It’s been about three years since I first tried stand-up comedy. In my hometown of Norfolk, VA, people told me I was funny and I thought so, too.
I moved to New York City two years ago knowing I had a lot to learn. When I got here, I’d have access to the resources I needed to learn and grow: classes at UCB, a thriving alt comedy scene, liberal-minded audiences that could tolerate a woman on stage. New York was where Julie Klausner was, and it was by listening to her podcast, “How Was Your Week,” that I was first able to entertain the thought that someone like me could do comedy. In New York, if I tried really hard and wanted it bad enough, I’d be on my way.
Moving to the Big City and finding out you ain’t shit isn’t exactly a new story. I anticipated it happening. But over the past two years, my depression and anxiety have steadily ramped up to unmanageable levels. Getting through the day became a challenge, but, even when performing felt impossible, comedy never left my mind.
Objectively, I don’t “do comedy” as often as I should or could. Open mics are generally awful. They require spending several lonely hours with strangers in exchange for 2-5 minutes of stage time in front of an unfriendly crowd. On a good week, I’m able to make it to one or two. Bad weeks, when I can hardly leave the apartment and going to the grocery store requires all my courage and will, an open mic is out of the question. Either way, I think about comedy constantly. On good days, I reflect on what I’ve done so far, where I can improve, and gently remind myself to make time to put in the work. On bad days, I firmly believe that not only am I garbage compared to the hardworking talent in New York, but I’m somehow getting worse every day. That I was never good, that I’ve never made someone laugh, and that people, myself included, were somehow tricked into thinking I was funny. I feel ashamed for thinking better of myself and guilty for moving away from home. I lay awake at night, feeling disgusted with myself.
What makes you think people want to see you perform? You’re not different or special.
Why should anyone be forced to listen to you? You have nothing to say.
How are you supposed to find your voice? You don’t even know who you are.
You’re too old for this. And you’re getting kind of fat, too.
If you quit, if you tell people comedy was a hobby that you don’t do anymore, then you’ll be free. This feeling will go away. You could even move home.
When I get to that last thought, I usually start to cry.
Living here, I can’t help but feel a proximity to real comedians that I have no business comparing myself to. Would I be better if I was as hard-working as Jo Firestone? If I was cooler? Braver? Better-looking? Am I unlikeable or simply not talented? Probably both, right? There’s a world I want desperately to be a part of, and it’s physically close, I can see it and I know people who are in it, but the thought of ever accessing it feels like a more ludicrous dream every day.
It’s a world illustrated by Mindy Tucker, whose photography is instantly recognizable to anyone who follows comedy. On good days, hopeful days, I thought that someday she’d take my picture, I’d get my Mindy, and I’d know I was on my way.
I was invited via Facebook by someone who had booked me on a show the previous month. I scrolled through the RSVPs and saw a few friends and familiar faces. I was intimidated but decided to go, knowing I’d regret it forever if I didn’t. It seemed like I’d know enough people there to not feel awkward. And I had been invited, after all.
When I got there, I knew just one person, my friend Elsa Waithe from back home. I hadn’t seen her in months and, though we moved here around the same time, she had far surpassed me in (well-deserved!) comedy accomplishments (here she is on This American Life, nbd). She made time to catch up, but she knew many other women there and her attention was understandably divided.
There was a positive, celebratory air I couldn’t help but share, but the feeling that I was an imposition, a fraud, that I didn’t deserve to be there, lurked underneath. But the mood was high and hopeful enough for me to think, “Stay. Get your Mindy and earn it later.”
We were told to wear whatever represented us as comedians. This denim jacket is my security blanket, it makes me feel safe and androgynous and cool. I think I look cute, but also awkward and uncomfortable, and not 100% sure where to look or what to do with my body, like I know I don’t belong on that side of Mindy’s camera.
I want to make a go of this. I want to stop letting the good days go to waste. There’s a thrilling world of comedy in this city I want to impose myself on and share with you. And there’s a lot of sad, weird shit going on inside that jacket that I want to share with you, too. Thanks to The Tusk (and a toxic cocktail of self-loathing and exhibitionism,) I’ll be publicly chronicling my helpless flailing around across open mics in Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn while “finding myself” embarrassingly late in life. If you’re into that, stay tuned.