a priori/a posteriori

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

New York Struggles, Part 2

Maybe this isn’t a part 2 of that post from a few weeks ago. Maybe it’s its own thing.

It’s Wednesday afternoon. After having built up some momentum the past few weeks, I haven’t gone out either Monday or Tuesday of this week. I’m skipping the pick-up basketball game today that would also have provided a chance to check in with other members of the scene here. I don’t know if I’ll go out tonight, either. Tomorrow? We’ll see.

I may look back on this blog in three months and say that I was making excuses, or that I was scared of failure, or there may be some other explanation that is clear to me in hindsight. But right now, it feels like I’m making the right decision. It feels like I’m making the necessary decision.

I worked with Patrice O’Neal in February of 2010, or roughly 18 months ago now. I think of Patrice as the Charles Barkley of comedy - I value his opinion because he’s not afraid to say things that most people wouldn’t. Whether or not I agree, there are very few people willing to do that. And so I love picking his brain whenever I get the chance.

After we finished up the week together, we got into a really good conversation about comedy. He was critical of the feature act from that week, and since I had opened up for him, I asked what he had thought of me.

90 minutes later, Patrice finished up his criticisms, and we changed the topic again.

For whatever number of reasons, I respond pretty well to criticisms, so I was thrilled to have someone willing to take the time to dissect my life and my comedy to that extent. I got a lot out of it, and I think I’m a better comic for having some of my weaknesses explicitly explained to me.

One of the things he pointed out was that I was the same person I was three years ago, when he and I had first met. When I was working as a server at the DC Improv, Patrice came through, and I picked his brain for hours about comedy. Two-and-a-half years later, we were in a different city, and I was performing on the show...but I was still just asking questions. I think he made a comment that I was more of a reporter than I was a fellow comic. Something like that.

And I thought it was a pretty solid point. I’ve loved comedy since I was literally as young as I can remember. I’ve studied it. I’ve obsessed over it. But there comes a time when you can’t be a fan anymore - you have to stop dreaming about something long enough to do it yourself.

There have been many times in the past 18 months that I’ve wondered if I’m meant to lead a Patrice O’Neal or a Bill Burr type of life, or if I’m in denial that I am just not that type of person. Am I refusing to acknowledge that I’m too self-aware or that I think too much to ever fully jump in, lose myself in the pursuit of perfecting a skill, and then essentially waking up in my own life 10 years later, and being one of the best stand-up comics alive. Do I have whatever it takes to lose myself fully in the pursuit of a specific goal, i.e. becoming a great stand-up comic?

I don’t know. And you know what makes you wonder if you’re out of your mind? Living in New York.

Existence is an insane paradox here. You almost have to be crazy to think you’re not crazy for living here, sometimes.

Lucas and I stood at a corner in Times Square over the weekend, and watched literally thousands and thousands of people walk past us. And we talked about how crazy the scene around us was, with bright lights distracting everyone, with everyone in a hurry to get somewhere that almost certainly didn’t matter, either.

And at some point, we had to just kind of laugh. Everything around us was so crazy. And yet as we stood there, every few seconds, someone would bump past us, or push through us. And I think it occurred to both of us that to a lot of the people rushing by, we were the crazy ones. The ones that were standing there, frozen, trying to make sense of the chaos around us. We were out of our minds for daring to question whether any of this made sense. Whether New York City makes any sense. Whether the way we live our lives makes any sense.

And maybe they’re right. The point wasn’t lost on us - we were a step or two away from being the crazy guy on the corner, the one who says we’re all doomed, right before he craps himself.

That’s what New York does to you. It forces you to pick either running full speed ahead, even though you have no idea where you’re going, or being the small-town failure who can’t keep up and needs to get the fuck out of the way.

There is a middle ground, I’m sure. There is a place that feels like you’re able to be yourself, and pursue your best self. It’s possible to make New York City your own.

But I haven’t found that balance yet. And until you do, you run the risk of really feeling crazy, and feeling like a failure up here. The stakes feel high, higher than you’re used to. It’s mostly in your head, probably. But that’s part of what’s so insulting. There’s a 6th Sense quality to your life up here. You think you’re living a life that’s affecting other people, and that you exist in their world. But at some point you realize that nobody else is noticing you. Nobody else even knows that you’re there. And that’s an intense thing to get over.

Let’s explain how this relates to comedy - and why I haven’t gone out this week - in part 3.

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