For as long as I can remember I’ve been searching for something that really made me feel like I was doing something…right. I went to art school, but I never felt like an artist. I wrote a lot but I never felt like a writer. I’ve always been creative but I never had a focus. Until I started doing comedy.
I also have a real person job. It’s fine. I’m a graphic designer, which sounds fun until you realize that you can’t really make a living doing anything cool and you just wind up in an office making spam and junk mail all day. I can’t escape the notion that I am actively making the world worse. This notion seems to offend people, particularly those who work in offices. I don’t really belong there and I know it. But the job is a pretty good one and everyone I work with is nice. I don’t make a ton of money but I pay my bills on time. I do my job and then I go home.
When I found comedy, it saved me and gave an outlet for the artistic expression that I had given up trying to find at work. For once in my adult life, I got to express the things I actually thought instead of being shrouded in a cloud of niceties and a costume of business attire.
I’ve been doing comedy for about five years. I’m not a headliner, (around here most headliners have full time jobs as well,) but I’ve been at it awhile and have gotten to do some pretty cool things. I’ve traveled, been on some great stages, meet lots of cool, like-minded people and got to work with some of my heroes.
I love it but I also have to treat it like a job, because that is essentially what it is. A job that right now provides me with (almost) no money. Try explaining that to people. You can make a reasonable amount of income booking a room/club, or doing a shit ton of road work but if you’re not doing either, it’s basically drinking money. Either way, I soldier on, because it’s what I really love to do. I also have to pay my rent, so I, like many other comics, have two jobs.
If you are new to comedy or are curious about what it’s like to attempt to pursue it on a professional level while being employed elsewhere,
Here’s what my experience has been like:
WARNING: This may cause you to quit comedy, but, honestly, that’s not always a bad thing.
You will be really tired, pretty much all the time
Comedy is a little like working out, you need to do it daily or you’ll never build any muscle. Your first few years you’ll do tons of open mics, then open mics and shows, then mostly shows and some open mics when you need to work something out.
When I fist started it felt a little like turning into a vampire. I was out super late every night when everyone else I knew had been in bed for hours. Its fun at first, the energy an optimism of a new comic is something I really envy. But it comes at a price. Working a full time job in itself is tiring and going out immediately after work, then staying out until midnight or later can be exhausting. Ever drive from Boston to Connecticut and back and have to be at work at 9am the next day? Don’t, it’s terrible.
Not only do you have to be awake the next day BUT you also have to be, ya know functional. You need to keep your job or your fucked. I’m pretty much convinced that if it wasn’t for 5 Hour Energy, there’s absolutely no way I could do this. (Well, there IS an alternative, but it’s expensive and you might end up with a deviated septum.)
Also, keep in mind, your next morning is gonna be pretty rough if you were drinking. I usually try to stay away from booze during the week just so I can remain a function human being…but oh man, it also makes you a drag. Do I want to be the one sitting at the bar not talking to anyone or drinking? Nope, but I am also completely exhausted. So, I’m sorry I was a jerk. I’m sorry if I didn’t remember you, open-micer-I-did-a-show-with-once-who-is-all-up-in-my-shit-while-I’m-trying-to-talk-to-a-booker-I’ve-just-worked-up-the-courage-to-talk-to. For the love of god, I’ve just had three 17 hour days in a row.
I don’t mean to be a jerk, it just my default setting. Being fake nice to everyone I work with all day is hard, and I’m kind of an introvert by nature, so more small talk and polite conversation just makes me want to lock myself into a bathroom until it’s time for my set. Honestly, it’s not you, it’s me…unless it IS you. Depending on who is reading this, it might be you.
Anyway, 5 Hour Energy. It’s the best you can do.
Everyone will be mad at you all the time
Hey, remember that whole lack of time thing? Well, everyone in your life will notice and eventually you’re going to have to make some tough decisions. It’s pretty well known that when you first start comedy you start to lose most of your non-comedy friends (we call you civilians, because we are assholes). This is not on purpose, you just won’t have the time for them. I still have a few cherished non-comic friends, so I can lovingly dip my toe back into reality now and again, but I don’t seem them nearly enough.
I’m lucky enough to be dating another performer, but generally speaking comedy takes its toll on every relationship and causes lots of breakups*. It’s an unfortunate side effect, but if you’re out 7 nights a week you’re going to have a tough time finding someone who is understanding and supportive. And Christ, if you have kids, I have absolutely no idea how you can manage any of it, but hats off to ya! The only thing I’m responsible for is my cat, and I’m pretty sure I’m not doing the best job at that either.
Family responsibilities are also difficult, even if they don’t live close. Eventually, there will be a show/festival/important-networking-thing-that-everyone-is-calling-a-party that will conflict with a family event.
Do you move your schedule around? Do you come late? Leave early? Skip entirely? Either way, no one is really satisfied and eventually someone will say, ‘You’ve been doing comedy X years! Why aren’t you famous yet?’ and you will slink off into a corner and silently regret every decision you have ever made, including the one that made you come to this thing in the first place.
Promoting yourself is difficult when you want to stay employed
So yeah, marketing and promotion is bullshit. But, especially in today’s landscape, with social media being what it is (terrible) it is also necessary. Hey, whatever, at least you have a great tape! Oh wait, that tape…there’s that story about that time you got arrested/brilliant blow job joke/really- disrespectful-thing-you-said-but-you-were-making-a-point….on that tape. Shit. Your employer better not find that or you’re screwed. How about all that shit you write on the internet? Twitter is for jokes. They would know you’re joking, right? I mean people know this is a blog about comedy right? Shit. No one can find that either. God, what do you do? How do you even…? FUCK.
This part is the worst when you are actively looking for work, because employers will Google the shit out of you. I’m not looking for anything now, but I am constantly paranoid that someone will dig something up they don’t like.
I’m not super edgy or offensive, but what’s appropriate on stage and what’s appropriate in an office are two very different things.
What I’ve done thus far is a combination between being careful and hoping for the best, which has worked out…for now. Now-a-days everyone is offended by everything, so if I’m in the job market any time soon, there’s A LOT of shit I’m going to have to take down.
Your employer does not particularly want you to succeed
I think its safe to say that most employers care about their employees, but only in a way that you care about all of the parts in your car to keep working. You try to fix it if you can, and if it doesn’t work out you get a new one. YOU are a car part. So your employer wants you to work late when you have an important show, or you need a day off to go to that very important festival but work’s really busy now and they don’t want you to take off. What’s your excuse?
‘Umm..well, look I need to do this show/festival/audition because there might be this really important person there, and if I do well and that person likes me then I CAN DICTCH THIS PLACE FOREV—’ Fuck.
Ok. Not a good excuse. You are going to have to lie. If you have kids you are golden, you can use them as an excuse for damn near everything. If not you are going to have to get creative. My employer knows I’m a comic, (fuck you Google) but I downplay it A LOT. I never talk about it, and if I’m taking time off for comedy, even if there isn’t a conflict, I always say I’m doing something else. It sucks but it’s just easier.
Say goodbye to all your vacation time and weekends!
Congrats! You’re finally working weekends! Fun fact: Now you have no weekends. Sure, you’ll have time off during the day but you will have to get somewhere later on that night. Depending on how far you need to travel, this will probably take a good chuck out of your day. It’s totally cool if it’s something you really love to do, but again, this significantly cuts into that whole, attempting to be a human being time.
And! OMG you finally made it into that festival! You’re going on a mini tour! Now you’re spending all your vacation time…IN CLEVELAND?
Festivals and touring can be a lot of fun and you usually do get a great experience, just know that especially at first, most festivals and road work are not in the most entertaining cities. You’ll meet a lot of cool people and do some fun shows, but if you’ve only got a week or so of vacation (and travel is expensive in general,) say goodbye to sunning yourself on a beach in Jamaica. You will be in a Holiday Inn in small city by yourself or sharing a hotel room with some comic who many or may not be your friend. Sometimes it’s awesome, and sometimes you’re stuck in a hostel in Chicago with 7 Irish teenagers because your friend fucked up their reservation, PHOEBE.
Chicago was actually pretty cool though.
You will always be half-assing something
Juggling what is essentially two jobs can be really difficult. On my lunch breaks and whenever I have downtime at work I spend it writing, or booking myself on a shows, or booking my own show or working on UnScene, or Twitter or my personal website or applying to a festival or watching/tearing apart a video of myself.
When I get super busy at work that means I have to do that stuff at home, which can be pretty hard to fit in when you’re already doing shows. If you don’t have a show, after spending 9+ hours on the computer all day with no lunch break, you get to go home and spend several hours more glued to your laptop. This is nothing short of torture for me. I love writing, but if I had my choice, during the day I’d be cutting up and rearranging pieces of construction paper (this is how graphic design actually used to be,) instead of being glued to every Apple product known to man. In short, staying on a computer too long totally fries my brain.
If I don’t do this I fall behind. If I spend too much time with comedy stuff I fall behind at work, if I’m working crazy 12 hour days at work, I fall behind at comedy. Oh yeah, and sometimes I haven’t seen my boyfriend in a week even though we live together and haven’t called my mom in a month. Crap.
I’d like to say there’s a way to strike a balance, but mostly it’s a daily game of ‘Which person am I okay with pissing off today.’
When you do have free time you will always feel guilty for something you’re not doing
Sure, you can go to that BBQ with your friends, but you have a sketch to write, a bunch of articles to post, you have to email that booker and oh yeah, you’ve never written a packet. You should do that. Why have you NOT done that?
In all seriousness, you should take time to be a person and live life, just for your own sanity (and also because you need material,) but your brain has a hard time letting you be okay with that. Unless you’re lazy. Are you lazy? BTW why aren’t you writing pitches right now? DO YOU WANT TO BE A FAILURE?
Believe me. Its sucks.
You will resent comics living off their parents/the government for a myriad of reasons that will all result in flaming bloody hatred
Okay, this one might just be me, but seriously. Fuck you all. I hate you so much.
You always hear that lovely fairly story of a comic going to NY or LA with no money in their pocket. What most people don’t tell you is that many people—especially the famous and successful ones, (I could give you a list but it would just make you weep,) had a credit card connected to their parents back home. A LOT of famous entertainers had parents/spouses/girlfriends/boyfriends who were well off and willing to support them. In all honesty, a lot of those comics are brilliant and worked really hard, but the fact remains, they had a leg up. And that’s great for them. Who wouldn’t want to take that kind of opportunity?
Unfortunately though, there is no modern day Medici family for comedy and you are just going to have to deal with it. It sucks. Just try to be cool about it. Like, maybe don’t write an article and tell other comics you hate them. That would be a good start.
Take pride in your successes. No matter where you are. Sure those people worked hard. But you, you’re working really, really hard. You can’t beat yourself up all the time. Being successful, whatever your definition is, isn’t impossible. It’s just close to impossible.
* Yes, even marriages.