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@loripalminteriTweets by @loripalminteri
“You don’t bend for the audience, I respect that,” says comedian I opened for, some four or five years ago. And while winning the respect of comedian brotheran has and is more important to me than audience response, I felt it was kind of backhanded compliment that I had good jokes, but I bombed.
This remark would become somewhat common to me from other comedians. And I know they mean it in the way that “I have balls,” but it has a double meaning that I am not really a well rounded comedian. My performance (though so much better than five years ago) is mediocre, I lean too heavily on my jokes. My jokes are clever, dry and dark, so if a crowd is dim or easily offended, we’re not going to be a good fit. Sometimes, my contempt for a crowd is warranted. Other times, I’m to blame and I’ll take ownership of my own shortcomings and faults.
Most recently a friend and comic I haven’t seen in too long texted me after a gig we just did together, “you are one of the bravest comedians… you never waver… I respect you so much for it.”
I half joked that if I did waver I might actually have a career. Playing to the comics in the back of the room was a horrible career plan. It was my only plan. I neither respect nor care what the masses think. It’s rare I encounter people who’s opinions matter to me. But even if I’m killing with stale material, if there’s a comic in the back who I admire, I want to throw up on stage for not having honed better bits. Any comic worth anything knows a good comic from a hack regardless of audience response.
In fairness, my lack of conforming to a crowd probably has more to do with apathy than bravery. It took many years and probably a 1000 shows (not exaggerating) to actually be calm on stage and not just look that way. Not only am I not a natural performer, I’m not a natural at comfort in general. I’m extremely uncomfortable looking and I only know this because people keep reminding me how uncomfortable I look all the time (which doesn’t help). Unfortunately, I don’t have delusions about who/what I am as a comedian. This is and isn’t a good thing. There’s a level of delusion as a novice comic that will give you enough of a false confidence to succeed until you’ve earned it. I always doubted myself out of respect for the sheer challenge of the craft. It’s hard as fuck.
Perhaps it’s pride or that I can be one stubborn motherfucker but I cling to sailing my own flag, even if it’s tattered, unknown and without followers. When I look to my brother, who is often an inconsiderate asshole, I still love him to death and admire him for being so unapologetically him. While we are similar in so many ways, mirrored souls in some form, he has a decisiveness I lack and I have a bandwidth of empathy he is either not capable of or doesn’t have a desire to tap into it, perhaps knowing that empathy comes with burden and baggage. Perhaps fearing depression that I’m so susceptible.
While I’ve long been an old soul with some sort of innate intelligence that exists between emotion and logic, my brother and I have both been advised to accept and grow into the “real world,” a phrase that is completely meaningless to me. When I say reject reality, I don’t mean existing in a fantasy with dragons, rather not allowing other people to define yours. This is the nature of the pirate hearted. This is the about not compromising the parts of you that are still wild in what could be deemed or confused as childlike. Somethings I see too clearly.
Once you start comprising who you are… the unraveling is hard is hard if not impossible to undo. Most do it as early as middle school. Trying to be “cool.” Conforming to fit in. Then begins the materialistic bullshit. The name brand products. The implanted seed that you need money to buy things rather than do things. Can’t you see the difference? Too often people boast something meaningless to show off who they are when what they are really doing is showing off who they are not.
Like innocence, unless something really horrific happens to you, your coming of age or growing into a false self happens piece by piece rather than all at once. It’s not like peeling an orange with your fingers, it’s more like peeling an orange in paper thin slices with peeler. Whittling away pieces of yourself. It is inevitable. It will happen to all of us. You. Me. Your kids. Your heroes. Your enemies. That’s why it’s so important to defend yourself. No one else is going to. With every piece you compromise, that slice of you falls to the ground and rots until it’s recycled into something else. If there’s anything I want my nephew and niece to eventually learn from me it’s that when someone tells them that something has to be a certain way, and it doesn’t feel right to them or they don’t like it and it makes them unhappy, I want them to picture me behind whomever is forcing their shit reality on them saying, “it doesn’t have to be like this! It doesn’t have to be like this! Don’t compromise your little pirate hearts! Do and be what makes YOU smile. This world is full of jackasses!”
When I half joked that if I wavered on stage I would might actually have a career, it’s more than half a truth. This industry sucks, I’d caution any one who dares to try comedy. That they’re going to have be stronger than they think. That they’re going to have to be more insane than they want to be. But you can become undeniably good. You can work hard and find a form of success that is probably not what you imagined, perhaps not ideal, but grow with your integrity and art with minimal compromise. As for me, well… I’m talented but deniable. It would be a lie if I said that doesn’t bother me. It destroys me some days.
Other days, be it a great show, better company, creative explosions— those times you’re just happy to be here. Happy that it’s happening. at all. And you remember something. Something about just being here that’s familiar.
What I truly wanted to lament to my friend in his encouraging words was that my ship was a sinking one. My sails, beyond repair. My cannons, out of balls. My rudder, cracked and unstable. I refrained because I loathe pity and was not fishing for compliments. Still, he replied, “Your North is your North. Stay North.”