When I left Knoxville, Tennessee for NYC to do comedy, I was terrified. And also so absolutely thrilled that I could hardly sit down. I still feel that way exactly. 

At that time, I’d been doing comedy for almost three years. I’d been getting paid (not much) pretty regularly to do comedy for about a year. I had hosted at a professional club for eight months and had a couple of dozen independent feature or headlining gigs that paid under my belt. And that was it.

I was not naive. I knew that in leaving my small (but wildly talented) pond, I was taking a huge leap. I knew that where I was going the audiences and more importantly the other comics were tough. And I honestly knew that I wasn’t good enough. Not yet – not even close. I had Redman’s brilliant “I’ll be dat” hook playing in my head and I was certain my first name was “He ain’t shit.” Because I wasn’t shit. 

So, my problem when I got to New York was not that I thought I was something special. I knew that I wasn’t. My problem was not that I simply expected things to happen for me here. I knew better and I was ready to work. My problem – the problem my ego, psyche, wife, heart, and mind have to deal with in varying degrees – is that I had no idea what not being shit FELT like. 

It’s a doozy. 

I’ll try to explain. I knew being a nobody was terrible the way we all know death is terrible at a young age, but only when someone you love dies can you know how terrible if FEELS. 

Before I continue, I wanna say: don’t misinterpret this as some sort of millennial everyone-gets-a-trophy generation whine about how hard it is to have set backs or not be special. I’m not a product of that kind of raising or thought process. My parents did not reward mediocrity and I’ve failed plenty before. I’ve also succeeded. That is what it is.

See, I’m not talking about seeking but not getting validation. I am talking about a sense of belonging, a feeling of “rightness” in your bones, just disappearing suddenly. I’m talking about something you absolutely love suddenly feeling “off.” It’s pretty damn scary. 

The first few times I went to mics here I did my quickest paced material. My thought was “I need to get as many punches in as I can” in the two or three minutes alloted. Some of it was my A material. It didn’t “bomb” most of the time. But it didn’t get much of a reaction. 

I was ok with this from the stage. As I said, I was truly prepared for not being shit. What I was not prepared for was coming OFF stage to no one making eye contact. I was not prepared for no one to start a conversation, suggest a tag, or at least give me the “better luck next time” shrug my friends back home gave me when I fell flat. It wasn’t that no one thought I was funny. It wasn’t that I felt unliked. It was that I felt like I wasn’t even there. That had never happened to me in comedy.

I felt anonymous in a place, if I can call comedy a place, that I had felt the most at home at previously. That is frankly a terrifying prospect. Comedy had become my home and I had moved to New York to make a new one. 

Again I fear that someone reading this is hearing “no one liked me and that wasn’t fair.” That is NOT my point (though not being liked also sucks), I didn’t expect adulation, getting booked automatically, or to make friends right away, but I took for granted that I would feel “home” there – at a mic, at a show, or posted up at the bar surrounded by other disgruntled poets, clowns, and psychos trying to mash our way through existence. Comedy was the only place I had ever felt comfortable in my own skin.

And then suddenly I didn’t anymore. And so the fear set in. And the pain and anger and even bitterness (very) briefly. Most of it directed inwardly. Comedy was perfect – if I wasn’t finding my place it was my fault.

And while I could write you a manifesto on how comics could be more supportive in this city, I’ll spare you. One because that would be boring as hell and two because I was right. It was my fault. 

I was plugging away when I could, but I worked at night a lot. I simply couldn’t get on mics. When my schedule became more friendly I hit it hard, but I went to the same places over and over again. I didn’t spread a wide net, creating a stagnant experience. And I was getting discouraged. I was getting on stage scared, angry, or even worse – apathetically. 

If I reread that last paragraph I wrote my only honest thought is “fuck that guy.” He’s shitty. 

He didn’t expect to be liked. He never dreamed he’d be booked on shows quickly. He didn’t even want necessarily to make a bunch of new friends. But he thought he’d be respected automatically. He didn’t think he’d be main-lined right to the top of the comedy world, but he thought be shown respect. 

Well, that dude, he ain’t shit. And respect is earned. And, cliche or not, sometimes it has to be demanded. That guy avoided the trap of expecting everyone to like him, but he fell into the one where he just assumed they’d at least give a shit.

I have corrected that folly. I am remembering why I do this and as Maron says trying really hard to be, if nothing else, a comic “to be reckoned with.” That’s all. It’s a really simple concept, but a really difficult process.

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