getting low.
However, the only way to cancel a Netflix account...
is to ring them up.
The oxygen of laughter fills Jodie's lungs as well.
In the end, I... Well, it's only £6 a month, isn't it?
Her self-confidence swells
with every chuckling approval from the audience.
This is why, at age 26, I still get my nan to make
all my appointments and all phone calls for me, because shyness sucks.
And I'm putting two fingers up to it.
-Come on! Come on, join in with me!
I've been myself, you've been great, thank you very much!
Or maybe up. One to go.
Please welcome to the stage, Kate Hoad!
But all the pressure is now on Kate.
Good evening everybody, are we having fun tonight? Good, good.
Well, that's all about to change.
-It's hard, being shy when you work in retail.
But it's even harder when, like me, you have a condition called RBF.
It's a serious condition,
I don't know if any of you know what RBF means.
RBF stands for Resting Bitch Face.
Basically, this facial expression here...
This is my normal facial expression.
Faced with an appreciative audience,
even Kate is forced to challenge her own self-loathing,
and hangs up her resting bitch face for a few minutes.
It's a whole different story when I get to know people,
because when I get to know people, I KNOW why don't like them.
And I don't discriminate. I don't discriminate.
It doesn't matter to me what colour you are,
it doesn't matter to me what sex you are,
what religion you are, it doesn't even matter what team you bat for.
If you're human, I don't like you.
How long can I keep this going?
Fucking ages, let me tell you.
Anyway, you'll be relieved to hear that's all from me.
Everybody has been absolutely fantastic,
this has been a journey, and I've really enjoyed it.
Thank you and goodnight.
Three out of three! Three out of three, home and dry! Home and dry.
-Let me tell you, I am bloody relieved!
Well, it wasn't a foregone conclusion, let's face it,
that you would all three of you come through with flying colours,
and you have, totally. I don't even need to lie! It's awesome!
VOICEOVER: I'm exhausted, mentally, emotionally drained.
I lived every moment of that with them.
But... I didn't need to worry.
They totally took it on, they wanted to stick two fingers up to
shyness, they wanted to reclaim a bit of their own life back.
I'm so proud of you.
To have stood up here, with the lights in your face,
and everybody looking at them, expectantly,
and try to make people laugh?
I wouldn't have done it. No chance!
Doing stand-up was never going to transform my guinea pigs
into confident social butterflies,
but they all believe it had a positive impact on their lives.
Since doing it, Kate got up
and made a speech at her sister's 50th birthday party.
Jodie has got a job and been on her first ever holiday abroad.
And Mike has continued to do stand-up, including a gig in London.
As for Rhod Gilbert, well,
he finally managed to drink a coffee in a cafe.
Next time round, he's hoping to order a slice of cake, as well.
Stand-up comedian Rhod Gilbert is painfully shy. He might hide it well, but he can't even go into a cafe to buy a coffee. No joke. In fact, his social anxiety has had a massive effect on his life. In this documentary, Rhod's going to try find out why and what can be done. Talking to fellow shy comedian Greg Davies, other shy sufferers, and scientists, Rhod comes up with a radical solution for how we can all stand up to shyness.
Rhod can stand up in front of 20,000 people and make them laugh for two hours solid. But he has always found it virtually impossible to talk to people one to one. From childhood, it has been a life-limiting condition. And in this Rhod is certainly not alone. It is estimated that nearly half the population in the UK have some manifestation of shyness and social anxiety. For many it is a minor irritation, for some it is a condition that can virtually destroy a life.