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…
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!