How do you deal with being stuck in the trenches?

Reader question:

How do you die with frustration of being stuck in the trenches with all the other comics .
The frustration of feeling things are not happening as quickly as they should .
The frustration of crap gigs .
The frustration of other comics doing better then you

I'm not expecting chicken soup for the comedian soul .....but sometimes it's just soooo frustrating


How do I DIE with it? Slowly I guess. Like we're all doing.

Guessing you mean deal. Well...

I think you have to love the process. You have to get joy from doing shitty shows and mics. View 'em as a challenge instead of a chore. Part of that is really loving comedy. And I mean really loving it, warts and all.

Yes, you may be stuck in the trenches with other comics. But maybe that's the fun part. Getting to hang out with people who are sharp, quick, and fun.

That said, I do hate the handshakes-for-every-comic-in-the-room bullshit at shows. For me, part of staying sane is not trying to be friends with everybody all the time. Some people think I'm a dick because of that. But I'd just rather not be fake.

"Things not happening as quickly as they should." How quickly should they happen? If you're great, people will notice. If that's not happening, then get better.

And actually, the longer you wait before you get "seen," the more prepared you'll be when it happens. You'll have really honed your act and you'll be tight if/when industry does check you out. The waiting may be painful, but it's also helpful.

Also, recognize that success comes with a downside too. Once you're doing paid spots, it's a lot more pressure. You have to deliver at a certain level. When you're doing crap gigs, you can fuck around. You can play. You can experiment. You can try new things. I'm sure a lot of established guys look back fondly at the days when they could get away with whatever.

As for other comics doing better than you: If they deserve it, then great. If not, oh well. You can't control that stuff. I try to not get down about things that I can't control. I'm all zen and shit like that.

Also, you should get drunk. That makes everything more tolerable.

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8 Comment(s)

Blogger Kent said...

I think that frustration never goes away. Your metrics for grading your own success shift the moment you reach the next level. In my experience, every bit of success I've gotten has just made me hungrier for the next rung on the ladder. By the time you get out of the trenches, you realize you're just in another, bigger trench.

The only solution is, as Matt says, to enjoy the process. I must confess that I am an inveterate handshake-giver. I'm not friends with everyone in my scene, but I'm friendly with all the regulars. I used to act, but I quit because I hate actors. I love comics. I love doing stand-up, but I especially like the feeling that I found my people.

And I will talk shop until last call. And then I will wake up the next morning to see if Matt's posted anything in his blog, and then I will talk shop some more in the comments. Like I said, you gotta love the process.

12/17/09, 5:40 PM  
Blogger Jessie Geller said...

good response.., i especially liked the last line & with the frequency ive been seeing you in the regular world, i believe youre speaking truth here

12/17/09, 7:12 PM  
Blogger Abbi Crutchfield said...

Don't get drunk! If you're already bad it makes you worse. And then I am leery of giving you my fake handshake afterwards.

Matt, you provide great advice. I am not as cynical about getting to know the people on the scene. Part of the problem of feeling lonely in comedy is isolating yourself.

I love how the first three years you complain about not making a living at it, because you've jumped the amazing hurdle of actually getting on stage and talking for your alotted amount of time (I'm a comedian now!), but by the time you get decent, you realize just how unfunny you are, and you feel like you're at the bottom of another mountain.

12/18/09, 10:44 AM  
Blogger soce said...

I used to get jealous of performers who basically started out on my level and then became mega-successful.. "I'm just as good as they are, if not better.. why them?" etc

However I realized that most of the ones who really blow up are not extremely only talented, but they deliver a product that a lot of people want, and they are consummate go-getters, always promoting themselves intensely to the right audience.

Not everyone has the energy to be on the grind 24/7, and not everyone promotes themselves correctly or to the right potential customers. And some people have great promotion but no talent. Plus you gotta have a little bit of luck as well.

You basically have to be the full package if you really want to succeed. And now that I've completely realized that, I have nothing but respect for those who do make it, and it just makes me want to work that much harder and take my career that more seriously in order to reach the next level.

12/18/09, 12:02 PM  
Blogger Abbi Crutchfield said...

Soce you're an inspiration to us all. But some people really do get things they don't deserve. You just can't sweat 'em. Like Matt said, their failure / success has absolutely nothing to do with you and your career.

12/18/09, 2:16 PM  
Anonymous Hank Thompson said...

Yeah, that whole handshaking thing is a little annoying. It's like the weather; some nights its worse than others and when its really bad you end up with a sniffly nose. The skin on your hand is like a condom you never take off. It comes across as insincere when someone shuffles through insisting on shaking everybody's hand. If you have to interrupt me while I'm sitting and talking to someone else to shake my hand then don't. How many times a week do we have to act like we're meeting each other for the first time?

I just try to learn something from every show, especially when I crap out a donut-shaped turd of a set. I'd rather try to get something useful out of it than dwell in the anguish of failure, which is an all-too-ready emotion that really only has as much power as you give it.

Maybe I'm naive but I look at the grind as a good thing. It's a selection mechanism that drives people to quit, which means more stage time for those of us who simply can't. Failure is an option but quitting isn't.

Fist bump!

12/18/09, 2:30 PM  
Blogger myq said...

Fist bump is correct.

More hygienic than the handshake, and if someone is involved in another conversation and you want to greet them, you can just fist bump their shoulder and you've said your hello and they've ignored you, so you both win!

And Abbi, when you say "some people really do get things they don't deserve," I understand what you're saying, but at the same time, there's a sense in which no one specifically deserves anything, is there not?

In response to the very beginning of the topic, I would stop right at the phrase "things are not happening as quickly as they SHOULD," and ask who determines how quickly things "should" happen.

In the end, we're not competing with everyone around us. Don't look at other people and desire what they have. Look at where you were last year and be happy that you're farther along than you were (if not professionally, then at least creatively, one would hope).

Success is a combination of talent, work, and luck.
And work is the only one of those that anyone has any control over.
Work can lead to better capitalizing on and developing your talent, and work can lead to opportunities to statistically better your luck.
It's unfortunate that life isn't fair, but with everything else out of one's control, the work is all anyone has.

So to answer the question (like everyone else has already, I think, I agree, good work everyone), enjoy the work.

That's the reason to do standup. Because you enjoy doing the work of doing standup. No?

12/19/09, 1:51 PM  
Blogger Abbi Crutchfield said...

"I look at the grind as a good thing. It's a selection mechanism that drives people to quit, which means more stage time for those of us who simply can't. Failure is an option but quitting isn't."

@ Hank Thompson: LOL.

"there's a sense in which no one specifically deserves anything, is there not?"

@ myq: Yes, I see your point. If you take that perspective then you REALLY can't care when you don't get what you want out of comedy.

In terms of Soce's realization of "You basically have to be the full package if you really want to succeed.... I have nothing but respect for those who do make it", there are some people who are not the 'full package' but who 'do make it', so if someone is getting your definition of success but not meeting your standards of having earned it be careful not to think about it. Or you will burst into flames.

12/21/09, 1:11 PM  


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