Comedy in Madison: The Story of a Jerk that Got Lucky

      When I was growing up the only thing I ever wanted to do was to be involved in entertainment. I didn’t want a regular job. I wanted to work around lights and cameras and amplified sounds. I wanted people to react to me. All I wanted to do was be in entertainment.

      I grew up in Florida and I didn’t know anything. I had no concept of how you work your way to the top, how you get auditions, my take on the entertainment industry was the same as someone trying to get a job as a waiter. I would scour the paper looking for something that said actor or comedy or entertainment jobs here. I never knew anyone in entertainment. The drama department in my high school didn’t exist. We had to beg the P.E. department to please move the treadmills and weightlifting equipment off of the stage in the gym just so we could put on a collection of one-act plays. I ended up going to college in Orlando because of Disney, but soon on I realized that unless I wanted to portray the role of Goofy in July for minimum wage I was going to have to seek out greener pastures in New York.

      When I first moved to New York I literally looked in the paper for auditions. My thinking being that the only thing preventing me from stardom was not being seen. I figured once they (the decision makers who control everything in entertainment, you know who I mean) saw the obvious talent that I was convinced I possessed someone would take me by the hand, apologize for the delay, and make me a star. There was almost no doubt in my mind. Two ideas fueled me. One, I wanted to be the best, I saw the way some did it and I felt that I was able to separate the wheat from the chaff. It was that ability that I felt would allow me not to think like everyone else. The other was the feeling that I was certainly better than many people that I saw getting paid. Basically, to clarify, the two thoughts that I had were: I want to be the best, but at the very least I’m better than some. It was a delightfully delusional sentiment. It was an outrageous claim with its own contingency plan. Like an idiot having an argument with himself.

      After a week in New York I realized that to be an actor you needed experience and a resume. I was too lazy to forge and fake these necessary tools for success, but open mics were just that, open. Anyone could go and throw their hat into the stardom ring. Rather than attempt to be an actor I opted to be a comic, why, because it took less homework and no trips to Kinko’s. I literally adjusted my dreams because forging a resume and getting a headshot would take time and money.

      In one fell swoop my style was born, laziness masquerading as honesty. Honesty is perhaps the largest crutch possessed by the asshole. How many times have you heard someone explain an insult by saying that they were just being honest? Honesty is easy. Tact takes thought, creativity takes energy, but honesty is pure. Honesty is beautiful, but it is also a default setting. Lack of preparation can be explained as honesty, lack of planning can be explained as honesty. This isn’t to say that honest comedy isn’t my favorite, because it is, when the truth is found it is brilliant. Chris Rock, Bill Cosby, Dave Chappelle, Patrice O’Neal, Richard Pryor, and George Carlin are all honest. They are also the greatest comics of all time, great honesty takes a lot of work. I didn’t understand that concept. I thought honest comedy was just speaking your mind. When a comic is truly being honest, comedy becomes art, but when I was starting out and characters were hard to do, resumes were hard to write, and I didn’t know what to wear on stage, I just said that I was an honest comic, I wasn’t phony, I was just me. This was laziness masquerading as honesty.

      As a comic in New York my only thought was that I had to be the best. I was constantly striving to create new material. I never honed a tight five and I took pride in that. My focus was on writing new jokes. I was constantly looking for new jokes. New jokes were fun and exciting. New jokes kept me interested and always gave me an excuse for failure. I never realized the downside of this. It never occurred to me that I was being seen as amateurish. I was too blinded by what I saw as being artistic. I was cloaked in my own self-confidence. I would really like to believe that this was the ignorance of youth.

      Life as a stand-up continued on in New York for three years. I would bark. This meant I would hand out flyers in exchange for stage time. I even got to feature at New York’s best clubs every now and again, but there was always something standing in my way. I was self-righteous, I would burn bridges and complain about what I wasn’t getting. I made no effort to make connections and would boast that I never wanted to talk to anyone that thought I was funny unless they could get me work or laid. I worked hard, but only at the lowest setting. I would spend two hours putting a half-assed effort into trying to get people into a club. I would wear shorts and sandals and torn shirts. I would sit on stage. I was under the assumption that all I needed to do was tell my jokes and things would fall into place. The social aspect of comedy and the concept of treating it like a job that you were excited about were concepts that I chose to ignore.

      Everything came crashing down on me just as things felt like they were about to take off. I was invited to do a weekly mic at Gotham Comedy Club that was a workshop. It was a step up, you had to be invited. I got spots at Gotham because of that mic. I was getting semi-regular spots at Stand Up NY, not as a passed comedian, but on the independently run shows. Right before I had my audition for The Comic Strip to be a regular comic I was fired from my job waiting tables. I was fired for the same reasons that were holding me back as a comic. I felt that if I was good at putting in orders and bringing the food to the table I had no need to be social or kind. I was an ass and I was fired for being an ass. My audition came soon after that. It was the moment that I was waiting for. All I wanted was to be seen. I thought that was all I needed once they saw me that would be that.

      That wasn’t the case. My audition did not go well. My jokes were dismissed as having common premises. I had no voice of my own, I wasn’t creative enough and that was the nail in my coffin. The entire time in New York I was striving to obtain the approval of the clubs. I saw that as success. I felt like the clubs couldn’t reject me socially. They were businesses, it wouldn’t be personal. I could never understand why people would hang out in alt rooms. I never saw the carrot at the end of the stick. I used to think, “Why would anyone want to fight to be in those little rooms? Who’s going to see you? What would come of it?” I wanted to be successful on my own. I never realized that perhaps something was happening in those little rooms. I never considered that they were building a community that would bring with it its own success. I had no foresight. When the club rejected me I had nothing. I fought to gain the approval of the clubs and rejected everything else and when that was over I was done.

      Soon after that I got a job as a P.A. working for independent movies. The combination of having very little time to do standup mixed with being crushed by blowing the opportunity that I was given led me to once again take the easy way out. I said to myself, I hate other comics, I hate the grind, I didn’t have it, and who cares I’m working in entertainment anyway. Rather than bearing down and really putting in the work necessary to become what I truly wanted to be. I settled for a consolation prize.

      Working as a PA suited me just fine. If you did what was asked you excelled. The P.A. world is filled with lazy film students and sons and daughters of successful people. Hard work is not necessarily something that most PA’s are willing to do. That is not to say that it’s not a hard job because it is, but if you’re willing to do your work and not bitch you will do just fine. I was out of options and I was getting older, this was something I could do. It was the laziest possible, difficult route and that would’ve been my life. I was good at what I did, I became connected with great people who treated me wonderfully I was on a path towards success, but not the success I truly wanted. I wasn’t being creative. I was doing what I was told. Then the weirdest opportunity presented itself. My girlfriend was offered a job in Madison, Wisconsin.

      The first time I heard about it I dismissed it almost immediately, but after some consideration it seemed like not such a bad idea. We were becoming increasingly frustrated with New York. We were making the kind of money that would make us comfortable in any other city, but in New York still left us feeling poor. Now, I was given the opportunity to start over in a new place. Obviously, it wasn’t going to compare to New York in terms of size. I wasn’t going to working on a CBS show in Madison, but perhaps I would have the time to do everything that I moved to New York to do. I could start that blog I’d been meaning to do for three years. I could start working on screenplays again. I could start doing comedy again. My outlook on life had always been if I could be creative, if I could work in the entertainment industry I didn’t care how or where. My father always told me, “you know the guy who holds the wires at Saturday Night Live? He’s works on television.” That was an inspiring message. It manages expectations and allows one dream at the same time. Until this point I took that to mean that finding locations for movies was enough, but what it also meant was that if I was being creative in Madison, Wisconsin as opposed to New York, that was ok too. What mattered is that I was doing what I loved.

      That is precisely what I am doing. Moving to Madison opened my eyes. When I first got on stage in Madison I felt like my entire comedy career was born anew. I met some of the best comics that I’ve ever seen and this time I wanted to talk to them. I was no longer posturing and waiting for my big break. The big break was the fact that I was on stage. The goal became to be a better comic and not so that you would be better than the people around you or any other number of petty reasons. No, the reason now was simply the joy of comedy. New jokes are always going to be a joy to write and tell, but now I wanted to build a set that I was proud of and it didn’t matter if I wasn’t seen by anyone in the entertainment industry for years. The comics in Madison only want to be better. There is no development deal to be had, no agent to be seen by. They want to be better because it’s fun to be better. Comedy is it’s own reward. I finally became part of a community.

       Now, I certainly understand that I may be painting to rosy a picture of the scene in Madison. I am sure that this situation is occurring all over the country both in secondary markets and New York and L.A. Comics are a special breed of people. How many people would commit to a career where you can be considered a new face at the age of 40 with 20 years of experience under your belt? How many people would allow themselves to be screamed at by a drunk person because they were attempting to make people happy? Comedy is comedy. This is not a story about how Madison is better than every place else. This is a story about where I was when I rediscovered my love of comedy. It could’ve happened anywhere, but it didn’t. For me it happened in, of all places, Madison, Wisconsin and for that I am lucky.

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