Everything that has anything to do with wealth and fame in the arts is competitive. And honestly, competitive is too soft of a word. You’re-more-likely-to-get-attacked-by-a-shark-on-a-mountain-then-drown-in-a-bowl-of-Jello, if that were a word, is more fitting.
That’s what comedy has in common with writing novels: It’s tough to make it. Last time, I promised to look at the similarities between the two pursuits.
The Slush Pile: An affectionate term for the stack of manuscripts on an agent or editor’s desk, blocking your quick attention. A lot of times, you don’t get any attention unless the publishing pro knows you or sweet talks someone into reading all of his or her backlog of submissions. That I know of, there’s no cute jargon for this waiting list in comedy, but it’s alive and well. The kicker is that the traffic holding up the ‘look see’ of your first chapters—besides apathy from the recipient—is usually hacks destined to give up (like me) when they discover the alarming amount of effort it will take for moderate success. Comedy venues are clogged with these too.
It takes a minimum of ten years to make it. Bryan Callen—Google him and you’ll recognize his face—says that he doesn’t give advice to new comedians, but he warns them that it takes a decade to get somewhere with it, however that’s defined. The same goes for writing. Stephen King started at age 8 and got his first short story in print at 18. And Carrie, his big break, came years later. Think about it. You could become a doctor or lawyer way faster.
Oh yeah, there are workarounds. Just like a turnpike pass, you can pay for quicker rejection. Contests abound in both worlds. In comedy, the pressure to wobble out onto the stage is intense enough. Add to that a competition and you get lovely stomach pains. But the entry fee is usually cheap. In fact, when I competed at the Comedy Works, I adopted the attitude that the fee of $20 is the equivalent to buying a ticket just to watch the act…only I got a bonus of getting to be up there too!
Theft of intellectual property goes on in both arts. It’s probably worse in comedy. The ever cool Mario Acevedo said that someone in Germany put their name on one of his books on Amazon. It looks like someone did that with my Tattoo Rampage as well. Funny thing is: it doesn’t bother me about my novel. The joke’s on them. They’re not going to make any money off of it either! And with the stand up, two of my bits have been stolen and turned into internet memes. Comedians are known for swiping material.
Now for the filthiest word in the business, worse than any string of F bombs a slimy comic could bark into a mike…marketing. Yep. The big shots in comedy, just like publishers, harp about online presence and all that nausea. The reality is: Unless someone with power or fame endorses you or you invest your retirement nest egg into ads, at the most, you’re going to beg for free plugs and inflate your ego so erroneously that it’ll come crashing down like a texting driver on a mountain road once it finally hits you how you’ve prostituted yourself out. I see these poor young comics working themselves to death on social media and in dive rooms, yet they’re not gaining one inch of notoriety. Average consumers wouldn’t recognize any of their names. Same goes for writers out there trying to hustle without any backing. Believe me. Like a wide-eyed hick, I fell for that blow to ‘get yourself out there and network’. It’s not worth it. Of course, get out there and meet people because someone might be that voice who gives you the noticeable accolades, but leave the marketing to people whose job it is to do so.
Forgive me here as I end this article with the difference that drew me to the stage and ultimately killed my drive for submitting manuscripts. Success doesn’t have to be money. I would have considered myself a hit if people, other than friends, would have simply read my work. Fellow writers, it just doesn’t happen unless you’re New York pubbed. I’ve seen strings on Facebook where someone would ask for a reading recommendation. I’d jump in and say, “Mine.” But because my ‘publication’ is just another one of those E disasters, I was ignored. Who could blame them? But when someone chuckles at my wit, I feel success. Unlike wishy washy feedback from critique groups and editors, you know if your joke works or not right there before the audience. I can scribble an idea down in one day, tell it in front of a crowd that night, and feel that much craved payoff which most writers never get…unless they’re famous. Simply put, it’s magic. The coolest prose I ever wrote, getting a literary agent, the news that a Hollywood dude wanted to pitch my story to studios—none of them thrilled me like the roar of giggles at the Comedy Works for my sets. It’s a kind of writing—and comedy most definitely is writing, a much more difficult genre—that gives just and bountiful rewards for the effort. Sweet laughter.