Don’t Judge Your Success On The Success Of Others

Parents have seen this before.  Your first child was walking at 9 months, talking at 16 months and went off the college at the age of 13.  Your second child…Not so advanced.  Instead of throwing that dumb kid in the trash, you should probably understand that not everyone follows the same path.  That was a round about way of getting into the blog this week, but I think it is a pretty good (if not exaggerated) example.  This week we are going to talk about why you shouldn’t base your comedy career on the success of your peers.

I have been doing comedy for a decade now.  I play the occasional club, but I am mostly in the lower tier when it comes to comedians in the country.  Now, there are some comics that have been doing it for 10 years that have vastly more successful careers than I do at this point.  It was hard at first to understand why they were successful and I wasn’t.  I questioned my abilities constantly.  All that did was drive me down a path I feel from time to time from other comics.  That bitterness that I am not a success, but they are.  What I had to do was look at the situation from a non emotional angle, and it has helped me focus more on me and my career than on others.

I believe the issue at hand, is that we tend to look toward the outside world for indications that what we are doing is correct.  For entertainers, it is  very easy, we just look at our peers and try to gauge where we should land if given the same amount of time. The problem with that, is these things are not constant.  Comedy isn’t the law of gravity in that there is a prescribed way to see it work.  That means that you can not look at someone that has been performing comedy for the same amount of time as you and assume that you should be in that position.

I see it all the time.  Comic A has been performing comedy for 2 years.  Comic B has been performing for 9 months.  Comic A hasn’t featured at the local clubs, but Comic B has featured, and has had success in other areas (like a write up in the paper or a theater show).  Comic A gets angry because they have been doing it longer, but hasn’t had those opportunities.  They start to believe that Comic B is somehow doing something nefarious to get those opportunities.  It is even worse if Comic B just so happens to be a female, because then it is assume that Comic B is doing sexually nefarious stuff to get those shows.  You see where this becomes a problem.

The thing is, If Comic A were honest with themselves, then maybe they could point to exactly why they haven’t had the same success as Comic B.  First, just because you have been doing it for longer, doesn’t mean you took advantage of that time.  Did Comic A go out as much as possible during those 2 years or just every couple of months?  Is Comic A writing and working out material at the same pace as Comic B? Those two things right there can explain a lot!  Some comics believe that as soon as you touch that stage the timer starts on when they can expect certain things.  Just like in life, it doesn’t work that way.  You get out what you put in a lot of the time.  85% of all situations like this can be explained away by looking at the work each comic is putting in.  If you are sitting on your ass mopping around while the other comics are out there working on their material and getting on stage, you can’t expect to show up and do as well as them.

Those aren’t the only reasons why Comic A and Comic B are progressing differently.  Maybe Comic B is a better writer.  Some comics can just write material and are able to produce it on stage better than others. Maybe Comic A isn’t too sure of their newly written material, so they don’t ever try it out on stage, they just do the same 5 minutes that they have had since day one and no one with any ability to put them on a show has seen progress.  Maybe Comic B is a better salesman.  People who can go and get their name out there, have a tendency to advance quicker than the person that doesn’t even promote their shows so their own family can see it.  Maybe Comic A isn’t as confident that they are funny.  That shows.  Maybe Comic B goes to shows in the area and so they get seen by other comics that are also putting on shows and so they build a network.  Or, and this is the one that may cause Comic A to kick over a bucket of milk:  Maybe Comic B is a likable person.  Maybe they have attributes that are lovely to be around.  They show up for shows they are put on, they don’t run out on their tab, they don’t get drunk and try to fondle people.  Their are many reasons that can cause two comics to veer off onto different paths.  Including just plain old luck.  Some people will just rise above the rest for no reason.  Can you explain why some comics blast off and make millions a year while others don’t? Sometimes, just luck.

I feel into that trap about five years in.  Then I took a long hard look in the mirror.  I was in college at the time and so I wasn’t on the road.  I am not that outgoing of a person, so I wouldn’t talk to other comedians that I was around.  Those things immediately came to me as reasons why wasn’t as successful as my peers at the time.  The comics that I came up with left Spokane and went to bigger cities so they could get more opportunities.  Some knew people that could get them jump started.  Most worked their asses off and a one got lucky on a scratch off lottery ticket.  I stopped focusing on that and I just took every chance that came my way and I am happy with how my career is progressing.  I get to do shows, and I get paid money, and I am not living in a hut made out of discarded aluminum foil.  I focus on my career and when someone I know is doing well, it fills me with happiness now instead of sadness.  In life, the guy that was the douche in high school ends up getting a sweet ass job and owning a jet ski.  Don’t let that consume you.  Or you will end up one of those bitter people that blame all of their problems on the world.

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This Post Has Not Been Rated

So I have started doing something that I was firmly against for a long time.  I have paid for the privilege of doing comedy festivals.  I have had a change of heart mainly because I am usually not doing anything else during those times so it makes sense to network with other comics and potentially get seen by someone important.  I still believe that some of these festivals are nothing more than money grabbing operations that use comedian’s dreams of hitting it big to fund the whole thing.  It’s like those things that take place in a hotel conference room on the weekend where some guy that made all his money selling people books on how to get rich, tells you that all you need to make money is to believe…and his book.  The thing is I travel to Portland and Seattle trying to network, but I still have to pay for things like hotel and food.  It would be great if someone else did that for me for a change…that’s if I get invited of course.

I have been trying to get my podcast off the ground since around April.  I love podcast, and I would like to add my two cents to the podcast discussion.  I have a format.  I have the site and everything ready…I just don’t know when it would be a great time to launch something like that.  That is my biggest problem.  It takes me a while to just get off my ass and get something done.  I will do a podcast, I just hope it is within this decade.

I got my photos submitted to the fair for their photography competition.  I am not so naive as to think I am this super great photographer, especially after picking it up only a year ago.  I do think a couple of the pictures I chose are really good.  Let’s hope I get a ribbon…damn I really want a ribbon.

So, the comedians in town have started gathering every week to shoot sketches and they have been really good so far.  Stuff like that makes me happy and at the same time furious!  Happy that so much talent is within arm’s reach, and furious that I can not eat their souls to gain their power.

No Excuses

Had a great show in Seattle last week.  Got to see a friend I haven’t seen in awhile.  Seattle is fun for me because there are all these nooks and crannies that I haven’t explored and that is exciting.  I also go over there and as soon as I hit Seattle proper I get angry as hell.  Traffic is lousy.  There is always construction or something going on which means as soon as you remember how to get somewhere you have to learn something again…it is a silly complaint, but I always get flustered over there.

Me and my friend (or is it My friend and I…) were talking about comedy and how to get more of it.  I will admit to anyone that will listen that I am a procrastinator and as such don’t get as much work as I think I could otherwise.  I try not to use any of my ailments as excuses.  Sometimes I have a flare up (Lupus not Herpes) and I will get fatigued easy and end up sleeping most of the day.  That isn’t an excuse because I can use that time I am awake to send out stuff and try to get more dates.  I think what happens with a lot of us is we will use our shortcomings as a crutch for why we haven’t met success. I try not to do that.  I want to be exposed for what I am.  Lazy.  That way you either try to change it or you just accept you are wasting your time.

The past 6 months I have been trying new things as far as comedy goes and it has been working pretty well for me.  I have stopped accepting any old gig.  I am not swimming in money, but not all shows are created equal.  I would rather spend my time promoting a great show then one that was thrown together at the last minute.  I would also be valued in my performance.  What used to happen is I would go and “headline” a show for 50-60 bucks and what would happen is I would be there with open micers.  That does two things.  It makes it so I can not charge what I think I am worth later and it makes me look suspect because I am on the tail end of a lot of comics that don’t have the time to be up there. I have stopped just going to every open mic.  What happens when you do that is people just go to the open mics and not to your paid shows.  It makes you a rarity.  It makes people what to see what you are up too.  I love comedy, I just know I should not be at everything every week.

I was watching a video of myself and man…I need to lose weight.  I looked like a pregnant man.  I hate working out, but it just needs to be done.  Either that or I need to come up with an excuse for why I am fat…wait.

 

Anticipation And Defeat

Anticipation is a huge thing for a comic when you think about it.  We anticipate getting the gig.  We anticipate the success of the gig once we got it.  We anticipate getting up on that stage.  We anticipate the laughter of a new joke.  Anticipation plays a big role in being a comic and it can undo you as well.  I was in Seattle this weekend for a comedy competition and that is what ultimately did me in, I think, and caused me to not do as well as I wanted and not win the competition (and the fact that there were amazing comics on there did not do me any favors as well).  I got to the place the competition was going to be really early because of festivities that were going on.  I sat there just wishing the time would speed up somehow and I could get up on that stage and do what I thought was going to be a set that would bring me success.  The anticipation lead to my nerves getting the better of me and causing me to not perform my jokes as well I would have liked.  It was the anticipation of getting up there and trying to out do other people at something we all love to do.  These comics all deserved to be there performing for the prize and that made me want to get up there more and more.  I stumbled my way out of the competition because the anticipation of everything got the better of me.  I didn’t listen to my own rules (last week’s article) and I it cost me.

Defeat is a part of competitions, show business, and life.  We are all fighting for finite resources, be it jobs or money or shows.  If you are going to be in show business disappointment and defeat is going to go with success.  We have all read about the best selling author who had to go through hundreds of rejection letters before someone took a chance on their book and made them a success.  With comedy it’s no different.  You will have to send out ton’s of emails and promotional materials and for every 10 you may get 2 responses and they may both be negative.  I remember wanting to get a comedy agent a couple of years ago and so I sent out my stuff to several agencies and I got a response from one agency and they said that I wasn’t ready to be represented.  I was disappointed of course, but I had to think about what that meant.  Does that mean I am a bad comic?  Or does that mean that I do not have a following that would allow them to sell me to comedy clubs?  I have auditioned for tons of work as an actor.  I have only gotten 3 and 2 of those I just walked around in the background.  You can’t let it get to you or it will eat you alive.

What’s hard for me is that my mind lingers on such things for an awful long time and it can bring me down to the point where I stop sending out emails and trying to get into more places around the country.  What made me realize that comedy was in my blood was when I did a show in Medford Oregon.  I got on stage and for 25 minutes I bombed.  I was so shell shocked that I just drove home that night.  While I was driving back I thought about giving it up and just doing something else.  It was around hour 6 of my drive that I got this urge to get back up on stage and do it again.  That was when I looked out into the night and realize that I was curse to relive this drive over and over and I would keep wanting to do it over and over because it made me feel alive.  I think that is the weird thing about defeat.  It is only defeat if you allow it to defeat you.  If you give in to the thoughts surrounding the disappointment of not achieving a goal then it can drive you away from it.  Instead, dust yourself off and go at it again because even defeat can be defeated.

 

Show Drought

I haven’t been involved in a paid show for about 3 weeks now and when that happens I then go into “I need to be sending my stuff out more mode”.  I send out my package and send the emails and get…nothing.  This is part of the game when it comes to show business. I can’t expect people to just throw work my way so easily.  Comedy is a marathon.  You work long on the material, you work longer on developing it and sharpening it to a fine point and then you go all over trying to convince people that you are worth paying.  See the problem with that is you have to contend with others doing the same thing and bookers that are pretty entrenched in what they already have.  If you are doing just fine with the friends that you have, why would you ever let an “outsider” in there and mess with that.

When it comes to getting the attention of bookers I have always been a “you have to see the show” guy. I don’t know what it is, but I have a terrible time replicating a satisfactory show when I am filming myself.  So when I send a potential booker my video of my performance it looks as though it is not my best work.  You also have to get their attention.  These people get hundreds of email every day from people wanting to work their rooms.  So, you can assume that they are not just looking at each and everyone.  They may open a couple.  They may not open any and stick with what they have.  You never know.  But you can’t stop trying.

I go through bouts when I am really productive and hitting the pavement and then there are times when I all I want to do is lay in bed and contemplate getting a normal job.  The only reason I don’t is that all that comedy entails excites me and makes me want to keep doing it.  I may not be the next Louie CK, but our dreams are the same.