Hi. I want to introduce you to my biggest friend in comedy. The one which drives me to be better. He’s always been there if you looked closely. It’s the chip on my shoulder. There are 2 types of people have success in life. Those few that were born with a great skill or talent. Congrats to them winning that genetic lottery. Then there is the majority of us. Those who have the chip. The ones that have a burning desire to prove others wrong. I don’t know if it’s a mentally healthy way of walking the earth, but I believe it’s the ingredient that people who continue to succeed in their chosen field have that sets them apart from their competitors.
Science says most behavioral traits being nature versus nurture. Well, when it comes to comedy I would adjust this to nature versus those who weren’t nurtured. If I wasn’t constantly belittled by my father who had little of anything positive to say about me, I just don’t think I would have the sufficient scarring that drives me to do what I do. I only partially joke that this mental (and physical) abuse left me with 1 of 2 career choices in life: standup comedian or serial killer.
I watched a powerful Frontline piece (on PBS) about poor young children who spoke about having little to no hope that they would ever escape this life. It was heartbreaking and made me reflect. At the age of 13, my Mom left my abusive Dad and for the next few couple years we lived in government housing and food stamps trying to stay away from him. It was embarrassing and I had to make all new friends in a situation that wasn’t optimal. Watching the show made me realize something about myself. Even at that age I never thought I wouldn’t achieve my aspirations. Fuck if I know where this confidence comes from, as I wasn’t surrounded by a family telling me I could do anything, but in some ways, I think this tough road might have been good.
I think of my own kids and how they grow up in a supportive home in a nice suburb. I’m glad they have that, but I worry they have no idea how hard life can be and how they will be soft and spoiled from the world they live in. The 2 things that makes me think they won’t end up assholes is that my wife and I demand manners and that having a sister with the many troubles that special needs creates around the house, will give them a more varied look at life.
Ok, back to the chip. I saw a feature on 60 Minutes about Packers Qb Aaron Rodgers. During it there was a focus on how he had been ignored by the major colleges out of high school and how he sat on NFL draft day dropping down to the bottom of the first round, after being predicted to be a high choice. These slights continue to drive him. I’m sure many people were watching it thinking, dude, dial it back, you are a rich, famous star who has succeeded at the peak level. I didn’t look at it that way. I appreciated him more, as he wasn’t the natural NFL protype. His journey has been bumpy and I relate.
Now at this juncture a fair point would be, are you comparing yourself to Aaron Rodgers? Are you even claiming you are a successful comedian? No and success is relative. For many of you reading this, I would guess you would dream of being in he game for 2 decades and headlining clubs for over a decade. So on that level, I am successful. Despite reaching a lot of my career goals, the chip survives because I don’t feel as respected among my peers as I would like. I am fully aware of how pathetic this sounds, but I try to be as honest as I can here. Now I also realize that some of this has to do with me never taking the risk and moving to LA or NY to take a swing at the big time. I’ve outlined my reasons in the past for doing it, but it still doesn’t make me feel better about not getting more recognition in my field.
One of the big reasons I started this site was to bring out the world of comedy between the coasts. Thus the title, Fly Over Comedy. I will close out this piece by speaking to what made me sit down to write this in the first place. I was talking to another Midwest based comic recently about an appearance he made on a popular comedy podcast. He mentioned how he felt a little blindsided by the hosts’ behavior towards him and I mentioned that I thought he acquitted himself well and showed some much needed humanity in his responses. My friend still felt a bit uneasy about it as he was a big fan of said comedic host and had developed a friendship with this person prior to the interview. (I know it’s killing you, but I’m not going to help you guess who and what this was.)
I will bring up my similar event to show my thoughts on this. I worked with Greg Fitzsimmons awhile back and had purposely taken the week because I was a fan. He was complimentary of my act and asked if I wanted to be on his podcast. I jumped at the chance as I’m a big fan of it. The interview was pretty good, though he did take a tone of me being below him on the comedy totem pole. On almost any list, I would be below him, but I guess I felt he was a little more condescending than I would have liked. I might not have a comedy central special or a Conan appearance, but I’ve performed for more people than most comics that have either. I’ve had plenty of comics eat shit in front of me with a lot better credits than I have. That doesn’t make me better than them, but it does speak to being in the same game.
I don’t need to list the great comics who didn’t grow up on the Coasts, but sometimes I do feel like I need to list the great comics who have made their base in the Midwest. I would be the first to say that I think the cities that have produced the best comics are Boston and New York, but I would stack up Midwest comics against any other region is the country. You see, here comes the chip. The idea that if you don’t live in LA or NY doing 10-15 minute showcases all week makes you inferior is bullshit. The concept that road comic is a bad thing is only true if it’s hacky. Same goes for alternative comedy that is only based on making jokes that a small group can laugh at. My opinion is the best comics are the ones that can go into any audience and sell original material. Good for you if you become famous preaching to your own crowd (see Margaret Cho or Bill Engvall), but the best shows I’ve ever seen are when someone walks into a potentially hostile situation and through will and wit, comes out the victor. To do that for an hour you need to have done more than coffee houses, you need to have spent time on the stage of an A room and also spent just as much time performing at an American Legion hall. At least that is my belief. But my vision is blurred since I have a bit of chip on my shoulder about the subject.