@loripalminteriTweets by @loripalminteri
At Worst/At Best
I will never forget the first day I tried stand-up comedy. Mostly because it was also the day Michael Jackson died.
It does feel like a long time ago now, nine years ago; only 20 years old, a college student with a strong love for creating and language. Comedy, in particular. Not simply because I grew up in an environment where quips and laughs were the norm, but also because a good joke; a really perfect joke, with no fat, is both the manipulation of language and a pull at some sort of tension, a combination of thought and ridiculousness. Comedy is a language puzzle. And it’s extremely difficult. Most people are not very good at it, let alone capable.
It seemed wise at the time to focus on college and leave comedy on a back burner until I graduated, and I would graduate early because I didn’t want to quit college and I also didn’t want to waste any more time there. From a very young age, I always liked to create… specifically to write. It wasn’t until college when I discovered how much I liked to learn as well. My head had long been in the clouds as an adolescent, and I was far more interested in my fantasies than real knowledge, and while dreaming may be a side effect of youth, I still think it holds tremendous value. At this stage in my life, I find it fact that if you lose the thirst to learn creation won’t quench your thirst either. The two feed off each other.
In what was probably one of the first 15 shows I ever did (a bringer show at Stand-Up NY), I remember standing outside talking to comedians Lenny Marcus and Dan Naturman. Both are hilarious comedians and great people, whom I now consider friends. Lenny, a die hard Giants fan, is someone I’ve both cheered and lamented our team with, as well as someone who’s reached out when my writing/posts have gotten especially dark with thoughts of concern and cheer-leading advice. When I gigged in Aruba, Naturman was one of the other comics on shows, so I knew the trip would be filled with extra laughs, as Dan is a comic genius.
Neither of them remember this night, but since comedy is a borderline obsession, I recall comedy nights very vividly. Because they’re both great joke writers, funny as hell, and I thought it was so cool I was getting to hang/talk to Lenny and Dan. Naturman was lamenting comedy. Frustrated about something, no doubt. In my novice view, this was just beyond me. I said to him, “you get to do this every night! And get paid. That’s amazing. It’s the best job in the universe.”
Dan agreed that it’s a great job, and then was about to go into why it wasn’t when Lenny stopped him. Lenny cut him off and offered more words of encouragement than warning. Still, I took notice.
Now, the memory, if I watch it as a third person like a film; I understand myself, of course. Young, naive yes, but not stupid or unaware. I understand Lenny, stopping Dan from going into a soliloquy about the heartache comedy will cause because he is also aware of the value in stand-up. And perhaps, now, I most understand Dan. Not bitter, but frustrated, jaded.
Sometimes, that girl standing outside of Stand-Up New York, stoked, seems very far away. That girl wanted to shake Dan. Shake him, and say, “don’t you realize how talented you are, don’t you realize that you are doing the improbable. Don’t you see you’re special.” To be clear, comedically, I am not (nor will I ever) putting myself in the same category as Naturman, but that same version of me would shake current me, “Lori, you should keep going, look at how far you’ve come, look at your friendships and your work. You should be proud of this. This is cool.”
There is a terror that kicks in. Yes, success and failure are sliding scales, and relative based on desires and goals. I’ve heard many say you haven’t failed unless you quit which I do not agree with. Failure, though, is not only part of the game, but a crucial part of the grind. Failure is imperative to learning, especially with comedy. You have to fail all the time, in front of people. That’s what makes stand-up such a daunting art.
That fear never fully dissipates, but if you work hard, it becomes softer. The worse feelings are when you realize you are good enough at this… but maybe that’s all you’ll be; good enough, not great. And somehow that’s worse than failing. Somehow it’s worse. Because you worked so hard. You’ve gotten so much farther than most will. Your hearts still in it. You can’t go back and start a life in something that you’re not passionate in. This very well may be a death sentence but any other way is a death sentence, for sure.
You may think I’m being hard on myself, but I do not write/post about all my opportunities. Opportunities, in themselves, I try to remember, are wins. But when one doesn’t happen, and then the next, and the following, you must wonder and/or realize: the common denominator is me. Being good enough is far from being great. Am I in the way?
Confidence, for me, and most writers, is up and down. Sometimes, it’s logistically where it should be. Other times, it’s disproportionately high, but the times is deplorably low seem to outweigh the cocky side. To look at your work and have legitimately no idea if it’s good or that you like it is detrimental to anyone who ties their identity with their work. To be convinced that no one thinks you’re funny, that people are just nice to try to sleep with you, is an insecurity that disappears and resurfaces all the time for me. Those creative plateaus and the call to abandon this ship reoccur and become more tempting. Getting burnt out sometimes is only natural but will there come a time when the fire in your belly has finally gone out for good?
There is something to be said of course about the tragedy of a comic. There is always some chase, and therefore never any real fulfillment. Ambition has negative side effects. To see people I idolize, comedians who became friends, who I would very much consider successful, also unhappy is truly heartbreaking.
Perception is a funny thing. Life can be one thing through one lens, and something else through the other, even if you’re standing in the exact same spot. Love is a form of madness. Stand-up is a drug. And I’m in a game where there is no winning or losing. It’s all just bullshit. Like everything else.
That’s where the pain comes in, I suppose. That everything you do is so utterly meaningless, and yet, I still care about this so much, even though I’m not sure, and often doubt, that comedy is a road to happiness. But that’s where the humor comes in too. The ability to laugh at it all, because life is ridiculous. Funny comes from frustration. There is literally no point to taking any of this so seriously.
It’s never boring, this life. Comedy is still a drug that gets me high. The only thing that’s ever paralleled to it is surfing. The sub-culture: the comedians, I think, are the true rewards of comedy. Sometimes, even now, I can be honored, almost giddy, when certain comedians ask my opinion about jokes or to read their scripts. Or without hesitation, consider me one of them when I still feel like I’m on the outside looking in a lot. But that doesn’t mean I don’t understand a fellow comic, or that they don’t understand me. What I’ve really earned over the years is a bond with a people possessed. We’re a fucked up bunch, comedians, but truly my favorite people on the planet.
It still excites me to exchange script notes with my writing partner, Nick Griffin. This I consider one of the great accomplishments of my career, that Griffin sees me as a peer and holds my writing to some sort of esteem. Though if we never sold anything, it would be a disappointment I would blame only myself for.
It still excites me when someone I started with, open mic’ing every night of week and grinding, gets a TV break or a writing job. Knowing their talent, knowing what they did to get there. It’s their win, of course, but they still defied the odds, knowing that goodhearted, hard working and talented people break through feels like a win for the community in general.
It still excites me to watch a friend and/or a comic I think is funny as hell kill. And it excites me to have a beer with them, or a sandwich, and talk shop. And it excites me when they notice that I’m working on a new bit that they like. A list is available upon request of the many, many comics I look forward to working with. A list that grows every year.
It still excites me walk onto a stage and pull the microphone from the stand, knowing that when a crowd looks at me, they have no idea what sort of dark jokes are about to come out of my deceivingly innocent looks. And that feeling you get when a new bit kills. Pure creation. And such honesty in laughter.
At worst, I will fall short of all my own expectations. At best, I already accomplished more than I thought I ever would.
Thank you for taking the time to read this.