Don’t Quit Your Day Job (…Seriously…)

If comedy (or whatever your passion) isn’t your day job, then don’t quit your day job.

If there’s any “advice” (and believe me, I’m in no position to give anyone advice) on pursuing your passion, specifically comedy, it would be that. I generally don’t have any regrets; I personally subscribe to the “it all happens for a reason” philosophy. But if there is ONE thing I do regret, its that I took close to a year off from earning a consistent paycheck back in 2007, foolishly thinking I can “live off my savings.” That was close to 7 years ago, and I’m only NOW in 2014 recovering from that awful decision

Logically you’d think it makes sense. Devote more time to what you love to do, whatever it may be. But ‘art’ has a funny way of developing. It’s not Law School. And maybe this isn’t true for everyone, but for me, creativity spawns from pressure cooker situations. When I’m relaxed and comfortable, I make truly horrible art (if I’m able to make anything at all)

Long story short, I worked my ass off for a year plus, keeping meticulous details on every PENNY (and I do mean EVERY penny) in spreadsheets, being frugal, never eating out, not taking any vacations, working overtime and sometimes double overtime, saving close to $30,000. It was pretty damn special to look at my bank account and finally seeing a “comma.”

And then… I quit. And figured I can live off my savings for a while. “Just until comedy gets rolling,” I thought. “I can survive a while, can’t I? $30K is 30-fucking-k!” I forgot to factor in moving costs, pet care (I got two dogs), rent, car expenses, food, cable/electricity/phone, etc. etc. Before I knew it, all $30K was virtually gone. I thought it was a necessity, to NOT work. “I gotta focus on my passion!” Well, I learned, I can do both. No, I HAVE TO do both. I can’t live without comedy, but I can’t live without eating, either. I gotta do both.

Jerry Seinfeld once said (I’ll paraphrase here), “Comedy is best when forced through a needle hole.” I couldn’t agree more. Your mileage may vary, but that bit of advice has never rang more true. It’s so true, in fact, that its one of the bedrock principles I adhere to. And one I never even realized would be so relevant. This whole time I figured keeping a day job was out of financial necessity. I hadn’t realized it was also creative necessity as well. Waking up, day after day, and yes being miserable, joining the rest of society and trudging through each awful day gave me the insight to talk about what other people were talking about. At the very least it forced me to interact with “real people” and kept me in touch with their sensibilities.

Having a day job and consistent paycheck affords me the ability to turn down certain (hell) gigs. And that’s a luxury you can’t put a price tag on.

Nothing beats doing what you love, and getting PAID to do it. But y’know what’s a close second? Doing what you love and not having to worry about getting paid to do it. You can just do what you do and do it as you please.

When we are in a state of panic, our speech isn’t the only thing that comes too fast. Panic generally leads us to respond too quickly, to rush through the beat. This kind of instant reaction can be helpful when we are in danger. But in modern life, panic can warp our perception of time and lead us to make quick decisions we later regret. If we can control our tendency to panic, we can slow down our actions, avoid some of our animal instincts, and make better decisions. We might even get a few laughs.

Seven Years in Ti-debt

I thought about various movie themes before writing this entry. Seven years. Seven. Se7en? That’s apropos. In many ways I feel like the loner, sitting isolated scribbling frenetic nonsense in a notebook, commenting on what I perceive (very important distinction) as the world’s injustices, while I slowly commit all the deadly sins.

(My joke book. LoL!)

Or Seven Years in Tibet? Another good one: the last seven years seem like a prison sentence; I’m banished to some desolate land as punishment for not following (mom and dad’s) orders. The Seven Year Itch? Seven Samurai? Snow White & the Seven Dwarves? Ok, you get it…

It’s generally accepted among comedians that a comedy career shy of ten years hasn’t even taken off its training wheels.  The Seven Year Milestone is no milestone at all. But so many things were happening to me around the time I began; I was 27, fast approaching 28. I was 1-2 years into my “other” (re: awful) career. I deliberated starting a family… Maybe even having a kid. I always thought I’d be a dad by 27. Silly fuckin’ me. If I had a child the year I started comedy (I probably wouldn’t have stuck with comedy, first of all) but that child would be SEVEN years old today! Some human being on this planet would have to call me “dad.” That sends shivers down my spine, mostly for the therapy bills that future adult would need to pay off. So I guess in some weird Freudian way I look at my “career” as a substitute for my child. S/he’s 7 years old today. All the work, attention, frustration that has gone into this has been spent with the drive of some frenzied and neurotic parent. I care about this more than I even care about myself. I don’t even celebrate my own birthday in May anymore. But man oh man, I always take time and reflect when April draws near.

What would I tell myself if I could go back in time? What advice, warnings, counsel would I give? These are just a few things I’d tell MYSELF. If you don’t agree, or have had a different experience, good for you. Consider yourself lucky that you’re not writing a note to yourself seven years later.

First things first: just smile. Stand on the outside and watch carefully.  It’s all REALLY amusing, if you take a step back and look at it. Once in a while someone might even say, “What’s with the shit-eating grin?” Just say, “Oh, nothing.” And keep doing your work.

A friend of mine in comedy is an unabashed success. He’s on TV. He’s under contract with a major TV network. He’s in national commercials. He passed and performs at all the clubs in NYC. He has a management team (no, not a manager, a management TEAM. That’s like, better than a manager, I think.) He has an agent with one of the four major agencies in the entertainment industry. You know what he said to me the other day? “Some motherfuckers get all the luck. I don’t ‘fit in’ with a particular look or scene, and THOSE guys are the ones getting all the TV pilots. Fuck that shit! It’s BULLSHIT!…” I leaned back, and smiled. What could I say? He seemingly has the world in his hand, but its not enough.  Haha… Whaddya gonna do? Just smile.

Another friend of mine in comedy, he’s been working odd jobs for a comedy club for almost two years. Either working the door, seating customers, etc., all for the hopes of getting more “stagetime.” He asked to be let go, so he could dedicate more time to being a comedian (isn’t that what we’re all doing this for?) And you know what he was told? Basically, that he was screwing the establishment over. You would think a comedian who wanted to spend more time on his craft would be met with open arms ESPECIALLY by a comedy venue, the very people who know how hard it is to exist in this struggle. But no, not in the comedy business. You are just a cog in their wheel.  I told him, and I tell everyone this, be skeptical of anyone in comedy who wants you do LESS comedy, and MORE administrative tasks. They’re not looking out for you, they’re using you.

There’s this dude who does stand-up and also helps his club sell tickets. He’s actually quite amazing at ticket selling; pulling in random people off the street, groups and groups at a time. A good chunk of the club’s business on nights he’s working is directly from his efforts. But working the streets (prostitute reference intended) in NYC for hours at a time can be unforgivingly brutal; the winters are harsh and the summers torturous. Recently he said he’s had enough. He, too, wants to focus on his comedy act and his act alone. But he was afraid to bring it up with the club. If he refused to help sell tickets, they’d drop him altogether. I felt like screaming to him: WHAT DOES THAT TELL YOU?? GET THE FUCK OUTTA THERE!!

Stories like this proliferate. And I would tell myself: Avoid these situations.

Also realize: People love power, but people love NOT RELINQUISHING power even more. The powers that be love to have “it” over you, and not allow you to have what you want. That’s what keeps you coming back for more and more and more. The second you no longer want it, you’ve won. But they don’t want you to NOT want it because that’s the very source of their power.

Getting “noticed” by the industry is like getting girls to like you in high school all over again. The kids who get the most attention never seem to try very hard. And the ones who don’t get noticed feel bitter and slighted and end up developing a hatred for everything and everyone. Is it justice that some people get a lot of love while only having (what seems like) a fraction of what you bring to the table? Maybe not. But if you could give your high-school-self some advice on navigating the hallways, lunch room seating arrangements and (lack of) cool party invites, what would that be? Would you tell your younger self to stress or panic?  Or would you tell him/her to “stay calm and carry on.” Watch all the kids desperately jockeying for popularity, and remember now how meaningless it all once was. Step back, look at it all and just smile. 

Follow that advice now. Remember, you’re older, wiser. Start acting that way.