It’s something we as comedians all strive for and desire.
Everyone’s idea of success is different from one comic to the next and changes as time passes. Maybe your idea of success is late-night television? Working the clubs? Or an hour special? Whatever you think success is, there is no doubt it’s a positive.
Or is it?
There is the other side that I have seen in many comedians both on the scene and those who are actually carving out a name in the industry; it’s the fear of success.
Success is exciting, but it can also be anxiety inducing. Once you are successful, your sense of normal is forced to change. As comics, success is typically based off of going from an unknown to being a somebody. You might be forced to make certain decisions that can impact your overall sense of stability to get further and that’s not an easy thing to deal with.
Do you fear your own success? These are the signs I have noticed with comedians today.
Not trying to evolve in your actual craft.
We’ve all seen them. The comedians that stay the same as a performer and don’t evolve in their comedy. These are the comics labeled as “forever open mic comedians” for years to come and show no signs of moving up on the totem pole. They might do a bar show and a bringer show here and there, but it rarely ever goes beyond that. When you don’t evolve, it only stagnates your trajectory. Being complacent as a performer only keeps you in the same mode. I remember talking to a comic years ago that complained about not getting auditions for certain clubs because they were performing so much at bars and thought it meant something. This comic really only had a tight eight minutes at best, and the rest was material that wasn’t ready. Clubs, bars, etc. are all different areas of performance and strength in one doesn’t mean it’ll translate to the next level.
Bar shows, club shows, late night, etc. all have different parameters of what it takes to be successful in that area. Each is a whole different ball game and for your craft, it takes continuous evolution with performance to even attempt to be sellable.
Lack of evolution is, unfortunately, the nail in the coffin for most wannabe comedians.
Getting involved in things that deviate from your path.
My dad continuously uses the phrase “stop fartin’ around.” Unfortunately a lot of comics “fart around” when it comes to carving out their name on the scene and ultimately the industry.
Let’s call a spade a spade. Many comics are involved in drugs and alcohol. That’s probably the most prevalent example on the scene (in NYC at least). Some legit have issues that go way back even before comedy, but there are some who I know and have seen use some type of substance to cope with the pressure of comedy.
Yes, comedy is full of pressure, but something like drug and alcohol use (or abuse) is only going to pull you down and hold you back from being successful.
Doing things that deviate will also eventually destroy anything you’ve built and you can’t use the guise of “but I’m a comic” to negate from having common sense.
Holding on to what is comfortable.
Some of us have our plan.
We want to wait till we have a certain level of prowess as comedians before we make that decision to really “choose” comedy.
By “choosing” I mean that point where you commit to giving comedy your full attention.
There’s nothing wrong with that. Even I have my full-time job to pay the bills. But if you look at some comics on the scene that are actually working comics, have agents, etc., some are still afraid to let go of that salary or element of stability even if they have a growing presence.
Now I’m not saying to quit your job and just go into comedy full time; you have to be realistic about what you are doing and your personal presence. If you’re booking mostly bar shows, maybe it’s not the time. But if you have a true stamp in clubs and are getting paid gigs and it’s becoming consistent, you have to decide when to let go. The stress of trying to balance having both worlds can be enough to completely burn out over and over again.
Not acknowledging the business side of the industry.
This is often a precursor to how far a comic will go, but failing to recognize the industry is highly prevalent. This manifests in many ways: focusing only on your craft, not being aggressive enough, not focusing on the right opportunities, lacking professionalism, etc. There are tons of ways this could go and it’s often my biggest pet peeve. Yes, we are comics, which gives us a certain level of allowance to make mistakes and say things that maybe “normal” people couldn’t get away with, but it doesn’t discount the high level of business sense you need to navigate off the stage.
Lack of business savvy shows and it’s often why many don’t go further.
Now, fear of success is something that can be overcome, but don’t let it be something that ultimately sabotages you or holds you back. No one knows what exactly what success will bring and that’s half the battle: getting over the anticipation of the unknown.
So ask yourself again...Do you fear your own success?
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