It’s kind of crazy, what I have chosen to do as my profession. I will pay for that decision, and I do pay for it, on nearly a daily basis, in one way or another.
Comedians have a tendency to come from dysfunctional families and suffer from depression and illness. Additionally, stand-up comics tend to die young and often penniless. But on the flip side, they also get to fuck a lot, lead fast if somewhat sad lives, drink and do drugs if they want to for almost free, and usually have a high IQ and are thus keen observers and thinkers. They get to be adored by anywhere from twelve to millions of people at a time, at least in 15-minute increments, perhaps seeking out and finding the compassion and appreciation that they never felt from parents or teachers—who knows? I’m not a psychiatrist, I’m a comedian. However, I usually play an instrument in my act, so that makes me something a little bit different—a cousin to the comedian, perhaps. So maybe I’ll live a little longer.
I’m generalizing, of course. First of all, most families are dysfunctional in some way, so that’s a given. It seems like everyone I’ve ever met has been depressed at one time or another, so that appears to be pretty natural. There are lots of comedians who never get laid, are sluggish, happy, stupid as tree bark, and couldn’t even think of a basic conversation-starter much less a punch line. But those are the ones you’ll probably never hear of.
Here’s some stone-cold truth, people: All of humanity is funny. Doctors, Jewish people, and Jewish people. Italians are funny, lawyers—oh, whoops, I already said Jewish people. The entire UK and all of Ireland is funny, black people are funny, Chinese businessmen, anyone who’s ever experienced oppression or poverty, or alternately, a life of leisure, women of all walks of life, old people, cat ladies, kids, and anyone whose parents are crazy, which is just about everyone. Also, kittens, monkeys, dogs, horses, and even some frogs, worms, and mollusks have gotten a chuckle out of someone at one time or another.
So my competition is vast, considering that everyone in the world, including most animals, could basically be doing my job if they just had enough self-hatred and dedication. Regardless, on nearly a nightly basis, I carry my heavy guitar out into a city where rapists wait in alleyways to feed on the vaginas of people with places to go, and industry waits in Banana Republic slacks to feed on their dreams. When I get to where I’m going, I sing very vulgar comedy songs and tell ribald and sexual jokes on a stage (or sometimes a wooden platform or just a repurposed box of some kind) in front of an audience of miscellaneous stereotypes, half-knowing and half-hoping that they’ll laugh. Basically, comedians give the world a gift, kind of like Jesus did. I bet Jesus was funny, too (Jew).
It’s a really crazy concept as a way to make a living, or, more accurately, just barely make a living, when I stop to think about it. I’ve been doing it now for about 10 years, and I can’t see any end in sight. If I were in any other field after ten years, perhaps I’d be the manager of the company, or have my Ph.D. But in a way, I kind of am the boss of my own company, and I rule my business with an iron fist. Sometimes I consider firing myself, but then I realize that would fuck me out of a job, so then I give me another chance.
OK, so granted, what I do isn’t for everyone. But I really enjoy doing it, and I think that’s an important part of being a comedian. Some part of me likes to instigate people into thinking about, and even laughing at things that our society deems as uncomfortable, scary, or wrong, in the hopes that we can all learn and grow together as human beings. My grandfather was a dirty-mouthed sailor who taught me every four-letter word I know. He also taught me the word, “antidisestablishmentarianism,” but that was just to prove that he knew other words besides “fuck.” And the rest of my family consists of a combo of brilliant/crazy/creative/musical types. So I’m really just continuing on the family traditions and evolving them in my own way.
If you’re just starting out in comedy, here’s some unsolicited advice. If there’s anything else that you can do with your life—I mean anything—do it. But if you’re doing comedy, then you’re probably a stubborn crazy person, and that is part of what makes you want to be a comedian. If you were even slightly deterred by or realistically considering my first piece of advice, comedy is not for you.
Next, all the hard work you might have or perhaps did actually put into college, take that same work ethic and put it into comedy. Write jokes during the day and tell them onstage at night, anywhere you can. If you have a day job, write before work, on the way to work, on your lunch break, while you’re taking shits. If you can’t get onstage one night, study comedy. Watch other comedians, watch the greats, whomever you consider them to be, and observe and really listen. Watch crowds of people and how they interact, like you’re a gorilla-watcher in the jungle. And if you’re afraid, suck it up and get your scared ass onstage until you’re not afraid anymore, then keep doing it. Set goals and strive to reach them.
You have lots of late nights ahead of you. Be careful not to develop a drug or alcohol habit or a sex addiction, or fall in love with someone who deters you or sucks up too much of your time. Sure, you’ll get some good material out of failure and hardships, which will make so-so fodder for your book or TV show down the road, but nothing else.
Finally, I’ll share a piece of advice that was given to me over and over again by one of my favorite comedians in all the land, Jim Norton. He told me, “Don’t ever pander.” What he meant was, don’t change your material for audience or industry approval. Be yourself, even if it’s hard, even if it hurts.
I had a show last night. I knew there would be some comedy-industry reps in the audience. I had the opportunity to do my cleaner (read: sex-free) material or my funnier, dirtier, edgier stuff. I opted to go for the dirtier stuff, even though I knew it could put off the industry people.
Why would I do that? Because I know audiences love it. They laugh and they enjoy it, and I have fun doing it. I genuinely enjoy making the audience laugh by being a disturbing, big-mouthed musical retard. I’m OK with that.
Of course, I had a terrific set. Regardless, not one of those comedy “gatekeepers” so much as uttered, “Nice job.” No matter how many times I tell myself, “It doesn’t matter” and “Keep going” and other positive cat-poster slogans, there’s a little part of me that is irked. I just don’t get how an industry rep can see a comedian shine and glimmer on stage, then pretend that they didn’t see it, whether they like the material or not. I’m everything their target demographic of men (and confident women) 18-36 wants: filthy, smart, attractive, and fertile.
Yes, I know I still have a ways to go with getting the Powers That Be to acknowledge me, and I know that there’s a very slim chance it may never happen. But part of the form is welcoming the fact that I may die alone and destitute.
I find solace in knowing that at least I have some artistic integrity. No, you can’t buy groceries with that, but you can feed your soul. Plus, they’ll come around. Deep down, somewhere, I have to believe that they will, or else I’ll be bulimic or cry on a regular basis or fuck losers to fill the hole the potential truth leaves. And bulimia and tears and fucking losers become nothing more than just a bunch of so-so fodder for some lame comedian’s book.