Tiffany Haddish, the Buddha and Me

28 01 2019

haddish

You may have heard that the actress/comedian, Tiffany Haddish, had a not-so-great New Year’s Eve a few weeks ago. She bombed on stage. It happens to the best of us.

Not long after that happened, I decided to do a longer set at a comedy club largely based off of new material I worked on during the Christmas break at the end of December. This is never a good idea unless you’re maybe Jerry Seinfeld or Chris Rock where the audience can give you a lot of leeway if you are “working things out” because, well, you actually are Jerry Seinfeld or Chris Rock.

I get really eager to do new stuff. I write a lot and have enough new material to try out at an open mic every night for the next few months if I actually got to an open mic every night, which I don’t. For whatever reason, I had a “just go for it” attitude.

I didn’t bomb but I was definitely not happy with my performance. I just did not get the audience reaction consistently as much as I would have hoped. Nor should I have. This was pretty much all new stuff, after all. 

I had another gig the next night at the same venue and all day I was stressed out about it. I had a lost sense of confidence particularly since this whole comedy thing is so judgmental. You have a great set and finally a booker considers you. He or she hears or witnesses something that doesn’t feel right and you’re out of luck for the next year or longer.

While I felt some sympathy for Tiffany Haddish, I also saw the outpouring of people coming to her defense. She’s not going anywhere and people know she is not just that one bad performance. When you’re “a nobody”, the pressure to have that one performance represent whatever is needed for the person judging you (the right tone, the right material, the right look, the right amount of laughs) could be overwhelming.

All day that Saturday as I was preparing for that evening, I was wrapping myself in a cloak of doubt and uncertainty. Then I remembered something I read in “Why Buddhism is True” by Robert Wright. We have evolved to have feelings so we would be compelled to perceive things in a certain way to protect ourselves in order to pass on our genes (“it’s probably a stick but it could be a snake so best to feel anxious and fearful”). The problem is that these feelings do, in fact, lead to perceptions that drive thoughts that ultimately lead to behaviors.

This is something I keep reminding myself time and time and time again for years now. In this case, I had feelings of frustration and despair that made me perceive myself as an imposter of sorts which drove thoughts of unworthiness and a behavior that led me to first question whether I shouldn’t be giving my attention to some other endeavor. Once I took a pause to see a barrier between what I was feeling and what I was perceiving, I could start to separate it out a bit and get down to the business of watching my set, taking notes and preparing again.

And it worked. I kept three or four things from the previous night, tweaked them and weaved them into a set that went great. And the perception I had that I was not good enough to get booked again went away, too (and luckily was confirmed).

So, it seems that Tiffany Haddish might have been a lot more evolved than me because clearly she has been able to overcome a much more visible flop sooner than I did. She’s probably a closet Buddhist.

Until next time,

Marc





Claiming Your Space

16 01 2017

o-stand-up-comedy-facebook

I have been running for over 20 years but won’t call myself a runner.

I’ve been playing piano since I was 7 but wouldn’t call myself a pianist.

I’ve been writing for 30 years but still hesitate to call myself a writer.

And yet with all of these things, I probably have reason to be more confident in those pursuits than I do with comedy, which I have been performing for much less time. Still, I am proud to call myself a comedian, if only reluctantly. It makes me happy.

The truth is, I am a working comedian. I am not working to where it can be my full time job and I’m not sure it ever will be but I get hired to do shows as if others comedians would and it goes well. As I mentioned to another comedian friend, I am at a place where even if it doesn’t go as well as I would have hoped, I feel like I have earned a right to take the stage and I can hold my own. This isn’t an ego thing. It’s just a hard work thing.

I don’t think that unless you have been part of this mind-game that is stand-up comedy you could really understand what that means. It’s like my daughter learning a new dance step. The whole step may take seconds but it can take weeks or months to even get to the point where it’s “in the ballpark.” It’s the same with comedy.

This may be the first positive comedy revelation I have had about myself and though I have no idea if things will progress or not, it really is ok. I am enjoying myself and meeting some really wonderful people and learning to be more confident based on what I know and not what others might think they know about me.

It reminds me a little of losing weight or “getting in shape.” The advice is to not focus on the scale so much (what the scale “thinks” it may know about your health) and focus more on how you feel and even may look (what you, yourself, know). I don’t know – I’m rambling. I just watched “Primal Fear” with my kids (saw it 20 years ago – what a great movie) and my mind is still sort of blown so this is what you get.

I guess the purpose of this blog is to say that we all have a right to claim to be who we are and not just what we do but why we do it. I am an artist, a songwriter, a writer and yes, even a runner, and all of these things funnel up to the dad, brother, son and friend I am. It sort of works that way. Don’t limit yourself. Claim your space. It’s yours. You own it.

Until next time,

Marc

 





The Election and Moving On.

24 10 2016

Image result for you me we venn diagram

I’m done with this election. 100%. Anyone who still doesn’t know who they’re voting for, if they’re voting, is holding out for something that is never going to come.

I had a comedy fundraiser last night at a church and as I was heading back getting ready to pick up my son, it dawned on me that all the things I riffed about on stage – the struggles of parenting, marriage, growing older, dealing with pretentious people – these things have no party affiliation. It’s the connection of being human and I want no part of distilling down human emotion to a few soundbites anymore.

I have opinions. You have opinions. It’s the way of the world. Twice this week, I had hour long conversations with two people who are supporting Trump. The frustrated journalist in me just wants to understand. I don’t need to agree. I don’t need to approve. I just want to understand. And you know what? I got a little closer – not to supporting Trump but to understanding the complexity behind the affiliations we have for those things that ultimately drive our allegiances toward one direction or the other.

It’s frustrating because we have become so polarized that we fail to see that in the Venn diagram of life, there is way more overlap than we care to admit. The anti-immigration proponent and the left-leaning open borders advocate are both Green Bay Packer fans. The Pro-Choice voter and the Pro-Life voter both are fans of Game of Thrones.

In our information overloaded society, why can’t we have an app that quickly scans all the good stuff in each of us each time we pass each other on the street? Can you imagine? It’s not as if this would drive some sort of state of Nirvana but it sure would give each of us the time to collectively pause before we so fully aligned toward one side or the other and walk right into judging “who is with us and who isn’t”.

I don’t know. Maybe I think too much. Ok, I definitely think too much. But I can tell you this – I am going to spend a lot less time worrying about what someone thinks and a lot more time trying to learn why they think it. It’s not going to be easy but damn it, we can’t rely on our leaders to do it and despite what they might want you to believe, we have to build this from the ground up. Who’s with me?

Until next time,

Marc





Denny’s, LinkedIn and Lost Moments

30 09 2016

linkedin-message

I received a LinkedIn message a while ago that simply said “how are you?” Thinking this was just someone I had met at a conference who might be looking for a job, business, etc., I chose to ignore it. (Nice, I know.)

Then, a couple of days ago, I happened to see that this same person wrote another message. It went like this:

“I have to let you know, a lot of my success and my future adventures I owe in (part) thanks to you. When we all ate dinner at Denny’s you, Kim and Eric…I finally felt like I belonged for the first time in my miserable life, and I spilled my water and apologized profusely. Again later as we were all friends (you were all older than me) you sang “All the leaves are brown, the sky is grey” outside the libray (sic) with Kim and you took her teddy bear and pretended to Die againt (sic) the brick wall in such comedic fashion. These moments really became one of the many cornerstones in my life, about friendship and such enjoyment !! I just wanted to let you know you had an impact on my life, since highschool had been horrible to me. Then, my future exploded 🙂 thanks !!”

I thought this was a fantastic message (and though he went on to be an Emmy nominated computer animator and this seemed like an interesting contact to have), he had clearly thought I was someone else. Although Denny’s made me think of college (and many post drunken escapade patty melt excursions) plus the fact that I am a huge fan of the Mamas and Papas, I had convinced myself that he had the wrong person. These facts were merely coincidences. Feeling bad that this person reached out to me with such a heartfelt message that was misdirected, I felt compelled to email him back to let him know both that he had a case of mistaken identity and to not feel as if he were being ignored:

“Hi (name withheld)- that is a great email – I only wish I were with you, Kim and Eric but I don’t think it was me! In any event, I am glad that you have a memory to hold onto that helped to transform you to a better place. Continued success, Marc”

A few hours later, he replied and guess what? It was me!

I actually lived with both Kim and Eric at one point in college and it still didn’t connect with me! I have long lost contact with both of them, but still, how did I neglect to connect all these dots – me who will spend hours on google investigating the stupidest of things yet, in this case, though every single clue pointed in my direction, I didn’t give it a second thought that he had the wrong guy? (That sentence was way too long but I’m too lazy to address it right now.)

It actually made my day to know that something I couldn’t even remember from more than 2 decades ago stuck with someone still. Isn’t this the case more than we actually realize?

When we review our lives, there are moments that provide meaning to us in ways only we could understand in the broader context of our own personal experience. I know that is the case for me. Rarely are they the vacations or “big” events. More often, they are the small moments that probably only stick in our heads – sitting in the back of the orange, Chevy Impala asking your mom to ask your dad to have “the talk”, running through the field to your grandpa to tell him you’re learning trumpet, or sliding down the sloped doors in the backyard that lead to the basement… and the dentist after cracking your tooth.

These moments have no postcard images and even in today’s smart phone obsessed world, would probably not even have an Instagram pic to upload. These are the moments that remain imprinted solely in those internal cranial crevices that are only reachable by those who know the secret pathway to get there – the one that no one else knows about. When they’re shared with others who long forgot about them, they could be a gift.

You matter. You never know when some small innocuous moment could have a great meaning to someone that might look you up on a social media site decades later. Now only if I could get a message from that girl from Junior year who dressed like Suzanne Vega and introduced me to Robyn Hitchcock.

Until next time,

Marc





Naked & Afraid

12 04 2016

untitled

I should only look so good in my state of nakedness and fear.

There is nothing more vulnerable than putting “it” out there in the world. And by “it”, I am talking about that thing that you have been keeping to yourself and have finally given up on trying to hide from the universe for whatever reason.

Maybe you can’t live with yourself refraining from telling that person how you really feel. Maybe it’s been 3 years of working on the same damn manuscript and you can’t bear to look at it one single, solitary second longer. Perhaps you’ve practiced that solo over and over again, or that pitch you have wanted to try out but were afraid would fail miserably in front of the coach or the audience.

For whatever reason, you have decided the price of living in fear is far worse than the price of any potential embarrassment and you have put “It” out there.

This is what I refer to as my “naked and afraid” moment, or moments. It starts when you’re in junior high school and your chubby, pimply and less-than-macho self cannot resist from asking out that girl to the dance even though every guy likes her. Sure, the advanced math part of you knows the odds but damn those hormones. It just grows and gets worse and worse from there.

For us creative, angst-ridden types, it can be pure torture. Though, as I write and talk to more people, I am convinced that it is in all of us. Many of us are just better at maintaining clearer lines between our inner and outer voices.

I have given presentations on such exciting topics as market share growth and competitive market analyses in front of people who could single handedly decide my career trajectory and have felt way less vulnerability than sending a 100 page script I wrote to a few friends “in the biz” to get their feedback.

Why? Simple. It matters to me. It matters a lot; more than it should. I don’t envy those poor souls who received it and consider their friendship with me too good to actually provide me with the truth, though that is what I need the most.

Here is what I say to them and to you, should you ever be on the receiving end of one of those “can you let me know what you think” requests – be honest. Apologize in advance for the criticism if you have to. Be kind but be honest. As much as it may kill us (slowly) to realize that our biggest fears may be true – that we suck, it’s a bad script, she’s not into you, etc. etc. etc. – it’s only going to be worst later on.

I finished my first full-length screenplay in April of 2015. I sat on it until early this year to even start to make any revisions. After the 5th or 6th time, I just had to let it go into the universe. It was doing no good, just sitting there on my computer any longer. I know it’s not perfect. Hell, it may not even be good. Even worst, it might be the hokiest, cliché, boring piece of shit that anyone has ever read. I’m not totally sure yet because I haven’t received any feedback from those I sent it to (hint, hint).

In seriousness though, I want them and you future reviewers out there to know that it’s ok. You can start of your feedback email with something like “I commend you on working toward your dream” or “I am so happy your day job seems to be working out for you.” We get it. In the meantime, some constructive feedback might actually turn that stinker into something of real value one day. You know the story – piece of crap athlete turns it around after reading coach makes link between learning style and his pitching. Something like that anyway.

Here’s some things for you hesitant “friend/reviewers” to keep in mind:

  1. We had to do it. We had to write, sing, draw, ask her out, and try to build that deck on our own. We just couldn’t NOT do it. It wasn’t in our blood.
  2. We know that we are all amateurs in this game and yes, we really, really, really want to do something great with “it” but chances are slim and we aren’t go to die from rejection or the truth. (I don’t think.)
  3. We feel bad for asking you. We spent hours – ok, months, with a draft email in our Draft Email box waiting to go out to you asking for this one favor. I made a bid on an entire house that I am not 100% sure I am eligible to buy in a ridiculously less amount of time than it took me to craft that email, by the way.
  4. We understand you are not an expert. We get that these are opinions. But for whatever reason, we need to hear what you think. In my case, I need to hear from people who write, who may have a female point of view (for the protagonist in this one particular script) or have a cultural knowledge that is woven through my script. Or maybe, I just need a friend to read it and say “wow – that was not what I expected.” I am not sure.
  5. If reviewing something is a burden or you just flat don’t want to, just be a mensch and say so. It’s totally fine. I Facebook messaged a comedian I know (peripherally) whose writing I admire. This dude has been on Comedy Central, Inside Amy Schumer etc. etc. – you get the picture. I was on a few shows with him (as I reminded him in my message) and am sure he has no clue who I am. I asked him if he would consider reading my script, fully expecting that he wouldn’t want to or be able to. Sure enough, I was right. But he messaged me back the same day, told me he was super busy and was totally cool about the whole thing. I hated asking him. Hated with a capital “H”. I did it though because how the hell does anyone accomplish anything without the help of others (besides Donald Trump, that is)? I am much more grateful that this guy just said no politely than tried to pacify me. That would only lead to him having to blow me off in the future or refer to me as “some dude who I told I’d review his thing” which is never good.

So, here is my lesson for anyone who is naked and afraid. Go with it. We are all naked and afraid. That Rico Suave looking dude with the French cut fit shirt, George Hamilton smile, perfect hair and huge 401K account? Yup. He’s way naked and afraid. Of what you might ask? Exactly! That’s how naked and afraid he really is. He’s still wearing his costume.

Go out there and show your cajones (figuratively, please) and your vulnerability (that one you can try literally) and it will feel nauseating, anxiety provoking and even a little liberating.

Until next time,

Marc





Heckling His Way to the Presidency

9 03 2016
trump

This man could actually be the leader of the free world. I think we can remove the word “free”.

I have not met one person who supports Donald Trump, not one. Which seems unlikely given the fact that the more vitriol and hate he spews into the system, the more popular he gets. Yet, he is where he is in this circus of an election process.

I am all for difference of opinion. In fact, I have a healthy respect for people who support other Republican candidates, even though I don’t, because at least there is some sort of reason other than “he is saying what I feel”. I actually think Ted Cruz is a lot more damaging should he ever get near the Oval Office, given his views on so many issues that are important to anyone who isn’t male, white, heterosexual and Christian, but at least I know what he stands for and he’s on message.

So, I have been really struggling with how Donald Trump could even get this far based on an agenda of pure hatred with absolutely no substance and seemingly innocuous to the very real protests of people even within his own party. I have come to the conclusion that it is because he is the loudest heckler in the worst comedy club in the city.

Let me explain. I don’t know of a single comedian who hasn’t had to deal with a heckler at some point in his or her career. When you are lucky enough to be in a really professional, well-run, and respectable club or venue, usually it will be clear that it just will not be tolerated for long (if the comedian even gets to the point where he/she hasn’t nipped it in the bud already). At that point, the owner, manager, hell, even the other patrons will shut down the heckler.

However, unfortunately, in many venues where the comics are left to their own devices and there seem to be no standards or guidelines regarding expectations of how things are going to be run, what is and isn’t acceptable, etc. – the louder the heckler, the more attention he gets. Even when the comedian destroys the heckler, the audience will remember the heckling that took place and that is the strategy of the Trump campaign. 

Donald Trump is the heckler in every piece of crap basement that bills themselves as a “comedy club” and specializes in an onslaught of blow job jokes and cheap vodka. And he loves every minute of it because he is an attention hound and has systematically gone to every show with a weak headliner and feature act. First it was Jeb Bush and now it’s Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. He doesn’t even have to worry about Kasich because Kasich won’t even play. He knows no amount of backlash can outdo his heckling skills.

Furthermore, Trump knows that since he can’t truly compete at the classy clubs (think those with actual content, intellect and rules), he will gain all his attention by annihilating social norms that others require and make his own and he does it by being an equal opportunity offender, or heckler in this case.

This is where the heckler has an unfair advantage because hecklers do not need to address the subject matter at hand. I was once talking about cougars and someone called me an asshole. It had nothing to do with my set. I mean, I could almost understand if they didn’t think I was funny or they lost a loved one to a vicious cougar attack but this guy just didn’t like me. Period. That’s how hecklers work.

Donald Trump can’t actually respond to anyone with anything of substance so he goes after their sweating, their birth place, their spouses, their looks, their religion, their nationality, their gender, their handicap, whatever. Anything is fair game and it grabs the attention of everyone, whether they agree or not. Everyone is talking about Trump the same way everyone talks about the asshole who heckled during the show.

The problem is that this heckler isn’t going home to nurse a hangover and beat up his dog (or maybe he is) but he is also dangerously too close to being the leader of the free world and applying junior high school playground tactics on the world stage thatmay have all of us asking for a refund sooner rather than later.

Until next time,

Marc





The Mindful Comedian

3 02 2016

sense-of-humor-comedy-mindfulness

It could happen.

Every comic I know that has been at it for a while and that I respect has told me that if you are not bombing once in a while, you really aren’t pushing yourself. Well, if that’s the case then I may be pushing myself right off a cliff.

I have had two experiences this year alone where I was “eating” it from the start. The good news is that I was able to recover but no matter how much I tell myself that this is “supposed to happen”, it feels like absolute shit. It’s horrible and it makes me question not only my comedy but my ability to make life decisions, also. 

Last Wednesday, I had a performance in Philadelphia that started out painfully for me. I couldn’t seem to connect and I just wasn’t able to find the right vibe with the audience from the get go. In addition, it reinforced another recent performance where I had a similar experience.

It got better a few minutes in but 180 seconds of “finding your way” on stage can feel excruciating. What made it worse was that, unlike most shows I do, I had people in the audience that were friends. That’s the worst. That’s like missing the free throw in front of your entire family and friends and them telling you that “you did your best – it was a tough game.”

I noticed a difference that evening, however. My usual negative self-talk was quieted to just a murmur. Don’t get me wrong – it was there. However, I was allowing myself to change the narrative a little and reinforce to myself that I just had an off night and that it happens to the best of us. It’s not as if the feeling of disappointment wasn’t there, but this time, it wasn’t the only overwhelming feeling available to me for hours on end.

I think, for me, the practice of mindfulness meditation, has helped just from the standpoint of understanding what it is that seems to be guiding us in terms of our thoughts. It does two things: 1. it helps me recognize the thought as being there and not place any judgement on it (ie. “I feel really, really shitty right now” vs. “I feel really, really shitty right now and suck at everything and don’t belong here and will never get asked back to this club”.  2. It helps me put things into perspective (ie. “I am doing something that is off the track, risky and makes me feel alive and sometimes it’s going to suck but as long as the important people in my life are ok, what else matters?”).

Perhaps this is a natural set point for a lot of people. These are the ones that seem to, more than not, wade calmly through the waters of life regardless of how rapidly or intensely the flow may be at any given time. I am not one of these people. It is interesting how many times people have commented on my “calmness” or similar trait only to learn that I am the duck who is constantly paddling under water to make sure I can at least appear to stay afloat.

Being a comedian is one of the most humbling experiences I have ever had, next to being a parent (and in the past, a spouse). There is no escaping the reality of the moment, whether good or bad, with an immediate feedback that can change week to week, day to day and moment to moment. 

Think about situations in your life that may be similar – such as relationships, a tenuous work environment, a physical activity or managing the unpredictability of living with some sort of illness. It is extremely difficult to be “in the moment” without having those feelings fester and grow sometimes. Maybe 5 to 10 minutes of focusing on our breath and qualifying our thoughts as nothing more than just that – thoughts – without meaning, is the best friend a comedian, or anyone, ever had.

Until next time,

Marc








%d bloggers like this: