a priori/a posteriori

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

On Jealousy vs. Happiness

It’s easy to get caught up in our own lives. I am myself, after all, so I can fall into the trap of thinking that the only things that matter are the things that happen to me.

But as winter turns to spring, there’s been a lot of exciting things happening to people in my life. And I wanted to make a point to say so.

Stand-up wise, it’s been an exciting couple of weeks. There are a number of fellow comics who were invited to perform on this season’s “John Oliver’s New York Stand-Up Show.” Comics like Adam Neuman, Mark Normand, and Mike Lawrence are all people that I run into regularly up here. There’s a comic named Emily Heller who is great. Another guy named Michael Che’ who is hilarious. Dan St. Germain is one of my favorites in the city, so I’m really glad he got another TV spot. Another comic I love is Jared Logan, who did a spot on it. I’m probably forgetting a few others, honestly. The show was packed full of genuinely great comics.

In addition to the Oliver taping, Mike Lawrence just did his first late-night spot, and crushed it on the Conan O’Brien show. You can watch that set here.

There are others, too. A number of New York comics just went down to South by Southwest, and got to perform there. A number of Austin comics and friends either did South by Southwest or will be in the Moontower Comedy Festival there next month. Others got the honor of being admitted to the Bridgetown Festival in Portland. Friends and peers, both here and elsewhere, are being invited to audition for this year’s Montreal Just for Laughs Festival.

Suddenly and thrillingly, I find myself surrounded by people being recognized for the work they’re putting in. And it’s been exciting to see.

For me, though, two people stick out, as far as who I’m happy for. They’re both people I’ve known since around 2006, when we were all living in Washington, DC, and performing there.

One is Jermaine Fowler, who just found out he’s going to be in the cast of the new season of “In Living Color.” It's a huge break, but for a comic that hustles as much as Jermaine, “break” is probably the wrong word. Jermaine has given himself every possible chance to succeed, since Day 1. And if you want proof, then Yes. Yes, I have a story for you.

The DC Improv is one of the best clubs in the country. But because of that, it’s also one of the tougher clubs to get into, as a young comic. While most of us in the DC scene would just bitch about that fact, Jermaine didn’t sweat it - he just went to Plan B. He called and hounded the bookers at the Pittsburgh Improv. And he did it so much, they gave in and booked him to emcee a week at their club. Opening for Patrice O’Neal.

Jermaine jumped at the chance. No transportation provided? No problem. No place to stay? No problem. He was booked. He could figure out the rest.

He “figured out the rest” by talking to the only person he knew from Pittsburgh: me.

Now at that time, Jermaine and I were buddies, but we weren’t close or anything. Fellow comedians, sure - but we’d never hung out. That didn’t stop him from asking, though. My brother in Pittsburgh is a real cool dude, so we set it up that he’d stay at his place.

What Jermaine didn’t realize, I later found out, was that Pittsburgh does not have the public transportation system that DC has. I had just presumed that Jermaine would be driving to Pittsburgh for the weekend, and have a car with him, since the Improv is 15 minutes outside of town, and more than 30 minutes from my brother’s spot. It wasn’t until the night before his first show that I found out he had no way of getting from the bus station to my brother’s, no way to get to the Improv and back each night, and no money to rent a car or pay for cabs.

Luckily for Jermaine, I had some sick days built up, and at the time, I'd have driven to the moon to watch Patrice perform. So on the Thursday of his first show, Jermaine bussed to Pittsburgh, and my brother picked him up from the bus station and then drove him out to the Improv. I left work early in DC, drove straight to the Pittsburgh Improv, and got there in time to see the second half of Patrice’s set. Jermaine and I hung out all weekend, and I chauffered him to his shows every night, opening for Patrice.

Hahaha. I remember being super pissed at him for a couple weeks. I talked shit on him to anybody who would listen. But looking back, that’s probably half the reason we became actual friends. Jermaine and I share a love for good comedy, a love for performing comedy, and a love for finding ourselves through comedy. And he’s just a good dude. To this day, every time we hang out after a while, he asks how my brother’s doing.

At the time, I was pissed he put me and my brother in such a tough place. But with perspective - that’s some shit we’ll laugh about when we’re 50. People never laugh about the time they did what they were supposed to do. That’s boring. And my brother got over it - to this day, they still both ask about each other. It’s water under the Monongahela Bridge.

The second guy I’m excited for is Rory Scovel, who is starting to be appreciated for the genius that he is.
I worked with Rory Scovel a few years ago at Cap City Comedy Club, in Austin. It’s the type of club that headlines the Rory Scovel’s of the world before the rest of the country has caught on yet.

Rory worked there in 2010, right after that season’s “Comedy Central Presents” performers had been announced. He hadn’t been chosen for that season, even though a lot his peers had. And he talked about how there are two ways to take news like that.

First, you could think that you have been deemed inferior to your peers, and feel like you’re being left behind.

Or, you could look at it and say that A: I’m in good company, and the people who I respect, and who respect me, are being recognized, so I’m probably doing something right. Which means B: When my chance does come, I have a chance to be much more ready, and to be a year or two better than I would have been if I’d gotten it now.

Rory chose to look at it the second way, and he continued to work at his craft, and get better, and better, and better. And last week, he recorded his first special for Comedy Central.

Rory and I weren’t peers when we lived in DC - he had already become a leader of the scene there, before I arrived in 2006. I remember while I was hitting mics in DC, Rory was touring across Canada for something like 6-8 weeks. I remember being so jealous. Rory was really doing it!

AND...I still remember someone sending me a link to a blog post of his, from when he was on the road. He described how “glamorous” it was: For dinner, he would eat a cup of ramen noodles. But there was no microwave - or even hot water - at the motels he was staying in. So he would fill up the cup with room temperature water, and then set the cup on the heater, by the window. And he would just sit there, and wait for the noodles to slowly thaw, so that they were edible.

You know what’s funny? With all the good things happening to people around me, I get tempted to feel jealous. I start to get frustrated that it happened to them, and not me.

But honestly? Being jealous is a ridiculous emotion. I know a few stories from the journeys of Jermaine and Rory, because I’ve spent time around them, and had a few conversations with them, over the years. And knowing their fights, I could never be jealous of them with a straight face. The idea of rooting against them getting things is laughable.

For those people who I don’t know the stories of, I have a choice: I can tell myself that they don’t deserve any of the things they’re getting, because I haven’t seen them struggle. Or, I can understand that all things happen for a reason. And I don’t mean that in the bullshit, the-reason-is-coming-in-the-future way. I don’t really mean that things happen for a reason - I mean that things happen because of a reason. There are reasons people get things. Even if I didn’t see them.

Jermaine’s success happened because of a reason. Rory’s success happened because of a reason. I got to see their reasons.

If you follow this blog, and I get Montreal this year, or I get a late-night spot in the next year or two, will you be jealous of me? I’d guess not - because you’ll have seen the work, and the struggle, that went into it. And it’s a lot harder to have negative feelings toward someone when you invested in them.

I would dare to hope that people will be happy for me. Not that you - devoted reader, valuable-time-giver, anonymous friend - would live vicariously through me. That’s something different, something that’s not mutually beneficial. I’m not living vicariously through any of the people I mentioned.

I’m just...happy. Happy, because they’ve earned the right to be rewarded for a night. They’ve earned the right to feel like they’re not crazy. They've earned the right to feel like eating cold Ramen Noodles was something we’re supposed to be proud of, not ashamed of.
(Damn it. I hate how happy this blog is sometimes. I sense some level of emotional white-washing I think, deep in my gut. I mean, nobody is this happy. But this is what’s coming out right now. And I think there’s a lot of truth to what I’m saying, for the record. So I guess let’s just enjoy it for now, and when my bitter thoughts show up, I’ll try to hurry up and post them, too.)

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