I had forgotten, maybe deliberately, how supportive the comedy community can be. I shared my first post about comedy on Facebook some time after midnight on Sunday and after receiving my first like and comment a few minutes later, I was blasted with immediate self-doubt — who did I think I was, what did I think I had to say that Alex Hooper (seriously, check out his writing about comedy — it’s beautiful) or someone else couldn’t say better, who even wanted to hear from me over a year after I abandoned them?
And then there was the guilt. The very club that I’m criticizing took a tattered soul and filled it up with hope and love and words. It reminds me of a scene in the original Roseanne in which Roseanne laments to Dan that they were so excited when Darlene learned to speak. It feels like a betrayal to criticize the people without whom I might not even be alive.
And, yes, a lot of that had to do with introducing me to the comedy community, but the owners themselves invested a lot in me. Neither of them is perfect human beings, but I love them and I know that the debt I owe them can’t ever be repaid. Which means that, of course, I am a monster.
I immediately hid the post from my timeline, thinking that would prevent people from seeing it and then I went back to trying to sleep. I didn’t delete it, because I didn’t want to thank my one commentor by deleting him entirely.
I woke up the next morning to a couple of comments and a bunch of likes. Apparently, even if you hide something from your Timeline, people can still see it in their feeds. Over the past few days, I’ve gotten over 70 likes and a dozen comments. And even though I can’t figure out how to restore the original post to my Timeline, three people have shared it, so now it shows on my Timeline three times in a row.
I even got comments directly posted to the blog, which marks this as the first time I’ve ever received a non-spam comment on any blog I’ve ever started since my LiveJournal days.
A lot of people said that they found my post helpful, and I guess I thought I was just validating things that they already knew, but then I got a direct message from one of my comedy friends and she thanked me for explaining the reason why she was stuck in limbo. She’d wondered why she hadn’t been able to feature or otherwise move up, and my blog post explained that to her. It encouraged her to know that she wasn’t inherently lacking in talent. So, if for no other reason, I’m glad I shared the post.
My post isn’t intended to hurt owners or bookers. I was a booker. I, more than anyone, understand that they’re just people, and with some notable exceptions, they’re mostly decent people. At least, at the club I was working at, the owners worked at minimum as hard as any of their employees, and they were barely breaking even. It never seemed to me that owners and bookers are purposely choosing the most exploitative way to run a business. It’s a desperate way to keep the lights on, and that means that all the talk about comedians “not caring” about getting paid is an attempt at justifying choices that made while backed into a corner.
It’s easy to judge, without the weight of a mountain of debt on my shoulders, how other people should run their businesses. I even, when I first found out that comedians didn’t get paid, wondered why anyone would decide to open a comedy club if they couldn’t pay their performers. And I still think that if I were ever to open a club, I wouldn’t do it unless I was sure I could pay the comedians. That said, if the owners of the club hadn’t opened exactly the club that they did, exactly the way they did, I might not be here.
When I found the club, I was three years into mourning my dead mother, and I was strangling the last shred of my will to live. I’d made a deal with God that I would stay alive as long as my older brother was alive (younger brother was already dead). I wasn’t a person; I was a sister to a dead brother, a daughter to a dead mother. I had no identity outside of that.
When I walked into the club, it was the first time in three years that I did something because I was actively interested in what I might find. Every choice I had made from the moment my mom died until that moment, had been out of obligation or defiance. I didn’t stay long, that first day. My soul was like a foot that had fallen asleep; it tingled with the pain of waking up. But the next morning, for the first time, maybe in my life, I actively wanted to be somewhere. I didn’t know why exactly, I just knew that I did.
I wouldn’t be the person I am today without the club and all of the people in it. I think that people think of me as a naturally nice, supportive person, but any good aspect of my personality was nurtured and fostered by the environment I was in and the people I was around.
The club I worked at isn’t perfect. It’s not run by perfect people who make perfect decisions all of the time. The business of comedy is also plagued by a relatively low percentage of shady opportunists and predators who sometimes seem like a very large percentage. By the time I left, I was so overwhelmed by all of the yucky aspects of the business that I’d stopped seeing and feeling the good. I had to step away in order to gain some perspective.
Now, I can be grossed out by the bad but inspired by the good. I’m still nervous about dipping my toe back in, but the warmth of the welcome I’ve received helps a lot. I hope that I can maintain a level of perspective and help people maintain theirs. It’s a tough business, but most of us didn’t get into comedy for the business. We got into it for the art and we endure the business aspects. I think that the worst aspect of the business have traditionally been ignored, as a sacrifice to continue pursuing the art. But I also have hope that it’s within the realm of possibility to change those aspects so that they become a reward of pursuing comedy, rather than a punishment.