Seems like everyone wants to be a player but nobody wants to get their hands dirty in the game.
By Bernadette Pauley (Comedian / TV Host)
It never fails. At least once a week I get the random Facebook message or email asking me for help getting into standup comedy or "breaking in" to entertainment. Sometimes it's a blatant request for assistance (help getting a manager/ agent/stage time etc.) and sometimes it starts off as a request for "advice." I used to respond to the "advice" requests by referring people to the Joan Rivers documentary A Piece of Work and to watch Marc Maron's address to The Montreal Comedy Festival in it's entirety.
Both of these give a pretty good depiction of the commitment it takes to become a standup comedian and then to actually survive. I assume some of the people I gave this advice to were too lazy to follow through and actually watch the movie and the clip. Others, however, would hit me back with "I've watched them, now what?" Now what? You're asking me "Now what?" Oh, I'm sorry, how could I have dropped the ball on you like that. Let me sit down with you, hold your hand, wipe your ass and help you into the world of entertainment. Why should I do this? Because you are a very special and unique individual, your mother told you this and she couldn't have been lying.
When I was 21 my best friend and I wanted to "make it" in entertainment, so we moved to NYC to do just that. We shared a 130 square foot studio apartment on the lower east side. The dilapidated stove, sink, tiny counter and both twin beds all in one room. Just a little addition to the glamour - no closets, so we creatively hung or folded our clothes all around the apartment and in the bathroom. And then, we hustled. We worked.
For well over a decade I grabbed every cash job I could get my hands on so that I could fund surviving in New York City and "getting into entertainment." I waited tables, bussed tables, bartended, did coat check, was a cigarette girl and a bathroom attendant. I worked high end, I worked low end, I cocktailed the overnight shifts and I made the coffee for the morning shifts. I waited on tourists, mafiosos, mafia-wanna-bes and wall street boys. I paid for my acting classes, pounded the streets on auditions and when I booked a play or a short film I sometimes got fired from my money job so I would just go grab myself another one and look for the next acting gig. Oh, and I graduated to a slew of walk up apartments complete with bathtubs in the kitchen, slumlords and a collection of crazy roommates that you'd swear were hand picked from a casting for The Devil's Rejects.
Ten years into my crazy NYC life "in entertainment", I did my first open mic. That was it. I was hooked, caught the bug and there was no going back. I went to every single open mic and comedy club and hung out seven nights a week anywhere and everywhere I could to get on stage. I found a place I could cocktail from 10pm - 4am so I could do stand up (for free) seven nights a week and still audition and do my classes during the day.
I stayed completely obsessed with being the absolute best standup comedian I could and watched great comedians doing their thing while I waited to get on stage. I watched Wanda Sykes doing the 11:10pm spots at The Comic Strip on weeknights and wondered, "this woman is so funny, why isn't she on earlier when the crowd is still alive?" I watched Jim Gaffigan do his spots at Hamburger Harry's open mic when he was working every club in the city and had a heineken commercial running non-stop. I watched Chris Rock go from club to club night after night tweaking the same joke again and again until it was perfect. These people inspired me and I modeled my strategy after theirs: WORK.
(Of course, looking back, this was a huge mistake on my part. The Irish Catholic in me always has to do things the hard way. I should have bought a pair of boobs and as Dan Naturman suggested to me "sat on a few laps", but who knew?)
So You want to be a standup comedian? I've never met you, never seen your work, but you've decided to reach out to me because your frat brothers told you you're funny. You live in suburbia. Maybe you live in your mom's attic. You have health insurance. Maybe you drive your little Lexus from your 95K job to do comedy shows for your co-workers and all your wife's co-workers at the local Chucklehut six, seven, up to eight times a year. And of course, you KILL at all your shows. You've even been kind enough to send me a link, ensuring me that this is nothing compared to seeing you "riff" at the office. Wow. I'd love to see that. So, you'd like a little help? Sure, of course, it's the least I can do. I'll start off by contacting every single person in the industry telling them that they've just GOT to see this guy from Connecticut. Then, if you'll be so kind as to send me your address, I will come to your home, clean it for you, fellate you and cook you dinner. How could I not?
You want to be in entertainment? Grow some balls, put your big girl panties on and earn it motherfucker. Earn it.