a priori/a posteriori

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Part 3 - What I Learned from Mike D.

Okay, now I’ll try to finish up my thoughts from Part 2, which was - in some disjointed way - a continuation of Part 1.

I just don’t really feel like I have a life that makes any sense up here. Not yet, at least. Without a job, it feels like my life is a house of cards, and it’s always a week away from collapsing. I’m not living a sustainable life up here.

No life is going to be perfect. And I know that. I think the question is, where is that line? Where is the line between “You can’t wait for everything in your life to be perfect before you pursue comedy, or you’ll never pursue it,” and “Any progress you make now with comedy is going to be Fool’s Gold, because you can’t truly be honest if you’re living a life with no base, and you aren’t at peace with who you really are.”

I don’t know. Does that make any sense? It does to me.

I wrote a joke about organic peanut butter last week. And it had some clever lines in it, and if I performed it for the next few weeks, and punched it up, and tightened it, then I would have had a new minute of clean, solid material.

But for me, personally, I don’t want to talk about organic peanut butter onstage. I want to talk about things that are deeply funny, not things that are forgettably funny. To me, truths are funny. I want to talk about truths.

When I’m onstage, I try to connect with the crowd by opening myself up to them. And if I do it correctly, I shouldn’t be afraid to look them in the eye.

I saw Mike DeStefano perform live one time. He died in February, a month after I moved up here. I’ll spend the rest of my career trying to remember what I saw that one set. He stared people down. He didn’t tell jokes and then search for a source of approval. He didn’t look for the person laughing. He made you own your response, as an audience member. As an individual. He made you know, that he knew, that you were there. You were both in the room. You both existed. He forced you to acknowledge that, because he was willing to acknowledge that.

He was willing to acknowledge that he existed, as he was. He was not afraid of you knowing that.

I don’t know if I have that right now. I don’t know if I’m comfortable with who I am as a person, and how I’m doing in my life right now. I’m living with my partner - she has a job, and I don’t. I owe money to half-a-dozen collection agencies. I don’t have health insurance, and maybe more damning, my partner has a history of illness, and I’m letting her live without it, too. I consistently make commitments that I don’t keep. I consistently let my friends and family down. I shirk responsibilities whenever I can. There’s a warrant out for my arrest in Texas, for God’s sake.

Whether I’m succeeding at comedy up here feels irrelevant. If I have to live my life poorly to become a great comedian, then I don’t want to be a great comedian. I want to become a great stand-up comic because I want to live my life well, and because becoming a great comic is a valuable use of the time I have. But if I’m going to experience some success in comedy, and then my life completely falls apart around me and I lose all the momentum I’d just built up...then what good does that do?

I think about things all the time. A lot of people say I overthink things. This could be one of those times. But even as I type this, I feel like I’m standing at the corner of 34th and 8th, with Lucas next to me. And it feels like in the world of comedy, other comics are bumping past us, or pushing through us, rushing to get to that next place.

If they know where they’re going, and why they’re going there, then more power to them - it means they’re going to get to the next place before I do. It’s very humbling, but I need to admit that I don’t know where that next place is yet. I don’t know where I am, and so it feels pretty pointless to start walking, when I don’t know if it’s the right direction or not. I’d look like I know what I’m doing, but I’d be faking it, and I’d have to face the reality sooner or later: I don’t have my shit together.

I hope I can find a way to pursue both living my life well and becoming as good a stand-up comic as I can be. But at least this week, I’m realizing that if I act like stand-up is the biggest thing I need to be focusing on, then I’m basically walking through life with my head down, terrified to make eye contact, just hoping nobody notices that I don’t know where the hell I’m going. Hoping nobody calls me on my bullshit.

That’s why I shouldn’t have moved to New York City, and that’s why I needed to. Because everything is in front of you here, and it’s up to you whether to see it or not. There are no excuses. You either choose to look your own life in the eye, or you don’t.

Man, I miss Mike DeStefano.

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