Ditching Dollywood

On March 10th of this year I went to Season Passholder’s Day at Dollywood- the official kickoff day for the 2023 season. I’m only just now writing about it because it feels like it’s been a whirlwind since then, and I have a big show rapidly approaching that has a little something to do with that day at Dollywood.

I woke up at 5:30am that morning, as eager as if it were Christmas morning. I hit the road by 6:30am and made it to the front gates of Dollywood by 9am. I checked into the media tent where I met up with a few other Dollywood Insiders who would also be capturing the day for their own content creation and blog posts.

I was happy to see my friend and fellow Insider, Angie, and grateful she was there as I’ve often felt like an outsider with the Insiders. This has been my first year with the Insiders and when you enter any established group of friends or co-workers, it can take quite a while before you feel like you actually belong. Angie was also a first year Insider and so we connected over not feeling connected.

Since Dollywood Insiders are considered a part of the media at Dollywood, we were ushered into the theater first where we were given incredible seats just a few rows from the front of the stage. I noticed that the teleprompter in the back of the theater had an introduction for Dolly Parton, signaling we would for sure get to see her. What I love about seeing Dolly is there’s no show before her that you have to wait through in order to see the headliner- she is the show– beginning, middle and end. There’s no host that tries to warm up the crowd, she doesn’t need that, there’s just an announcer that comes over the speakers, introduces her and she walks out.

She did her whole PR monologue that she has to do for media covering the event, then she took the time to thank us all in a more personal way without the teleprompter. She answered questions from the media and was absolutely hilarious. When asked how she managed to “do it all.” she flawlessly retorted, “I’m on drugs,” and the audience erupted in laughter. She followed up by saying “in all seriousness,” she got her energy from creating and hoped to continue to do good for herself and other people as long as she had a working bone in her body. “I ain’t got time to get old,” she said.

She ended the event by singing “I Will Always Love You,” something I’m not sure I thought I would ever see in my lifetime. I was torn between recording it and simply watching it. I did a little of both, making sure I had time to just sit in the moment, but it was still hard to wrap my head around it all.

Afterward we went to eat lunch in the park with the rest of the media. I tried to act normal as if we hadn’t just experienced something once in a lifetime, especially now that Dolly doesn’t tour anymore, but I kept saying “I think I just need time to absorb this.” I tried to engage in conversation, but I was mentally and emotionally distracted.

After lunch, Angie and I walked around the park getting all the content we needed for our upcoming blogs and vlogs. I knew there’d be a parade at 4pm, which isn’t so much a parade as it it just Dolly being driven around the park in an open air car, waving to fanatics like me while we shake pompoms and wave posters that say “I LOVE YOU, DOLLY!”

I really wanted to stay for the parade. I had attended the Dolly parade the year before and I knew it was spectacular seeing Dolly up close. The absolute only reason I debated not staying was that I had a chance to meet up with Debbie, the woman who booked me for a big event I’d be performing at this April, next week, in fact. She would only be in Pigeon Forge that weekend, just five minutes from Dollywood where I happened to be only for that day. The event was for over 9,000 women where I’d be performing comedy amongst other speakers and musicians.

I finished getting all my content around 3pm, only an hour before the parade.I wrestled with myself about what to do. Should I stay for the parade, push back my meeting with Debbie, making my two-and-a-half hour drive home that much later and get home crazy late? While Dolly is certainly worth getting home late over, I also hadn’t seen my husband in over a week who’d been traveling on business, and I knew he was finally home. In addition, I was also speaking at a women’s retreat the following morning and I knew being out incredibly late and waking up tired and unprepared would probably not be in my best interest. Nonetheless, I still would have done it for Dolly.

Something inside me kept telling me to not miss the meeting with Debbie, besides, I got to see Dolly sing “I Will Always Love You,” as far as I was concerned, I already won at life that day.

And so, I chose myself. I decided to go to the meeting about something I’m trying to do with my future. I choose taking care of myself right now in order to be a better version of me, instead of waiting around for an hour to be one of the masses trying to get a glimpse of someone else living their dream.

Season Passholder Day 2022

I got in my car knowing everyone would have amazing photos and videos of the Dolly parade, I’d probably see it later on social media and kick myself for not staying. I felt like a traitor for choosing myself over an icon worthy of other people’s attention.

“I’m sorry, Dolly” I said as I started my car, “I will always love you.” And I drove out of the park in the direction of my own dreams.

I think the Dreamer in Chief herself would be proud.

Next week is the big event, over 9,000 people- my largest audience to be in front of to date. Wow. I’m so grateful for the time I spent with Debbie that day, going over the process of events and reassuring me that I was the perfect fit.

All too often I let nerves or insecurity get in the way. I know I am capable, but then I doubt myself, assume I’m an outsider and tend to flail under the pressure I put on myself to be accepted. “We chose you for a reason,” Debbie said, “it is by no mistake that you are joining us. I prayed for each person I invited to perform, and God led me to you. You’re supposed to be there.”

Ditching Dollywood early that day was worth hearing those words, and the reminder I keep clinging to when I think about performing in front of that many people.

I’m supposed to be there. I can do this.

Kinda Funny

I thought the blog could use a little update and what better place to start than here- ground zero.

After half a year spent working on my latest book proposal, a month for the right time to pitch and another 6-8 weeks to wait to hear back from publishers, the verdict is in…

PASS.

I have to admit, at first I wasn’t surprised. I stopped getting excited about “what could be” shortly after the third time life plans were canceled during the Covid era. I was in Pasadena, CA when I was delivered the news of a “no-go” on my book proposal while getting ready for a show that night. I tried not to let it rattle me mentally, but the truth is, it did. All I could hear over and over again was “See, nobody cares. See, you’re a nobody. See, you’re not good enough.”

I wanted to crawl back in bed, and for a little while, I did. I felt anxious all day, and tired from battling the anxiety with daily affirmations that seemed to stop working somewhere in between “I’m good enough” and “doggone it, people like me!” When I can’t think of my own affirmations, I just steal some from Stuart Smalley.

When I got to the venue that night I knew ticket sales were down. As an opener or a feature that never bothers me, I’m not the reason to buy tickets. But as the headliner, the supposed “why” people buy tickets to a show, I felt like a failure. I introduced myself to the feature and asked if he wanted to trade spots, “check back after I drink a little more and maybe I will,” he said. A few minutes before show time I checked back in, “how’s the drinking going?” I asked with a little elbow nudge. He laughed, assuming I was joking, and so I laughed as if to say, “Of course I’m joking!”

The feature started in, clearly a club comic with the 10 second formula, which is to get a laugh every 10 seconds. As a storyteller comic, that formula never worked for me. Could I afford to get to the punchline faster? In some cases, yes, but I also know my style and it’s not to be a one liner comic.

This has happened to me before where the feature comic’s style is so drastically different from mine that it starts to mess with my head, at least if the feature is killing it, which this feature was. I started to second guess myself and why I was even headlining. I was about to go on in 10 minutes while I was mentally trying to talk myself down off the edge of walking out the door.

Remember the movie Little Giants with Rick Moranis and Ed O’Neil about the pee wee football players who weren’t “good enough” to make the team? I felt like a little giant, capable, but in a league where she didn’t belong. I’m no comedian! I thought, I’m kinda funny, sure, but comedian!?! I kept hearing that one kid say over and over again, “football is 80% mental and 40% physical.” I’m only now realizing how horribly wrong that math was, but the same is true for stand up comedy, in essence, it’s mostly mental.

As the feature proceeded to make fun of religion and rip into politics, not unusual for a California show, I watched the audience keel over in laughter. Great, I thought, and now here comes the recovering preacher’s kid with a cleaner mouth and a penchant for therapy. I know that not everybody is going to like me, but it’s really hard to be okay with that when you’re onstage in front of 200 strangers, “just being yourself,” and the reaction is mostly crickets.

To be fair, my show wasn’t crickets, at least not this time. I found the audience members who were relieved for my sense of humor, and I did a “great job,” but it didn’t feel great. When you have shows where you really kill it, it makes it hard not to compare every show to that and think none are as good. Again, this is a head game, you can’t spend the rest of your career comparing all your shows to each other, or to anyone else’s, so I know it’s not going to help me by comparing, I’m just saying sometimes I can’t help but compare and shame myself accordingly.

I was relieved when the show was over, as I know as least two other ladies in the audience were who gave me NOTHING the entire time I was onstage. It felt like they wanted to make sure I knew I wasn’t funny and sat stone cold where they once keeled over in laughter as the guy before added to the masses of making everything political.

I don’t do political comedy, nor do I have any desire to go there, but I know as soon as a political comedian starts in on either side and the crowd is loving it, I’m in trouble. I’m a little too liberal for conservative audiences and a little too conservative for liberal audiences. Constantly unsure of where I fit, I find the people who jive with me most are people in neither extreme camp, but who are also just awkwardly figuring out how to navigate life. It’s the absolute slowest way to grow your audience, I guarantee it. Nothing sells faster than hatred, and I really try to steer clear. If I make fun of anyone, I make fun of myself, which doesn’t always land…

The weird thing with comedy is you can have a whole room laughing and be zero-ed in on those two frowning faces. I’ve gotten better at not focusing on them, but that night, between low ticket sales, a slower pace to the punchline and those two frowning faces, all coupled with the passes on my book proposal because I was “unknown” and “really, why would people care?” I was ripe for mental self destruction.

I can just as easily sit here now, removed from the situation and say, “it really wasn’t that bad, JJ,” at least not the show. But I can also recall how it felt in the moment, and in the moment is when the self doubt is the hardest to battle.

As for the publishing companies, they aren’t wrong. In this day and age of social media, a market so saturated with content that we’re losing our ability to engage in human interaction, why would people care who I am or what I have to say? Especially without 500K followers to “vouch for me”? They don’t want to take a risk on someone who doesn’t already have a large platform in a niche market where they know the book will sell. I get it.

Low risk, high reward, that’s what publishers want… Instagram influencers who don’t have much to say but a lot of people to say it to. Bravo, y’all.

And there goes my negativity creeping back in. Apologies. I guess instead of sitting in my room, pouting and swiping and comparing myself to everyone else on social media, I’m just going to keep writing, keep showing up for shows, keep trying to be myself.

I’ll be here, sharing the journey along the way: the stand up shows that are horror stories and the ones that went a little smoother. I want to share more about mental health and what it looks like in the comedy industry, at least for me, instead of faking it till I make it and struggling in silence.

Obviously, if you follow along here or on Instagram or join my email list, my heart would leap above and beyond with gratitude. But comedy is subjective, and I totally get it if I’m not your cup of tea… No worries (and by that I mean, I’ll for sure worry nonstop and eventually slap myself out of it after a good pep talk).

I’ll share more about my book soon, Kinda Funny, stories by a full-time comedian with four part-time jobs, so stay tuned! Until then, thanks for being here!

💜💜, JJ