The Sophomore Slump: My Second Year in Comedy

In September 2014 I started taking a standup comedy class, now two years later comedy has become an integral and basically daily part of my life.  The journey hasn’t been all sunshine and candy corn, it has pushed me to explore a lot of subjects and thought paths that I wouldn’t have normally pursued.  I have found myself bouncing from top of the world to rock bottom, unbridled excitement to just going through the motions, riding the roller coaster of happiness, sadness, anger, and many other emotions.  I have tried to approach comedy as a chance to meet new people and have a fun outlet, so it makes sense to take a realistic look back at the past year and see what I have accomplished and have I need to improve on.

During my first year performing I fell into two big tropes, the promising newcomer and the guy who would go to great lengths to get on stage.  I was moderately talented and was very comfortable with public speaking which gave a better stage presence than I had earned or rightly deserved.  I was also living in Middlebury and driving to Rutland or Burlington every time I wanted to get on stage, which was a level of commitment that most people appreciated.  Knowing that someone is burning 2 hours on the road to get 5 minutes of stage time is something that you have to respect and knowing that someone is willing to go anywhere to perform in some sub optimal venues is also a desirable trait in a comic.  I was also writing prolifically, culling over past experiences and facebook statuses trying to squeeze every joke possible out of my life.  I was also branching out by taking improv classes and performing storytelling.  All these factors lead to a very productive year where I was able to perform very often and had high hopes for my comedic future.

Now looking back it isn’t surprising that I burnt out a bit, but it is surprising that it took so long to happen.  I was working more than full time, and grinding it out on stage 2-3 nights a week, trying to pursue several types of comedy, all while trying to live a real life.  Luckily I learn well from failure.  I thought that I was a shoo in to be a finalist for Vermont’s Funniest Comedian, and was pretty crushed when I didn’t even make it out of the preliminaries.  This Icarus moment spun me out a bit, I stopped going to as many open mics, stopped going to people’s shows, stopped enjoying producing my own shows, and withdrew a bit.  This combined with a lot of other outside issues with work and moving to Burlington while trying to have a real life lead to me spending most of my winter holed up in my apartment.  Throughout the spring I was going through the motions, not writing much, not performing well, not doing improv, not going to other people’s shows and not being supportive to other members of the community.  I went on vacation and planned on at least doing some exotic open mics, but I was so burnt out that I wanted nothing to do with comedy.  Instead of comedy being something that enhanced my life it became something that held me back, which is not a good place to be, but it was the type of place that forced me to do some soul searching.

This time for self reflection finally allowed realism to creep into my thought process.  Comedy is a very hard thing to pursue, Louie CK worked his ass off for almost 30 years before he got to where he is now.  Every successful comic says that you just need to keep working for 10 years before you realize that you have the chance to be good, so the unrealistic idea that after a few months performing comedy in Vermont I would be able to pursue this as a career.  In fact I realized that there is no way that I want to pursue comedy full time.  I don’t want to move to a big city, I don’t want to spend all my time in dark clubs, I don’t want to learn acting, and I certainly don’t want to give up my good job to pursue something with much more elusive financial prospects.  I respect anybody who wants to make the jump, and thoroughly miss a lot of my friends who headed to NYC or Boston to pursue their dreams, and will do everything in my power to support them, but it just isn’t a path that I want to pursue.

I suppose that leads to one of my internal dilemmas, why do I do comedy to begin with?  I do it because I enjoy it, not every second, but as a whole.  I enjoy spending time with funny people, and meeting new comics who I would not have met in real life.  I like the fact that my pharmacy friends tend to admire that I am stepping out of my comfort zone and doing something different.  I like it that my family now sees me in a different light.  I like that my comedy friends come to me with all their medical questions (you are constipated, eat more green things and drink more water).  I like being the type of person who you can run jokes past or have a beer with.  I like having a guest room that I can put out of town comics up in.  I like that my boss asks if I have a gig before asking me to cover a shift.  I like expressing myself, and having something to obsess over when I am bored or neurotic.  I like that feeling of having my heart in my throat before a challenging show or audience.  I like telling stories.  I like what I do in my free time, and I might as well keep it up.

I don’t want to sound like the whole year was nothing but pain and drudgery.  I started my own show, which allowed me insight into the business side of entertainment, and the complications that come along with running or doing anything worthwhile.  I hosted a lot, securing a skill that allowed me to command and audience.  I had the opportunity to perform at a brand new comedy club and tons of other venues all over the state and make a lot of people laugh.  I got to perform in benefit shows that raised money for good causes, and allowed me to give back to my community.  I am proud of the fact that even when I wasn’t fully engaged I didn’t become bitter.  It would have been easy to point to the successes of others and say that I was entitled to that, but I was able to frame it as those people worked hard enough and are talented enough to have those successes.  This mindset allowed me to support my friends through their successes, and while I was envious I never felt angry at them, or thought that I should be doing it instead.  I suppose that this is a mark of a good and supportive scene, which is the main thing that makes performing in Vermont fun.

Throughout the past year there was never a time where I was going to make a dramatic pronouncement that I am done with comedy and will never grace the stage with my presence ever again.  In fact over the past month or so I have had an uptick in shows and feel myself getting excited about performing and putting myself out there.  With most slumps I have been in it is a purely mental thing, and getting excited and having a reason rather than just going through the motions is the best way to pull yourself out of a slump.  I hope that over the next year, and for many years to come, I can keep refining my craft and viewing comedy as something fun to do that makes my life better.

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