So it’s 2 p.m. on Thursday, February 16, and I’m seriously considering taking tonight off.
I guess it’s a pretty good sign that I’m writing a blog about possibly taking a night off. That means that going out has become the norm.
In fact, it’s become more than the norm. I’ve done at least one set - and more often, 3 or 4 - for the past 26 nights in a row. The last day I didn’t get onstage was January 20, when I took advantage of Free-Fridays at the Museum of Modern Art. I had told the girl I went with that I was going to leave early for a mic, but I was so inspired by everything, I decided to just shut up and enjoy an evening. I got over my I-guess-you-don’t-really-love-comedy neuroses, I had a good time, with some good conversation, and then we went to a bar and made out some. It was a really nice night off.
Since then, I’ve had 26 straight work nights. And the thing is, I didn’t plan it this way. There have been at least 3 or 4 nights during the past month where I’ve said “Tonight, I’m taking the night off. I’m going to be a human being today, not a comic.”
But then, as the clock pushes forward, I get antsy. And the fact is, even when I try not to go out, I just end up wanting to go do a set somewhere. I told myself I’d take Super Bowl Sunday off. But as I was watching the game, I was just bored. I didn’t know those guys...why should I care which color wins? So I just skipped the second half, and went to a mic.
Actually, in that case, I’m pretty happy I did. I would have been miserable just sitting there, watching other people follow their dreams. But I wouldn’t mind having more of those Museum-of-Modern-Art days, too. And I think there’s a happy medium in there, somewhere.
I think that’s the terrifying thing, as a comic. You don’t know where the medium is. I know people that go months at a time without taking a night off. Without being reminded of what it feels like to not perform. And I think there’s something healthy about being reminded of that. It’s like when you have a crush, and the person doesn’t like you back. It reminds you that on the rare occasions when that feeling is mutual, you should really enjoy it.
So I’m at least considering taking tonight off, if only to remember what unrequited love feels like. What if I love stand-up, but it doesn’t love me? What if I don’t get what I want in life? How much does my heart claw upward, scratching at my throat? How wrong does it feel for me to not do stand-up?
It’s funny to me that so much is made of comedians having vices. The greats of the past often struggled with addiction, whether it was alcohol, hard drugs, or in Mort Sahl’s case, The Warren Report (that’s the best joke that maybe literally no one will ever get).
What rarely gets brought up, though, is the idea that you can be addicted to stand-up comedy itself.
And honestly, I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. Or if it’s just a thing.
Would you say that Joe Paterno was “addicted” to being the head coach at Penn State? I didn’t know the guy, but as far as I can tell, Joe Paterno tried to be a good person. He wanted to do good. But I’d say Paterno was addicted to being Penn State’s coach, and that’s what caused him to make such horrible, misguided decisions when he was confronted with the allegations of child abuse. He had gotten to a point where he couldn’t imagine living without that job, and so it made him live his life poorly. That’s what an addiction does - you do whatever you have to do, just to avoid having to live without something.
There are some stand-up addicts at the open-mics I go to every night. People who go to open-mics literally every night. People who wouldn’t know what to do with themselves if they had to go one day without them. People who you can literally imagine getting jittery, if they had to try to do something else with their time. Even for one night.
Like I said - there’s a happy medium. And I think it’s healthy to experiment with the limits on both sides. It’s healthy to go through stretches where you just hustle and hustle and hustle, until you’re just totally burnt out on comedy. But it’s also good to take a few nights off, and really feel yourself start to miss stand-up. It’s good to go without it sometimes, so that you remember why you loved doing it to begin with.
Here’s an analogy for you:
Life is a flight, and we’re all riding on a plane together. Now, as part of that life, we do stand-up comedy. So imagine that your “life” is sitting in the plane, and your stand-up is its kid, sitting next to it.
Now, what’s the one thing they hype up to passengers, when they’re going through that safety video at the beginning of the flight? If there’s any turbulence, and the oxygen masks come down, put yours on first. Put yours on first.
Put your mask on first.
There’s a reason they have to hammer that home. Because it goes against our instincts. We love our children more than we love ourselves. So we want to make sure they’re okay first. But that’s actually the worst thing we can do for them. The best thing we can do is make sure we’re still alive and breathing, first, to keep them alive and breathing.
To me, that’s how I see my stand-up, and my life. I love stand-up like a son or a daughter (which is part of the reason I’m trying to avoid having an actual son or daughter). I’d do anything for my stand-up. I want to do stand-up the rest of my life. I want to make my living from it. And I want to be great at it. Desperately.
But my stand-up can’t thrive, unless I’m around to support it. And I think that’s why I’m afraid of never taking a night off. Because sometimes, I have to make sure that my life’s mask is on, before I make sure my stand-up’s mask is on. Even if I’m only making sure my life is together so that my stand-up can be better.
Now, maybe I’m crazy. Or maybe this is just a forced analogy. I don’t know.
But that’s when I get most depressed I think, looking at other comics. Not when I see the people who don’t care that much about comedy. It’s when I see comics who care so much, and want to succeed so badly, that you can see their life suffocating, as they’re frantically trying to make sure their stand-up is going to be okay. When you watch a child die because their parent loves them too much...it’s pretty fucking intense, honestly. But I think that’s what happens to our stand-up, sometimes.
That’s a weakness of ours, as comics. An admirable weakness, honestly. But a weakness. I think our stand-up would be better - more informed, more relevant, more insightful, and more important than any of that, funnier - if we took a night off every now and then, and made sure our oxygen masks were securely on. If we made a genuine effort to be human beings, too, instead of just comics. Maybe putting our mask on takes a night. Or a week. Or a month. I don’t know. This past summer, I went three months without doing a set. Maybe I needed that long. Maybe I was lying to myself. I honestly don’t know.
I’m no all-time great, so you can feel free to think I’m an idiot who’s going to be a bitter software engineer or something in 3 years from now. But I want to be both a human being and a comic. I stubbornly insist I can be both.
Time will tell. The flight continues...