The other night I was browsing Netflix and decided to pick out something that wasn't a movie nor an Archer rerun. I often watch stand-up comedy specials on there and was prompted by Netflix's algorithm with a recommendation for the Nantucket Film Festival's Comedy Roundtable.
Random right? Well it wasn't as obscure as it sounds. Okay, maybe it was. Anyway, I watched it.
The roundtable was an open discussion (in front of a live audience) between Ben Stiller, Jim Carrey and Chris Rock about how they got their career starts in comedy, discussing both the highs and their lowest lows. SNL's Bill Hader moderated the discussion and even jumped in with a few of his own experiences. Even though the 45 minutes of time was centered around building a career in comedy, I thought it was extremely applicable to..well...any career or for any person working towards achieving a life goal.
They were all terrible at first
Despite what your opinions are of these guys' collective works, they've built careers on at least choosing to excel at comedy in some form or fashion. Except for Ben Stiller, everyone on the stage started off in stand-up comedy. I don't remember hearing a single one of them talk about being good in the beginning. Jim Carrey and Chris Rock talked about how they bombed several times early on and how they look back at old tapes of themselves and think about how ridiculous they were. But they kept going.
It's like what Ira Glass said in his manifesto on Taste. We all have this specific taste that we know is good...but our early work just isn't that great. However, with a lot of work, we can refine our "art" and eventually produce something that is good. All of these guys talk about how they worked, failed, and still continued to produce their craft until eventually they saw success. In a current culture that does tend to idolize the 20something startup wunderkinds, it's easy to forget that legends aren't often born; they're made.
They bounced back from potential career ending events
I think this story came from Jim Carrey. He was slated to be on the Tonight Show and ended up performing at a comedy club in L.A. the night before his Tonight Show appearance. This was going to be his first big television appearance and potentially a huge launch for his career. Knowing he would perform on TV the next night, several studio execs came out to his comedy club set to get a sneak peek at what they might see the next day.
Apparently Jim Carrey bombed at that comedy club that night. Hard. He said nothing clicked and he was just enough "off" that it ruined the rest of his set. The next day, he was removed from the Tonight Show lineup and replaced with someone else.
In my career (and several of your all's I'm sure) I've had meetings, pitches and even job interviews early on that went horribly. It seemed like because I didnt' get ____ job or _____ client turned down _____ project, it was the end of the world. Those situations don't really even hold a candle to Carrey's situation. Still, he kept working and didn't let that set him back. Like him or not, he's been able to come out with a fairly successful career. The same can hold true for us if we overcome the situation and don't let the situation overcome us.
They knew when a great opportunity wasn't the best opportunity for them
SNL seems (to me) to be the dream for a comedy writer. There is a level of prestige associated with it. It's like you've made it. So many careers have been launched from a successful stint on SNL (though that's not always the rule...I haven't heard from Joe Piscopo since Sidekicks). If working on SNL is so great, why did Ben Stiller quit after a very short stint on the show?
Yep, Ben Stiller dropped out of SNL. According to him, it wasn't for him. He wanted to be more of a filmmaker and create digital shorts, not necessarily be in live performances. It didn't matter how huge of an opportunity SNL could've been for him - it wasn't the right culture fit for him. Over time, he succeeded doing the style of comedy he wanted to do: on film.
For us, even the biggest opportunities on paper may not be the best fits. You may not be a culture fit with the company you have the opportunity with or you may have a passion point that lies somewhere else. Sometimes achieving your own dreams could mean doing something counter-intuitive...like turn down a huge opportunity for greater potential rewards later (even if those rewards may only be intrinsic). It requires a lot of self awareness to make a decision like that.
They invested in future talent
Bill Hader has a lot of success and was definitely the younger talent on stage during this roundtable. However, he remembers meeting Ben Stiller when he (Hader) was 15 years old. A drama teacher introduced Stiller to Hader and Stiller took him to see how he was filming a movie and invested a little bit of time with him showing him what acting was like. Additionally, I believe Ben Stiller may have even written (or just signed) a few letters of recommendation to help Bill Hader get into some acting schools. Even with his big success, he still took the time to invest in someone like Hader (who at the time was a nobody) who would eventually turn into something successful. It's a story I had never heard until Hader and Stiller shared it on stage.
I personally think comedians are some of the smartest people on the planet. While this 45-minute clip of these guys talking wasn't totally mind-blowing, it was intriguing to see how these guys went through similar early career struggles, setbacks or even self-doubts that we all do - just in a different venue and career path.
What life lessons have you learned from comedians?