Something I constantly hear about from other comics is the struggle on the path to success. Whether it’s the long nights at open mics, shitty performance venues, or weird people you encounter, the life of a stand-up comic is often a slew of humbling ups and downs.
I attended a conference earlier this year about the business of stand-up comedy in which Jessica Kirson spoke on the panel. She discussed the humbling experiences of being on late night, The View, and then the next day “performing in a cafeteria.” As she elaborated more on her experiences she said something that stuck with me:
“You never want be given an opportunity that you aren’t ready for…”
She then spoke about an opportunity she received to audition for a booker at a premier club in New York City. This was early in her stand-up career and reflecting back she knew she wasn’t ready to receive that opportunity.
This made me think about how comics today are so eager to gain success, yet they have only been on the scene for a few years. Some don’t even have a plan for what exactly they want to do with their career. They just “want to be a great stand-up.”
It is true that the industry moves fast, but individual careers take time to cultivate and flourish and you never want to be successful too quickly. Here’s why.
Quick success equals quick burnout.
There’s a saying by philosopher Lao Tzu that resonates with quick success: “the flame that burns twice as bright burns half as long.”
We are human and success has a tendency to bring about stress that tests not only our ability to do something, but also our passion.
Success can come from doing so much and being seen frequently. That’s great, and you aren’t wrong for grabbing at opportunities; however, for the person who isn’t mentally or emotionally prepared to handle industry success just yet, it will likely lead to a career that doesn’t last too long.
I read a piece in The Guardian about stand-up comics who quit comedy altogether and burnout proved to be one of the biggest factors.
People often have a misconception that once you become successful everything becomes easier. The truth is it’s the exact opposite: your stress will increase with success which makes it so much harder to maintain. Sometimes it’s the pressure to maintain the success, the overload of projects, etc. that gets to people and it’s more common than you think.
Maturity in this industry equals longevity.
One thing I’ve noticed, especially in the New York City scene is that comics are diverse not only in style of comedy, race, religion, etc., but also with how long they have been doing comedy.
Chronological time means very little anymore. Whether it’s age or the the length of time you’ve been doing comedy, it all boils down to maturity levels when it comes to preparedness for success.
I’ve met comics who have been on the scene for ten years (even twenty or thirty), yet they haven’t made it because their emotional maturity is not up to par with what the industry requires. They’re either not jumping on opportunities, not capitalizing on opportunities given, or waiting for opportunities to be handed to them. All of it boils down to laziness.
There’s a reason why comics like Joan Rivers, Dave Chappelle, and Jay Leno exhibit longevity. It’s because they possess a level of maturity that is needed to navigate the industry and its opportunities; being a working comic requires being a businessperson, and to be a good in business a certain level of maturity is necessary.
A strong foundation is key.
Ultimately, to handle success in this industry you need to have a strong foundation to be truly successful in this industry.
For comics it’s not just about our art. Any comic can develop an hour of material, but what makes the difference for readiness is the emotional and mental preparedness to handle what this industry throws at you.
Some get there faster than others and some never get there at all. Keep in mind that just because you want success now doesn’t mean you are ready for it.
If you are truly prepared for success your time will come and when it comes you will appreciate it more.
Got questions or something to add? Comment below and tell us your thoughts!