Sunday, November 24, 2013

Free Will? Hah! (Stand-Up Comedy Urges Strike Again)

Free will may be the biggest joke of all.

Would you like me to explain?

Well, like it or not, I'm going to.

Earlier this year, I made the declaration that I _was_ a stand-up comic.  I'd put it in my past.  That was it.  No need to keep the urges lingering.

Yeah, right.

When will I learn?

How many times do I have to declare that I've quit doing something before I realize that as long as I'm alive, there's always the chance that I'll eventually go back to doing the thing that I've supposedly "quit"?

When I declared that I was quitting stand-up, it wasn't a huge de-committal on my part.  I hadn't been on stage for quite a while.  So, it wasn't like anybody was going to notice.

Hell... I barely noticed.

The declaration was an attempt at not spending any more of my energy even thinking about the possibility of being a comedian anymore.   Not on stage, anyway.  I'll always be a comedian in real life...

Whether I choose to be or not.

Free will?  Hah!

This most recent declaration wasn't the all-encompassing "quitting" that I've been foolish enough to declare in the past.  There was a time when I declared I was no longer going to do _anything_ in the entertainment industry.

At least I'm not that foolish anymore.

Several years ago, I realized that in one form or another, I'd like to keep performing indefinitely.  Whether it be comedy, acting, music...

I'm going to keep performing for the rest of my life.

At times, I may go weeks (or months) between performances, but I'm never going to stop performing... whether it be in person, online, TV, film, or whatever venues the future might bring.

The difference (or so I thought) with stand-up comedy is that I felt it was okay to make that declaration for a subset of performing, and be done with it.  It wasn't the same as quitting showbiz altogether.  It was just getting rid of one facet of performing.  The one that I felt was best to leave in the rear view mirror.

But why quit stand-up versus all of the others?

Because stand-up is a different beast.

It's the most difficult form of entertainment that I've pursued.

While it does have _amazing_ highs, it also has equally amazing lows.

Not only is it difficult to be good at it for a sustained period of time, it's even harder to be good at it in small doses.  And I'd gotten to the point where I realized that the small highs I might experience now and then doing few-and-far-between gigs weren't worth the (inevitable) lows of a bad set.

And then along come the urges.

Months after "quitting" stand-up, I started getting the urge to do it again.


I have no idea.

Free will?  Hah!

For a while, I tried stifling those urges.  But then I realized it was a losing battle.  And I also realized that pushing down those urges was unhealthy.  It doesn't matter "why" I feel like doing stand-up again.  The only thing I know is that I feel like it.

So, I'm going with the flow.

That might not always be the wisest choice.  I mean, just because a person has an urge, that doesn't mean it should be carried-out.  Drugs and alcohol come to mind.  Sometimes, it's okay to fight an urge -- and find healthier alternatives for filling time...

And for filling whatever void would otherwise be filled with consuming various substances.

In the case of stand-up, I feel it is a healthy choice.  I'm not going to destroy my liver by going onstage.  In fact, diverting my attention to writing and performing could keep me from drinking.

Emphasis on _could_.

Stand-up could also lead me to drinking... or smoking... or any number of other vices.

But I don't think so.

Not this time around.

Since I'm generally happy these days, I'm not feeling susceptible to the downward spiral that sometimes comes with stand-up.  I'm just looking to satisfy the urges, man.  Really.  That's all this is.

At least, I think that's all this is.

Free will?  Hah!

Even though I haven't hit the stage (yet) since the urges hit, I've been working on material.  And the act of doing that again feels good.

When I'm not physically writing things down, bits are constantly swirling around in my head.  Old feelings of satisfaction have returned.  That satisfied feeling of coming up with material out of thin air.  And it beats having those mental voids filled with political bullshit, or other so-called "important" news items.

I'm filling my head with creative things instead of the externally-generated destructive things.

And it's all new material.

One thing I decided is that if I'm going to do stand-up again, it's not going to be to regurgitate material I've been doing off-and-on for 25+ years.  It's going to be completely new.  And it's going to be different -- somehow -- though I'm not exactly sure how to explain it.

Let's just say that I'm not looking for funny things to say anymore.  I'm just thinking about stuff that's important to me, and waiting for funny stuff to bubble up to the surface.

In the past, when I went looking for funny things to say, it often ended up being "observational humor".

I'm going to do my best to avoid that trap.

You know, stuff like, "Didja ever notice... cats?  What's up with cats?!".

So, why haven't I hit the stage yet?

I'm glad you asked.

The reason I haven't performed (yet) is because my urge is very specific at this point.  I want to perform in the Nerdist Showroom at Meltdown Comics (a.k.a., NerdMelt).  If I wanted to perform just any-old-place, I could have done that by now.  But I'm only interested in doing NerdMelt (at the moment).

So, what am I doing about it?

I'm glad you asked.

Most importantly, I've compiled a tight 3-minute set.

And last Monday, I drove up to Hollywood to sign-up for the NerdMelt open mic, but didn't get a spot.  There's a lottery (which is typical of popular open mics), and my name wasn't drawn from the hat (actually, the bowl).

No biggie.  I've been through this drill before.  I'll just keep going up there until I get a spot...

Or until I don't have the urge to go up there anymore.

And in the meantime, I'll enjoy being in the belly of the beast.  Whenever I go up to Hollywood for stage time or an audition, I get a bit pumped-up... even if I don't get the gig.

It is the entertainment capital of the world, after all.

The stakes (and rewards) are higher in Hollywood...

Even at an open mic.

Which makes it worth spending hours on the road at a chance for a few minutes of stage time.

At least, that's how I'm feeling about it today.

As for tomorrow...

Who knows?

Free will?  Hah!

Here's what's baffling to me about all of this...

I have no idea why I get the urge to drive hundreds of miles for the possibility of 3 minutes on stage... just as I have no idea why I lost the urge to do that a few years ago.

When I've got the urge, it's no big deal to jump in my car and make a round trip to Hollywood.  When I don't have the urge, I think it was crazy that I'd spend all of that time making the round trip(s) to Hollywood.

And we think we have free will?

Now _that_ is funny.

Friday, January 25, 2013

I _Was_ a Stand-Up Comic [No Age Limit in Showbiz (Blessing/Curse)]

I was a stand-up comic for years.

Until very recently -- like, days ago -- I still put it in the present tense. I'd say I _am_ a comedian.  Unable to let go.  Thinking -- knowing -- that one day I'd get the urge to hit the stage as a comic again.

Today, I'm finally doing what Chris Hardwick's dad was wise enough to do years ago.

I'm stopping.


Billy Hardwick was a professional bowler.  One of the best in the world.  When he retired -- that was it.  He stopped bowling... period.  Not just for money.  He stopped... period.

He didn't want to taint the memory.

I haven't been so wise.

For years, I've had this on-again/off-again relationship with stand-up comedy.

It's time to let that go.

Or is it?


Do you SEE?

The problem with showbiz is that there's no time limit.

That's also a good thing, depending on how you look at it -- what mood you're in -- how old you are, etc.

On the one hand, I'm happy to know that at my ripe old(ish) age of 52, I could still pursue a career in stand-up if I wanted to.

But that's also a curse.

Because, come on.  Is there really a place for a guy my age to re-start climbing the ladder in stand-up comedy?

And even if there were a "place", do I really have the energy it would take to "make it"?

Hell, I didn't have the energy and/or the talent to "make it" when I was in my mid-20's to early-30's.  I quit my day job to pursue it, and eventually hit a dead end...

A dead-end of my own making, by the way.

I didn't realize it at the time, but Hollywood didn't "chew me up and spit me out" (as was often my explanation to people in the years following my return from Hollywood to "real life").  The fact is, I was unable to muster the energy to continue pursuing that proverbial "next level".

So, what makes me think I could do it now?

For one thing, it's not about "thinking".

There's no logic behind dreams.

One day, I might very well wake up with that unexplainable urge to start driving thousands of miles for a few minutes of stagetime here and there and everywhere/anywhere.

But I sure hope not.

It's not that I don't have _some_ urge to do comedy anymore.

It's just that I've come to grips with the fact (belief?) that there's really no reason for me to do _any_ stage time -- because it's not going to lead anywhere.

It's just not worth my time.

I've got other/better things to do.

And if I have an existential moment that says to me, "Who cares if it leads anywhere?  Just do it for fun!"...

I have to slap that existential moment in the face, and remind it that stand-up comedy is very often not very fun -- both in the preparation and the performing.

Sure, there can be a few fun moments here and there.  But those moments are hard to come by when you're only getting up on stage once in a while.

And when you don't care enough to prepare.

In the past couple of years, an old comedian friend of mine (Lamont Ferguson) tossed me a few bones -- and I gladly caught them -- and voraciously nibbled on the sparse pieces of meat (an amusing metaphor to me -- since the gigs where in a BBQ restaurant).

I couldn't wait for another bone to be tossed my way (since I'd already stopped pursuing any bones on my own).

But now I'm hoping that if/when a bone is tossed in my direction...

I'll run like hell in the other direction.

Or, at least, politely decline to catch it.

It's not that I'm not thankful for those bones.  Those gigs had their moments.  That's what kept me going back.

In the words of Lamont...

"I've lost the will to comede".

Actually, those aren't his words.  He hasn't lost the will.  It's just that I heard the words coming out of his mouth when he told me that some of our old comedy buddies have not caught the bones he's tossed.

And now, my name can (finally) be added to that list.

It's not that I'm giving up on the idea of having _any_ career in showbiz.

Thanks to the Internet, I can continue to do my own video projects whenever I feel like it (and sometimes even be watched by an audience into the double-digits!).

And thanks to the never-ending need for actors of all ages in other people's projects, I can continue to occasionally audition for (and occasionally get selected to do) those gigs.

I can also continue to sing and play my guitar.  Somehow, it's not as pathetic to see an old dude jamming an old tune as it is to see an old dude jamming on an old joke.

In fact, old dudes jamming old tunes can be incredible.

I once went to a blues club in Chicago (not the House of Blues, by the way -- an actual, old, sweaty-walled blues club) -- and was blown away by the old guys on stage -- easily in their 80's.  They were amazing.  "Pathetic" is the last word that comes to mind.  As I recall them in this present moment, the first word that comes to mind is "inspirational".

So, it's not totally a bad thing that there's no age limit in showbiz.

You might even say it's a blessing and a curse.

(Did you read the title of this post?)

It's just, well... it's about choice.

What things are okay to pursue in your golden years, and what things are best left in your scrapbook?

Speaking of my scrapbook...

I was once a football player.  It's been a long time since the thought of pursuing football crossed my mind.

The cool thing about football is that it eventually leaves you no choice.

You _must_ stop.

That may seem like a bad thing to lovers of choice -- but sometimes, it nice to have your choices limited.  It can help you focus on other things -- things you're more capable of actually accomplishing (and enjoying).

Things that don't make you look (and feel) pathetic.

It's not that athletes know exactly when to quit.  Many hold on for "too long".  But eventually, time runs out -- and they find something else to do with their lives.

You're not likely to see a 52-year-old playing in the NFL.

But you can still see a 52-year-old getting up on stage to do comedy in a BBQ restaurant now and then.

Hopefully, not _this_ 52-year-old.