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

 





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





The Amateur Advantage

20 10 2015

Stay classy you amateur!

Stay classy you amateur!

I am always a little envious of those friends of mine who seem to be experts at something – martial arts, baseball, a specific era of art history….The Simpsons.

I don’t consider myself an expert at anything. I probably never will be either. I don’t have the fortitude to commit to one thing so wholly that I can even approach mastery level. There are just too many things I want to try.

This, while great for weekend excursions, is a difficult realization when you are passionate about doing something – in my case writing, music and comedy. I have a lot more experience writing and with music than I do with comedy (of the stand-up variety) and the numerous articles and podcasts proclaiming that it takes a “good 10-20 years” to really get good and know what you are doing have often times nicked away at the “carpe diem” attitude I have tried so hard to apply to this strange endeavor.

Recently, I heard vignettes of different TED talks on people who “plunged” into unchartered waters as amateurs and emerged as “experts”. You can listen here if interested: http://www.npr.org/programs/ted-radio-hour/431363633/amateur-hour

What really struck me was that the word “amateur” stems from the latin root amare which means “to love”.

The TED talks and interviews I listened to were incredibly inspiring in that they spoke to the power of being so enamored with something that you have no choice but to learn everything you can about it. This is the part of work that I really love. For a while, I prided myself that if there were some sort of less than terrific project at work, I would be asked to do it. I thought it was an honor and for me, it gave me the chance to learn something new. The problem was trying to live up to some expectations to have all the answers. I am slow – which has a bad connotation in our society. But slow does not mean dumb. It just means slow. I have to ask a lot of questions, take a lot of notes, doodle – a lot – and then hopefully, retain the most salient points of whatever it is I am trying to learn.

We should all be amateurs at work regardless of our title and position, otherwise I do believe we are not challenging ourselves nor are we allowing others to freely admit what they don’t know – a sharp cliff to failure in organizations and relationships alike, if you ask me.

So this brings me all back to comedy. I am not going to shy away (as much) from the count of years I have in front of audiences compared to some others I perform with because the passion is there and that creates more momentum to learn more, quicker and in comedy – what better material than discussing your “epic fails” (as my son calls them)?

So, don’t hide from your inner amateur – whether you are a weekend warrior on the golf course or a Vice President of Finance at the Fortune. I have a feeling you’ll find yourself farther ahead than you ever imagined.

What’s your amateur advantage?

Until next time,

Marc

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The “Comedy” Divorce

16 06 2015

marriage-divorce-ecard

It’s been almost a year since I officially started my journey of single “fatherdom”. To be honest, it hasn’t been easy but my kids are incredibly resilient and that was and will always be my first priority.

This seemed like as good a time as any to reflect on this “momentous” anniversary of sorts and I wanted to put something to rest. There have been some that, upon finding out that my wife asked for a divorce, have assumed that it was “comedy-related”. The rationale goes something like this: “well, it’s hard being a comic and being with someone unless they really understand it and are supportive. Comedy can be like a drug and it can tear families apart….blah, blah, blah.”

WHOA!!!

The idea that myself or anyone would do anything to jeopardize their family because of a love for stand-up seems a little far-fetched. Comedy is my golf. It never took the place of family activities or priorities. It is one of my personal passions but never once have I thought of compromising relationships for comedy. Comedy may have highlighted already existing issues but they were always there. For those who insinuate otherwise tend to be both over-simplistic and quite frankly, insulting.

For sure, there were parts of my routine that did not sit well with my wife, which I modified and then after vigorous debate, withdrew completely. At one point, I was directed to NOT talk about being a husband or a father at all because it could reflect negatively on the family. So, for a time, I spoke only about being Jewish and other stuff. I wasn’t about to talk about dating, college or my fast food job because it wasn’t authentic. It wasn’t me.

I don’t understand how comedy gets such a bad rap. I have met some of the most real people ever doing stand-up and writing. I have played in bands and been to plenty of “professional” events and let me tell you, people are people and any one who thinks that income, social status or vocabulary is a measure of how trustworthy or authentic a person is- well, you’re dead wrong. I could never get this message across to my wife because she simply refused to believe it and then I got too upset that she would not listen. That is what contributed – a fundamental lack of respect for who I was – not comedy, itself. I was willing to “quit” comedy. I still would if it meant being able to have my family in tact. That is not the issue.

I am now trying to turn this pivotal event in my life into some good material – not an easy thing. Every time i bring it up on stage, I can hear a hallowed gasp among some in the audience. I am not quitting though. I know that talking about what is really happening in a way that is truthful (and hopefully funny) is really who I am.

The one thing I have learned in all of this is that whatever image I was trying to hold onto was just a fallacy. My “secret” is out and it has given me incredible freedom to just be me – like it or not. I really do not care.

There are plenty of people who politely say hello while judging and they will always be there. I will continue to say hello to them. Believe me, nobody knows what really happens among two people other than those two people…unless one of them happens to be a comic…that’s when the fun begins and believe me, I’m working on it….stay tuned!

Until next time,

Marc





I Never Asked for the Anal Probe

2 05 2015

alien-midway

Well, if nothing else, I am guessing the title of today’s blog post will at least peak your interest.

“I never asked for the anal probe” is a line from a comedic scene from an older movie called Passion Fish. Honestly, I can’t even recall what the movie was about (though I do recall Alfre Woodard in it) but I have always remembered this scene where, if I recall correctly, there was an actress (playing an actress) who was saying that she had only one line and she kept practicing it, emphasizing a different word each time:

didn’t ask for the anal probe. (As if someone did, but it sure as hell wasn’t me.)

DIDN’T ask for the anal probe. (This one makes the most sense because well, yeah…you get it.)

I didn’t ASK for the anal probe. (I just may have insinuated it a little.)

I didn’t ask FOR the anal probe. (I asked about the anal probe – there’s a big difference dude!)

I didn’t ask for THE anal probe. (Because there isn’t just one…there’s a variety as we all know.)

I didn’t ask for the ANAL probe. (I asked for the nasal probe, for example.)

I didn’t ask for the anal PROBE. (But I did ask for the anal…well, never mind.)

So, “Marc – what the hell is the point of all of this?” you may ask. Great question.

Well…a couple of things. One – this is yet another example of my exemplary ability to retain incredibly useless facts that will, in no way every help me in a job nor in a hostage situation.

Two – words are incredibly important but how you emphasize words can mean everything. I have learned this the very, very, very hard way – being married…and by being a comic. It has been a much easier lesson the latter.

It is such an easy thing to simply say to “choose your words” wisely but it is so much more difficult to choose them and then think about how they are going to be received. Even more difficult is the fact that non-verbal communication has an even larger impact.

You may be familiar with the popular statistic that nonverbal communication accounts for 93% of all daily communication, commonly quoted in science and media outlets. Dr. Albert Mehrabian conducted several studies on nonverbal communication and found that 7% of any message is conveyed through words, 38% through certain vocal elements, and 55% through nonverbal elements (facial expressions, gestures, posture, etc).  What?!!!

This reminds me of a time a couple of years ago when a high ranking person explained that even though I appropriately did not respond during a meeting, my face gave me away and I should “work on that”. It’s my face, yo!

So, next time you’re taking the stand-up stage, giving a presentation, making your case to your significant other or faced with an alien abduction, remember – words and non-verbal cues can make all the difference between getting information or becoming part of the experience.

Until next time,

Marc





Comedy Confessions

17 01 2015

stand-up-comedy

I am sitting at home Friday night working on some new comedy for a last minute gig I got in NYC tomorrow night. I am excited for it because regardless of how it goes, when I am in NY, I always feel so alive. It is, without exception, my favorite city.

It has occurred to me that this blog has been sort of heavy as of late – very cathartic for me – but perhaps it was time to get back to the reason I started it in the first place – getting my comedy mojo going. And, I promise, I won’t use the word “mojo” again.

When I first did stand-up it was on a dare – actually with myself – I had given myself 1 year from a birthday to try it and I was less than 10 days away from the next birthday. I took my kids roller skating and next door was a sign for an open mic…10 days before my birthday. So, that was it.

The main reason I considered it is because I had been writing for such a long time and was frustrated that I just didn’t know how to get “It out there”. After reading a lot of blogs and a few books, they all seemed to agree that the stand-up thing was a necessary evil, at least starting out, to network and also learn how to frame dialogue. I think there is something to that.

Now, I still am at it but grapple with if I really am funny or not. It’s hard to admit that because I envy so many of the comics I work with and get the crowd going every time. They are amazing to me. It is so difficult. I love the feeling of getting people to laugh and my best laughs have been in social situations or at work but that is a very different thing than being on stage. Perhaps, I’m not stand-up material and I am really more of a writer. That is fine, too.

That being said, I know I have improved and have had moments that feel really good. This is something every comedian goes through and I am still a newbie, relatively speaking. There are a lot of things I am still figuring out: the balance between pleasing the crowd and trying new stuff out; the balance between things that work and being edgy (my preference); how to trust my instincts and not plan as much; how to let go; how to find my natural stage presence and most importantly, how to stop making excuses to myself and others about why I am doing this.

I don’t think a lot of people understand the craft of comedy and writing. Just like any other profession, there are those who take their craft seriously and work really hard and there are…well, you get the point. I am taking it as seriously as any other comic, with the caveat that I will not usurp my responsibility to my family, which means comedy comes after family and my job that provides for said family.

For a long time, I was told to “hide” the fact that I am not a “full time” comedian. Who cares? It is not a coincidence that the people who have the least amount of time are usually the ones to take on more responsibility. Life is not an all or nothing game and I enjoy it (usually).

I am grateful for the opportunity to do something that has opened me up to a whole new world and regardless if it ever takes off or not, there still remains a push from within to not give up.

Comedy is pretty serious.

Until next time,

Marc








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