I never did a lot of stand-up comedy. I did more than the average person, but that’s because the average person has enough good sense and mental stability to not do stand-up comedy. I lack good sense and mental stability. But I also lacked a certain hardness and fortitude to persevere when the going got tough. Criticism got to me. A bombed set eclipsed the five good ones I had in a row. I saw every success as just another opportunity to embarrass myself. I was my own worst enemy, and I hated it. So I dropped out.
I’ve always wanted to do comedy. I was a comedy nerd, obsessing over sketch shows like Mr. Show and Kids in the Hall. I worshipped comedians like George Carlin, Dennis Leary and Chris Rock when I was in high school. I thought it was amazing that people could say what really was on their mind and inspire laughter, not hatred, but laughter in others. And I, being a lonely clod, wanted that for myself.
But I didn’t have the support of my family. And instead I believed that I wasn’t good enough. I bought into all the shit I heard from everyone around me, that money is important, that a steady job is important, that I am not worthy of people’s attention. And so I pursued the normal path as much as I could. This lasted an extraordinarily brief amount of time.
What has taken longer is overcoming my inner demons and those inner voices that say, “You suck. You suck. You suck.” It’s a common thread for artists and entertainers. We all have that little bird on our shoulder telling us that we’re no good. And it’s soul-crushing. But it’s up to us to find a way to get over this and prove ourselves not to an audience but to ourselves.
I took the leap into comedy in 2006. Before this, I had dabbled a bit in college with some comedic writing. But 2006 was when I started doing improv. Improv was good for trying to get me out of my head. It was also fun, and I got to meet a lot of really funny people. Shortly after starting improv, I started doing stand-up. My friend Ken wanted to get into it, and he wanted a buddy to do it with. So knowing that I always wanted to give it a shot, I said yes. Changed my life. I loved stand-up. I loved joke writing. I was good at it. I got asked to do a real freaking show after the very first time I ever got on stage. And I did that show, which as it turns out was a contest. And I went on to the next round and did well there.
I stopped doing improv after three years. I got tired of being silly. I felt I had something more to say. I liked the mechanics improv taught me, but it just didn’t feel like my medium. I also missed writing. So I got into sketch and co-wrote a sketch show. It was fun, but I always felt like my sketches were just stand-up sets dramatized.
I stopped doing stand-up in August of 2009. I’ve done a few alternative bits at Entertaining Julia since then as well as a very successful character act for the Feast of Fun live podcast. At the time, I told myself I could always come back. But in my head, I thought I wouldn’t. Life had kicked me in the gut earlier that year with some pretty bad news. I also had gotten a bad review in the Reader. So I had been hurt, and I wanted to just explore the writing side of things and inject a little less levity and a little more poignancy into my life. And so I started Essay Fiesta.
I love Essay Fiesta. It’s something I’m proud of. It’s something I’m good at. It’s something I want to keep doing. It’s inspired me to take my writing more seriously. It’s allowed me to meet some extraordinarily talented and kind people. I wouldn’t trade the experience I’ve had so far with Essay Fiesta for anything. If this is what came out of dropping out of stand-up then great. It’s been worth it.
But recently, I’ve started to feel depressed. I’m prone to depression (no surprise there), but I couldn’t quite put my finger on the source. I had a gist. Existential pain, loneliness, overwhelmed with the absurdity of the world and my inability to change anything. You know, first-world problems. And then I started listening to Marc Maron’s WTF Podcast. And I realized I’m not alone. And I realized that these kinds of feelings I’ve had are normal feelings…at least for comedians. In fact, this is the recipe for a comedian. And if I want to exercise this psychic pain out of my system, then maybe I should do comedy.
So thanks to the fabulous Marc Maron and his insightful and stimulating podcast, in which he interviews different comedians about their lives and personal philosophies, I’ve started to reconsider doing comedy. I’m a different person than I was two years ago. I’m a bit more humble. I have a better understanding of myself. I’m tired of my insecurities, and I want to get used to people liking me and not liking me. At least dipping my toe back into the comedy pool seems like the right thing to do.
I’m not looking at this as a career move. I’m just looking at it as a hobby. That’s a different attitude than I’ve had in the past. There was always a desperate drive to monetize my talent as soon as possible in the past. Not anymore. Making money doing what you love as an artist is a crap shoot. Instead, just do it for the love. Maybe the money will come. Who knows? But do it because you have to. Because your sanity requires it.
My brain has started to think of jokes again. Serious jokes about real things in my life. I can’t tell if they’re too depressing to be funny. It doesn’t matter. I feel better just writing them down. And this lets me know I’m doing the right thing. It’s like an old friend has come to live with me. It’s nice to have him around. I hope he stays for a while.