There are two main things that people believe they are so far better at than they actually are: singing and being funny. However, if there is anything more painful and awful to watch than someone who mistakenly believes they can sing, it is someone who truly believes they are funny and desperately are not.
This is why I’m terrified to chase my real, secret dream of becoming a comedy writer… but I’ll get to that in a minute.
I say that these are the “two main things” (aside from, say, being well-read or knowing how to act or something else that is completely subjectively judged) because these are the two things that everyone has access to attempting every day of their lives and that throngs and throngs of misguided people flock to various auditions for in hopes to find success in these coveted crafts. It’s far harder to be convinced that you’re a brilliant doctor if you’re killing people left and right or that you’re a fantastic pilot if you can’t even turn a plane on, right? Those are things that require actual evidence of talent and capability in order to acheive success at. But people who mistakenly believe that they are great singers or groundbreaking comedians aren’t required to have any sort of tangible evidence that they have any competence or training in their field so they’re more likely to hurl themselves toward it in complete delusion. Maybe it’s because those who can entertain are considered heroes in our culture, maybe it’s because those people who are mistaken about their talents think that fame and recognition for these likable talents will make them feel loved, but whatever the case, these are the two things that people in any social class or setting attempt to demonstrate constantly, whether to small audiences or on a nationally-syndicated television show. And they come in droves as those most willing to make colossal asses of themselves.
This starts on a basic level, which we’ll call Level 1′s (The Socially Unfunny.) Usually there is one person around who loves to think of him/herself as being “witty” and “sarcastic” and will also brag to new friends that these are among their best qualities. And, while they may actually have learned the definition of “sarcasm,” their development of the implementation of the technique apparently stalled immediately afterward. (Typically around the early 90′s.) Level 1′s are incessantly interjecting commentary that is not only insipid and predictable but is almost nauseatingly unfunny. True, the comments they make are technically “sarcastic,” but they are in the very most primitive form, indicative of the exhausting Chandler character on ‘Friends.’ Usually, this behavior is found in children ages 10-17 who have just learned about the idea of sarcasm but still have no grasp in irony. (And, for the record, this was definitely me for the majority of my adolesence. Another problem cured through sobriety!) However, when this person is any older than 18, it just becomes obnoxious.
For example, if a friend of one of these Level 1′s (L1) was to trip and fall in front of the L1, the L1 would automatically be inspired to say something like, “Hey, next time why don’t you try walking?” or “Walk much?” Sometimes the L1 will take it to an L1.5 response and hint at irony, like “Look out for that sidewalk; it likes to shift.” Another example of an L1.5 response would be if, say, a frequently-unkempt person had decided to skip a bath for a day and told their L1.5 acquaintence, only to be told, “And that’s neeeeeever something you’d do. Because you’resoooohygenic. ” [Insert I'm-totally-kidding-wink here.] Any of these variations are categorically Level 1, though, because they are agonizingly dull, uninspired, obvious and outdated. (Because I was a candidate of L1 status as a drunk, it serves as yet another strong reason as to why I should avoid the booze.)
The Level 2 gang is only slightly advanced in that they understand the basics of generalized wit, sarcasm, and perhaps even humor-inducing elements/formulas but their voices and attempts are based on the trends of popular contemporary comedy styles. These people are funny enough to stand out in small groups of people and L2.5′s may even attempt a career but ultimately won’t be able to make any name for themselves or find any real success because they are simply carbon copies of real talent. An L2 probably adorescomedy and is capable of reproducing various styles of humor that are all relevant to current pop culture. For example, an L2 can mimic the Random-Humor style of “Monty Python” just as well as he can cite obscure references like “Family Guy” has earned vast recognition for [beating to death.] Although it’s an easier format, many L2′s are popular for their ability to channel the revolutionary (at the time) Awkward-and-Silly humor that Adam Sandler introduced and Andy Samberg continues today. And, a very advanced L2.5 may even be able to grasp the absurdist satire styles that create such shows as “South Park.” All are popular subgenres of comedy for a reason and, recognizing this, an L2 is happy to jump on board.
And the very worst of these egomaniacal Unfunnies are the Level 3′s. L3′s are so convinced that they are humorous that they have committed their lives to treating the world to their humor. These are the types who are capable of thinking outside of the box but their attempts at humor fall into the unsuccessful subcategories of comedy like Pretentious Humor, So-Abstract-Nobody-Gets-It Humor, So-Twisted-And-Disgusting-That-You’d-Have-To-Be-Soulless-To-Laugh Humor, or So-Overwrought-With-Intention-That-Nobody-Gives-A-Shit Humor. Similar to the Level 2.5′s, the L3 often copies popular styles of humor although on a more elitist level. An L3 is more likely to mimic the Uncomfortable-And-Awkward-Situation Humor as popularized by shows like “The Office” and “Kath and Kim” (The UK and AUS originals, of course. This type of humor requires subtlety in order to really be effective and if there’s anything Americans cannot seem to grasp it’s exactly that. Oh, and the idea that we’re not a theocracy… but that’s another conversation.) and even in the groundbreaking “Napoleon Dynamite” (most recognizable by it’s overquotation from L2′s.) These people believe they are the next Andy Kaufman, that they are going to shake up the way we all accept humor, that they are going to redefine the comedy world, and the only reason that they haven’t been able to touch the masses is because they’re ahead of their time and nobody recognizes their greatness yet. But L3′s are not destined to become actual comedians because they are chronic Unfunnies and the only genuine humor they display is the sad fact that they cannot see how terrible they are and the complete irony that their life often matches the exact crappy comedy they’re writing/performing.
I am petrified that I’m destined to become a Level 3.
I’ve always secretly dreamed of being a writer for SNLor some comedy-based performance company in general. Then when Tina Fey started stepping out I became even more excited with the realization that women are finally starting to get taken seriously as brilliant comedians capable of entertaining masses on an intelligent level. Although I’ve been performing on stage since I was 6-ish, I’ve come to the realization that I’m just not that funny to watch, really. And when I’m watching recordings of my performances I am literally sickened by all my terrible artistic choices and the opportunities I missed and my general cluelessness when it comes to creating a presence. With that in mind, I was fortunate enough to write and perform with a quite successful comedy troupe in Melbourne, Australia a few years ago and just adored it. I enjoyed collaborating on ideas with others, I loved feeling like my work was something people really enjoyed and I became intoxicated with pride and glee when a line or sketch I’d written garnered laughs and applause. Again, when I watch my performances from those shows now I blatantly cringe at my awkward stage persona (and the sad realization that I don’t even have the brilliance to make that work for me, like the dozens of awkward comedians we love because of their weirdness) but I really started getting excited at the idea that maybe some of my thoughts were original and maybe I wasn’t completely idiotic to the comedic cues of social consciousness.
The problem is, I’m 99.9% positive I’m not a funny person. I mean, I can feed right in to obvious jokes and can even adjust these responses to match the demographic preferences of my immediate company (so, I’m pretty L2, even though I’m not as blindly confident as the aforementioned L2′s in the descriptions) and there are times when I’m genuinely on a roll about something and have people chuckling more than usual, but when it comes to real, uniquely stylized humor, I’m completely inept. No unique voice, no original thoughts or concepts, nothing that doesn’t fit some preconceived, overused everyday format.
And this gets even more frustrating in my daily life as I’m a bit addicted to really bright, insightful and/or progressive comedy in almost any form. While I love to read popular humor writers like The Sedaris, The Eggers, Sloane Crosley, Jenn Lancaster, Erma Bombeck, Everyone at The Onion, etc. and I looooooovewatching/following stand-up comedy like I’m a paid reviewer (Patton Oswalt still being my favorite; I’m almost to groupie status with my collection of essays and speeches and bootlegs… I like that he’s intelligent and well-read and expects his audience to be so as well instead of catering to the lowest common denom crew. It’s admirable.), I’m constantly becoming discouraged with the realization that I am not as brilliant as these people I’m so in awe of. Sure, half the sketches on SNLthese days are so terrible a 3rd grader on heroin could’ve written them, but for the most part, comedy has made a massive comeback since the Great Comedy Massacre of the late-80′s-early-90′s. And I feel like a prepubescent white kid trying out for the NBA for even daring to think that I could work in this industry.
Thank God I’m not clueless as to my inabilities because I would HATE to be one of the previously discussed idiots blindly plunging forward in a ridiculous confidence. But on the other side of the coin, I’m wondering how much of that is realistic and if, by some wild chance, my fear is actually holding me back from even so much as attempting to contemplate researching the ability to begin this dream. (No, seriously. I’m that hesitant.)
So today I’m at a party in the Chicago area and happened to fall into a conversation with a woman who was very good friends with a woman who started as a performer at Second City, where she met The Fey (cut to me having a Gat-damned heartattack) and from which she transferred to SNL. When H.R.H. Fey decided to begin her own empire of genius, this woman (we’ll call her K.) was invited to come with and is now a writer for ’30 Rock.’ (This was the part where I lost my bowels.) Trying not to gush (I mean, this was a person who knew a person who knew Mrs. Fey. It’s not like I was touching Her garments or using my hair to wash her feet.) I mentioned how much I loved the show, admired The Fey’s work and influence on the industry and had always really wanted to get into that sort of thing but was limited with my lifestyle and location for the time being. After I told her I’d had a little experience working and writing with a real, legit troupe she casually mentioned that she’d be happy to send a message to K and ask for any insight into getting into the industry, if she’d be willing to take a look at some writing samples and offer criticisms, etc. I was mortified at how childishly excited I became at a mention of a chance this woman might mention me to someone who knows someone who knows someone that will more than likely turn into absolutely nothing at all. This woman had never met me, will probably never see me again, has never read any of my work, and honestly was probably doing the typical just-being-nice-because-I-mentioned-a-connection thing. Still, I turned into a moron but was able to create an adult persona until I was able to attack Greg with the embarrassingly non-existant “news.”
And then I started thinking, What if, by some wild freak chance, this woman I met today was serious and wrote to K and I somehow got in contact with her and was asked to send some writing samples or something equally improbable… What then?
What I mean specifically is “What the fuck are you going to give them? What do you have to offer at all?” Greg and I have agreed that we’ll up and move anywhere it takes for the other to realize their dream no matter how ridiculous. So relocating or taking a dream job or any of that isn’t my question in this case, mostly because I literally never think it will ever be a reality.
So it all comes back to me not ever wanting to be a clueless, arrogant L3. Sometimes I so wish I had that idiotically blind superego that so many untalented artists have, like Adam Levine who literally believes that Maroon 5 is the greatest band on the planet. (He said this with no irony intended. At. All.) Because even though those guys look like giant arrogant idiotic douchebags, their crazy confidence has made them successful and able to express their art and bring it to the masses… which is exactly the objective. (Although when Tenacious D parodies these guys’ attitudes, it’s just amazing.) But I can’t do that. I can’t go out there and proclaim to be the next Bill Hicks and tell show producers that I’m going to pwn the industry and be the greatest writer they’ve ever worked with. Hell, I can’t even confidently convince someone that my best essay will make them crack a smile. So charging headfirst completely assured that I have any talent at all is a LIE.
My husband and I have always made the promise to each other that if there’s something we’re aspiring to do or be that we are blatantly incapable of, we would be honest and tell the other so as not to cause the other person years of rejection and heartbreak. This, of course, was decided while watching one of those American Idol season premiers where they show the god-awful singers who were never told the truth and are just making themselves look ridiculous on national television. And yes, I love my husband enough to save him from public shame and humiliation.
So anyway, this evening I sat down and told him to be honest about whether or not he thought this was a valid, obtainable dream to even attempt going after. Not that I don’t want to be a columnist or pen a memoir or get my counseling degree, but if the opportunity arises for me to reasonably chase my wild dream I’d prefer to go after it above anything else. And he said I was hilarious. And then I asked him if I was creatively hilarious or just run-of-the-mill hilarious. And he said I was creative and I catch him off guard with quips all the time. And then I asked him if I was innovative and capable of creating new, unique premises and executions of comedy and he said, “Um, sure.” so I asked him to give me an example of a time that I’d had a unique, original thought that wasn’t just a riff or takeoff on someone else’s… And then he started rubbing his temples and chuckling and asking God why he couldn’t just have a wife that nagged him about normal things.
So that’s why I’m awake until 3 a.m. wondering if my fears are valid and if they’re even going to matter in the long run. (Either way, worry isn’t doing me any good. I know this.) And then I wonder if I’m ever going to be able to get a really incredible opportunity without feeling completely undeserving of it.