The Back-Up Plan

Happy New Year everyone! I'm assuming you're all over your silly resolutions by now, and could use some funny. I don't know if this will be that, but I felt like writing tonight and wanted to share some thoughts. January of 2015 marked my 8 year anniversary as a standup comedian. Believe it or not, standup comedian was not my first choice.

As a kid, I always had different dreams of what I wanted to be when I grew up. We all do, right? I can't necessarily remember the order, but the list included professional hockey player (I was a goalie), actor, musician, marine biologist. You name it, I probably wanted to be it at one point. I don't really remember sharing it very much, because I had the kind of father that always quickly redirected those conversations into "you can do whatever you want to do, or be whatever you want to be, but you always need a backup plan." 

This wound up as a giant chip on my shoulder in life. It was those early conversations that made me develop a sense of having to prove myself in everything that I do. I immediately took that as "you don't have the talent to do those things," even though that was never the intent. My dad was just looking out for me, and making sure that I was careful and considerate in making life choices.

My dad was a part-time musician throughout my entire life. Growing up, and spending most of my time with him after my parents split at age 7, I saw that side of him more: he had retired from the Philadelphia Naval Ship Yard, where he had worked for most of his adult life, and was filling the calendar with late night shows at local bars and venues.

He was good. He was really good. At age 74 he can probably still belt it out. I remember hearing his talent level, and thinking "How could my Dad not be famous? If he could be that good as a singer, and overlooked, than he's surely right about the need for a backup plan."

I forged ahead in life, always working "the plan." I advanced early in my career, worked my way up the corporate ladder, and was an executive making around 6 figures a year before I was 30 years old. Definitely on the right track, right? I worked the plan, and along the way found my passion in standup comedy in 2007 and made strides as much as possible in developing that passion along the way into something more, but it was always part-time.

In fall of 2013, the plan went to shit. I was suddenly let go from a company that made a hard recruiting pitch for me (more on that later...much later), and found myself unemployed for the first time since I was 16 years old. It was a blow, for sure. It's hard in those extremely negative moments to see any silver lining, but it was an unexpected conversation with my dad that did the trick.

I was feeling sorry for myself, and he shared something with me that I had never heard in the 31 years I've known him: that maybe, for once, he was wrong about something.

He opened up to me, and told me about the regret that he had later in life about not chasing his dream of being a country musician. See, all these years I thought that they had just never found my dad, but the truth was that he never really allowed himself to be found. Maybe he was afraid of rejection, or maybe afraid of the criticism, but he never really gave it his all. He had a family to think about (a few of them if we're being factual), and felt that he needed to stay the safer path for our benefit.

He said that he had waited for that "sign" for so many years. That signal to give it up and go for it, and it never came. Or maybe that it had, and he was just to afraid of failure to have seen it. Then he said, to see the signal that this could've been, and to take the opportunity to run with it.

I listened, as I've always tried to do. Though I've continued to spend the last 18 months looking for a replacement for full time work (daddy likes to eat), I've also attacked my career in standup and writing with a new sense of urgency. I've written more than ever, and have been working hard to refine my writing, craft my voice, and put myself out there more and allow new people to discover me. Not just new fans, or new friends, but industry people as well.

There have been tons of rejections. There are a lot of days that feel like losses. It's been a struggle financially. I've had to make sacrifices that I never saw coming, and I've had to put in long days making little money just to get by.

In December, I submitted for a local contest as well as a few festivals, and found out that out of 240 comedians that entered this LA standup contest, that I had made it into the 69 that would compete. That show was Tuesday. I was awarded "joke of the night," along with $50, and found out Friday that I would be in the finals, which will be judged by some industry players that are very well known in the biz, and have truly made dreams come true for many of my friends and peers. In the letter, the venue owner had stated to us that what had separated us from the rest of the pack was a more "developed point-of-view," and a unique style. The judges were really surprised at the talent level, and that they had simply just "had not seen" many of us. It wasn't that we weren't talented, or that we were missing certain things. They just hadn't seen or heard of us.

Could you imagine if that was on your tombstone? "Great at so many things that not enough people were aware of?" What a horrible thought. Even more horrible would be knowing that could happen, and doing nothing about it. It was truly the same story my dad had told me about this journey through life with his creative endeavors.

Getting the strong feedback on my set really made my week. I dunno how I'll fare in the competition, and though it sounds cliche, all of us getting seen are really winners. There are some really great comedians (I won't list them all) in this thing including John Tole, Greg Kashmanian, Danny Jolles, and Rachel Mac, who I didn't know anything about before this thing but she is hilarious, and absolutely crushed our night of prelims. It's been great seeing the one's I know, and meeting and getting to see the one's that I didn't. I feel like I've been missing out on so much by not seeing them sooner, or going out of my way to be the "fan" of comedy that I was in the beginning when I first started. I'm going to work harder at it.

So I'll wrap up this fuckin' novel already. Is there a moral of the story? I dunno. Be seen. Be heard. Don't get wrapped up in the "back-up plan" that is your life. When you're not being seen or heard, go watch & listen. Pay it forward. It might tell you something about yourself. Or shit, you might even make a friend. What's that worth these days? 

Posted on February 3, 2015 .