You may have noticed that we’ve been answering some comedy-related reader questions in this here space. Most of these questions come to us via Punchline’s Formspring page; some of them come from our Tumblr. The one we’re rolling out for you today, however, comes from our friend and comedian Sara Benincasa’s Formspring page. It’s honestly the only other account I follow on Formspring; so, when I saw this question and answer the other day, I thought that our readers would appreciate it.
Ok. so here we go:
I made the choice to abandon a future of soul-crushing research to pursue comedy. As you may know, a lot of serious reflection goes into that move. How did you come to it yourself and how did you maintain your sanity when you made that big decision?
Good for you! Everyone’s story is different, so read mine with the knowledge that it is neither a prescription or a cautionary tale; it is simply the path I took.
I realized in grad school for education that I didn’t want to be a teacher. A friend in my class had just quit her job at Comedy Central, and she told me I was funny and ought to try stand-up. I loved it, and I also loved my sketch writing class at the PIT.
I started going to grad school part-time instead of full-time, found day jobs, got family handouts, worked my fucking ass off at writing/blogging/vlogging/comedy, and now here we are today: I’m on a COBRA health insurance plan from the radio channel that canceled my show after two years of full-time hosting/production employment; I freelance for Comedy Central, Wonkette, and other places; I’m writing a book and hopefully anticipating the second half of my advance check once I turn in something the publisher deems publishable (please Lord please let it be so); I travel to speak about mental healthcare at colleges; I travel to teach workshops and do comedy shows; I get unemployment checks the weeks I don’t get other checks; I ask my family for handouts; I live in a wildly overpriced Manhattan apartment that I chose in spring 2009 when I was making more money; I apply for everything from administrative assistant jobs to staff writing positions at magazines/websites; I go on auditions; I’m constantly developing and pitching new projects with like-minded cohorts; I have a management team that helps me find new opportunities and encourages me to make art for art’s sake as well as for money’s sake; I’m planning on spending the summer somewhere cheaper than Manhattan; and I’m fucking happy.
Would I rather be independently wealthy or at least independently-making-ends-meet without the assistance of the state of New York or my family? Yes. But after years of feeling embarrassed that I needed financial help, I choose instead to feel grateful that it is there. I use it as motivation to work even harder. And I love what I do and where I live.
I’d advise you not to compare yourself to friends with more conventional paths (9 to 5 job, kids, actually owning things like houses and cars) because you didn’t make that choice. They may be happy or they may be sad or they may be bored or they may be energetic, but they’re not you. You are going to make this work in your own way. I know actors and writers who are also on unemployment (found out two of my friends just got laid off the other day). I know folks who have soul-crushing day jobs and still do their art. I know folks who fucking love their day jobs and still do their art. I know folks who are employed full-time doing their art.
I know people who have kids and make their art. I know people who had kids and gave their art up. I know people who chose not to have children because they loved their art more than they could love a child. As you continue this journey, you will see that there is no one right way to “make it,” and that we all have different definitions of “making it.” My socks were knocked off the very first time I got a paycheck for doing what I loved, and that paycheck was in a relatively small amount. I certainly couldn’t live off it, or quit my day job. But it brought me such joy.
Other folks don’t measure success by money, but rather by recognition from friends/family/strangers or by some inner knowing that they’ve rocked their own hearts to the core with awesomeness.
Fame cannot be the stick by which you measure success. By some people’s standards, I’m an Internet microcelebrity. I get fan mail. On very rare occasions, I get recognized when I am doing things that are not comedy-related, such as walking down the street and drinking alcohol in bars. And you know what? I can’t pay my damn rent. I have friends who are way more well-known than me, and I have friends who are less well-known than me, and we’re all figuring shit out as we go along.
Do this because you love it. Don’t kill yourself to do it. Don’t starve or suck cock to do it. Enjoy yourself, and understand that sometimes it will be stressful and suck. When the suckage outweights the awesomeage, it’s time to reflect on whether you want to change. This is finger-painting. This is the sandbox. You can do it and never grow up, but you’ll still die eventually. You can do it and grow up. You can grow up without doing it. There are infinite possibilities. The best advice I can give you is to be nice, work hard, and recognize that while you aren’t entitled to a fucking thing, you should advocate for yourself.
And say thank you. Because all of this is fairytale, Candyland stuff. There are people who literally live amidst shit and garbage. We don’t. We’re the lucky ones.