So for those who don’t know, occasionally I do comedy. And I like it. And people, by and large, enjoy when I do it.
So why don’t I do it more often?
I get this question a lot, and in fact, I ask myself this question a lot.
Or at least I used to, when I first started in comedy. Initially, my answer was common to a lot of comics — it’s hard to find the right opportunity to get up. Unless you’re in just the right situation, it can be a chore finding places to perform.
You can go to a bunch of open mics, but open mics aren’t necessarily a great place to be, because they’re full of other comics, most of whom are, to be polite, less than skilled. They range from being doe-eyed neophytes who can’t believe they’re actually doing this!! to angry, bitter, lazy or stoned hacks who think audiences won’t notice if you recycle the same five jokes about drugs, sexuality or religion into endless permutations of dreck. Sitting through that, night after night, week after week, can wear on you.
And even if you decide to be committed and brave the scene, the comedy scene is a lot about who you know, so if nobody knows you, you’re going to be going up toward the end of the list, when most of the other comics who’ve already performed have left. You end up telling jokes to an empty room — which, guess what? — you could’ve done at home, for free.
The best way to start is, in my opinion, the way I did — by taking a class. It’s a great way to learn in a safe space and build confidence and know-how. That’s what I did, and it worked.
Consequently, in 2013 and 2014, I think I succeeded in getting my foot in the door.
I mean, don’t get me wrong. I’m nowhere close to being a “known commodity” in the Portland comic scene, but I can probably name 4 or 5 working comics who have seen me perform, or have heard of me, or generally have a favorable idea of my abilities. One of them is my comedy mentor Alex Falcone, who opened a lot of doors for me when I took his class. Add to that a couple of the cool comics that I met during my volunteer stint at Bridgetown in 2014, and yeah, I think it’s fair to say, I’ve got my foot in the door.
So why aren’t I trying to kick it in and move up in the comedy world?
Well there are two answers to that, but they end up functioning as two sides of the same issue.
First, I don’t have a lot of extra time. I’m also a freelance writer, worship musician, creative consultant, husband, uncle, son and (okay, I’ll admit it) committed XBox enthusiast. These are all roles and/or activities that have a higher priority for me than doing comedy.
But awhile back, I also realized something about myself. Part of the reason why people enjoy my comedy, is because I have a distinct perspective on life. It’s been shaped by my family of origin, my life experiences, my convictions, the various jobs that I’ve held, and the various organizations I’ve been a a part of.
So my approach to comedy is that of an outsider. It’s not of someone who actually wants to build a career as a comedian. Because if I really wanted to build a career out of comedy, I’d be out there, grinding, every night. I’d ditch everything else and just go build my skills, and I’d work any stage I could get up on. And you know what I wouldn’t be doing? All the stuff that I do now. All the interactions that I have with family members, all the observations I have about pop culture, all the jokes I make about marriage, or church, or being a teacher, or going to the pool without having kids, or whatever… I wouldn’t have that material. Or at least, I wouldn’t approach it the same way.
That’s not to say that there isn’t a middle ground, a way to pursue comedy and still have a life. It’s just that for me, comedy is not a big enough priority to give up the other aspects of my life. Would I rather be a comic instead of a musician? No, because without my experiences as a musician, I wouldn’t be able to make the jokes about music that I make. My life away from comedy facilitates my ability to create comedy, and not the other way around.
Now, that’s not to say that I wouldn’t chase hard if the right opportunity came up. But I’m not chasing fame just because I can. Because I can tell you, there’s a long distance between doing jokes in a random club and becoming a working comedian who can draw audiences and sell tickets and record albums or specials. And in between here and there is “the life of a comic,” a life that can be awfully lonely and frustrating and depressing. There’s a reason why so many comics develop problems with substance abuse. Constantly traveling and doing shows and meeting random people and saying the same jokes over and over… eventually, it gets old.
So am I saying I don’t want to be famous? Of course not. Everybody wants to be famous.
I just don’t want to lose the life I have now, trying to chase it.