The Best Lessons Learned Are The Ones That Hurt The Most

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Being in the entertainment industry is one of those hobbies or professions that I am sure some of you scratch your head and wonder why anyone would want to bother with the stress and aggravation of it all.  Think about it for a second…..

Relief pitchers (closers) in baseball come into a game in the ninth inning usually.  They get paid millions of dollars with the simple task of getting three outs.  That’s it, just three outs.  You enter the game with a three run lead in the ninth inning.  You walk the first hitter you face after a couple borderline calls go against you.  No big deal you figure, I’ll get the next guy.  Next batter you fall behind 2-0.  He knows he will probably get a good pitch to hit so he is zeroed in on swinging at the first ball he sees in the strike zone.

Now, the pitcher is thinking along these same lines, now over-thinking, he figures he will go for the element of surprise and throw a curve ball that breaks out of the strike zone.  Ball three.  He’s then walked.  Now the #3 hitter of the inning is up.  The pitcher doesn’t want to lay one right down the middle, but he still has to make a good pitch, instead he overthrows it and hits the batter.  Bases loaded, nobody out.

Be honest with me for a moment.  As you’ve been reading about the closer’s plight thus far, did you think about anything other than the fact this guy is a bum because he can’t do something as simple as throw a baseball to get people out?  A closer is not necessarily a job creator, but a job sustainer maybe?  If he gets three outs and “saves” the win for his team, sure the team wins, but it also keeps fans coming out to the ballpark.  Fans in the seats means that all the workers in the front office of that team still have a job to go to, as do the stadium grounds crew and vendors at the games.  If he lost the leads of those games, the team might have losing seasons, he gets sent to the minors, traded or released, and the team might even move, if that culture of losing can’t be fixed.

Maybe, like some athletes with wealth, he’s in debt, and because of it his marriage is in trouble, or there are family problems he can’t get out of his head even when he’s at work.  Add to that the fact that ballgames are now broadcast internationally with media people everywhere ready to pounce on the guy when he can’t do his job.

Be honest, how much fun does it sound like this closer would have, especially if he gives up the game-winning grand slam for his team to lose that game?  Then he faces the media after, deals with pissed off teammates and fans, before he goes home for the evening to deal with family strife if he is playing a home game.  If they are on the road, it might be just as bad, going back to the hotel room and having another sleepless night, while your teammates on the way back to the hotel keep their distance from you.  What if this scene happens once in a while?  What if it only happens once?

If it happens lots, it could be the catalyst towards a downward spiral that could cost the closer his mental health, his family, his finances, and quite possibly his life.  But what if it didn’t have to be that way at all?  What if, on the one night where everything seemed to go wrong, and the whole fucking world was against you, what if you treated that as a blessing in disguise, one that allowed you to become assertive and to take responsibility for what’s been going on and make necessary changes.  Then, you become next to unhittable for a month or two as your team goes on a major role.  Then the media will want to “be your friend” and ask you what it was that enabled you to turn things around.  That’s when you tell your story and have an appreciation for what you went through.

Although I am not a baseball player, I can draw some parallels between it and the comedy world, because last night, regardless of whether you thought reactions of certain people were right or wrong, I learned perhaps the most difficult lesson I’ve probably ever been taught.  Only difference is, there was no media around to cover it, no cameras, so stadium full of people to voice their displeasure.  Just myself, my friends, the other comics and the audience.

Let’s start from the beginning.  Monday night I was anticipating my stage time because I was going to do a rant about the events that happened at the comedy club on my birthday when I took the stage.  I didn’t have my notebook with me, I had everything from the rant already in my head ready to let go.  When I got onstage, you know what?  It actually worked!  It’s a better reaction that I’ve received from the Beily’s audience in weeks.  The part I was most pleased with was, because I was getting the laughs, it allowed me to work on my timing, which worked.

At least that’s how the first half of my stage time went.

The second half of the act was a completely different story, not only because of what happened while I was onstage, but more so because of what happened when I left the stage.  For whatever reason, I did not have a game plan for the back end of my set, which should have been better planned than what it was.  The second half started with a joke that I tried to tie in to the rant I went on.  My one friend thought it was funny, but it didn’t get a response from the audience.  Then I did a joke at the end that I’ve done possibly one time to many.  The second half didn’t go over at all, it’s like even though I was up on stage for less than ten minutes, it’s like I had the audience where I finally wanted them to be, and I led them astray.  They got lost by the material, and it resulted in not much of a reaction.

The MC for the night was at his usual best.  He may have been offensive to some, but he was funny to most, and that’s what counts in the end are the laughs.  They don’t ask how, just how many, right?  So once I get offstage he lays into me for the second half of the set.  Now, I will say I am used to being teased like that in public after my set.  Unlike some other comics, who cry and go home never to return, or else some who make fun of the MC onstage to try and even the score after (I’ve seen it done), I have been given kudos for taking my lumps and coming back to get better.  But geez…….the bashing I took from this MC went on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on, and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on.  You get my drift?

For some reason, it seemed a bit excessive compared to the amount of the MC usually spends on berating me.  My friends at my table couldn’t stop laughing.  I’m not sure if they did because they thought his bashing me actually was funny, or if they laugh because they chose to.  Anyhow, I’m not sure anyone can imagine sitting there and getting ripped on like that for three times the normal length of time.  Everyone was laughing.  Yeah, I didn’t really give a shit at first, but it seemed as if every single thing he talked about after I left til the completion of the evening was about the back half of my stage time.  I was egging him on a bit, telling him to keep going because he was on such a role, and muttering that everyone should keep up the laughter because it’s such a joke.

The other comics who were up after me, needless to say, did well and the crowd was very appreciative of their efforts.  At the end of the night the majority of my friends who sat at the table didn’t say a word to me, nothing at all, just told the others they did well and left.  I talked to one friend who stuck around and made an effort to talk with me.  I talked about my new job, then mentioned that I thought the first half went well, and she said it was better also.

I’m not sure where to go from here but to say there are a couple points I need to make…..oh, who the hell am I kidding?  I have several points to make, including saying some things that people will probably not think it wise for me to admit.  But like I said, I would rather be honest than stupid any day, and I never feel stupid for being honest.

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It has been said that the majority of entertainers get into that line of work because they need their ego fed.  While that may be true to some extent, that may come from a desire to seek the fame, adulation, love and respect of their audience and/or peers.  Believe it or not, I am sort of cut from that same cloth.

At this point in my life, my dad owns his own business and is successful.  My brother works for him as well and has a condo, new vehicle, and the financial and employment security that most 36 year olds would want.  He has only lived at three different addresses since moving out on his own, and working with dad I think is only his third or fourth job he’s held.

Then there is me.  Right out of high school I followed my dream to be on t.v. doing the sports, it’s what I loved and dreamed of doing all through school.  Then school came calling, and I went.  Once I started though, I made a decision that would affect the rest of my life.  I went to a work-ed job placement in high school shadowing a t.v. sports reporter, and found that the routine of the job sort of dampened my enthusiasm for the industry.  So, I decided to go into radio.  It seemed like it would be more fun, I always liked music and liked to talk, plus I saved for the majority of the tuition and was going there every day to radio school, so I figured I was best to figure out what direction to go in.  But not my dad, nope.  Right from the start, he tore into me saying that “the only reason you want to get into radio is so you can be a big star, you just want to be the show-off!”  Nothing could be further from the truth, but once I got an internship at a local station here in the city, I spent the next two years trying to prove him wrong.  I still lived at home at the time, and had two paying jobs on top of that, so there were some days where I would leave the house at 10:00 a.m. and not be back until 6:00 a.m. the following morning having to work all three jobs.

At the station I was put down, told I was no good, humiliated and teased daily by the guy who was in charge of the interns (he also worked at the station).  Then one night a month before Christmas, I went to see my friend in the hospital who was just diagnosed with (what turned out to be) an inoperable brain tumor that ultimately cost him his life in October of 1999, after a 7 year fight.  Not in the best frame of mind after seeing him, I went to the station and tore this guy a new one for treating me like that.  He kicked me out, and when the station moved I got back in six months later when this guy left and a new program director was hired who also taught at the school.  He gave me on-air shifts and had me as part of the promotions department to create a Christmas contest.  Yes, I created a contest all by myself that they ended up using for a couple years. Still not good enough for dad.  Then I got an evening shift, which was a paid spot.  I went to the new guy in charge and said that I have done a lot in trying to help out, and I earned an opportunity while other people walked in with their ego, seemed to snap their fingers and get those same spots.  That night, I remember it because Rod Stewart was in town, I called my house halfway through the show to see what they thought.  This is how that conversation went:

Me :  “hi Mom!  I thought I would give you a quick call and see what you thought so far?”

Mom: “oh, we aren’t really listening to you.  We listened for the first couple minutes but are watching a movie now.”

I have done everything since then from selling advertising for a business newspaper, to working for dad and getting punched out in the process, been a night auditor/security at hotels, done retail sales, janitorial, shipping/receiving and selling windows (to name a few).  Some jobs I have been screwed around at, treated unfairly where it lasted less than three months.  Some instances they let me go and gave me a sad excuse.  The longest job I have held has been 4.5 years, and that was back when I was in my early 20s.  I have had interviews where I have had offer sheets torn up in front of my face by an ignorant owner, been lied to about being hired by one of the crowns, telling me that someone will call me when nobody did, other crowns with all my experience I get halfway through the recruiting process then they drop me.  I’ve had at least 75 interviews in my life, some with snooty HR people, some that border on a police interrogation…….. whatever I have tried to do, I haven’t been able to make stick.  My car is an absolute lemon that needs breaks worse than a dying man needs a glass of water, and the best I can do for a job is to get something part time at $12/hr with the hope that it could go full-time, but it’s shift work.

Even when I became president of my riding for a provincial political party, when I volunteered as an adult literacy tutor, getting elected to their board of directors and being one of the first adult tutors to be nominated for the inaugural adult tutor award, it didn’t matter to my family.  Even doing stand-up, I was told that they wondered where I got the confidence to do that from, that I am not really funny and I will just end up making myself look like an idiot onstage.  Couple that with only having two relationships, 13 years apart, with each lasting a year…..then the rest of the time I get turned down, ignored or disrespected by the ones who I think would be good for me, then leaving the ones with attitude, issues and drama to enter into my life.

Having said that, I have pretty much relied on my friends all through these years to be supportive.  It’s been pretty good for the most part, although they sometimes wonder why I get so down on myself, well, just take a look to my own family for inspiration there.  Sure, they are good people, I just wish they would give a shit more about what I do with my life, or attempt to do.  Never, ever, would I tell kids of my own that they shouldn’t try something they want to do.  I did the best I would with karaoke for the years I really sang, and it turned out alright.  I was recognized for being the most entertaining performer at a recent karaoke league finals.  That made me proud, knowing if I put my creative energy into something, that it can pay off.

So when I decided to try stand-up, it was because last year at the comedy festival, I attended the very last show.  At that show I saw the very final act who was obviously new, and not that good.  The only joke that worked for the audience was the one that he told right at the very end.  Now yes, I did offer him a positive comment after and said that last one was good.  But at that moment, I realized that I possess the basic tools necessary to give this a go!  I was not scared of performing for a crowd, I’m naturally funny, a good public speaker, so I figured why not?

The comedy has taken its share of peaks and valleys, more valleys than peaks at times, but some of the smaller venues I’ve done okay at, and the smallest audience we’ve played for all year saw me finish first and beat Saskatoon’s best in a competition for the newer comics (side note: that night was one night of the preliminary round before the finals).  The head guy couldn’t believe it, he hardly made mention of it, maybe because it’s easier to give me a public bashing than compliment me.  My friends that Monday night were there for the finals, and when the MC said I finished first the night before and shocked the world, no response from my friends.  No applause, no whistles, nothing.

With the comedy I really do appreciate the fact my friends show up, but it seems like the comments I get from them I have to ask for.  Other comics who have been at it longer, and are better, my friends don’t have any qualms about telling them they did a good job, while with me they just give me a hug and say “thanks” and they leave.

Some friends of mine have said they can’t tell me the truth, or don’t want to because they think I will get mad.  Really?  Think about it, one local comic has quit comedy for the time being because he went on stage unprepared and forgot the headliners name one night.  Sure, it’s funny to poke fun at me ha ha ha, but when it’s turned around and this guy is singled out (for good reason), he can’t take it, so he sits at home and pouts?  My friends will be honest with me, but it’s not like they will be as mean spirited (at times) that this one guy was last night.  You can be honest and not be an asshole.  At least that is something I give my friends credit for.

So that Monday night, I was hoping they would at least give me a positive, which I felt I had coming based on the first half of my set.  Yeah, the second half was shit and I deserved to get bashed, but to ignore the first half of my set when I finally figured out the formula needed to succeed on Monday nights…….

Like I said, it’s in my nature to focus on the positives.  That is not what I was exposed to growing up, I heard that from Joel Osteen instead.  The world is full of enough negative people that we should be more supportive of one another.  At times like this, I don’t feel as if I have anyone close to me in my corner at all, and if there is somebody there, they don’t know what to say.  I wish I had that person in my life who could speak words. Wordsare powerful, it’s not enough to just say that I am getting better.  Well, wait a second, that’s not true.  While it is nice to hear that, right now I feel like that closer I talked about 3,500 words ago at the start of this blog posting.

Like the closer, I have lots on my mind when I am onstage, trying to set aside:

  • where I will live at the end of June
  • when I will find a girl to date
  • if this job will work out longer than three months
  • if I will get a raise from the job to make it worth staying at, considering I must move with the high cost of living
  • my health, how long I have til I die since I don’t know my medical history
  • how long mom and dad will be around for or if something will happen to them that alters the quality of their lives
  • when I can get a new car

As you can see, I have just as much on my plate right now.  My friends will go to the other comics and tell them they did a great job, and sometimes they will tell them alsowhat parts of their actsmy friends liked the best.  I don’t think my friends have told me that, and if they have, it’s maybe only been once or twice.

The other comics were great Monday night, and I wasn’t (for half of it). Then again, I am the newest stand-up comic.  The other guy who is just as new hasn’t been around much lately and doesn’t take it as serious, I suppose.  After myself, the next newest comic has been at it a year and a few months longer than I, and his growth has been great, it’s visible and nice to see.  Last night I felt like I was all alone, what made it worse for me is that with the exception of my one friend, everyone else sort of treated me like I had a communicable disease.  Sure, I wasn’t in the best mood then after the excessive bashing that I took, but usually when you see a friend in pain or who is struggling, you offer support.  I didn’t get that last night.  Did they think that if they came to me, and offered support, telling me that the first half of what I did was good, that I would dump on them?  Not a chance.

After the MC came up to me and shook my hand and told me to “get better or quit”.  I am used to being shit on in one form or another for most of my life, so it’s second nature to me to take this shit.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not bashing my friends who have come out to watch, I am simply being honest and saying how I feel.  At times I feel like I’m all alone in this fight, and Monday night that feeling couldn’t have been more prevalent.

I feel much better now than I did Monday night, and I think that part of the process of my calming down comes from the fact that I will be part of the comedy festival to be held in a couple weeks (as of this writing I have been told that I will be on stage. As far as the date(s) or times I will be on, I have not been told yet).  At the end of the day, as you have read, there are more pressing concerns in my life than getting bashed onstage.  That isn’t to say that I don’t still care, because I do. This will not make me quit, EVER. I have learned the lesson to be better prepared after I do well with the first half of my sets, and to bring the energy, passion and sincerity to my performances that’s needed NOW.

The best lessons learned at the ones that hurt the most, the ones that embarrass you, leaving you feeling empty, sad, and worse yet —- alone.  You can do one of two things from that point.  Sure we all make mistakes, but it’s how you move forward from those mistakes that help define who you are.  I am not great, I’m not terrible either.  On a scale of 1 to 10, I’m maybe a 3 right now, slowly working my way up to 3 1/2.  It’s a process, with some people it happens rather quickly, others like Louis C.K. for example got so discouraged in his earlier days, that he didn’t attempt stand-up for two years after his initial time onstage (I got that from Wikipedia….hope it’s true).  With me, it’s already been several months, and in retrospect I maybe should have been at the level I’m at now, like a few months ago.

I will get better.  Nights like Monday will not happen again.  My friends I would hope will tell me about the bits that are good, even if I had a bad set, just to focus on the positive.  If that doesn’t happen though, I have to go through this alone.  In the meantime, I’m hoping that I can find that special someone one day…….

I will be on stage again very soon, getting better, taking more shit, but never, ever quitting.

EVER

 

 

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