So basically after nearly 22 years of being on stage I still feel like I have no idea what I should be doing. I’m getting mixed signals coming at me from different directions. I’ve driven myself to a low point again and find myself needing to figure out what my next step should be.
There are several ways to measure your success in the comedy world.
You are famous - There’s nothing that tells you that you’ve succeeded more than seeing your name blasted all over every kind of media that exists. Look at Larry the Cable Guy, I’m pretty sure he knows he’s a success. He fills arenas every week, had a TV show (he quit for more family time), done movies and has 3.2 million Facebook fans. By anyones measuring stick, he’s successful.
You work regularly - Short of being famous being in demand is a pretty good way to let you know that you are a success. When club bookers are calling you to work their room you’ve made it. Next to that a full schedule, even if you have to work to get it, is still a strong indicator that you are succeeding.
People (lots of them) tell you they LOVE what you do - How many is “lots of people”? Only you can decide. It can be as little a 1 or run into the millions. I will give you that if only 1 person tells you that “they LOVE what you do” that's probably not enough and if it is enough for you to consider yourself a success, you’re a legend in your own mind.
So here it is, January 2014 and not only am I not a success, I can’t seem to figure out exactly why I am having so much trouble getting work. Since people aren’t telling me they LOVE what I do and I’m pretty sure I’m not famous (if I am no one has told me yet) I’m pretty much left with working regularly as a barometer for my success. Using my work schedule as a barometer, I’m a miserably failure.
So I need to figure out why I’m not working regularly. Once I’ve done that my next step is to see if I can adjust what’s holding me back from getting work. To further complicate things ... if I can make a change to help myself will it be one that would compromise my artistic integrity? How far am I willing to allow my career to slide to keep my “artistic integrity” in tact?
It's not just that my 2014 schedule is pretty thin. It’s that and something that happened last month that has put me in this weird place,
In December I was working a club and having what I considered to be a pretty decent show. While I was on stage the booker of the club leaned over to the other comic I was working with and said “I wish he wasn’t so mean”. Later when the comic told me this all I could think was “Mean? What does that mean? I’m not mean?”. My next immediate thought was “will this affect my ability to be booked here again?”. Then “Is this a problem with other bookers? Is this why my schedule is so thin?”.
I’d like to think I am “self-aware” enough to know if I suck. I’ve begged my comedian friends to “tell me the truth” and not one of them has said anything negative, Can I really trust them? Maybe they don’t want to hurt my feelings. Don’t they understand I need to know the truth? If they're not telling me something they’re not helping me by being nice and worrying about my “feelings”?
In some ways I wish I did suck. That would make things easier. After all, if you stink after 20 years of doing comedy there is nothing on the planet that will help you get really good. if I haven’t figured out how to be funny by now, it’s not going to happen. I should just quit.
Lets assume that my comedian friends are telling me the truth and I don’t suck then what? What is it that is keeping me from getting booked? Why is it that clubs don’t hire me? Is it my act? Is it that they don’t know me? Is it that they already have enough comedians and don’t want to look for any more? Is it something I said?
I’m not writing this for words of encouragement either. Think of this more along the lines of thinking out loud. To me putting my thoughts in writing and in public do a couple things:
It might give someone insight - I think there is a common misconception out there that all we have to do is just go on stage and “be funny”. When in actuality being funny on stage is just the tip of the iceberg. There is so much more happening “underneath the surface”.
It might help another comic - I’m not saying that I’m going to come to any great conclusion here. The truth is, I don’t even know what I’m going to write about following this. Whatever I do write will be my honest appraisal of my situation. It could be that my journey may have some relevance with another standup that is struggling as well.
I might actually come up with a solution - Or not ... but at least I will have “aired out” whatever is in my head about all this. Think of it as a spring cleaning of the mind and soul. It will give me an opportunity to rearrange some things and possibly find something I hadn’t seen in a while because it was buried underneath a bunch of other stuff.
We’ll see ...
Vilmos has been a standup comedian since 1992.
He created GreenRoomRadio.net a web site with Podcasts by comedians.
He is the host of The Green Room which is the longest running Podcast on standup comedy.
He also hosts The Mentorist v2 and The Spew.
His web site is Vilmos.com.
Follow him on Facebook at facebook.com/vilmosthecomic or Twitter @vilmosthecomic.