Tiffany Haddish, the Buddha and Me

28 01 2019

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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

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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 Mindful Comedian

3 02 2016

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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





Fill your Comedy Prescription!

2 03 2015

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“No that’s ok, I’ll just stay in and watch my favorite program “Apathy.”

I was really fortunate to be part of two great shows this past week. One was a new show I produced and the second was a show I was invited to be on. They were both great.

Each had about 30 people in the audience, which depending on your frame of reference, could be either impressive or not. Trust me, it is.

It always amazes me the disconnect between attendance at these shows with just amazing comics – the audience was laughing hysterically at both, for example – and the difficulty in getting people out to shows. You get 4 to 6 comedians for anywhere from the price of a drink to $15 and it feels like pulling teeth.

I have had several discussions about this and the reasons behind it, what happened since the heyday of comedy in the 80s, how the internet may have “killed” live comedy, etc. etc., but none of that really matters. What matters is that there is a pool of talent that is just unreal. I guarantee, that for most of you, you can find a great show within a 30 minute ride, if not closer.

It keeps occurring to me that, in the same way Uber has “disrupted” the traditional way in which taxi services are purchased and managed, there is a business model for comedy that is also waiting to be developed and executed. The only big difference in my mind is with respect to demand. City dwellers will always need a cab ride to somewhere. Comedy as a demand? Unfortunately, not so much.

The demand is ready, though. Here’s the thing that people are missing: seeing a good comedian is one of the healthiest and rejuvenating things you can do because laughter is a drug. Like music, sex and yes, real drugs, laughter actually impacts your brain and the way you feel. If I could somehow reach out to the medical associations around the world and actually help write and implement guidelines for “laughter prescriptions”, I would do it.

This is not self serving. It is a real thing and yet we choose to sit at home and watch YouTube, which is not the same thing! In fact, the social aspects of laughing together, or listening to music or other things you can imagine doing “together”, have benefits far greater than doing them alone.

A little research on the scientific and health benefits of laughter reveals the following:

  • Dr. Lee Berk at Loma Linda University found, in the 1980s, that laughter helps in the regulation of stress hormones and were linked to the production of antibodies and endorphins, natural pain killers in the body.
  • In 2003 in the journal Neuron, it was found that humor can help regulate the brain’s dopamine levels associated with mood, motivation, attention and learning.

This is a real thing and I ask each of you – if there is one blog post that you forward on to the 1,000 people in your email distribution list or Facebook, let it be this one.

Go see a comedian! It costs less than a co-pay, it is incredibly good for you, there is no pain involved (sometimes just for the comics) and we have a chance to be part of a comedy resurgence when the talent pool is ripe for the plucking.

And, it last’s longer than sex (or that’s what I hear).

Until next time,

Marc








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