a priori/a posteriori

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Lottery Tickets

Let’s try to make this a short one. I’ve been riding a train all day today, heading from Pittsburgh to New York. It’s been a really nice ride, actually. I think I am officially converting from a bus traveller to a train traveller. This is just too nice.

Lottery tickets. That’s what it takes to make it in stand-up comedy. Every time you audition for something, or apply for a festival, or contact a club, you’re buying a lottery ticket. And most of those times, you’re going to lose.

This past January, I auditioned for the Just for Laughs Festival in Montreal. I worked my butt off preparing for it, and I was thrilled with how my set went. But months later now, it appears I won’t be a part of the callback rounds this year.

In February, I - along with over 100 other New York comics - stood outside of Caroline’s Comedy Club, on Broadway Avenue, for around 4 hours in the freezing cold. We did so in order to audition for their “March Madness” competition, where they select 64 comedians, and whittle them down to 4 finalists throughout the month of March. We were each given one minute to audition. I did not advance.

Opportunities happen quite often, honestly. And most of them, I fail at. That’s how lotteries work. If everyone who played the lottery won, we’d all just get our dollar back (or more realistically, probably like 60 cents).

I never actually play the lottery, because the odds are against you. But in the comedy lottery game, I try to play as much as I can. Because you never know which ticket might be a winner.

Thus, my trip to Helium Comedy Club, in downtown Philadelphia. Like I said, I’ve been taking the train from Pittsburgh to New York today. About an hour ago, we stopped at the train station in Philadelphia. We had a half-hour to kill, so I went outside to hang out. Here’s a picture I took from outside the station:

And then I remembered: “Hey...this area looks familiar. I worked a week at Helium a couple summers ago, and I think it’s right near here.”

So I looked it up on my phone, and sure enough, it was only 10 or 15 blocks away.

At that point, I had a choice: I could either do nothing, and kill the rest of my time, OR....I could - if I ran - make it over to Helium, check in with the daytime manager and see if he remembered me, say hi, and then make it back to my train in time before it left again for New York.

Now, when I worked my week at Helium, I got lucky. “Lucky,” because I had somehow gotten my dates mixed up, and I showed up in Philly the week before I was booked there. It was an idiotic screw-up on my part, but it actually made for a pretty memorable impression. Instead of being just another random feature act, I was the-idiot-who-flew-in-a-week-early. I figured that - even though they’d never remember me, there was a decent chance they still remember that idiot. And once they realized I was that idiot, we’d have a laugh, they’d be reminded that I exist, and I’d run back and be on my way.

Maybe when I’m 38, I won’t do something so stupid. Maybe I won’t play the lottery so much. But I’m 28. I’m young, and this is what I’m doing with my life. I did the math, and I knew I could make it there and back in time. So really, why wouldn’t I do it?

So I played the lottery. I waited for the light to turn red so that I could cross the street and head East, over the bridge, and toward 20th Street. I started running fast, before I realized that I can’t just decide to be in shape all of a sudden. So I jogged, or walked quickly, the second half of the way, and I made it to Helium in amazing time.

And!!--the doors were locked. Both of them. Lights were on inside, so I knocked, but no one came. I knocked louder. Nothing. I probably could have flagged someone down in there before too long, but I just didn’t have any leeway, time-wise. I had to get back to the train.

And so, I thought to myself, “Well...I guess this can just be a blog entry.”

And so I took a quick picture, as evidence of the journey.

And then I started the run/jog/fast-walk back, and I made it with a good 8-10 minutes to spare.
I’ll write about this point more tomorrow, but that’s why I was so happy with my Montreal set this year, even though I won’t be a part of the callback round: Because you can’t choose when you win a lottery. The only thing you can control is how many times you play. I felt like I gave myself pretty good odds this year. I just still lost, that’s all. That’s how it works.

Here’s a picture of me back at the terminal. I ran for 20 minutes to get an extra lottery ticket for free. Even if it didn’t hit, it was still smart to play it.

We just pulled into Penn Station. I’m the last one on the train. Time to go.

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