If there’s a universal truth among every person it is that they want to matter; to their loved ones and to themselves. For creative types, the ones who paint, sculpt, play, conduct or write like me, we want to express ourselves in the most real way we know, our art.
I’ve been writing almost every day of my life since I was eight-years-old. I’ve written four books, published two, and worked as a journalist on and off for over twenty years. I turned forty-five less than 2 months ago but I almost quit writing earlier this year because I thought I didn’t matter.
Writing online is a full contact, brutally damaging intellectual activity. After a decade doing so, I’ve noticed that not being able to look people in the face when you critique them makes it easier to be ridiculously cruel and ultimately very dishonest.
At the beginning of the summer, the first week of June, I did something to salvage my love affair with writing.
I became a stand-up comedian.
It’s the best artistic decision I’ve ever made because now, I can see people in the face when they tell me I suck.
I’ve always liked comedy. I listened to comedy albums of many famous comedians growing up. Once my parents got cable television in the early 1980s, I watched any comedy special that aired. I grew to admire people who could stand before an audience and make them laugh, just like the musicians I also idolized. I thought comedy and music were the greatest forms of artistic expression because the audience feedback is immediate and very organic.
Writing is different, especially on the internet. You spend hours, sometimes days writing something, and finally after crucial, gut-wrenching edits, you hit send. The reaction is also fast, but I’ve learned it’s not always true.
Many studies have been done about online bullying or “trolling” and while an argument can be made that it’s more sociological than psychological, I’ve come to my own conclusion that understanding why people behave the way they do over the computer is a lost cause. Some people just want to watch the world burn and take others into the fire.
Twenty-two years ago, at the age of 23, I took to a comedy club stage for the first time. Over a span of about 15 months I did dozens of open mikes, five to fifteen minute comedy sets, then didn’t pursue it further. I thought I was just a writer.
Earlier this year, to both break through writer’s block and find out why I had become so disillusioned, I talked with several comedian friends I know through the internet. Surprisingly, they all encouraged me to give stand up another try because of the material I shared over the Twitter and Book Of Face (Facebook). After this advice from friends, I penciled jokes, one-liners, asides and funny stories about my life with a blended family of a wife and 3 daughters into a notebook, practiced in front a mirror and my dog then booked a set at a local comedy club.
What happened next not only changed my perspective on people, it saved my love of writing.
Onstage in a comedy club, there’s a weird sense of equality. Everyone’s there to have fun. If you’re funny, you’re funny. If you can make people laugh, you can make them listen and eventually think. After five minutes of telling a room full of strangers how unpredictable and dysfunctional my life is, I was transformed. I didn’t “kill” but I didn’t bomb either. I did get immediate feedback and it was more honest than anything I’d ever received from writing online. People came up to me with smiles on their faces and told me what they liked and disliked. They were encouraging and even thought I’d been doing comedy for a while.
Since that night in early June, I’ve performed more than 30 times. One recent set happened in a pizza pub turned comedy club for a night in front of about 50 people, mostly college students, twenty years younger than me, you know, my college sophomore daughter’s age. I made a room full of diverse jaded millennials laugh consistently for over 10 minutes. The best part was sharing the stage with several comedians who have been doing comedy as long as I’ve been writing. The democracy in their constructive criticism made me appreciate my writing.
I’ve even found two to three “regular” places to show up and do comedy each week. I’ve even been paid a handful of times.
The lost hope I’d felt from faceless review was now buoyed by the in your grill honesty of heartfelt evaluation.
I’m not saying everyone who blogs or tweets or tosses up a status that gets more than 5 likes should find a hot mike to justify their online existence but for me, using another creative venue to expand myself artistically helped. Now instead of avoiding the comments, I can just use them in my next set and become slightly more annoying by adding “comedian” to my media that are social bios.
Plus, I feel I matter, at least to myself, a little more.
Thanks a lot, that’s my time. My name’s Lance. I’m here all week.
Here’s a song about a comedian, one who did everything he could to be different and find himself, Andy Kaufman; immortalized by R.E.M.’s Man On The Moon.