Thinking in terms of achievement and legitimacy, instead of creativity and growth, earns any “artist” a one-way ticket on the bitter bus to Hacktown. Lately, I’ve wanted to be booked on shows for approval and acceptance, rather than the opportunity to perform. I’ve taken it as a sign to perhaps accept stand-up’s persistent pleas to change its role in my life to “hobby.”
If I strain-out the ambition, I’ll be more able to enjoy the juice, right? A mind focused only on the quality of its product can create things without the nagging influence of their marketability. Unfortunately, the reality is, I can write as much as I want, but without performing, the material sits lifeless on my hard-drive. People can consume some small parts of it on my blog, but it doesn’t become fully me until I recite it into the blank, confused faces of tourists in Times Square, or the floating wool hipster hats of dimly lit “alternative” comedy rooms.
Stand-up only comes with the pulp; a sludgy residue of duplicitous bookers and under-appreciative audiences. It’s bad enough at times that I think maybe, just maybe, I can kick this awful stand-up drug once and for all. Like most things that are ultimately bad for our health and sanity, the moment you think you’re done with them, they redeem themselves.
My phone rang and it was an old friend who runs a comedy variety show. I almost didn’t answer because, for one, I felt he should have texted, but also, I knew he wanted to offer me a gig; I would say yes, and then the night would come and I wouldn’t want to do it. I wouldn’t want to leave my wife alone with the kids so I could drive 45 minutes to disappoint myself by attempting, once again, to get a crowd to like me while being generally unlikeable.
He told me the show was at Joe’s Pub which is a great place for comedy. I harnessed any burgeoning excitement – it was probably still gonna suck. I arrived at the venue and was met by my friend who couldn’t have been more friendly and professional. He paid me up front, asked when I wanted to go on, and showed me to the dressing room where I was offered the beverages of my choice. All of this is intensely rare in comedy for me. I’m usually sitting in a corner trying to generate enough confidence to pester an already annoyed waitress for a half-price Diet Coke and the whereabouts of the person who has my payment for the evening.
The audience looked to be a nice mixture of age and hipness levels. In the back, I spotted Paul Giamatti. Is there a cooler mascot for a crowd than him? I felt a little nervous, which at this point is a good sign for me. Usually, I’m sighing on my way up to the stage muttering “Why do I do this?” under my breath. This time, I really wanted to do well. I didn’t feel the need to impress people, or simply gas-up my tank of self esteem, I just wanted to have some fun. And I did. And so did they. We all had a good time, and I had forgotten that’s what it’s all about.
So my belief is restored a bit; my addiction reinvigorated. Not completely, but enough to stop thinking about quitting all the time. I’m dubious that this small dose of faith will endure the onslaught of impending contradictions, but I’m also willing to just let it be for a while.
Create work you’re proud of, and capitalize on opportunities as they come. That’s all we can do. The rest is all pulp.