I’m at home in Los Angeles for a full 10 days—one of the longer stretches I’ve had in town over the past two years—and so I’ve had more time than usual to think. Which is perfect, because last week I saw something I can’t shake from my brain.
I was at Sasquatch, a music festival thrown two hours east of Seattle at this outdoor venue called The Gorge that’s built right up against this—would you believe it—gorge. It’s a multi-stage festival with a tent for comedy/EDM (performed at separate times) and a main stage that looks out over a crack in the earth so large The Rock might helicopter past at any moment.
I was there to do jokes, and probably could have done just that—flown to Seattle from L.A., driven from Seattle to gorge, told jokes, left. I’m a friendly, outgoing introvert; my favorite moment of every party is leaving, and I’m much more likely to say, “That was fun” than “This is fun.” I like my fun behind me and at a distance.
I am going to marry a woman who is both quieter than me and also more extroverted. She’ll ask things like, “Do you mind if we actually stay for the band we drove here to see?” And because of her, sometimes we do.
We stayed last weekend, which was a true stroke of luck. Had we left, I would have missed St. Vincent. I wouldn’t have been left breathless by her complete control of the audience. She’s big and small and meticulous and Jesus that woman can play the guitar.
If I’d left, I wouldn’t have seen the sun set behind her, over this big ol’ hole in the earth. And I wouldn’t have experienced some of the benefits of working this hard for this long in my field, one of which is the constant proximity to life-altering art. If I can just stay out long enough to see it, I have access to a lot.
This summer I am going to try to stay out. I am going to put value on being in the world. Is this a silly thing to need to be reminded to do? Of course. But I’m not alone in my field for needing the reminder.
Comics are night-dwellers, bar-lurkers. We are creatures of habit and arbiters of decent behavior; we’ve got hours of material devoted to the way other people should behave. We are the kids who read in bed with flashlights after lights-out and who saved spring comebacks for months to be delivered back at school in September.
It can be quite easy, then, once you’re swept into a field with no particular work hours or days off, to never come up for air again. Laser-focused on better bookings, better sets, better jokes, we are the friends who may miss your wedding or who forget your birthday. There is a period of time for most comics when this is the only life that seems to gel with our career. It doesn’t seem possible to stay simply to enjoy something.
Better to go home and write. Better to get to the next show. Better to be alone.
But there is a downside to this type of commitment: When stand-up is the only thing in your life, it becomes impossible to write stand-up. Because, you see, stand-up needs a premise and the premise “I was doing stand-up and then…” runs dry fairly quickly. Every stand-up needs to have actual experiences and interactions, even the introverted ones like me.
When I get down on myself for starting with improv in college instead of stand-up (“You wasted time!”) or for spending six years in Chicago before moving to Los Angeles (“You wasted time!”), I remind myself that my improv company was the first group of people I came out to and that I toured as a circus ringmaster while living in Chicago. And I think about the time a guy had a heart attack during a murder mystery improv show and none of the audience knew what was happening or that I was able to live close to both of my sisters during those six years in the Midwest.
And I remember: Life isn’t wasted time.
This summer I am taking a hiatus from this column—in fact, this is my last one until after Labor Day. And not because I am taking my own advice (advice I haven’t given yet but just wait until the end of the column). This summer I will be writing my first book and honing my first stand-up special and acting in a movie for the first time, so I’ll be working. But I figured, with that much creative output to generate, I might also need to swim in a pool and read and cook and stay to hear the band play.
I hope you have the chance—and take the time—do to the same.