Sunday, November 3, 2013

McDougal Street

Once upon a time I knew McDougal Street like a second home. Back in the day, when I started comedy I left class and always hit a mic. Sometimes I hit two or three in a night. In those days, the Morrison Motel was at The Village Lantern. Every Wednesday night I would do the early show, and then Dave Baldwin would let me have a walk in spot on the second show. Tuesdays I did a twofer as well. My goal was to be a good comedian. Sure I wanted the prestige of TV credits but I just wanted to be a pro at what I did. My entire life I had felt like an outcast, but suddenly I didn’t feel like that.
While it wasn’t always easy, I did it. I always felt for as much as I was knocked down somewhere inside me I always knew the answer was to get up and keep going. I tanked a lot. Everyone does in the early stages. I remember getting drunk bi-proxy from the whiskey infused floorboards and wondering if Jack Daniels had a day job as a construction worker. There were nights I cried my way home after a bad set. Then there were nights I celebrated a good one. Yes, I was uneven in those days. But one thing was for sure. I loved standup comedy.
There was a group of us that kind of ran together. After a bad set I always got a hug from someone and got some pointers. After a good set I still got a hug, a high five, and more pointers. The only thing we cared about was making people laugh.
The hard work paid off and I got some TV spots. I also wrote a book. My interests became spread out, and open mic comedy turned from a gift in one of the greatest cities in the world to a necessary evil as feature and headliner spots became more the reg. While I hosted my own open mic, for the most part my weeks were filled with booked shows. My weekends were spent traveling to bizarre destinations. I was eating, sleeping, and living my dream. However, I sort of also began to lose focus.
As TV time became more of a normal thing, it seemed the chip on my shoulder turned into a cinderblock and then a boulder. For years I had struggled in the ever male dominated realm of comedy. Now I was finally getting some recognition. Never a critics darling, I was getting fan mail everywhere. Instead of chasing laughs I began chasing fame and the spotlight. Being funny became an after thought. An ego developed in response to the jealousy I received from the people who used to talk down and belittle me. Yes, they couldn’t stand the fact the tables were turned. However, I also gave the trash they wrote about me on sites like Gawker too much credit. I forgot that once upon a time my goal had been just to be a good comedian. Suddenly, I took their jealousy and nastiness personally. I had worked harder than all of them and hadn’t had things handed to me. While in my head and heart I know entitled people cannot see the merits of hard work, it made me feel isolated and lonely. Feeling the sting of having so many turn on me, I began to isolate from my true friends who loved me no matter what.
I also felt a gnawing insecurity that I wasn’t good enough, and anything good I got was somehow an accident. Over the years I had swanned up from the ugly ducking in bad movement clothes who ran around McDougal Street following her dream. I began to forget this magical street and how stoked everyone was about simply being funny and the art form of comedy. April Brucker was now on her way to being a star. In order to hide the fact I was insecure, lonely, and lost I began to remind people about my TV time, most likely making them sick of me. Of course I also stopped caring about being funny. I was getting TV time, I was writing books, fuck all ya y’all. My answer was to become a diva. While I didn’t ask for a male stripper when I did gigs I mixed less with my fellow comedians. I also wanted to remind people how far I had come. Rest assured, the haters would never forget. Meanwhile, I was alienating people who could have potentially assisted me and gave the idiots too much energy. I forgot the blessing of having the ability to entertain others, and became a complete and utter self-seeker. My attitude became I would do paid shows, shows of friends, shows of fans, and would not be seen dead at an open mic. I also showed up at red carpet events if paid.
Life has a funny way of humbling us. About three days ago opportunity showed up at my door. He had a message. It was a chance that could put me on the track to doing theatres, something my act is more conducive to. The thing is, I had to have a clean set. Back in the day, believe it or not, I was not a dirty comic. However most crowds like dick jokes. Eventually you stop working clean just cause you want to do well. So this meant I had to do two things. One, hit up my comedy buddies aka my comedy angels to give me feedback. The second was to get back on my feet. Yes, this meant paying for stage time. As a comedian who is somewhat known, this was a stab to my ego. I had paid that due, so much so that my five dollars and a dream could buy Malta at this point. But you need to do what you need to do, right?
Immediately I felt like a twenty year old kid again. I was back in my old haunts making people laugh. My first clean set felt kind of rough, but I got some laughs. I did it a second time and while it started slow, I got some good laughs which made me believe I could do this. In my heart, I remembered what it felt like in the days before I had been on TV or wrote books. I simply loved performing. For as rough as I felt at times I was back home. I saw Brian Barron afterwards. I told him of my ordeal. Brian mentioned pro ball players even go to batting practice. So yes, I needed to be back to the mics. It wasn’t the end of the world, just part of the process. It was also a reminder I have friends in comedy who love me and support me. I had forgotten how awesome the energy was on McDougal aka Comedy Street, how everyone was going from set to set in the quest for the perfect punchline. I was back to the gentle comedy utopia of my earlier days.
Yesterday I went up again. The set was really rough. I left the stage in near tears. April Brucker doesn’t tank. I thought about stopping in at some of the clubs on the block demanding stage time like many a male headliner, but I didn’t feel like waving my ego around. Instead I cried over a slice of anchovie pizza with another friend Jessica Stern. Just like the old days I was beating myself up, and a friend who got it was right there. She reminded me I got all the things I did because I was awesome, and that this was part of the process.
Of course I am still cat shit crazy after a bad set. On the train ride home I met an obnoxious stranger and her kid. As I was bitching to Jessica this dumbass butts in and mentions she is an aspiring comedian while not minding her child. I told her to butt out snapped at her. Then she put her hand on my arm and I wanted to deck her. I reminded her not to touch me. Maybe this errant mother and wannabe was just being kind, but just like the old days comedy is serious business for me. When I got home I exploded on social media and went to sleep.
When I woke up my comedy angels messaged me. I told them how I wanted to slit my wrists at these mics. My comedy angels reminded me to run my stuff and not to worry about the judgment. My job was to perfect my set and get good, not worry about the reactions of open micers. This felt like the old days, where I was loved and protected as a part of a greater whole, a community that strived to say something deeper while entertaining others. Where I was supported by people who took this as seriously as I did, and understood how ego crushing a bad set could be. Of course they reminded me it would get worse before it got better, but to hang in there because it was gonna be okay.
They also reminded me to get out of my head and to have fun onstage. It's ironically something you forget to do as you grow in comedy. Also, it's something that goes by the wayside as you begin to take yourself way too seriously. Then it hit me. This was like the old days, when I got a hug after a bad set. This was the love I was hit with, people who were honest with me no matter how obscure or famous I was. This wasn't just friendship, but what standup is truly about. 
Maybe I wanted to chuck that weird kid with her puppet, the person I was before the book and TV time. The thing about that girl was yes, she was a fashion nightmare. However, she was a hardworker and only cared about being a good comedian. She went on stage anywhere, and did any spot without complaining. She also didn’t think she was the be all and end all of comedy, and was willing to do the work it took to get good. Maybe she bragged too much about good sets, but it was because the bad ones felt like a punch in the gut. It wasn’t because she was pathetic, she was driven. I know she wouldn’t like me if she met me. Not because I don’t have things she wants, but because my attitude has gotten so sucky. I know I was too quick to toss her aside, so I think I need to bring that young woman back.
Maybe on my quest to develop a clean TV friendly set she can tell me to keep going. She can also remind me that stage time, not TV time, is most important in comedic development. I can tell her how open mics make me want to slit my wrists, she can remind me that they brought me to this point. She can tell me how busting my ass got me farther than the haters who have disappeared with time. I will tell her how I have to look a certain way because of who I think I am, and she will tell me how much fun it is to crash and burn.

Now that I am walking McDougal Street again, I hope she will accept the invite to come with me. 

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