Tuesday, December 11, 2012

What Are You Doing to Make Your Dreams Come True?

Right after I was on TLC I received a ton of fan mail, much of it from young people. Young people still write me quite a bit and traffic my blog. They tell me about their painting, writing, acting, singing, filmmaking and whatever creative endeavors they are taking up. Many, however, tell me that they are scared of following their passions because of failure and the struggle that goes with success that may never come. These are real fears. These were fears I had. These were fears my family had for me. But the truth is, if this is what you are meant to do you make it work.

When I was seventeen years old I auditioned for Carnegie Mellon University's Drama Program on a whim. But the woman auditioning me, a professor named Barbara Mackenzie-Wood said it best, "A lot of kids who audition for me want to get in here because they believe that this is the only path to becoming an actor. Whether or not they get in here, if a person wants to become an actor they will make it happen."

I didn't get in. Carnegie-Mellon is a stellar program though. I remember I wanted to be onstage and to write books. No one was going to stop me. While Barbara didn't pass me to the next level she was right. I was going to do this even if it was the last thing I ever did.

 Instead I moved to New York after getting into NYU. I found myself to Lee Strasberg and standup comedy with my little puppet children. Of course through hard work and paying my bills delivering singograms to support me and my little puppet brood things are happening. Some say I am crazy, but crazy people change the world. Thomas Edison slept in his lab most nights and hardly ever bathed. An eccentric who sat on a chicken's egg as a child to see if it would hatch because he was so curious, he made his life by trial and error. Because of him we have a thing called a lightbulb. I do believe you use it.

What never ceases to amaze me though is how many artists in New York City talk about the things they want to do but never do them. Once a musician friend of mine said it best, "They all have such big plans...." And then let out a laugh. Translated, everyone has big plans until they realize the big plans require this thing called hard work.

I call that bar stool dreaming. Comedians are guilty of it especially in my experience. They talk about all the new jokes they are writing and all the new material they are working on. Of course some will talk about the pilot that they are filming and pitching. Others will casually mention that they are writing a book. Many will claim they submitted their writing to SNL and will soon be on. Others will claim connection to some big agent who is getting them big gigs but it is all top secret.

Top secret as in it is such a secret that they don't even know because it doesn't exist. And over time I have seen the new jokes are the variations of the same tired ass routine they have been doing for years. The pilot that they are filming and pitching, usually that is some youtube conglomeration of whatever that only hatches one episode and is never seen again. As for the book, they are still writing it five years later, and they submitted their writings to SNL too but Lorne Michaels somehow forgot to call them back. Translated, they are dreamers, not doers. Many youngins on the scene will ally themselves with these people damned to dream forever.

The barstool dreamers are not as bad as the shouldabeens. Shouldabeens are worse than hasbeens. a Hasbeen can at least say they had a career and retire gracefully and laugh about the good old days, at least sometimes. A shouldabeen shouldabeen a big star but through a laundry list of excuses it never happened. Now they are bitter. They are telling you when you speak to them at the bar about how this person on television and that person writing for this show is a joke thief and that woman on that show gave this booker the service in a public restroom because she's not funny. I have two questions, one, why are they telling you this? Two, how is this information helping you or your career? Answer, it is not.

The bottom feeders whether they be nobody comedians, low level bookers, or whatever love this and get caught up into this crap. It is easy to get caught up into this crap. I know I did, especially in my earlier twenties. I wanted to know why this person was getting this when I was funnier, prettier, and not to mention was more reliable. I perhaps missed my calling as an opera singer because life became a continual chorus of, "Me, me, me."

I sort of bottomed on the concept of "Me, me, me" when I was twenty four. I was going through a rough patch. After filming a pilot that didnt get picked up and filming a national television appearance that while it made me a cult legend in some circles closed some doors, I found my phone not ringing. A survival job I relied on dried up so I was flat broke. Not to mention two friends, while not close but on the edge of my circles, one personal and the other professional, died. One overdosed and the other was murdered. I couldn't seem to catch a break. So I found myself not focusing on how I could better my career. How I could write a new joke. How I could get ahead. I found myself head in the shit gossiping.

That June my brother Wendell got married. In the airport I picked up a book by Bill Gates, Sr. called Showing Up For Life. Basically the daddy of the dot com billionaire writes about what it took to raise three successful children. In the book he talked about the importance for showing up for your family and showing up for yourself. Also, Older Gates spoke of using your talents to help others. Gates shared a poignant tale about an outbreak of cholera in the Himalayas where infants were dying. Doctors brought my the missionaries had to do something in a pinch. They created a formula to give these children hydration. Today it is called pedialyte. Basically what I got out of the book was stop being so selfish, self-centered, and feeding into the negativity. These things can only cause one failure and missed opportunities.

I began to change my life and as a result my luck changed. I started viewing comedy as less about my anger and pain and more about being a traveling joy saleswoman, about picking people up when they were down. Treating my job as a means to make the world a better place by helping others smile.

I produced my own one woman shows and invited bookers.

I got up wherever people would let me, and when the gossiping started I left.

I stopped being afraid of letting other people be funny. In the words of an old friend Daryl Wright, "I want you to be funny because I know I'm funny. So if you are funny that means I have to get even funnier."

I stopped limiting myself only to standup. I started making these very low tech puppet videos I laugh about now. Somehow, I got all these people to make appearances on them who were well respected comedians or underground figures in gay nightclub culture.

I got on national television with my children and of course was fired by the club that I put on TV-but the thing is-looking back that was for the best. I got to work as a talking head, make music, and write a book that is now being turned into a musical.

My point is, the path always works out. You must trust it.

One thing I learned was, when things started to happen in my life the first people to knife me in the back were the bottom feeder gossip buddies I once had. Any chance they got to trash me on the internet they did. Not far behind were the barstool dreamers who were nice enough to trash me on facebook. It hurt because we used to get snarky about positive people together. Now it doesn't hurt though. If anything I am grateful that I am no longer friends with those people and they no longer invade my world. I also realized the people we gossiped about-the ones making it-were getting ahead because they had the better attitudes. It wasn't always because they were stealing jokes or doing sexual favors. Those were ugly rumors started by losers who needed an excuse to breathe.

My mother and I were talking this past weekend and I admitted there are better performers, writers, comedians, and puppeteers in the city. But the reason I have things happening and they don't is that I actually do it when they simply talk about doing it. Laura Bell-Bundy remarked that as a performer she never let grass grow under her feet. It paid off. Her peers are waiting tables, she made it to Broadway.

The cool thing is, they have been replaced by people who aren't just dreamers but doers. Like Sean Lynch who doesn't just dream of a puppet video but puts it in an international film festival, and when he wants stage time he goes so far as to build the stage.

Derek Scott Graves who doesn't just dream of throwing the party of the century on a red carpet but throws the party himself, red carpet and all, even inviting Peace Man Sir Ivan.

Marcus Yi who writes music and performs original music.

Lest we not forget Libby Jay in Canada, and the list goes on.

A few weeks ago, before Sandy, I was at a party and two women were kvetching about how the acting industry only favors the cool kids and how they werent a cool kid. In the past I would have joined the pity party. Instead, I asked them what they were doing for their careers and how they were planning to change their circumstances. They looked at me as if I just told them the tax man were there. When I got that response I knew it was time to head to the bar and make some new friends.

So my response to anyone who writes me telling me about how they want to be an artist is, what are you doing to make it happen? Any comedian who complains about not getting what they want, what are you doing to improve your act? Any actor who complains of not working, what are you doing to change that? Any writer who wants to publish, what are you doing to get to the next step?

Bottom line, what are YOU doing to make your dreams come true?

I Came, I Saw, I Sang: Memoirs of a Singing Telegram Delivery Girl

Come to my book signing
December 27, 2012 @ 7pm
Bethel Park Library
5100 W. Library Ave
Bethel Park, PA

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