Earlier this year, I attempted to review Amazon’s new comedy show Transparent. After watching it for 15 minutes, I had to blow it off. For some reason, it just didn’t appeal to me. When the show won two Golden Globe awards for comedy, I asked myself:
“Do I know what’s funny anymore?”
I’m not knocking this show as much as I’m knocking myself. If you perform enough times, those mixed experiences can leave you with a bitter taste and somewhat judgmental. Last year I was pretty disappointed with my progression as a comedian. There were some fun projects that kept me busy (including a parody video we produced for CNN), but I was annoyed with a lot of my activities.
My jokes and writing seemed mediocre at best. I was writing and performing less than usual. In short, I had become lazy! Nothing seemed to interest me anymore. In my eyes, every topic and subject for comedy targets was done to death. This is a very dangerous place for a comedian to be! It took some serious soul searching to decide if I was going to continue working in comedy after reaching this point. My confidence to create meaningful content was crushed. Did someone kidnap my muse?
There are so many things that have changed in the business, and I began to doubt if all the work was worth the effort. The styles of comedy writing, the medium used to deliver the content, and engaging with potential fans via social media are some of the problems we face as comedians. Thanks to memes, comedians also compete with Internet comedy from amateurs with a funny line or two. As I hit my “new high in low,” I discovered two quotes that help me reset my attitude:
“Everything that needs to be said has already been said. But since no one was listening, everything must be said again.” – Andre Gide
“People quit because it’s really hard. It’s hard to not have a house, hard not to have money, hard not to have insurance, hard not to be married, hard to have your parents ask you every day what you’re going to do with your life. It’s hard to wait tables while you’re doing improv shows. It’s hard to get up onstage and bomb. It’s hard to lug your props around everywhere. It’s hard to submit things that get rejected.” – Amy Poehler
It felt good to hear those words out loud. My stagnate position needed to change, so I examined my comedy roots. I was raised on underground comedy. My favorite radio show as an adolescent was The Dr. Demento Show. He played a list of obscure artists (and up-and-coming people including Weird Al Yanokic) each week that would leave me in stitches.
Laff Records introduced me to several comedians that most people can no longer remember by name. Some of them received minor recognition with special appearances in television shows. One example is Philadelphia comedian Sugar Dap Willie. The characters he portrayed in shows like Sanford and Son and Good Times were unforgettable.
Root Boy Slim was known as ‘The Lenny Bruce of the Blues.” Root Boy passed away before I discovered him and I continued to follow the careers of his band. Blowfly was a huge comedy hero of mine, not only for his comedy-based songs – he’s also considered to be ‘The Original Dirty Rapper.” Mad Magazine, Cracked, High Times and other offbeat magazines also helped develop my sense of humor.
After analyzing these thoughts, I realized that my career is exactly where it needs to be. I’ve faced tons of obstacles, frustrations, and defeat while trying to become a better writer and comedian. This is all a part of the job. I’m not trying to be the next <insert your favorite comedian here>, and I am fine with working towards underground success. It was never about the money for me, and I have made several financial mistakes to prove it.
Dobie “Mr. Lucky” Maxwell mentioned that if a comedian can advance past the five-year mark, he’s probably going to be a comedy lifer. I would agree with that statement, and also mention the importance of finding someone who you can exchange ideas with. Prior to starting the Washington DC Comedy Writers Group, I worked with several comics on Saturday afternoons as we bounced ideas off of each other. Groups are also helpful when it was time to vent about the issues facing you in your comedy career.
This is not an easy profession and there will be times when you’ll want to quit for various reasons. So it is important to understand why you are a writer or performer. Meet and network with as many creative minds as you can. If you hit those brick walls of frustration, take a moment to find things that will drive you towards working towards your best! Find ways to keep your confidence strong because if you don’t, you will suffer on and off stage without it.