Months ago, my wife Lydia was listening to an interview with Jason Bateman. One question caught her ear: “Would you let your children get into acting?”
Lydia stopped what she was doing and paid full attention to the words exiting Jason’s mouth. “I wouldn’t, only because it is a profession that you can’t really help yourself in. In most professions, if you stay at the office an extra four hours every day, you’re gonna impress the boss, you’re gonna get that promotion, you’re gonna get that raise, you’re gonna at least have job security. But with acting, if you’re really ambitious and you have a good work ethic, and are really good at your job, it might not really matter.”
My wife got lost in thought a moment, and in a very unfortunate parallel related those words to comedy, and my career. There is something odd—some might say unfair—about the artistic world, where how good you are matters much less than how lucky you are.
Which brings me to something semi-related. I cannot remember where I read this, but someone once asked a member of the Dukakis presidential campaign, “When did you realize it was over?”
The answer was a surprising, “When they announced we lost.”
They didn’t admit defeat one month, one week, or one day out from the election. Even though the world at large knew Bush Sr. was a lock, the Dukakis people lived in such a bubble they used faith to carry them to the bitter end. That wasn’t unique to the Dukakis campaign; Mitt Romney was so convinced he was going to win he didn’t have a concession speech written.
Delusion isn’t isolated to politics; every year on American Idol, confident teens declare, “I am the next American Idol.” They say it full of belief, even though at the end of it all there is but one Highlander standing in victory.
Which makes me ask: at what point are you supposed to become self-aware enough to understand: it’s not happening?
I’ve been watching David Letterman since his first show. I always wanted to meet him, to be a guest on his program. This goes back to when I was in high school. Sure, I had no reason to be on television, but I still wanted to sit on a chair next to Dave and just… be there. When I decided to become a comedian, Letterman became my goal. I never had any dreams of getting my own sitcom or becoming a movie star, I just wanted to perform on Letterman’s stage.
Dave is going off the air in a few months. To say things aren’t looking good for my dream would be like saying Abraham Lincoln had a bad evening at Ford’s Theater.
Which is OK, because in life you can re-calibrate your goals, and long ago I widened my net to include all the late night shows. Because I’d rather not look in a mirror and see Dorian Gray staring back at me.
Unfortunately, the very concept of grabbing a television slot looks ever more grim, depending on the day and my attitude. This causes me to wonder: is there a stage when hope becomes fantasy, with everyone but you knowing you’re on a hamster wheel and not a path?
Comedy is a struggle; any artistic pursuit is. It beats you up daily. There is a huge chasm between the joy of the stage and the struggle of the business. By way of example, I auditioned for a club last year. I heard they were looking for new faces, so I went and tried out. I did very well, yet as of this writing haven’t been hired there.
Meanwhile, another comedian went up that night and tanked. Their material wasn’t very good, and the audience wasn’t laughing. Naturally, that person works there regularly. Even worse to my ego, I spent a weekend with this comedian in 2013. They were my opening act and struggled through every show. There were a few smiles, maybe even a laugh now and then, but for a majority of the 30 minutes the comedian was on stage you heard silence.
And yet that person has a full calendar, and management.
You cannot make sense of these things; to try would be to go insane. I also don’t like giving voice to these thoughts. Negativity breeds negativity, no one likes a whiner, the power of positive thinking and all that jazz…
…but I admit that sometimes I feel like Crash Davis.
Maybe it doesn’t matter if I’m delusional. Maybe life is about being Rocky Balboa in the first movie, holding your ground to the bitter end and winning the moral victory while losing the fight. Maybe it’s enough to know that if you try to be everything to everyone, you won’t be anything to anyone. Maybe these are thoughts I try to convince myself are truths.
Maybe trying to prove Jason Bateman wrong will be my Sisyphean task.