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Comparison - a comedy dream killer

When I was young I was living in an environment that measures success based on how well you are doing compared to others. Grades, looks, lifestyle - no matter the object of someone’s admiration, the message was the same, do better and be better than those around you. It created a sense of constantly being on a mission to self improve and never feel like you’re actually done with the process. Being a part of an entertainment industry that sentiment never really left my mindset. It only got amplified by the fact that I was living as an immigrant in another country, and in a profession that, years ago, seemed impossible to be a part of. The challenge seemed huge and, at times, made me think I will have to fight some serious dragons to get to my destination. Quickly I realized that every comedian I met is struggling with the same dream killer - comparison.

Teddy Roosevelt’s famous assertion that “comparison is the thief of joy” suggests that making comparisons can be harmful and detract from our happiness. However, the urge to make comparisons is strong. The ways that we make comparisons may give us a biased account of our own skills and experiences. In all fairness, I get it - it can be hard figuring out your own place in an industry that doesn’t have a clear path to success, and where everyone is constantly trying to figure it out. And not just new comics, seasoned professionals are struggling as well, due to the extinction of old school bookings, rise of social media, ‘pandemic comedians’ and the avalanche of quantity over quality. 

Before social media you would compare yourself to people in your school, your town, your community, but now you have these digital platforms that feature successful people all over the globe, so no matter how well you think you are doing, there are always documents of others who look more accomplished. It can create feelings of hopelessness because you are not even sure how much more effort you can put into it and does it even matter? Can all those efforts really pay off or is it just a pipe dream? 

Before we get into how to overcome comparing ourselves to others we have to identify what exactly we are using as a comparison in the first place.

Unrealistic targets

Artists are prone to comparison, it’s inevitable. Who we compare ourselves to matters, as you can accidentally find yourself self-sabotaging because you are missing key signs of someone’s success. You are looking at another person as a standard instead of looking at yourself. We are so attuned to what’s cool and what others used to stand out that we really miss out on what makes us unique. Essentially, comparison creates a self-deprecating mindset. 

The reality is, we all have a different head start. You can’t be mad at a child of an SNL writer who was given an opportunity to have his own show. Sure, nepotism seems unfair to you, because you are not benefiting from it. If your dad was an SNL writer and gave you that opportunity you would take it and have to be on that side of the argument yourself. My point is, you really can’t change the cards you are dealt, you just gotta play the game with what you have. Your path will be different and that’s ok, even better, cause it will show you an alternate way, probably the one that will be beneficial for you long-term. Refusing to accept that will make you more miserable. 

I often hear comedians discussing the rise of another comedian, and I rarely hear the argument “oh yeah, they deserved it cause they proved themselves”. It’s usually a comment how such a comedian is not funny enough, or just got opportunities because he’s good looking, or she’s dating a more famous comedian, or they are some kiss-asses that sold their souls to the devil. There’s always that element of ‘fairness’ that was violated because no one should go from an open micer to an opening act overnight. The reality is you don’t know the full story, you are just focusing on another person because it’s easier than accepting your own shortcomings. 

Personally, I think that any comparison to another person is unrealistic. Even if you grew up in similar environments, had the same education or even a financial background, there are many other factors that will impact the rest of someone’s life. There are many comedians that started around the same time as I did and they are way more successful, featured on Netflix and Comedy Central, touring the world and having hundreds of thousands of followers. And you know what? Good for them, I honestly feel that way. They are a literal proof that with hard work, dedication and yes, a little bit of luck, such a future in this industry is possible for me too. I especially can’t be mad if I didn’t put that level of dedication or my focus was somewhere else. 

I always like to use someone’s success as an inspiration - it was possible for them, against all odds they made it, which means that the same can happen for you, it will just be in a different fashion. Second thing to practice is to imagine if you were given the exact same opportunity at the exact same time. Can you honestly say that you are ready, that you can realistically perform on such a high level that position requires? People sometimes think that once you reach a certain level it’s smooth sailing, cause you’ve already put the work in, but the reality is that the real work is just beginning, you will have to repeatedly justify why you are suddenly in the spotlight. 

Unrealistic goals

There are many videos online that will try to encourage you to be delusional about your dreams, because it’s always impossible until someone does it. The message is supposed to motivate you to never give up, which is fine, and a great fuel for a productive mind and healthy attitude, but there is a missing component that is not spoken enough about - giving yourself some time and some grace. Life happens and it’s all around us, and you first need to take care of yourself before you can take care of your dream.

You might be having a lot on your plate right now, too many responsibilities. I get it, we live in very aggressive times and also witnessing the rise (and fall) of our peers. The reality is, unless comedy is paying you more than your day job, don’t quit that ‘9-5’. You will constantly be in a state of panic which will negatively impact your creativity, as you don’t have the financial security to support yourself, and definitely not your dream. Don’t fall for the glorification of starving artists. That is some hippie bullshit that nobody really benefits from. 

Before setting up some comedy goals, think about what’s currently available to you and what you can realistically accomplish in a short period of time, let’s say 3 months. Is there an audition for a club you are ready for, or a festival that’s important to attend, a collaboration with another comedian, an opportunity to develop a personal project, etc. If none of that is in sight the best thing to do is to focus on perfecting your craft. No matter how long you are in this game, you will never be done with that. Even if you figured out your voice and tempo, you will always need to generate new material. Just ask any comedian who just released his comedy special. They feel like they are starting all over again, because they actually are, at least with their writing. They have to dig deep to find more topics to explore, more material to test with various audiences, more road work and investments. 

Due to the cancellation of Just for Laughs festival, some comedians who’ve auditioned for it and were very excited to be a part of such a monumental event, are feeling really disappointed with the fact they will not be able to go through that experience. It was their dream, their goal, and it became their reality, but the reality was also the fact that the festival couldn’t happen this year so what now? Keep working, stay ready, cause it’s much better to be over prepared than not ready for the next opportunity, that might come faster than you anticipated. 

Stand up comedy requires a lot of soul searching, being raw with your feelings, being honest with yourself and others and even turning some deeply rooted trauma into a performance. It’s not just time consuming but also emotionally taxing. Somewhere along the way you will find your voice, and even your purpose, but none of that happens overnight. 

Lastly, this world is not scarce. Just because someone else is thriving and getting everything you want doesn’t mean there’s no room for you, there’s definitely room. Your path will be different and that’s ok. It might take you longer but nothing is a coincidence and the way you get there might exactly be your saving grace that will build you to remain there long-term. 

Work with what you got, right here and right now. At the end of the day, you are an artist, and in any art form the genius lies in raw emotions and even the mistakes. It’s the way your story unfolds. Comparing yourself to other comedians is not self-reflective because the focus is on them. The only comedian worth comparing yourself to is the one you were yesterday. Do more than that person, that’s how you build your stamina, your authenticity, and, eventually, your legacy. If you are not a spiritual person you might not believe me when I say this, but you are never late, things are unfolding the way they are supposed to so trust the process and mostly, yourself. 

Let me know in the comments what type of comparison you are struggling with the most and what approach are you taking to fix that mindset. 


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