The first 2-3 years of stand up are very fun. All that exists is possibility. We imagine ourselves on television, onstage in front of adoring, open-mouthed fans, unable to suppress their joy-sounds upon hearing our thoughts. We challenge ourselves and tally the number of times we perform, rather than the quality, or how we do relative to others. When you start you’re not supposed to be good. You’re not supposed to obtain accomplishments or credits. In fact, anything you do is great because you’re doing it. Every new mic or show you get to do is a small victory. You’re following a dream that other people are afraid to try. You can’t believe you’re a “comedian.”
Then the comics you started with start getting noticed and you don’t. A show, a festival, maybe even television. That’s when things start to become less fun. You’re happy for your friends, but you’re not much different than them, maybe even working harder, and you don’t understand why the comedy Gods don’t want you as well (if not instead).
That’s when “reality” hits. Better buckle down and get good. So you start trying to do what the successful people are doing, but often times the successful people are just more confident, concise, and maybe even actually funnier. Suddenly you forget any great shows you’ve ever done, and start asking unhelpful questions: am I actually funny? Will I ever be able to support myself or a family? Maybe I should quit and just study computer programming? Writing becomes arduous because you should be writing stuff that’s funny. Performing becomes more difficult because you’re not writing with the same fun. The exciting mist of possibility seems to burn up in the sobering sunlight of reality (suck on those allusions Emily Dickinson).
But reality isn’t a thing. In the sense that no one’s ever perceived and conveyed it perfectly. I don’t know what qualifies as real or not. I do know that believing you’ll do something makes you statistically far more likely to do it than if you don’t. That’s a fact. Contrary to most of our comedic sensibilities, it makes far more sense to be optimistic than to “see how things really are.”
We all have a point of view, and all of them are flawed in some way. Otherwise there’d be no comedy for us to do. So I write this to myself and to you: re-find that youthful, endless possibilities mindset. Re-connect with your dreams and follow new ones. Try stuff, and challenge yourself with the goal of learning rather than being good. Maybe it’ll make your reality even better. Or if you fail, at least you’ll have a killer new 3 minutes. Or not. I can’t control or predict my reality, and I’ve finally realized how freeing that can be.
2 thoughts on “Real Possibilities”
Tom, I hope you remember me from Blaisdell sidehall! I’ve read through your blog posts. Your 2013 summary was both heartbreaking and exciting to read. Schmoozing amongst SNL comedians must have been unreal! I hope the best for you! Good luck, you’ve got this!
Tommy Dunlap, this is your Indian lab mate from Neuro at Pomona. Keep that chin up, I just watched your standup on youtube. Its fucking funny as shit. Reach out if you are in the bay.