Failure is one of the few sure things you will witness in your lifetime. You may not be around to see Halley’s comet, but in some aspect of your life you will fail. It always hurts, but personally, I have always thought it hurt more to fail doing something you are passionate about.
There is not one entertainer out there that hasn’t failed before getting to a point where they could consider themselves a success. The same will happen to you if you are a comic. As a comedian, you will face adversity everywhere you look. Bookers aren’t booking you. No agency will pick you up. You keep getting overlooked for work. This will happen. The important thing is what you do after these set backs. Do you let it eat you up (which is very easy to do) or do you keep pushing? It sounds like “keep pushing” would be the easiest answer, but it isn’t always the case. Sometimes you get hit so hard it may seem impossible to get back up and try again.
I was about two months into comedy when the Spokane Comedy Competition was announced. I wanted this so bad! I had worked and worked on culling the best material I had written in that short amount of time and I felt I was ready. I got knocked out in the semi finals. I remember sitting in my car wondering what I was going to do. I was so shaken I didn’t even know if comedy was something I even wanted to do anymore.
A couple of months after that I was in Medford, Oregon to do a show. It was a great crowd…and I couldn’t get them to laugh at even one of my jokes. It was one of the worst bombings of my life. I felt so bad I left Medford for Spokane right after I got off stage. I was determined to never do comedy again! It wasn’t for me. I was not built to endure such hardship. I was about 3 hours from Spokane before I decided to give it another chance.
I have been turned down for countless TV shows, agencies, bookers, promoters, and loan sharks (too risky they say). Failure is just a part of being if you are a comic at my level. You may ask yourself, “Then why does he keep doing it?” The answer is because when you do succeed it feels so damn good. A baseball player that hits the ball three out of ten times is doing well. They see a lot of poor results, but when they get that hit…it just feels satisfying. Comedy isn’t baseball, however, there is no empirical way you can see your success. Something as subjective as comedy has failure built right into it. Failure is as much a part of comedy as making people laugh.
Since failure comes with the territory, you have to be prepared to weather it and see the glimmer of hope that each bad turn contains. Yeah, you had a bad set, but there is always next time. You may not have gotten with that booker, but maybe if they need someone you can show them that you have what it takes. That is how I deal with it. It wasn’t always like that though. I would let every bit of bad luck destroy my insides and it lead me to miss opportunities that were staring me right in the face. I would lay in bed for days and question what am I doing this for. I would get so depressed that it was making me more unhealthy then I already am. I had to take a step back and look at it from a different angle. Maybe I am the unluckiest person on planet earth, or maybe I am not doing everything I can possibly do to ensure that I succeed. What that means is: Am I sending out available dates to bookers and letting them know I still exist and want to work for them? Am I letting people know when I do have a show in there area for a better turn out? Am I using my stage time in between shows to the fullest? I started noticing that yeah I will still fail and things will not always go 100% in my favor, but I would lessen those chances.
When I got kicked out of the Seattle International Comedy Competition it was by .13 of a point. It didn’t keep me in bed for days on end. I felt good about what I had done. My goal was to get to the finals and I came up short. I did win a some nights and showed people that I could do comedy on that level. I failed at what I was trying to do, but I found something in the rubble worth holding onto.
If you are struggling to get more shows and it seems like no one wants to book you, my only advice is to keep pushing. That booker might not like your style, but the next one might love it. You may find that agency that wants to put on someone like you. You may get that spot on that pilot. You won’t know if you let failure get to you. Don’t be like me and let the bad things take you to a point where you feel you lost valuable time in your career. It’s still gonna hurt. I would be lying if I said it didn’t, but what makes failure permanent is when you let it beat you for good. With that being said, just because you prepare yourself to lessen your chances of failure doesn’t mean you will be able to avoid it. There are comics out there doing it for 25 years and they are not living in a mansion and riding lions to the fridge. You have to be ok with that, and go for it with everything you got.