Sunday, July 27, 2014

Broke and Semi-Famous: The Backstory

I just finally released my first DVD, a huge step in the comedy world. It is something I have been actively working for. Yes, it has taken me the better part of a decade to have the skills to do. Now that I am getting a bit of a name for myself, here I am doing it. Go Team Superfoxxx.

The concept of doing a DVD came after wanting to do it for sometime. It was winter, and I was living the Charles Dickens, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Fan mail was coming in, but I was wondering how and if I was going to feed myself. I remember two fans recognized me after a show, and then knew there would be no laundry money because I was spending my spare change getting home. Then fans recognized me on the street, but then I got a friendly email from my bank. My rent check had bounced, so that meant running to make sure there were funds.

I kept telling myself it would get better. But all it did was rain shit. People would write me to book me for gigs that seemed exciting. Buttering up my ego, they would tell me what big fans they were. I would ask them if the opportunity was paid. They would give me the run around. Some promised me a partnership. Which means working for free a lot and then not seeing a dime ever. Others promised me 50 bucks and a burger if I would schlep to hell and back to perform. I would map quest the locale only to find out I was losing money, which doesn’t help when your rent check has already bounced. Or they would offer me exposure. Yes, that is great when you are starting out. However, I had paid my dues. After all, mountain climbers die of exposure.

When I would demand to be paid fairly for my time and skill set, I would be told it wasn’t in their budget. Okay, fair, whatever. But why did you write me in the first place? Others would inform me I should be flattered that I was getting a gig at their shithole establishment. I have done enough 50 bucks and a burger shows to know most of the time they are hellacious nights that aren’t even worth me showing up at this point in my life. Then there were those who informed me I had a serious attitude problem and needed to “get experience.” Read my resume lately, dickhead? I have done things you will never do. Now let me wash my clothes in my sink because I have ten years of experience and no money in my pocked for laundry.
What pissed me off even more was some of these fuckers acted as if I was asking for an extra limb. 

Meanwhile I have comedian friends who do not have my television credits or visibility. But we can both successfully do close to an hour. They have been around twice as long as me, but I have more of a draw.
 How is it that I have to pull teeth to be treated fairly, but they get paid 2 grand for the same theatre show? It’s nothing against them. Truth: They sided with me and told me I was doing the right thing, standing my ground and putting up the boundary. They are actually guiding me on how to have the conversation successfully and from a place of truth and love.

The bottom descended in March. It was the month from hell. I auditioned for a network show, and while I got close to making the cut I did not get the job. Another idea I had almost got picked up by another network, but then was put in the circular file for other reasons that had nothing to do with me. I applied for a grant to do children’s programming, and while they liked the idea they passed on me as well. I also came close to landing three major writing jobs but was passed over. As for the singing telegrams, the phone was not ringing either. Who in my last life had I pissed off?

As if shit wasn’t hitting the fan enough in my professional life, I was hitting another rock bottom in my personal life. Familial drama was at an all time high. There was a lot going on, and I found myself oscillating between anger and concern for some of my relations. Also, because of the nature of this drama, I found old wounds were not only being opened, but a bag of salt being poured on them. I also thought I had finally found the man of my dreams, only to find out he was using me for both a green card and a place to live. So my heart was broken. On top of that, I had the wife of an ex of mine stalking me. When she wasn’t harassing me online, she was calling me up to thirty times a day. Oh, and she would tell anyone that would listen about how I wouldn’t leave her alone.

Yes, I wasn’t getting a break. I would pray to God or whoever is up there asking for relief. All I got was more shit storm. I still remember calling a friend of mine for comfort. She was someone I had taken in when she had no where to live. Instead, I got a scathing response where she told me I deserved every piece of bad luck I was getting and more. At that moment, it occurred to me my friend was not happy for the success I had been getting, and it made her more happy than anything in the world that I was down. When I hung up the phone with her, I had an anxiety attack so terrible I thought I was actually having a heart attack. While I wrote her off and swore never to speak to her again, it was just one more shingle falling off of the roof of the house I didn’t even have.

I tried applying for other forms of employment. Each time I was rejected. It wasn’t my education or experience. Some rejected me because they had seen me on TV, and was afraid I was going to be a distraction. Others told me that they would give me a job, but feared I would leave when gigs picked up. (They were right, I would). So after this happened five times, I was at a dead end.

Broke and at the end of my rope, I was forced to take a craigslist flyering job. Yes, bitch work. A force feeding of humble pie of you will. It was flyering for some shiteous art fair. I remember talking to the guy Robert on the phone. He took himself so seriously. I felt like Job, cursed and plagued because for some reason God and the devil were making a bet on my ass. I wanted to tell them both to fuck off. They both sucked and would lose.

The next day I went to the gig in front of his antique store. I already hated myself and my life, but was trying to think positive in this shit storm my existence had become. I looked around for the condescending smirker I met on the phone, but instead saw no one. This voice echoed from the black van in the morning darkness, “You must be April.” I looked and saw a sadistic looking Santa Claus figure in the van.

“Hi.” I said unexcited.

“Come in.” He chimed arrogantly.

“That is a risky tact for New York City.” I snapped. I didn’t like him. This was bitch work. There was no reason I had to be pleasant.

 In the few minutes we chatted I already could tell I didn’t like him, and this was going to be a long day. I was trying my damnest to hide it, but was failing like a quadruple amputee climbing Mount Everest. “It’s amazing how many people applied for this job. One guy sent me the pictures of all the trade shows he did. It’s amazing how many people are unemployed and looking for work. You are very lucky to have this job.” Robert said. Yes me, NYU grad who had gotten a flowery fan letter the day before and was set to film her big DVD in three weeks at the Metropolitan Room. I was lucky to be working for an asshole such as himself.

The rest of the half-hearted crew came. Like me, they were trying to disguise the fact they would much rather not be there and were failing worse than I was. We rode in the car to the art fair. Sitting in the front, I chatted with Robert trying to make friendly conversation. He mentioned he wanted me to use my puppet Don Juan. Perhaps this would be an okay day, and I was just letting my ego dampen things. I had known cast members of big shows who still worked as cater waiters when things were slow. Maybe I just had to put on my big girl pants and shut up.

As Robert and I spoke, I mentioned being in Art Forum. I wanted to let this moron know I knew my shit. It had only been a few months earlier, and the whos who of the art world got featured. My puppets and I got a nice mention. Robert had never heard of Art Forum. Then we began talking about art. I mentioned my favorite was Damien Hurst. Robert didn’t know who he was. Anyone who knows art knows Damien Hurst. I took a breath and ground my teeth. Not only was this man an arrogant assweed but he was also a tremendous poser. I just wanted to die at that moment and go to heaven. Why? Because I was already in hell.

As if things were not bad enough, Robert asked “How is the career going?”

He knew the answer to that question. After all, I was working for him. No, I was not there by choice. At that moment, I wanted to cry. Everyone had warned me about this when I decided on this career. I told them they were all wrong. However, I worked hard and sacrificed most of my twenties. Maybe I had wasted my time after all. Sure I had been on TV. Sure I had written a book. Sure I had worked with some of my heroes. I thought things would be different to say the least. Maybe I had done everything I was supposed to do with comedy and writing. Maybe it was time to go back to school, get another degree, and get a real job. Theatre students come in handy all the time in non-performance related fields. This was just a nightmare, and I didn’t have it in me to continue.

Then I mentioned my writing, blogging for the Huffington Post. That is when Robert asked me if I wanted to do some art blogging. I lied and said yes just because my head hurt and I wanted him to shut the fuck up. I had no intention of art blogging for him. I wanted the fucking day to be over. Then he said, “You have all these skills. You need to transform them into an actual living.” Shit, this was like talking to my family. I felt the pins and needles being shoved into my heart and soul. I had entered the darkness and saw no way out.

When I got to the destination, I was partnered with a girl who was trying to be an actress. She was a gorgeous black girl named Gina. Living in the city for nearly ten years, student films were the most experience she had. It was a shame, because she had a great look. For the most part, she made her bread and butter from promo gigs. I remembered the days when promos paid a lot of my rent too, and thought I was past that. Her boyfriend, who was a standup comedian I never heard of, obtained some agent and got a callback for a national commercial of some sort but didn’t book it. Robert told me my job was to perform with Don Juan, and told Gina she was to wear a sandwich board. When the sandwich board comes out, it’s a job that is going to be bad. Illegals are forced to wear them. They can’t protest because they can’t work on the books. So yeah, it was starting to suck more and more.

The day was sucktacular. Within minutes of us being out there, the wind picked up and the temperature dropped like it typically does in the bipolar New York spring. I was worried. Despite being someone who layers, it had been super warm in the morning. My Obamacare had yet to kick in, so I knew I was risking my health. To top it off, the snotty art fair people did not take our flyers, and yelled at us because we were a rival art fair and that was a no no. Robert was not only an awful human being and an idiot, he was an art world pariah. AWESOME!!!

Gina and I began to talk. She said Robert had told her he would pay her at the end of the day Sunday. He told me we were getting paid at the end of the day Saturday and then same Sunday. I was hoping at the end of the day Saturday. I had no intention of returning for more fun Sunday. I told Gina my feeling was he was trying to rip us off. Gina pointed out he was an old man.

I began to grumble. It was cold and this whole thing sucked. Gina and I decided to move up the block. No one was taking our flyers and it was warmer. Sure, I had done all these things. I was forced into servitude at the hands of a fucktard. Bills had to be paid though. And in three hours I would be out of there. Maybe there was a silver lining.

We broke for pizza. I took my time eating. It was cold and only getting colder. While I was trying to be optimistic, I knew I wasn’t going to last the whole day. When I got back outside, I got an angry phone call from Robert. The old bastard claimed to be looking for us for an hour. I explained we had moved up the block. No one was taking our fliers and we were cold. So Robert said, “I DIDN’T PAY YOU TO COME UNPREPARED!!!!!!!”

At that moment I knew my instincts were right. We weren’t seeing the money, and I wasn’t lasting the entire day. Additionally, I wasn’t like those other flyer people. I had done things and didn’t have to take his shit. What landed me there was fear I wouldn’t have enough money. Fear was also keeping me in self-pity. This was why things weren’t getting any better. At that moment, I stopped being afraid. Calmly, I said, “Sorry, I don’t think this is working out.” Then I hung up the phone.

“Where are you going?” Gina asked.


“Was he mad?”

“Yeah, and you are probably never going to see that money. So you should leave to. And here are his flyers.” I said dropping them on the ground. I then hailed a cab, heading home. I didn’t have the money to pay for it, and was living on credit cards anyway. But I wasn’t afraid. I knew whatever happened next was going to be okay. I just had to keep moving.

From there, I spent every waking minute preparing for my DVD taping. I hit the open mics, bar shows, and then practiced in my room. I sent invites and terrorized everyone I crossed paths with until they agreed to come. I also began to talk to myself more positively. Each day, I woke up and told myself I was going to do this. I had paid my dues, I had earned my fans, and now it was time I stopped working for shit money and for free. I was not being a diva. I was being reasonable. To prepare for my event, I also watched Rocky every night for the next two and a half weeks. Not only did it make me feel good, but it made me believe anything was possible, especially getting out of my own quicksand.

Slowly things got better as I stopped feeling so sorry for myself, and the event at the Metropolitan Room was a success. My show went before Annie Ross, and that evening I found for years I had been using an Annie Ross line without even being aware. Some say this was coincidence. I believe it was fate. For as tired as I was at the end of the big night, I felt things beginning to shift for me.

The months of May, June, and July proved to be busy. So much so the rent has basically paid itself and I have not longed for anything. Also, I now work with a manager, who not only helped me secure a job that paid well and that I liked doing, but now helps me have those difficult conversations about money. Additionally, I inform people I will not work for free, and now they no longer ask. But as I said, things have been so busy in a good way that now I am finally releasing my DVD. Also, I am starting to learn how to save money for when the inevitable shit storm comes again.

In a bittersweet salute to the terrible, long, cold, brutal winter and the events leading up to my taping, I decided to name my DVD Broke and Semi-Famous. When people around me heard the title, they thought it was very funny and they laughed. That is when I knew in my heart the hellacious last few months were really a gift in disguise. Without them, I wouldn’t graciously be able to receive what is in front of me, but also wouldn’t have busted my ass to make the event the success it was. I have already sold a few. Click here to check it out.

Also, if you are reading this, please don’t quit five minutes before the miracle. Sometimes you just have to keep going. Sometimes for as tough as if is, you need to stop being afraid. Fear is the devil/negative/whatever. Fear wants you to give up and go home. Fear wants you to settle in self-pity. 

Someday I will be on HBO and will play Carnegie Hall. No, I am not giving up and going home. Yes, someday I will be rich and totally famous. Yes, I am bringing my damn spooky freaky puppet children with me. 

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