I might as well talk about the thing I don’t want to talk about because that is what will most likely set me free.
I did my first stand-up set in over a year at a local open mic the other night. It’ one of five commitments I need to fulfill each week now in an attempt to jog my creative juices but also get over my biggest issue: my fear of failure.
Where to start. It’s the top of the New Year so let’s begin with the five resolutions. At the start of 2017 I committed to completing five things a week: a stand-up routine at an open mic (do not try to find me), a 300+ word blog post (hello), a podcast episode (something I’m already doing but want to maintain), a video segment (about anything, I just have to be in it), and… okay actually now that I look back at my resolution list it’s only four things but I think that’s already enough to be committed to each week when you already work a full time job editing internet videos, are currently editing two narrative projects (one feature and one feature into a short), writing two screenplays, and trying to find anyone who might want to put you in front of their own camera.
The point is this is a lot. The point is for this to be a lot. The point is to fail. To fail miserably by maintaining a commitment to execution.
My first feature film is by no means a masterpiece. I mean, I should really let the aliens that find our remains decide but I’m pretty sure they’ll agree it’s little more than a strong effort with the hints of a new voice. What matters is that I completed it. I got it done. I told myself I would complete it in three months and didn’t stop until I had finally completed it in six. It wasn’t great. And had I spent more time and certainly more money it’s easy to argue it could have been levels better but the point of the endeavor was not to make Reservoir Dogs (although you can be certain I may have acted as though I was) but to make something. To see what I was capable of. To see what I made and make more from there. To fail and learn from my failures.
Just moments before polishing this turd of a fucking blogpost I had the pleasure of finding out the UCB not only grades your performance in each class but actually has a way for you to view those grades should you be so inclined. As someone who considers themselves adept at improv and also just naturally funny, you can imagine (or maybe you can not but just as well easily surmise) my emotional turmoil at finding out I had not only passed my last two courses with “B’s” (which is to say acceptable enough to pass) but my first class I had only scraped by with a “C”. A grad point that is accompanied by the descriptor or “Conditional Pass”. The meaning of which I can only imagine is not particularly positive. This was devastating for me. It’s bad enough I wasn’t a savant but apparently I’m not even gifted. I’m just “so-so”. Three years and $1200 later and what do I have to show for it?
This was actually something a good acting friend once brought to my attention and while I often forget it it’s moments like this that I realize how this may not only be the most valuable thing you can achieve: it may be the only thing.
You can have an intention and a drive and goal of what you want to accomplish but the outcome is only so much in your control. The best you’re going to get is a clearer understanding of where it is your at and where you might want to go from there. No one picks up an instrument and immediately knows how to create a symphony (despite what popular myth would have you believe) and even if one could, you’d still only be as good as you were then and who knows what direction your choices would take you after that.
And that’s the point. You can’t dwell on the failures just as your shouldn’t rest on your accomplishments. There are only three directions to go and the most enlightening path is usually forward. Sure the cosmic boulder may get thrown back down to the ground every so often but it’s the conscious choice to start pushing it back up the hill that is the better, more productive course than cursing the powers that be for tormenting you. More productive than dreaming what it would be like to find a way to not have to push this boulder at all. Because that is true procrastination.
This is not a place for perfection. This is not a time for excellence. This is workshopping myself to the point of exhaustion. Getting all the shit out. At the end of this year I should have made at least fifty-two blog posts. Fifty-two videos. Fifty-nine podcast episodes and experienced fifty-two open mics. This is a mere handful but with over two hundred individual creative exercises and the few extra ones that will inevitably fall into my lap through day to day experience, even if they all end up amounting to a huge failure: I’ll at least have a hell of a lot of perspective.
And yes, I expect it to be hell.
Back to the stand up act: I don’t know if it went well. It was my first time back and furthermore I tried some racey off color material I hadn’t ever workshopped. But I did it. And was even better was instead of running off the stage the minute I ran out of material I just decided to keep going. See what I could pull out of myself. See what I could find to amuse. I got a giggle.
I have a lot of problems with stand-up but I think it’s at it’s highlight when it feels impromptu and present. There’s that sense that you’re watching a person as they discover their ideas right in front of you. A lot of the comedians that I see that irk me are the ones that clearly have a strict sense of what a routine is. They wrote a joke down, organized it set-up and punchline, memorized it, then hit the stage hoping the words would do the work for them. This actually happens a lot with actors I see as well. This belief that the trick is having the right thing to say rather than understanding what it is you’re trying to convey. It’s the difference from being a technician or an artist.
I’m far from having the art of stand-up comedy down. There’s a lot going when you’re on stage under the hot blinding spot light, your voice projected back at you with the fury of god, as you speak your thoughts out to an anonymous void, praying you’ll hear something back. It’s haunting at first. You can get intimated. It’s rare you’ll come out completely unshaken the first time or the second. I know it’s been that way for me. But regardless if I call it failure, I know I learned something, and that I have so much more to learn, and that is a very long road ahead of me, and the hardest part if going to be sticking to the commitment to take the next step.