I’m about two months away from turning 38.
That’s not THAT big of a deal, but it does feel like it’s getting a little old to be an “aspiring” comedian. Comedy does make me a little money. “Little” being the most important word in that sentence…but it’s not paying any bills regularly.
Recently I watched a documentary about professional magicians. They ranged in age from their 30s to their 50s and 60s. Some had been on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and now do small gigs at conventions and parties. One was doing a big Vegas show. One had just been booted from his spacious mansion into a studio apartment. One got married and divorced in the course of filming. It was a fascinating and sad glimpse that encompasses pretty much everything about showbiz that can go right – and wrong – in a career.
I’ve been doing standup for ten years. I love it. I enjoy being onstage, I like writing jokes and editing jokes and making them better and how great it feels when a joke you’ve been working on starts to get good and hits and that audience feedback comes back to you. I like hanging out with comics and watching them perform and seeing other comics grow and develop and become better.
The things I don’t like are spending hours and hours driving to shows, waiting for hours and hours to perform, making no money and generally feeling like I’m one of many in a sea of faceless clown nobodies who eagerly line up for rejection and failure as an expected part of the lifestyle. This week I was rejected from two festivals and there are a handful of comedy bookers in the Bay Area and beyond who won’t return my email.
But this isn’t a woe-is-me thing or even one of the classic “I’m quitting comedy forever because it’s silly and meaningless and let me give you 3,000 words about it” posts that comedians in their mid-30’s that nobody knows write before they stomp off from the playground with their toys, never to be seen again except for random posts about how they’re super-glad they quit doing comedy.
I feel like I’m okay at comedy. I get laughs. I have weaknesses onstage and in my material and I often feel as though I’m forgettable. This is not me asking for people who know me and care about me to write back “you’re the best!” or anything; this is how I feel given the general state of my comedy “career” (quotations necessary) and audience reactions after shows.
I’m not quitting. I have some fun stuff ahead in comedy that I’m looking forward to. But time is short. So if I’m going to “do comedy,” I need to do it better. Many wannabe comedians are lazy. I am one of them. But I’m not 25, living in a small closet with $400 rent and forgiving parents (I do have forgiving parents, but anyway) who are happy to let me float around for a while.
I’m 37 (nearly 38) with a wife. I have goals in comedy but also for myself and my wife financially and career-wise and life-wise. We have real jobs with stress and 401Ks and savings accounts and investments and health insurance and parents with health issues and nephews and a niece and all that other shit that makes adulthood complicated. These things are sometimes difficult and can distract from comedy. But again – if you’re going to do it, then do it seriously or Get The Fuck Out Of The Way.
So here’s where I’m at: I’m taking a few weeks to go light on standup and focus on writing. That may turn into a screenplay, it might turn into a first draft of a book, it might be new standup material. Whatever form it takes, that’s fine. As time goes on I have shows booked and I plan to either do new material or edit the shit out of what I already have to make it tighter, punchier, FUNNIER.
Frankly, I feel that I (and many comedians/wannabe comedians) either need to make the choice to approach the craft seriously or make room for those who will. I want to be better. I want to be memorable. Or I want to realize that I’m not good enough and get out before I’m the sad guy in the documentary and find another path in life that will make me happy.
To those who read this (the few, the proud) thanks. Again, no need to drop me a line of support. I appreciate you visiting the site in general. I’ll see you out there.