In every industry, there’s inevitably going to be something about it that we don’t like. Even if it’s our dream job, some ugly aspect of the work will rear its head. Sometimes it can be part of the work itself, sometimes it’s the other employees or the boss, sometimes it’s the customers… who knows what it is, but it’s always something.
In comedy, the dark side of the industry can drag you down to the depths and it might be a while before you look around and realize you’re drowning. Some people never come back up to take a breath. Suicide, overdoses, and self-harm are no strangers to the comedy world, and many comedians (good and bad) have been lost.
We’re all lost. At least at the beginning. As comedians we go through this journey of finding ourselves in front of an audience, which is a preposterous way to live your life. We present a group of strangers with some version of ourselves that we think is funny, and hope they find it funny, too. Some people are completely themselves on stage, others have created a character, and many of us are searching for which identity will carry us to the land of success.
On this journey, we often find ourselves in a whirlwind of overbearing egos, crippling insecurities, hardcore narcissism, and raging resentment all swirling above a moat of masochism. One way or another, we have to figure out how to weather the storm. Step one is probably recognizing what the storm is and acknowledging its danger.
Comedy attracts a lot of broken people, and sometimes broken people will try to break you so they can feel a little less broken, even if it’s only for a moment. I’ve only been attacked by other comedians on stage after I’ve done well, which has taught me a harsh lesson in the power held by resentment and insecurity. I’m still learning how to cope with it, because it sucks. It sucks when you work so hard and finally get a win on stage only for the next comedian to come up and call you a faggot or spend their entire set telling everyone how bad you actually are.
I’ve even had someone go on stage after me and completely make something up about me in order to make me look like an idiot. I’ve had an audience member get me kicked out of a venue just because they didn’t like a joke I told. There’s always someone eager to bring you down in the world of comedy.
Sadly, a lot of us are doing this on our own. Many of us don’t have a significant other who can help us through the emotional journey, most of our parents don’t understand what we’re doing if they even know we’re doing comedy at all… often times we only have each other. Which is great, but we have to be careful about who we align ourselves with, because for every comedian with a good heart lies a narcissist, waiting for their turn to pull you in the water.
Not only do we have to be careful about other people, we have to be conscious of the general energy in comedy. It can get real cloudy real quick, and you can feel it. I was talking to another comedian the other day about how frustrated I was dealing with management at a comedy club and he said “oh yeah… I mean, they’re not happy people.” And it sucks, but often times it’s true in this industry.
That’s why I don’t like to hang out at the comedy club. I like to do my set and get the hell out of dodge before the booze-covered black cloud of sadness rains down on my soul. It’s easy to listen to the Joe Rogan Experience and glorify the days of the Comedy Store and project that out into our vision of what comedy clubs must be like, but it doesn’t quite paint the whole picture. Even the Comedy Store itself had some really dark days for years on end.
I’d be lying if I said it all didn’t affect me, and I know this is a big part of the reason I’m so gung-ho about living in the wilderness for a while with a group of people striving for a common good; because that’s missing in my life. I have some great friends and love a lot of the comedians here, but ultimately we’re all striving towards our own individual success as performers on stage. Everyone has their own motivation, and for some of us it’s pure, but a lot of us are just addicts. Comedy is a drug. Nothing in the world feels better than crushing on stage, and we’re all chasing that feeling whether we want to admit it or not.
People act weird when they’re addicted to something, or when they so desperately want the drug they haven’t been able to get their hands on in too long. I even catch myself acting in ways I don’t like, and that’s been weighing on my conscience a lot lately. Comedy is incredibly difficult and finding success as a comedian is a rare feat, but even rarer is someone who makes it in comedy and becomes a better person in the process.
I’ve watched people achieve success in comedy right in front of me in Austin and then proceed to become completely overwhelmed by their own ego to the point where they become insufferable to be around. I guess it’s helpful to learn how not to act from watching them, but it’s also just sad. Sometimes it makes me wonder if I even want to be a successful comedian. I’ve promised myself I won’t act like that but we can never be 100% certain how specific outcomes in the future will affect us.
I’ve been working a lot on strengthening my own mind because of all this. I’ve completely cut out all drugs and alcohol (including caffeine) and am focused on conquering the space between my ears so that I can strive towards something good rather than be swept away by something gnarly.
I’ve been so worried about proving myself as a comedian and become successful as a comic since I moved here, but now I’m learning to let go of all that. Obviously I would like to be successful, but that word means something different to me now. I don’t really care if I’m a successful comic as long as I’m a success person, in the sense that I’m leaving the world a better place than I found it. Maybe that will liberate me on stage, I don’t know. I just know that I don’t want to be a dick, because there are enough of those out there already.
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