Everything has a purpose. Everything happens for a reason. Your life has meaning.
But seriously, folks. Your life matters as much as the last Olympics. I should know. I was meant to be a stand-up comic. And for seven years, I was. Then it turned out I was meant to quit comedy. Why? I’ll tell you. If you’re thinking about being a comic, first read this list of reasons you shouldn’t.
1. You don’t really want to be a comic.
Out of college with a worthless degree in math and years of loving comedy, I knew it was my time to share my voice with the world. I left for New York to spend eight months and $8,000 at a comedy school, my first of many mistakes.
Many comics claim to want to share their voice. They’re lying. Like me, they want to be famous. I wanted immortality in memory, assuaging my fear of mediocrity and death simultaneously. But even that’s not accurate. In hindsight, I realize I wanted validation, which is much easier to get on OKCupid.
2. Comedy costs money.
The $8,000 comedy school was pretty worthless. I came out with nothing but a certificate on nice paper. I ended up learning everything at open mics.
Open mics (hereinafter “mics”) are “comedy” shows where anyone can perform. They usually cost five dollars and/or a drink, not to mention the travel cost and the cost of drinks to gain courage before performing and to wash away the hurt after. Multiply that by five times a week for five years and I have that CPA course I could have taken.
3. Amateur comedy feeds on happiness.
One of the monsters in Harry Potter is the Dementor, a creature that feeds on hope, happiness and souls. In comedy, we call this monster an open mic. On any given Wednesday night, I’d go to a mic, pay, then sit at a darkened table, working on my material until my name was called. The paradox is everyone else at the mic did the same. I was preparing jokes for an audience of only comics who were’t going to laugh at them even if they had listened to them. After all, I didn’t laugh at their jokes. New comics suck, and when they don’t, you’re too jealous to laugh.
4. Comics are bad people.
I’m friends with comedians because I’ve met hundreds. I was bound to get along with a couple. Most are incredibly awkward and worse, not interesting. Comics are either on — funny at every opportunity, constantly jostling for social position — or they’re off (depressed). So social interactions with comics tend to oscillate between battles of one-upmanship and suicide prevention.
a. “On” comics are intolerable.
Surely a funny friend is a good thing. He’ll be just like Donkey in Shrek! But there’s a reason Donkey isn’t in every scene in Shrek, and a reasonShrek only lasts two hours. People who are trying to be funny don’t listen, they simply wait until it’s their turn to talk, which means you can’t form a meaningful relationship.
b. “Off” comics are intolerable.
Comics are not happy people. There’s nothing funny about being happy. And when a comic lets down his defense mechanisms (joking), all that’s left is anger, bitterness and depression. It’s necessary, though. All good stand-up comes from sadness. Just ask me: I’ve been taking anti-depressants for 14 years now.
c. Comics form impenetrable cliques.
Instead of being helpful to everyone, comics like to exclude people, because they were excluded in high school. Worse, most of the people in cliques are those who book shows, the next step up from mics. Thus, you must break into the cliques. But, I might as well tell you to join the Illuminati while you’re at it. Acceptance rates are higher.
d. Comics judge.
Many of us use personal constructs for evaluating people. Is this person kind or cruel? Compassionate or selfish?
Comics, however, use one construct: funny or not funny? As soon as a comic gets his first few laughs, comics forget “funny” is subjective and learnable. Thus, if they don’t find you funny, they’ll never find you funny: they don’t want your association holding them back and they definitely don’t want to give you a second chance. It’s really an evil practice; I should know, I did it too.
e. Fuck comics.
All this adds up to bitter envy. I hated comics who started after I did, worked harder and got on better shows. I despised comics who aren’t as funny as me and were on TV (read: Anjela Johnson). It works both ways, though. I once got into a comedy festival and briefly felt happy until I realized some of my friends were jealous.
5. You won’t make money.
After five years in comedy, I thought it was time to make money. But how to make money was and remains somewhat of a mystery. There are several requirements: a half hour of incredible material (which I didn’t have), a car (which I didn’t have), self-promotion (which I didn’t have), work ethic (which I didn’t have) and luck (which I didn’t have). Even if I had all those things, I wouldn’t know what to do with them. Most of the people I know who have been paid did it by being selected to open for a friend who was already established. If everyone is getting money through people who already make money, who was the first guy to make money?
6. Even if you do get famous, the best-case scenario is suicide.
I spent years afraid to sell myself; I did comedy out of self-hatred. However, what would money and fame get me? Not happiness.
A working comedian can’t be happy. With the amount of work going into being a professional, you have no time to have close relationships or have a family that’s not dysfunctional. Are you really going to skip out on Kimmel to see your kid’s baseball game? Your kid ain’t putting hollandaise on the biscuits. The only thing to bring happiness is validation, but comics are forgettable. Once you’ve left the stage, people are already laughing at the next guy. And besides, at that point, anyone who laughs at your jokes is an idiot.
7. You’ll never be funny enough.
No matter how well I performed, it was never funny enough. It’s a paradox. I performed to gain validation and thus self-esteem. But, if I had self-esteem, I wouldn’t need the validation, so I wouldn’t perform. Now take this paradox and multiply it by hating your own jokes. Even your funniest jokes aren’t funny once you’ve told them eleven hundred times. And by the way, nobody laughs when coming up with their own jokes; you can’t surprise yourself and jokes are about surprise.
8. You hate comedy.
I used to watch and listen to comedy all the time, but now I can’t watch an episode of Alf without being jealous of whoever the fuck it was who played Alf (Paul Fusco). I should be the one trying to eat those cats! And it’s not just Alf. I wanted everything comedy related to suck so when I came along, I was good by comparison. I was the contra-positive of Mohammad Ali. Instead of “I am the greatest,” my mantra was “everyone else is the worst.”
Worse, when something was funny, I hated it out of jealously. Comedy was pain, a constant reminder of my limitations.
9. You hate yourself.
Why wasn’t I spending every waking moment writing jokes or performing? I knew the only way to get good was to do an unbelievable amount of comedy. I needed to forget my social life. Only do comedy. Only hang out with comedians. Then I realized that only doing comedy and only hanging out with comedians sounded fucking awful. My dream had become a nightmare. I was going to have to try half-heartedly forever or quit and cut my losses.
And that’s what I did. I quit comedy and cut my losses. Without the constant pressure on myself and trying to fill my need for validation, I’ve actually never been happier. No, not the HGTV/Mormon type of happy, but at least not wanting to slit my wrists. I don’t need to worry about comedy anymore. Besides, with enough articles, I’ll be a famous writer soon.
Evan Jacobs is a 30-year-old schlub who used to do stand-up comedy, excel academically and slay the ladies. These days, between the time he spends trying to publish his novel and teaching at a for-profit Manhattan college, he complains incessantly about nearly everything.
Image via Flickr/CC.
Reprinted from Hypervocal