I've been doing stand up comedy for 13 years. In that time I've pursued it with varying degrees of effort.
In the beginning I didn't really have a goal. I performed at one or two open mics almost every week for a year. I liked the attention it got me among my family and friends and the occasional "audience" members that took a moment to slur "Duuuude that was funny shit" between swigs of Bud Light. It was good for my unbridled low self esteem.
A few years in I started to get some paid work. It was a little bit because I was funny, but a lot because I was nice. Being one of the nicest people in a group of open mic "comics" is relatively easy. Don't bitch about the STATE OF COMEDY, don't try screw your buddy's girlfriend, and don't run down your fellow open mic'ers behind their backs (you should have the courage to do it to their faces, because it's probably warranted). I went on the road to fabulous comedy meccas like Winnemucca, NV. and Salem, OR. I met working comics, kept in touch with them, and got MORE work. Getting more work made me more serious about the craft. Yes. It's a craft. For a time this work paid off by giving me new material, making me a better performer and giving me a more polished persona.
But I got lazy. And scared. And arrogant. All qualities that retard your progression. I never gave up my day job, so I worked in comedy when I wanted to. I was comfortable thinking I was one of the best Reno comedians. I went through periods where I'd do a lot of shows and come to loathe my act. Then after I'd go months without performing, I'd get up somewhere and enjoy it again because the material seemed fresh. I'd quit comedy for short periods but I could never stay gone because, when you tend bar at a chain restaurant and spend your days making "RUTTI TUTTI SUPER FRUIT-A-RITAS" and prying four month old gum from the bottom of tables, you've got to have something that gives you a sense of accomplishment. I realized I had come sort of full circle. I wasn't doing it because I loved it, or even liked it, really. I was doing it for the attention and the self esteem boost. I loved the locker room aspect of it. The being on the road with another comic and suffering through same LOOOOOONG drive to a place that advertised the gig with finger paint on butcher paper. The 2 a.m. dinners spent talking about the show. The motel room that's mini-fridge came pre-stocked with the previous guests dentures (yes, for real).
I didn't love IT, though.
Earlier this year I reached another comedy crossroads. I realized that I wasn't good at anything else - food service, call center, sales, etc. - and maybe I should give comedy a shot full time. Not because I love IT, because I'd run out of other options. Through some lucky breaks and due somewhat to being a nice guy through the years, I've landed a pretty good gig. I get to perform nightly in a great club, and I can go on the road when I WANT to, not because I HAVE to. But lazy, scared and arrogant don't just go away without some effort on your part. I still suffer from those things. I haven't used this opportunity to improve, to write new stuff, to write BETTER stuff.
Then I had an inspired epiphany. If that's even a thing.
I had lunch with a fellow comic. His name's Kermet Apio. You should check him out: www.ikerm.com. He's fabulous. As a comic and as a human. I learned so much in 2 and a half hours sitting across the table from him. I wish I'd have recorded it, because I'm sure I don't remember all the quality advice, encouragement and knowledge that came my way. I remember some though. On the craft side he talked about a comic's "comedy machine" and how it was important to get that working properly, so that everything that went into it, came out with uniformity and personal truth. On the business side he talked about adjusting your reaction to things you had no control over and finding the silver lining. He talked intelligently about every aspect of comedy. It was like a free comedy seminar - TOTALLY free because Kermet even paid for lunch.
That night I had the immense pleasure of watching him perform. He opened for the GREAT Brian Regan. It's no small accomplishment to be asked to open for Brian since you not only have to be GREAT yourself, you have to have "all ages" appeal. Kermet fit the bill in both those categories and THEN SOME. He did 25 minutes that had the 1200 or so people in the room wiping away tears. Their raucous applause when he was finished lasted a good solid 2 minutes. His material was all true, all clean, and all hysterically funny.
And I realized, I do love IT.
In my entire "career" I've rarely watched very much of other comics, because when I see a great one, I'm usually discouraged in my own ability rather than inspired by theirs. Not this time. After watching Kermet (and Brian Regan too) I'm finally inspired. Inspired to ATTEMPT to write and do comedy the way I've always wanted to. Comedy that has a message. Comedy that doesn't insult. Comedy I'd be proud to do in front of ANYONE. Comedy that's true to me. Comedy that's funny.
So that's the journey I embark on as I write this. I'm going through my act and looking at places to clean it up and freshen it up. I'm making a list of NEW topics to talk about that mean something to me. I'm really THINKING about what I do on stage for the first time in years. I'm comfortable with the knowledge that I can't continue to do stand up if I can't do it the way I want to. I don't know if I'll succeed, but I do know that if I don't, I'll feel good for having tried.
And if I don't? Well I can still make a pretty good "RUTTI TUTTI SUPER FRUIT-A-RITA".