Success

The answer to what makes you a success is just as hard to answer as what is the meaning of life.  Success is different things to different people, but in different realms achieving something that could be seen as success by others is a simple affair.  If you want to be a doctor, all you have to do is go to school and become a doctor (you also have to be smart and all that, but we are excluding that for the sake of not making this example longer).  There are clear goals that you must achieve in order to obtain that success. Comedy, or the entertainment industry is different.

See, unlike becoming a doctor, there is nothing to stop you from just saying you’re a comedian.  Hell, you don’t even have to get on stage.  You can just tell people that is what you are.  There are no gatekeepers to keep you from saying that.  So just being a comedian can’t be a goal for the comedian.  Is it time on stage?  Is it paid gigs? Is it a special on comedy central? I struggle with these questions a lot.  I think every serious comedian will have these thoughts bouncing around in their head meat (brain) every now and again.

The cool thing about being a comedian as opposed to say, being a doctor, is that you can move the goal post.  You can set what makes you a success yourself and if you achieve it then you win at life and get a real life panda bear as a companion.  If you don’t reach that goal you can either move the goal or you can keep on trying to achieve it until you die alone and afraid on a pissy mattress behind a CostCo.  I guess that is the cool part of working for yourself.  You set the goal, but that also means if you didn’t achieve it that you might have to look in the mirror and blame the person looking back.

I am always trying to settle on where I should even set up my goal post.  Should I call it good once I am working 75% out of the year?  What about TV or movies?  What about money?  These questions keep me up at night mainly because as I go about my career in comedy my philosophy about it has changed.  When I first started it was an escape from a life that I thought was wasted.  When I discovered that comedy gave me purpose it was then a goal of mine to use comedy to support myself so that the thing that kept me around could also help me pay the bills, a cycle if you will.  Now, I am no where near working 75% of the year, or am I on TV or in movies (the two roles I have had don’t count), or am I rolling in the dough. So, all those things above can still be goals, the thing is do you settle for the easier goal or do you work until you die trying to achieve a goal not many in this business will ever obtain.

I think a common misconception about the entertainment industry is that if you are good, you will be noticed and you will achieve great things.  This is not the case.  There are so many variables that go into whether or not a person will see big time success like movies and TV and tons of money.  You can’t assume that if a person is working in a bar in the middle of Montana that they are a failure or they are not really good.  Maybe working bars in Montana in the middle of November is what this person wants to do.  Maybe some talent agent saw him/her at a showcase and thought that they didn’t have enough appeal.  Maybe this person is just a heroin addict and every time they were given a chance to do something bigger they were found choking on their own tongue.

See, the big time comics you see on your TV and in movies are like 1% of all the comics out there working today.  For every Chris Rock there are about 100 Michael Ironbottoms that are barely getting by with comedy as a job.  The people making the big bucks are really small and the people getting the crumbs are plentiful.  That is why it is important to eye your goal, but be realistic as well.  There is nothing wrong with wanting your own sitcom, but you have to remember that it is a shot many comedians don’t even get.

Personally, any of the above goals that I think about nightly are cool with me.  I think the problem is that if I set a goal, will I be happy with it?  I think that is my biggest issue.  If I go about getting work for the majority of the year, I am always worried that that would not make me happy until I got on TV.  Then I am worried that if I get on TV that I would not be happy unless I am in movies and then I am worried that I would not be happy until I have a house next to a lake (a lake that I would probably never use).  I think that has more to do with depression than with anything else, but it is something that worries me and makes me feel I will ultimately never be happy with any goal I set in the entertainment industry.

Maybe I got it all wrong though.  Maybe success isn’t what I am looking for, but happiness.  Maybe success gets confused with happiness and for a lot of us, it is hard to figure out which is which.  That could explain why there are comics out there that have it great by all measures, but are still miserable.  That could explain why someone is found dead of a drug overdose in their mansion.  When you have achieved success, but happiness eludes you, it could drive us to do all sorts of stuff.  So, for the 10s of you reading this you have to look within yourself and find what makes you happy.  Is it comedy at all?  Would you be happier being a beaver trapper?  Honestly think about it and see where it leads you. I would rather be happy for an hour than be famous for a day.

So, what makes me happy?  Creating?  I love writing this blog and doing my video blog on YouTube and I love getting on stage and seeing people laugh.  I love being told that what I thought up is funny or thought provoking.  I guess if you think about it.  I am already a success.  That answer was easier to find then I thought.

The Will

For this weeks blog, I didn’t know what to call it.  I don’t think “The Will” is a good representation of what I wanted to talk about, but by the end it may turn out like that so let’s see where this takes us.

I started with my video blog which can be found on YouTube. This is the first video and it is just the start of something that I hope will prosper and last a long time.  Comedy, like life, involves stepping out of your comfort zone all the time and exposing yourself to the randomness of life.  You may think that because a lot of comedy is scripted, that there would not be any room for a variable.  Different audiences, different nights, difference pants can change a show for good or bad.  With doing this video blog, I am exposing myself to a new audience and I am doing something where there are more parts.  I have to make the video and sound look good and I have to edit the video and I have to keep it fresh with topics that people will want to watch.

I have read and watched enough YouTube personalities to know that this will not be an over night success.  Hell, I may not even be a success at all.  But that is the risk you take not only in comedy, but in life.  Sometimes I get on stage with an idea and the idea falls flat.  It just sinks.  The key is you have to have the will (AHA!) to push through it and not let it get to you or knock you off your horse.  I’m sure I am not the only one that has had bumps in the road where you thought it should all just end.  Like when I got diagnosed with Lupus, or when I got a divorce, or when I got out of school and couldn’t find a job, or all the acting role rejections, or the comedy clubs that turn me away constantly.  If we stopped at the obstacle, would anything ever get done?

I have realistic expectations for everything, but I never stop dreaming.  I dream of doing shows 49 weeks out of the year and releasing more albums and entertaining more people.  If it doesn’t happen that doesn’t mean my life was wasted.  My life would be wasted if I took an office job and never even tried to chase my dreams.  And that’s where the will comes in.  You have to have the will to talk yourself off the ledge sometimes.  We can’t help but get down sometimes when things don’t go our way, but that is the perfect time to look inside yourself and tell yourself that it is worth all the pain.

I keep working on ways to entertain more people, while doing the things that make me happy. Like writing this blog and doing the show on YouTube.  It is gonna be rocky for awhile.  No one may watch it, but that doesn’t mean I just stop because I feel bad about myself.  I keep going until I catch an audience (which I think I can do) and make something out of it.  You don’t fail until you stop trying, and that is where will comes in.  The will to keep pushing until you can reach your goals.  No matter if it’s comedy or working at a call center, if you have a goal you must have the willpower to see it through.  I knew I would get my title in there.

Money

A lot of people do comedy so eventually they can get into the money, the sweet cheddar, the bacon bits (does anyone other than me call it that?), the problem is comedy is notorious for how long it could take to get paid and the amount you are getting.  This is something you have to keep in mind if you are going to pursue comedy as a living.  There is no get rich quick scheme because if there was everyone would do it and it would not be a scheme, but what ever the opposite of scheme is…a plan?  Anyway, money lies heavy at the heart of many a comedian.

Let’s first talk about the starting comic.  The open micer who is trying to get as much stage time as possible.  Maybe you are lucky and you live in a major metro area.  Lucky you!  Now you don’t have to drive that far to get on stage and you may have a plethora of stages to choose from.  If you live in a smaller area, then that will create problems.  I live in Spokane, there are a lot of open mics here, but not to the extent of say Seattle.  Going over to Seattle, you can park your car and just walk to the rooms.  That is sweet if you know how brutal parking is in the big cities.  The issue arises when I go over there.  I have to pay for gas and I have to have a place to stay.  Now I have friends over there, but I am not going to wear out my welcome by going over there every week and sleeping on the couch their dog calls home.  So I get a hotel room, and depending on the room it can be between 75 bucks and up.  And for 75 bucks you are not getting the Marriot.  You will be lucky if they don’t charge you for shower curtains.  The gas is another expense.  With gas creeping at 4 bucks a gallon it is about $120 dollars to get to Seattle and back.  Then you have to buy food and handjobs and you can see where the expenses can pile up (I’m joking about the handjobs that is a DIY thing).

It takes a lot of people a long time to get paid to do comedy, especially if you are in a small town or you have other obligations.  I started getting paid for comedy after about 6-7 months and something I had to learn was how to budget your money when you are on the road and when you are in between shows. I have seen comics blow the tiny amount of money they got that night on booze and food.  I like to fashion myself an expert on how to make my money stretch on the road.  First, I plan out the destination so I know how much money in gas I will be spending.  If I am only going to make 300 bucks, I can not do a trip from Spokane to eastern Montana and back.  I will basically break even or have about 40-50 bucks after the trip.  Is that really worth the drive?  Now, there is an exception to this because when I first started doing runs like that I would break even or lose money just so I could show the booker that I was dependable and good enough to do a bar near the Canadian  border.  Second, I don’t splurge on the food and alcohol (the second part is easy because I don’t drink).  I would talk to some guys who would do the same run as me, and they would talk about how they came back even and I knew you could make 2-300 bucks on the shows and that what that tells me is that they are not being smart with their money.  I don’t go to restaurants.  I go to the grocery store and get my food there.  I save a lot of money by not drinking.  People drink, I get it, but I am not about to miss my phone payment so I can drink Barley hops after the show (that’s not even a thing is it?).  My one weakness is energy drinks, but I will only buy them if I can get them in a deal like 2 for 5.00 or something.

Then there is the long haul.  I am in that point in my career (and that part of the country) where shows can come in bunches and then there is a drought.  I have done shows for 3 weeks a month for 4 months straight and then have 2-3 months where there isn’t that much work.  You have to be a camel.  What that means is you have to plan for those times by not blowing everything you make.  One month I made about 3500 bucks.  Really good right?  Not if you take into account that I might not have another show for 2-3 months than that is way less than 3500 a month.  Once I get home I pay all my bills as far back as I can pay them.  If I can pay the phone bill and my car payment for 2 months that means that if I get more work later and I don’t need to pay them I can either pay it again and that is another month I have knocked out or I can save it for when something happens (and something always happens).  I know a lot of people want to live like a rock start, but when you are a lower tier comic you have to work with what you got.

The Road Comics’ Car

If you are a road comic you know how important a nice car is.  That car is basically your life blood.  If you don’t have a reliable car, you will find it very hard to get to shows.  I am always looking at what car would serve me best in terms of helping me get to shows and keep the cost of maintenance down.  Since starting comedy I have had about 6 cars and the best one was an old beat up 84′ Honda Accord.  It was rusted at the bottom of the doors and the engine sounded like a souped up go kart, but it got me through many places and it saved me a lot of money on gas.

The car I drive now to shows is a 2006 Chrysler 300 with all wheel drive.  I like the car for almost everything except two.  First, since it is a touring model and not a higher trim level I have to calculate the gas milage myself and though it isn’t hard, it’s easier to have the computer in the car do that so you know if something is amiss with your car right away.  Another thing is that it gets under 25 miles to the gallon on the highway (I have been able to get about 24.5 mpg out of it though).  That may not seem like a big complaint, but when you can save upwards of 25-50 bucks on gas per trip it means something.

What I look for in a good road comic car is 1. gas milage 2. comfort 3. maintenance cost 4.AWD.  Now if you live in California or the deep south you don’t have to worry that much about snow, but when you are doing shows in the inland northwest having a car that can get through a Montana winter can keep your lights on.  Gas milage like I said above is important.  I used to work with this guy that had a Hummer.  Now he could get anywhere he wanted with the thing, but it is not a gas sipper at all.  At best he was coming out even after a trip because of the gas being used.  I look for 25 mpg and above unless you can sacrifice some things for say AWD (like I did with the 300).  Number 2 is comfort because I think if the car is not going to be enjoyable you are going to be miserable when you get to the show.  It’s important for me because I am taller and I need more leg room.  If you are a tiny person go ahead and get a smart car and be happy.  Comfort also means you need something to distract you from a 800 mile drive through some of the more boring places of this great land.  I need an auxiliary port in my car so I can listen to my podcast.  I have tried driving and listening to just what radio stations my antenna can grab from space and…it wasn’t pretty.  Maintenance cost are important because if you are having to keep it in the shop more than use it then it is not a useful tool.  I used to have a 2003 Audi a4 and it was a great car, but in the 9 months I had it I had to spend 3 grand in repair cost.  Even to fix the terrible cup holder was like 400 bucks!  I love AWD!  It is one of my most important factors when I am looking at a car because it means I can transverse more areas in the winter when the roads are rough around here.

Now, I know things like insurance are important.  I just like to look for the things above first and then worry about the insurance later.   If you have a more, let’s just say…suspect driving record then you may want to consider that.

Ok, I gathered some cars that I think would make great road comic cars:

Accord

Honda Accord: Great gas milage and they are reliable.  If you get an older one you may have to get a new radio so you can listen to the music on your phone, but other than that great car.

Sonata

Hyundai Sonata:  Gas milage and pretty comfortable.  I have been though a lot of Montana in one of these.

legacy

Subaru Legacy:  You can’t go wrong with any Subaru.  I find them comfortable and they are pretty easy on the pocket maintenance wise.  Again, the older you go the more you should invest in a stereo so you don’t have to listen to Spanish music for 500 miles (unless you want too…I don’t judge.).

Terrain

GMC Terrain:  I love these cars.  It’s an SUV so you have more head and leg room.  It isn’t a big ass SUV.  With this car you are getting up to 30mpg!  And since it’s newer you will have all the safety options and entertainment options available.  If you still have great credit you should go get one.

2015-Cadillac-Escalade-exterior-front

2015 Cadillac Escalade:  You rich bastard.  Why are you doing road gigs?  Are you trying to shame me!?  What the hell could you possibly want with the 250 bucks you are getting in Pocatello Idaho!?  Don’t you have stocks you have to manage?  Why do you taunt me with your riches!?  You probably have satellite in that big fucker don’t you!?  You have a helipad on top?  You disgust me!?  Can we carpool to the next show?