Two years ago, I was fortunate enough to take part in the Bob Curry Fellowship. Months down the line, I began touring with The Second City, and a year after that, I made it to the Mainstage. It was a long, hard road, and at times feels like (in the words of Biggie Smalls), “Mo money, mo problems.” But if you’re making everyone happy in comedy, you’re not doing comedy right.
Here are a few more things to think about as you continue your journey in comedy (and you can read my Part 1 right here).
Know what you want–and go for it, no matter what anyone else says
When I moved to Chicago in January of 2011, I had maybe $800 to my name and no job prospects. I did have the words of Baron Vaughn: “You need to go to Chicago to grind at stand-up and do Second City.” Then I saw Edgar Blackmon and Sam Richardson in Southside of Heaven and was amazed by the performances, the sound, the lighting. I wanted to be where they were. As the years went by, I was told to only focus on improv, or only focus on stand-up, or that I was trying to do too much, that I should put more stock in my then-day job. Or that I should move. You know your path; you know your desires; you can achieve it if you put in the work.
“Know the differences between friends, acquaintances and competition.”
This was the hardest lesson to learn, and it came straight from my mom. This work gets lonely. You tend to bond with people and open up to them in ways without the realizing that sometimes they don’t have your best interest at heart. This is a competitive occupation. There are people gunning for your position…and even the positions you haven’t filled. Yet. Don’t be bitter; be better. It’s okay to push people away. It’s ok to be guarded. It’s ok to keep to yourself. Be around people who will celebrate your successes and also support you in your failures. And know those differences.
Comedy is an island of Misfit Toys
When we tend to act like we have all the answers and are living a life of no regrets or mistakes, remember what Jesus said, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” You’ll find that with every rock thrown your way, there are skeletons hiding in every closet. That’s what draws people to this line of work. Own your mistakes. Apologize for your transgressions to the people who deserve it, and move past it. MLK, Princess Diana, Whoopi Goldberg, JFK, Nelson Mandela all had affairs. That doesn’t take away their value as people or the presence of their work. You were created to fuck up and built to learn from it.
Holy shit, get a therapist
This is a big one. For the longest time, I thought of therapy as a “white people thing.” Turns out, having someone to talk to–and try getting someone who looks like you–is so beneficial to this process. You are strengthened by your weaknesses. You are empowered by your flaws. That’s what makes you unique and gives you perspective, so let it out. Your mental health is just as important as your physical well-being.
Being “socially aware” and “socially vocal” are two different things
You may feel the need to speak out on everything going on in the world. It’s your job to be informed, but it’s not your job to solve every problem. I know I’m a work in progress, and in times of great discomfort for a lot of people, it’s sometimes better to step back and let those who need to speak on their own behalf do it for from their perspective. You support them the whole way, just like an improv scene.
Speak YOUR truths. I am a politically moderate, college-educated Black Christian male from the South. I’m proud of my roots, I’m proud of my background, I’m proud of my upbringing and my faith. I may not expose it everywhere (because knowing when to shut up is important), but I can develop characters and work based off of what I know and who I am. There’s value to your experiences and your own ignorances.
Love what you do
I used to work as a tour guide with a 60-year-old man named Bill who would do one theatre production a year. I would exhaust myself working all day and being out all night doing stand-up open mics. One day, I asked him for his advice on the process of performance, and he said, “You should always try and quit. If you can’t, and you keep coming back to it, then stick it through.” You are the most important part of your story. You’re the protagonist, you’re the antagonist, you’re the chorus, and you’re the narrator. Your ending doesn’t have to be on television and in the movies. It can be writing, teaching, accounting, or whatever. Just do what makes you happy. You are a Bob Curry Fellow now. A lot tried out for it, but you got it. No one can take this away from you. Don’t let anyone steal your joy, and–as my mom tells me before every performance–leave it all out there on the stage.
Named in honor of Second City’s first African American alumnus of the resident stages, the Bob Curry Fellowship Showcase highlights 16 of the best and brightest new voices in comedy. One night only on Wednesday, June 7th. Get tickets here.