a priori/a posteriori

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Why I Try Not to be a Dick Sometimes

I had a good conversation with a new comic last night. There was some sort of did-J-Lo-have-a-nipple-showing-at-the-Oscars controversy over the weekend, and that had triggered a discussion amongst he and his friends, which was the basis of a joke he was working on.

To unfairly simplify, a big part of his point was that nipples were overrated. For reasons I won’t divulge here (but off the record: huge fan of nipples), I found myself passionately disagreeing with both his argument and reasoning. So when it happened that I went up right after him last night, I just spent my 2-minute set explaining to him why I disagreed.

I didn’t sense malice on his part - the joke was misguided, not misogynistic. So I just kind of talked out my feelings to him onstage. It wasn’t that funny - but then, that’s the beauty of doing 4 or 5 sets every night: you’re more willing to spend one just seeing where something goes. And if it goes nowhere, you shrug, and go sit back down. And everyone else gets it.

Anyway: the point was, I didn’t mean to be a dick to him - I was just doing my best to be honest. But I still worried he’d take it the wrong way. A lot of people don’t take criticism well. But we ran into each other at another mic later in the night, and we ended up having a great 20-minute conversation about it. We talked about comedy, and failed relationships, and the shitty feeling of falling out of love with somebody that you don’t want to hurt. Which is brutal, by the way.

I find myself having those types of conversations more and more. I’ve started making a genuine effort to talk to younger and/or newer comics.

Now personally, I like talking to people. And I like it when people like me. So maybe I’d do that anyway.

But at least a part of the reason I try to be cool to newer comics, is because I’ve been that newer comic. And I still remember how good it felt, just to be acknowledged by a comic I admired.

It’s funny, because all of us are constantly updating our self-images. We constantly alter how we see ourselves. So for me, my first instinct is to think that any comic who admires me - me? - is an idiot. Because even as I have accomplished more and more as a comic - and become better and better at it - I keep re-defining what it takes for a comic to deserve being “admired.” 19 year-old me would think current-me was a comedic God. But current-me thinks that current-me is...well...normal. Because no matter what happens in our life, since that’s what’s happening in our life - that feels normal to us.

Do you understand? “Why would anyone admire me? I’m normal.”

But to some comics, I’m not normal. And so if a newer female comic wants advice, or wants to talk comedy, I try to understand what I am, from their perspective, even if there’s a big part of my brain that’s saying “This girl is crazy - you’re nothing! Nothing!!”

When I first moved to DC, I got a job as a door guy/host at the DC Improv. And almost seven years later now, I still remember all the comics who came through and went out of their way to be cool to a nobody-aspiring-comic. Jake Johannsen was awesome. Bob Marley was awesome. Bill Burr would answer whatever questions I sprung on him, when I should have been asking if he wanted any food. Patrice O’Neal would finish his weekend shows around 1 a.m., then go get burgers with a half-dozen local comics, and just talk at a Fuddruckers til maybe 3 in the morning.

Todd Glass was so nice the week he worked there, I felt comfortable giving him a recording of 5 of my best bits, that I recorded right before I left college. He phoned the club a couple days later and left a message, saying he could tell I was going to be good. I was floating around the club for days. Cleaning bathrooms was never easier than it was that week.

It’s not just headliners that stick out. When I moved to DC, one of the top comics there was a guy named Andy Kline. I still remember a late-night run to a 24-hour diner in Georgetown, with him and Herbie Gill, during a week they were working at the Improv, and just hanging out and talking comedy, and DC comedy gossip, for hours. I remember, it didn’t feel like a way to network, so that I could eventually “succeed” as a comic. It felt like part of what “succeeding as a comic” was: getting to hang out and talk comedy, with good comics. That’s what being a comic was.

I’m nine years in now, and tiny, insignificant moments remain singed into my memory. The time that Ryan Conner gave me a shout-out on his blog.

I remember going up at the end of shows, and being frustrated, because the “good” comics - the ones I wanted to impress - would almost always have already left. So it felt like even if I did great, nobody that mattered would notice. And I remember one night, Andy Haynes taking me aside and apologizing for having to leave early, because he’d heard I was good, and he kept meaning to watch a set.

Austin was the same way. I remember conversations I had with Lucas Molandes, before I knew him. I remember how unassuming, how welcoming he was. How unintimidated he was. He was everything that makes Austin welcoming, personified. I remember Matt Bearden - an incredible comic, and the Godfather of the stand-up scene there - dismissively acting like he missed my set one night, and how it represented his stamp of approval.

If I ever come off on this blog like I never want to do a TV spot, or I never want to film an hour special, then I’m falling short as a writer. It would be really nice to be recognized in those ways. I’d be honored, and you better believe I’d appreciate it.

Now, when I started, the numbers certainly suggested I never would. But even if I do someday - I won't know that until it happens. And so in that way, even the most successful life can feel like the least successful one, along the way. Because none of us get to retroactively go back and say, “Hey, turns out I was happy for those ten years, not miserable.” We have to decide now, in the present, whether we're enjoying this or not - before we get to find out how it ends.

So that’s why I try not to be a dick, I guess. Because I remember how those moments of connection felt, and how much more fun they’ve made this. How much more sane I am because of them. Simply because more established comics treated me like a human being. It almost felt, physically, like a drug. Like an injection of validation, and of sanity. Like getting a booster shot of a drug called This-doesn’t-have-to-be-like-high-school-anymore.

Wow. Yeah. There it is. That’s a big part of why I try to talk with newer comics. That’s it. Because so much of adult life is just like high school. And as comics - as people who get off on understanding the world better than “normal” people - we can do better than that. We should be leaders in that.

I still fall short sometimes. Our status in a comedy scene is the same as the cool kids’ status back in high school. And I think a lot of us “cool kids” fall into the trap of being too good to talk to the kids that aren’t “cool” yet. I’ve done that before. I still do that sometimes, honestly.

But that’s the vibe I try to combat. Is the vibe that if you’re not good at comedy yet, then you’re not a person. You’re not worth my time.

Hmm. I’ve read this and re-read this. I think I agree with it. There’s definitely a counter-argument to it.

You know how I know? Because I wrote it, like five years ago. Let me see if I can find a link to it.

Jesus Christ. I think my brain just ate its own tail. This was supposed to be a normal blog-post. How did I end up getting in a fight with myself from four years ago, like this is some bizarro-sequel to The Lakehouse?

I don’t know. But I’ll probably write a blog about it on March 2, 2016. Talk to you then.

(My stance on nipples, for the record, has remained consistent. So great!)


  1. Hey Bryson, back when I started two years ago in Austin, you were cool to me as the new guy, and I always appreciated it. In the last six or so months, new comics have started coming up to me to talk after shows, which is definitely weird. I want to tell them, "You walked by a guy who was on TV the other day and a regular feature performer here to talk to me?!?" But I guess something in my comedy resonated with them and their view/style of comedy somehow. So I try to repay karma; I've always said it comes around in this lifetime.

    I'm not sure this article and your old one are completely exclusive. We do come to open mics to see our friends, and the new comics can be annoying and intrusive, but we can also learn from them (sometimes by teaching them) and maybe gain new friends. The trick, as always, is balance.

  2. I've only been doing it for three years and there was a while where I got REALLY resentful and judgmental of people who were just starting out, and I realized it was because they were reminding me too much of the mistakes I made when I was just starting.

    For example, I was at the open mike in question and also had an averse reaction to the nipple joke because even though he was describing a personal taste, it came off as "Hey, women, your nipples are WEIRD!" and I thought that it would probably make women in the audience feel uncomfortable and judged. Then I remembered how I once did a joke where I was trying to describe how, personally, I find the upper half of a woman's body more appealing than the lower half, and it just ended up bombing similarly.

    I guess it's always good to have perspective on yourself and how you treat others, so that's cool that you revisit your opinions and reflect from time to time. Great read.