Thursday, September 15, 2005

Comedy Contest, How I Loathe Thee

I participated in the first round of a multi-round comedy contest last night.

I didn't advance. So many emotions. Anger. Despair. Actually, not that many I guess.

I try to go into it with the "right" attitude, with limited success: this doesn't mean anything (unless it does), just try to have fun (I will if I do well), it's good experience any way you cut it (if losing is good experience I guess that's true).

On one hand I try to keep it in perspective. You are performing in front of an audience that, with the exception of the people who came to see you, wants you to fail (at least in relation to their friends). People have such a wide array of tastes, who can blame them for wanting their friends to advance, maybe I'm just not their style, maybe if I'd brought 50 people, blah blah blah. This is just the nature of contests.

On the other hand, I can't NOT take it personally. Here's the deal: there were eleven comedians, of which five would advance, based on the audience vote. So I only needed to be the fifth best, out of eleven. The weird thing was, as they were announcing the winners, in reverse order, I thought I had a chance, all the way up to first place. The MC said, "in fourth place, we had a tie," and I thought: oh, I know I was at least as good as they were. "In third place," well, he's a good writer. "In second place," okay, good performer, though he's been doing the exact same act for at least a year. I guess it works. "And in first place," oh. Oh...oh.

I wasn't that crestfallen, and not really that surprised. I guess I did allow myself, against my better judgment, to care about it. I was quiet afterwards, searching for reasons to be encouraged. I mean, results notwithstanding, I am much better this year than last, and I know I did a strong set.

It's hard, you know? Getting up and doing this in front of a group of people is hard. I put myself out there, and they either like it or not. The rejection feels very personal. In a non-contest situation, if I don't get big laughs, if I don't have a great set, I can move on. I'll have another show tomorrow or the next day.

But this-- this is different. The MC announced the results, but I heard, "Ish! You're just not that good. And we have data...." That's part of what bothers me: it has this quasi-official veneer, because it's quantifiable. There are records. And you get to sit with the results for a year.

I flamed out of the contest last year, in part because I didn't perform all that well, and in part because the act before me put the audience into a state of shock. (She spent 5 minutes solemnly swearing her undying devotion to anal sex. Yes I'm serious.) So when I was invited to participate again this year, part of me wanted to say, "what? And expose myself to that again? No thank you." Another part of me said, "hey, it's a year later, you're a year better. If you do well, it helps you. If you don't...." That part of me then trailed off. I asked it to speak up.

"If you don't," it repeated, clearing its throat, "you'll have another data point to suggest that you suck." Well, this year, I didn't have the anal sex lady to contend with, I had a good spot in the lineup, and I did a good set. What's my excuse now? NOW how do I avoid coming to the conclusion that the problem

It was just one show, one audience, one night. I would guess I have done about 150 shows of various sorts by now. That's a lot for a beginner, not very much for a vet/pro. Right now I'm slogging through the no man's land where I'm beyond taking much encouragement from being "pretty good for just starting out," and not yet to the land of just being good period. And the morning after flaming out of a contest, it looks like a long trip.


At 3:37 PM, Blogger riseyp said...

one thing I know for sure is that things get realllllly painful right before you're about to move up a level.

i think that's what's going on here.

At 1:53 AM, Blogger sugrmagnolia said...

I know how you feel, because I've been feeling that way a lot recently myself. But I also think that within all of this stuff, be it comedy or writing or whatever art it is we call our own, we must begin by having (and maintaining) faith in ourselves.

one night doesn't make or break it. keep plugging along.

At 1:56 AM, Blogger Soffy O said...

Aww, that sucks.

At 2:53 AM, Blogger cutie said...

No one thought much of Van Gogh while he was around.

Maybe they will think you are funnier after you're dead.



At 6:40 AM, Blogger Changeseeker said...

I think it has something to do with the phases of the moon or something, Ish, because I've been in a down cycle of some kind for a couple of days and it almost makes me not want to comment for fear I'll make us both feel worse than we already do...

A year ago, I quit my day job to write. I teach to pay my rent, but of course, that's approximately all I'm able to do with what I make. And I'm in a stage of my life where people often expect to be a whole lot more comfortable than this. But I just knew it was the right thing to do so I did it.

When I finished my first book in April, I thought the hard part was over. Three authors (two of them widely read) said it was great. An indie publisher who's been in the business for thirty years (but is working on other projects just now) said he couldn't imagine a publisher passing it up. But they are. At least so far.

In all fairness, I've only queried one agent and one publisher to date. I had to have unexpected surgery this summer and it screwed up my momentum. But my real problem is that I somehow got it in my mind that, if it was good, things would just go bang, bang, bang. And they haven't.

Now, I've paid dues. I was being published in one form or another decades ago. I basically have a lot of confidence in my writing ability. I know I'm good. It isn't about that here. The point is that, for me, sending out a query is like you entering a contest. I feel it as a "moment of truth" when it's really just "part of the process."

My being turned down can be the result of who knows HOW many factors coming together at that crystal moment--some of them having absolutely nothing to do with me or my talent. But I receive it as a rejection of my personhood and an indicator that I'm not where I belong somehow (I can pretend otherwise, but this is the fact of it).

Still, no matter how I receive it or what kind of feelings I have to deal with over it, the form letter I receive in the stamped, self-addressed envelope I had to enclose with my query is not a rejection of my personhood or even a statement of whether or not I'm good or good enough.

Publishing books (because I'm already working on a second with a third in the wings) or winning comedy contests are not the bottom line. I believe we're here to be who we are. If I'm a writer (which I am) and you're a commedian (which you are), it is what it is. Whether we have something to put on the mantel or not.

You're entitled to your feelings, of course. But you can't jump out of your skin (nor would we want you to be able to, Ish). You are loved and appreciated for who you are, not for what you do. The rest will come--or not--for both of us when the time is right and not one second before. That's the way it works. And, in the end, it works really perfectly. No matter what "it" looks like when we get there.

Besides, some of us humans already think you're really, really funny. And we haven't even seen you perform.

At 9:56 AM, Blogger Dan said...

WOW. It's not too hard to tell that changeseeker is a writer! Of course, I didn't quite understand the sentence 'And, in the end, it works really perfectly.'

Really perfectly?

That's why I'm a computer person and not a book publisher.

Ish, I have no doubt that you are a good comedian. It's difficult for a person not to take something like that personally, especially when it's for doing something you are striving to succeed at.

Think of it as a minor pothole in your road of life. Nothing more.

At 3:24 PM, Blogger d2ana said...

My bofriend dragged me to many of his "battle of the bands" contests. Whoever brought the most fans/friends always won. If the crowd was equal, the hometown favorite always won.

These contests are not about you; they're about the club owners. They want LOTS of people to celebrate the winner--not LOTS of people leaving early because their friend lost.

At 12:55 PM, Blogger k said...

love the new template. :)


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