I really try to listen to whatever my body tells me to do. I don’t mean this in a purely physical sense, exactly. I mean it in an emotional sense, too. For instance, I was in a relationship with a woman until about two months ago, and everything on paper suggested that we should stay together. But despite how seemingly illogical it was, my gut was telling me that we shouldn’t be together. And so, after a few months of feeling terrible for falling out of love with someone awesome and trying to force myself live a lie, we talked about it, and decided to break up.
It sucked for both of us at the time. We lived together. Who moved where? We’d based our lives around each other for two years. Who did what? What do we fill that void with?
There were a lot of questions, and it would have been much easier to simply stay together, and pretend everything was fine, so that we didn’t have to face the answers we were afraid of. That’s why we put off admitting that it wasn’t working for months, before we finally - finally - looked each other in the eyes. When we did, it was painful, but the decision was obvious.
Two months later, we might both be in the best place of our lives. Vijaya’s non-profit is quickly blossoming, and there’s a real chance that it may change how the United Nations, and the entire world, goes about repairing nations after a genocide occurs. And (sorry to bombard you with world politics in a post about comedy), here’s the thing: The way the rest of the world acts toward countries that just had a genocide? It’s those shitty strategies that end up causing the next genocide, a generation later.
Basically, right now, when there’s a genocide, all us other countries just hit the brakes on it, and try to slow it down - at best. Resolve Network (Vijaya’s organization) says screw the brakes, and starts flooring it in the other direction, instead. Brakes can only slow you down - they can’t send you in the right direction. Vijaya’s arrogant enough to think she can help things change. That’s a vulnerable place, honestly, because you open yourself up to being called - well...arrogant.
But guess what? If you want to do great things in life, you need that arrogance. So at some point, it’s your choice: either don’t try to do anything, and you’ll never be called “arrogant.” Or have some crazy dreams, and actually be stupid enough to try to pull them off, and know that some people in the first category are going to call you either an idiot (if it looks like you’re going to fail), or an arrogant asshole (if it looks like you might actually do something).
That’s why I love - and miss - Patrice. He had the guts to be arrogant. Toward the end of his life, he started openly talking about a desire to be “righteous.” “I want to change lives, but...but not be profound about it.”
Now that’s one arrogant asshole! He wanted to change lives with his comedy? Know your fuckin’ role, Patrice. Just shut up and be funny!
Here’s the thing: I want to change lives. And I see other comics, too, that want to do more than just “shut up and be funny.”
I pay attention to the scene here. There are comics here that are trying to do more than just “be funny.” I see young comics like Jarrid Reed, Chicago transplants like Babe Parker and Kaytlin Bailey, and others, too. It makes me happy to know people care. And I hear it when I hit mics in DC, and when I’m on shows in Austin. When you listen to certain comics' sets, you can hear their desire to do more with their comedy than just make people like them.
I recognize that, because I was that. For a long time. And without a doubt, I’m still fighting it. Which is why I try to remember the advice that Patrice gave me, when I was asking how to do more with my comedy. How can I make sure I’m not just “being funny?”
This was his advice:
“Just be funny.”
That was it. Don’t try to “say some shit,” don’t try to “be profound,” don’t try to “change the world.” Just. Be. Funny.
I remember how devastating that was to hear, in that moment. It was the proverbial “there’s no Santa Claus” moment: it was like meeting your favorite baseball player when you’re 8, and having him tell you “Forget the World Series, kid - I just do this for the pussy.”
I felt betrayed.
Want to know what Patrice actually meant?
Here’s the thing about being profound: it can’t come from your mind. Pure, true honesty can’t come from your brain. I know that seems like it makes no sense, but it does.
Your brain is what keeps the memories of you not being popular in 7th grade. Your brain is what remembers that your parents used to love your brother more than you, growing up. Your brain is what learned that Christopher Columbus was the best of friends with the Indians. Hell, your brain still calls Native Americans “Indians,” for Christ’s sake.
Your brain is what has been soaking - for however many years you’ve been alive - in the dirty, fermented, polluted water known as all this bullshit around us.
No matter how hard we want our brain to lead us to truth, it can’t. It’s not our brain’s fault. It’s been poisoned against its will. Maybe “poisoned” is a strong word. It’s just...drunk. You know how they put flouride in the tap water? Well, it’s like they added alcohol into the “culture tap” - the one we drink from to get our thoughts and opinions. So our brains are just drunk, all the time, and there’s no real way to get them sober. So when we’re searching for truth - truly profound truths, truths that can change people’s lives - we can’t let ourselves take the wheel. We want to, desperately, because we want to do good. But you have to understand your conscious limitations. We’re drunk. We don’t have to feel bad about it, but we do need to understand it. We’re drunk.
Who should drive, then?
The answer, frustratingly, is: No one.
Hugely frustrating. How do we know we’ll ever get there, then!? We have to steer our stand-up car toward meaningful results!
LISTEN TO ME! I love you for wanting to do more. If I didn’t love you, and respect your desire to do good, and do right, I wouldn’t be writing this, and throwing it into the sea known as the internet, hoping someone, someday, reads this and understands it.
I love you for wanting to do more. But love yourself. Love yourself enough to trust that you want to do good, because you’re good. Trust that you don’t have to consciously decide to do the right thing with your comedy.
Want proof? I’ll give it to you, because I know that this isn’t the type of thing you can copy from the back of the book. I’m about to show you the proof, and most comics still won’t get it. And that’s okay. I didn’t, when Patrice explained it to me. He told me this when I was seven years in, and it took me another two years to get what he was saying. Some of you will read this again in two years, or ten, and think that I was profound. Some of you will think I’m an arrogant asshole for writing this. In a way, you’ll both be right.
The Proof (I never learned how to do actual “proofs” in math class):
1. There are different types of laughter.
2. One of those types is when you laugh because you understand that something is “wrong.” That’s why if you tell a 4 year-old, “I go swimming in my PAJAMAS!” - they think you’re a comedic God. Because in that moment, they feel connected, because they understand something. As a social species, we instinctually crave knowing we’re connected.
3. Because of 2, when we understand something is “wrong”...we feel alive. And that joy makes us laugh - an action that I can only describe as the purist opposite of crying. It my opinion, it is the greatest of all types of laughs, because it comes from the deepest place within us.
4. That is not something we control. We do not control when that laugh shows up. But when it does, it feels amazing.
5. Because we can’t control when that laugh shows up, we can trust that whatever causes those laughs - that is pure truth. Because it doesn’t make our conscious brains laugh; it makes us laugh whether we want to or not.
6. Therefore, those laughs that come out whether we want them to or not - those are the True North, on the compass we need to use, if we honestly want our comedy to be profound.
7. If you simply want to seem profound, follow your brain. Follow what your brain tells you to write jokes about, and consciously decide to touch on all your talking points.
8. But if you want to actually be profound, you have to understand that you can not trust yourself to drive.
9. When you get on a stage, you should take your hands off the wheel, climb out onto the front hood, and just react to where the car goes. Don’t fight yourself. Trust yourself.
10. Once you’re on the hood, listen for the laughs. The biggest laughs. Be as funny as you can possibly be, because the only way you’ll know which way to go is when you hear those laughs. Don’t follow your mind. Follow the laughs. Wherever those laughs are, that’s where the truth is. Your brain will miss it. Your gut won’t.
This advice is not for everyone, of course. If you just want to make money or get famous doing stand-up - which by the way, is totally fine - then this is probably terrible advice for you. You may need to be very conscious about what you say, and about how you craft your image.
A lot of us give a few years to comedy, and then we grow out of it. Or we move on, because we sense the trajectory of our “career arc,” and it’s not enough to merit all the cons that come with this life. That’s okay. We all need to stop feeling shitty about ourselves. If in your heart of hearts, you don’t want to sacrifice your life to stand-up, then it’s just as dumb for you to feel bad about not doing this as it is for comedians to feel bad about doing it. We should listen to who we are, and not feel shitty about it. We should get on our life’s hood, too. If that makes any sense.
But if you’re a comic that really wants to do more with your comedy than just make people laugh, if you’re a comic that wants your comedy to have meaning, if you’re that rare comic that has the arrogance to admit you want your comedy to change the world, then I have the one piece of advice that can help you get there:
Shut up and just be funny.