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.