There’s an 85% chance I’m too old to still be chasing my dreams. I’m 35, I’m still a server, and my pay in comedy varies from $500 to a drink ticket. It’s cool to be a loser in your 20’s, but in your 30’s? I’m not so sure…
In the grand scheme of things, being a bartender has proven to be far more lucrative than anything creative. But how can you express the wonders of a vibrator to a man reading the paper, trying to enjoy his Kilkenny and a French Onion Soup?
You just can’t.
I’ve recently started wondering why some people quit comedy. I’m sure we’ve all had our moments. There’s no occupation immune from the idea of an employee saying, “Fuck it. I’m out.” Not even your dream job. I feel like doing comedy is like going to the gym. Sometimes you dread going, but after you go, you feel sooooooooooooo good.
So why do people quit comedy? Some do, you know. The highs of being a comedian are incredible. Amazing. But the lows of being a comedian can be painfully tragic. I’m sure you’ve figured that out by now.
I started doing comedy a week before my 19th birthday. I was young, optimistic, and fearless. Pretty much the opposite of what I am now. I went on stage in heels, (well, they were platforms-it was the late 90’s) and wore see-through shirts. (But those shirts were only see through from the ribs down, cuz again, it was the late 90’s.) I had three minutes of solid comedy. (I thought I had five, but really, I had three.)
Back then, I honestly believe my comedy had everything to do with writing. I had no concept of all the other variables. I had stage presence, probably from acing so many oral book reports as a kid. But I never took into account other things. Like how long the nachos take… Is the server nice? Who do I have to follow? Why is the last Wednesday of every month smoke-free? (K, now you know I’m old.) In fact, back then, when I was a comedy virgin, I always thought it was the best to follow someone who killed. After all, didn’t he/she just warm up the crowd for you? Now for whatever reason, some comedians prefer to follow a stinker. Revive the crowd. (Hopefully.)
Back then, I admired so many comedians. Comics who don’t do comedy anymore. That’s crazy to me. I have heros who sort of gave up. Obviously my blog last week was emotional. Why am I in a business full of people I can’t trust? I know it’s not the money. And it’s not the fame, cuz I still work at Fionn MacCools. But young or old, I still have this fantasy of being a modern day Lucille Ball- Cute… imperfect… but it just works.
So I started creeping my retired comedian friends. A “Where Are They Now” show, but the Canadian Comedy Edition. The first person who came to mind, was the first comic I ever dated. (Ya, I’ve dated comics. They tell you not to, but you just can’t help it.)
His name is Marcus Rummery. He was hilarious. When I first met him, I didn’t even know he was a comedian. There were ZERO open mics in Ottawa back then, so every amateur comic got two Wednesdays a month at the comedy club. He was always hanging out at the comedy club, even when he wasn’t on the show, so I just thought he was a groupy. Then one Wednesday, we were BOTH on the show. I discovered he was hilarious. I will still quote his jokes today, cuz they’re just that good. (The foreigners not grasping the enormity of Canada bit still kills. I’m laughing right now, and I’m typing at a Firkin by myself. They probably think I’m crazy.)
So I wrote him. What’s going on these days?!! And guess what? He teaches YOGA now. (Yeah, way to get flexible AFTER we break up.) I can definitely understand how yoga would be the most therapeutic comedy after life. I asked him why he doesn’t do comedy anymore. He said,
“I still do one show a year…”
Haha. That’s a show I’d go to.
Then I wrote one of my other fave comics from my first years doing comedy. Rob Cowley. Ya know him? Doubt it. We grew up in a pre-YouTube world. But I remember my mentality when I first did comedy. When I called the comedy club, I was advised to come watch a show, before I tried it. So I went down on a Wednesday. I made an agreement with myself that I didn’t expect to be funnier than everyone on the show. But if I thought I could be funnier than one person on the show, I’d try stand-up comedy.
Rob Cowley was not that person. He was my favourite. He had a joke about the giant check even my friends today still talk about. And now… he doesn’t do comedy. Why? He was great! So I found him on Facebook, as we do these days. I asked him why he doesn’t do comedy anymore. His response:
“I stopped mainly because of the community. I moved to Toronto early on. I really loved the Ottawa scene (where we started.) I was one of the first of our community to move to Toronto, and it was pretty lonely and soul destroying. I did the amateur nights at Yuks and did Spirits a few times (which was fun. I enjoyed it) But I just stopped… enjoying it. I also felt like the level of ego that came with the lower density of actual talent (compared to Ottawa) was hard to handle and just tiring.”
I get it. Often one’s confidence, trumps his material. I remember the first time I waited in line at the Laugh Factory in LA to do my first ever open mic there. I spent hours sitting against the wall, getting an intense sunburn, and listening to a dozen comics be “on” all day. They all seemed way funnier than me. But then we got on stage… yikes.
Rob went on to fret that he might not make sense, and feel free to use all of it, or none of it, which just verifies that he’s still a true comedian. Another interesting thing he said:
“I probably would have stayed in it longer, had I come later, when more of us were in Toronto…”
It’s a great point. You need friends in comedy. You need them on the outside, and you definitely need them on the inside. Nobody quite understands a comedian like another comedian. Rob moved before any of us had the balls to. I know other comics who moved to Toronto from Ottawa, and felt desolate while here too. All proof, that Toronto is Canadian New York! (With a slightly better bed bud record.)
I was at a show last night, trying out new material. I asked some other comics if they cared to sound off on the idea of quitting comedy. Kristeen Von Hagen said,
“I can suggest a few people who I’d like to quit comedy.”
Jeff Elliot said,
“Well, I see a lot of people quit writing comedy. But they keep doing it…
Yikes. That’s a good one. Some nights, I fear that’s me. Nothing embarrasses me more than going up in front of a room full of comics and doing old jokes. You have classics, that the crowd will for sure love, but the comics in the back of the room won’t respect you unless you take some chances. My peers are probably my biggest motivators.
Which brings me to Mark Forward. He’s a friend of mine, and he publicly quit comedy a few years ago. (Don’t worry. He’s back.) In an article the Toronto Star published he said,
“Lately for whatever reason- global warming, North Korea, or maybe it’s Justin Bieber- I have lost the love of performing. People don’t seem to show up to comedy clubs just “wanting to laugh. They show up with a “make me laugh” attitude. Cellphones are left on. Texting is rampant in the front row, and done with an arrogance suggesting it is their right.”
Mark later goes on to say that he finds it hard to continue his routine with belching drunken men in the crowd, but I fear one of those belches might have been mine.
I think about quitting comedy all the time. It’s quite terrifying. If I didn’t start it so young, there’s no way I would take it up today. I’m too tender. I barely got my act together for an Aeroplan card. And as much as my boss at my restaurant job probably looks at my availability and thinks,
“Jesus Christ! Just QUIT already.”
I can’t. I’m too scared. It’s my crutch. I’d love to take the “Leap of Faith,” but I’m terrified. What if I fail? What if I have no money? Plus, I’m actually a great server. A lot of people curse the day job. I go there thinking,
“This is so much easier than comedy…”
(Except for the lady at table 22 who keeps complaining her steak isn’t well done enough. Who likes a well-done steak? And why do you constantly threaten to NEVER come back, but then ALWAYS come back?)
Plus, I really like everyone I work with. As much as they steal my pens, I do consider them family. (To be fair, I stay in a lot of hotels. I get more free pens than them.)
So while I always consider quitting comedy, I just can’t. I love it, even though it scares the shit out of me. Jen Grant always makes fun of me when I freak out before a TV taping. This is my dream. I should be enjoying the successes. Not fearing them. I guess if I wanted to have babies that would be an easy reason to quit, but I don’t want to have facking babies! Comedy is my baby. (It cries a lot.)
K, I could babble on about comedy all day, so lemme wrap this up. (It’s garbage day, and you know how excited I get for garbage day.)
My boss at the pub told me this when I turned 30:
“In your 20’s you’re trying to figure out what you want to do in life.
By 30, you know.
By 40, you’re doing it.”
Guys. I still have time.
I think the key to this business might just be,
P.S. Do I need a bibliography for quoting Mark in the Star? Cuz I actually did go to university, and I facking hated bibliographies.