July 20, 2011
I’ve been avoiding this question for probably three years now: why comedy? It’s a question that I don’t want to answer for fear that I might not be able to articulate it perfectly. I would need to write a 12 volume novel on what comedy means to me, to the world, in order to cover everything. But I realized that people can’t stand when a blog post is over 2 pages long, so I’ll try to keep this short.
Comedians are a needy bunch. Some people say that attention and approval are what we strive for in every aspect. We need to be loved and to belong. This is true. I remember doing a show with Tim Dimond a few years ago. We had both done well and we were talking to each other as the smiling audience shuffled out, giving us appreciative head nods and prestigious handshakes.
“What’s your favorite part about having a good set?” I asked.
Tim thought for a moment. “The congratulations afterward,” he replied as he basked in the glow of his own success, reflected in the faces of our audience. I agreed with him 100%. The Kudos. The validation. But why is there this need for approval, for people to like me? It seems incredibly insecure.
Well that’s probably because it is. Allow me, if I may, to dip into my psychobabble bag for a bit. I was very “undersized” throughout the majority of my formative years. Everyone around me was bigger and stronger than I was. My only chance for survival was to make enough my classmates and teachers like me. Everyone likes someone who makes them laugh. So I cultivated that skill early and it became part of my personality. Now when I walk out of a great comedy show, I feel secure and safe. Hopefully, no one in the audience is going to drag me into the boy’s bathroom and give me a swirly.
But that safety instinct is just a piece of the puzzle. The longing for accomplishment is a bigger chunk of it. I know a comic who’s life dream was to MC at the Pittsburgh FunnyBone. That might seem strange to some of you but it makes perfect sense to me. I view what I’ve done with comedy as the number #1 accomplishment in my life. It might seem sad but I’m basically saying that opening for Pauley Shore was the best thing that has ever happened to me.*
Pursuing comedy is the ONLY thing I’ve ever taken on that was 100% my idea. I’ve been pushed and pressured into any and everything at all points of my life. All of my friends went to Penn State for college, so I did. My parents basically picked out my apartment for me, so I signed the papers. My girlfriend tells me to not take out the garbage in my underpants, so I put a bathrobe on.
I (like every other person on Earth) constantly feel pressure to meet people’s expectations. Doing stand-up comedy was the one thing where there weren’t any expectations coming from external sources. Don’t get me wrong; I had a great support system once I started (and I still do). But at the onset, there was no one pushing me onto an open-mic stage. My Mom wasn’t calling me up every Friday night to check if I was preparing jokes for my 8 minute set at the Corner Cafe. It was entirely self-motivated and that’s why I’m so proud. That’s why it’s a part of me.
I constantly fear that a stranger is going to come up to me on the street and call me out for being a fraud. I would breakdown. The thin patina of composure that I hold onto daily would crumble.
Stranger: You’re a bad employee.
Me (erupting in tears): Yes! You’re right! I don’t get nearly as much done as I could! Woe is my wretched soul!
Stranger: And you’re a bad grandson.
Me (wailing): Yes! You’re right! My grandparents love me and I take them for granted! I don’t deserve to live! Release me from this tainted blue orb so that I may gnash my teeth for eternity!
Stranger: And you’re a bad comedian.
Me: Huh? (wiping tears away) Wait, no I’m not.
Stranger: Yes, you are
Me (perfectly calm): No. I think I’m actually good. You’re an idiot.
When you have that level of confidence in only one aspect of your life, you tend to use that as a safe place. “I might be an inconsiderate boyfriend, but I can at least tell a good joke.”
The final piece is self-actualization. I personally believe that achieving self-actualization, or living up to your potential, is almost impossible to do. It’s a terrifying notion. We only have a finite amount of time on Earth. So in that time we’re expected to find something that we love, become good at it, then become the best that we can be??? That’s a ridiculous deadline. Who set that anyways?
God – I’m looking at you, pal!
I’ve found what I love. I love getting up in front of an audience and telling jokes, confirming that life is ridiculous, but it’s going to be OK. The fact that I have found that sacred thing is more than a lot of people can say and I’m lucky for that. I’d be a fool to let it go.
That’s why comedy.
* I’m talking about experiences involving only myself. As great as Pauley Shore is, he will always have to ride in the back of the bus, behind my family, my girlfriend and my buddies. At the end of your life, those people will be there; Pauley Shore won’t. Unless you have Percocets.