By Andy Sanford
Jealousy and bitterness exist in just about every pursuit, and especially artistic ones. I can only speak from a comedian’s perspective, but I’ve watched it ruin people. I believe that if you are going to pursue stand-up comedy as a career, you have to understand that there is no clear cut path to “making it.” You can’t let yourself think that paying dues leads to anything except the lessons and experiences that you take away. You can’t start believing that another person’s success is your failure. You can’t become so jaded that you write off the entire industry because of a few perceived injustices. There’s always someone who has more of a right to complain than you do and chooses not to. Falling into cynicism about things outside of your control can poison everything you do and derail you from honing your craft, which is always THE MOST IMPORTANT THING.
Part of the problem is a desire for immediate recognition. There is very little value in everyone knowing what level you deserve to be on as soon as you have reached that level. You shouldn’t want to get seen by industry people just because you “can” hold your own with the big dogs…it is much better to get as good as you possibly can under the radar so that when you do get seen, you blow everyone’s mind and are more than ready for whatever big break that might come your way. No one owes you anything for your hard work. The only benefit of your hard work is how good it has made you. This is why “years” in stand-up almost means nothing. People progress at different rates, and sometimes someone has a breakthrough many years in; or maybe it just took a while for people to be able to appreciate their style. If you have the time to make a note of every thing that some undeserving peer got, then you have the time to put a little more effort into your act, which is the only thing that speaks for you, or should speak for you.
Comedians tend to harp on whatever is going on in their lives. So if you feel like you’re getting passed over repeatedly, that becomes the topic you obsess over. Non-comedians could not care less about your qualms. Comedians or comedy industry are the only ones who even get what you’re talking about, and to them you are only becoming known as a whiner. If you think that a branch of the comedy industry does not recognize your greatness, it’s usually best to just keep it to yourself. It’s a bad idea to attack the people you feel have ignored you right after they ignore you. In all likelihood, you were not written off…you just can’t know all the factors at play. But if you go burning bridges, it doesn’t matter what you “deserve” because you’ve proven yourself to be difficult. If so-an-so got such-an-such and they aren’t half as funny as you, that doesn’t entitle you to anything except an open invitation to raise the bar higher and overcome a flawed system.
Believe me, I am not a person who has had everything handed to him telling those who have been fucked over to quit crying. I do not fall into a recognizable or easily marketable ”image” and have had to, more often than not, prove people wrong who were already leaning toward passing on me. This has made me better. I try to remind myself that if you want to achieve a style that is unmistakably “you,” than you are going to be passed over by industry who is looking for people to fill a mold. You don’t need to prove that you deserve this or that. If you are just focused on being undeniably good, people are more inclined to question the validity of this or that for not picking you. There’s no point in raging against the only machine that may come around and help you one day. You’re also not going to be able to cater your act to fit what you think they want, because that is disingenuous and, best case scenario, mediocre. Why would you want recognition for doing anything other than what is truly your thing?
Be happy for everyone who gets anything, because that means that comedy itself is still valued. If you believe you are getting passed up because you don’t fit a certain “look,” then you need to be amazing enough to transcend the very idea of a “look.” Every comic I know who has achieved a good bit of success and is widely respected has the same thing in common: they are only obsessed with the quality of their output. There’s just no substitute for always being better than what anyone would expect.
Anytime I become disenchanted by a lack of recognition, I remind myself of people like Kyle Kinane. I’m fortunate enough to have gotten to know and be friends with Kyle, because I feel he is doing some of the funniest, most original comedy of anyone you can think of. He channeled all of his energy into the quality of his stand-up for over a decade without much acknowledgement from the industry: until eventually he was an undeniable force who the industry couldn’t ignore. That is why he was more than ready for every opportunity that finally came his way. It is a lot easier to write the industry off as bullshit and create a low, glass ceiling for yourself with an excuse for not breaking through it. In the pursuit of anything truly original, you’re going to face adversity. You can either be motivated by it, or let it beat you down and consume you.
Sandford was one of the “Beards of Comedy” in Atlanta, and now is based in New York City. His new monthly live showcase, “Comedy Freaknik!” with Steve Forrest and Noah Gardenschwartz, debuts at 10 p.m. Saturday at The Creek and The Cave in Long Island City, NY. He also is featured in Adult Swim’s Aqua Teen Hunger Force, which also now goes by Aqua TV Show Show and premieres a new season Sunday, Aug. 11.