The Human Spirit
I am an artist. This is something I accepted many years ago. Even back when I still had dreams of becoming a Major League Baseball player, there was still no denying I also had the urge to be a performer. From the talent shows I would enter, throughout elementary school, to Mr Beckmans chorus in middle school, to the Chaffey High School dance team, from everything in between, to now, I've always been a performer, an artist.
As most of my time is allocated to my stand up comedy career, I will say it is not the most lucrative career choice, it is also, not actually a choice, it's who I am. It's probably the only thing I'm sure of in my life (that and of course, my love for the Dodgers), and it's all I've ever wanted to do. But, because it is not the most lucrative career, at least, not at my level (I mostly book emcee or feature spots), there's plenty of money to be had at the headliner level and beyond, which I will reach one day, I still have a day job. Sometimes, even my day job, doesn't quite cut it either, so I have to continue to hustle in order to make ends meet. I don't expect anyone to feel sorry for me, because I could simply give up on my dreams and goals, get a normal 9-5 job, have a steady paycheck and not have to worry about money. I choose to not give up though, for a number of reasons; 1. I would then be admitting defeat and failure. 2. I would live the rest of my life with regret, wondering "what if?" and be unhappy, because I wouldn't be doing what I love. 3. (Not many people know this one) I made a promise to my mother as she was on her death bed, I would make her proud one day, and I would NEVER GIVE UP!
Over the last few weeks, I've been working quite a bit as a background actor, or as a paid audience member on various films and tv shows, to make extra money. In all honesty, I don't enjoy doing it, but it's work, and it's money, and I need money. This is where the story gets good, I promise.
LA has millions of people, and many of them have dreams of making it big in the entertainment industry. Whether it be as an actor, comedian, singer, dancer, model, writer, director, the list goes on and on. Believe it or not, I don't want to be famous, I've said it countless times, and it's the truth, I'm perfectly fine not being famous. I simply want to be a full time working actor/comedian. There are plenty of people who are able to do this, make a great living, and aren't famous. I'd like to add myself to that list.
On any production, ie. tv show, film, commercial, etc., there are a certain number of background extras. If you don't know what a background extra is, allow me to set up the scenario. You're watching your favorite tv show (let's just say Vampire Diaries, because that's my favorite, everybody knows this). You're watching a scene where the main characters, Elena and Stefan (okay, so I'm watching an older episode, I said it was my favorite show, why wouldn't I watch old episodes? Anyway...) are walking around the Mystic Falls Founders Day celebration, and there are a bunch of people walking around in the background, they don't say anything, they don't have any lines, but they're there, because it makes the scene look more real. Those are the background extras. Now, most people who do background work, are actors themselves, who really want to be the main talent, and some, if not all of them(even though they won't admit it) would love to have the producer, or director spot them out of the crowd of extras, and say something along the lines of, "Hey you, with the blue shirt, I love your look, how would you like to have a few lines in this scene?" For the record, this almost NEVER happens, but because it's probably happened like five times ever, people have hope that they will be number six. The point being, most background actors want to be the principles, not the extras, but, until those principal roles come in, there is still a need to make money, so they do background. And while it probably beats the soul sucking of waiting tables, or any other cliche job actors must take on to support themselves while they pursue their dreams, there's not a ton of money involved.
There is also a newer job that's been created in Hollywood over the last few years, and that's the paid audience member. What's that you ask? Well, think of that daytime talk show, game show, and any other show that is "live-ish," and has a live audience, and there's a pretty good chance all those people in the audience are being paid to be there. I know it sounds crazy, but if people are watching a show at home, and there’s nobody in the audience, then it looks bad, and because people in LA have way better things to do, than go watch a tv show taping, the studios now pay people to sit in and watch those shows. Yes, in Hollywood, many people get paid to sit in the audience at television shows. It may sound easy, and compared to a tough manual labor job, it probably is, but clapping and cheering all day long can be tough. Try it, I dare you. There probably aren't as many people who do this kind of work, who are trying to be actors, and such, as there are who do background work, some people simply do it, because it's an easy way to make a few bucks, but I know a lot of people in entertainment who do paid audience to make extra money, I'm one of them. I promised this story was getting good, and here it is.
While there are probably a large amount of people who seek fame, simply because they want to be famous, there are also a large amount of people who seek entertainment careers, because they love performing. They love the feeling they get when they're on stage telling jokes, or when they are at an audition for something, they love it so much they can't see themselves doing anything else. Even when their backs are against the wall, or when they haven't booked anything in months, maybe even years, and that annoying self-doubt part of their brains is telling them they should give up, there's the part of their heart and soul that's screaming out to them constantly, "Don't give up, THIS IS WHAT WE WERE BORN TO DO." While their friends and family are having birthday parties for their children, planning weddings, and contributing to their 401K, they are trying to figure out, how to make $59 dollars last for the next nine days until the next pay day (or hope to book some paid audience work, because many of them pay cash, and an extra $50-100 or even more, for a few hours will help exponentially). I'm the latter. I'm the person who, at 37, has been pursuing a career in the entertainment industry for 17 years now. Sure it has evolved(from aspiring pop star, to dancer still hoping to be a pop star, to actor, to comedian/actor, for the record, I'd still kill to be a pop star), but the hustle, drive, and passion have never ceased. I am an artist.
As an artist, I've always had an appreciation for the arts, all of them. I've always been a movie lover. I used to watch Eddie Murphy and Richard Pryor comedy specials when I was way too young to watch them. My mom took me to a Rick Springfield concert when I was three (don't fault her, I really wanted to go). I went to a Natalie Cole and Smokey Robinson show in Vegas with my parents when I was five, and I got to sing with Smokey(NO SHIT), and for some reason, I was really upset and my grandmother, mother and my great uncles for leaving me at the cabin in Lake Tahoe, while they all went to see Crystal Gale(I was supervised, I was simply upset because I would have loved to go). And even though my dad would have made fun of me if I told him, I always loved when we took field trips to see the Nutcracker, or other theater when I was in elementary and middle school. I didn't understand why I was drawn to all of these things so much as a child, but as an adult, I realize it's because as an artist, all of these things inspire me.
I'm on airplane right now, headed to Boise, Idaho to perform comedy, because I'm a comedian, and that's what I do, it's pretty much a dream, but it's far from being THE dream. I'm grateful for every opportunity, and I wouldn't trade it for the world, but performing for a weekend in Boise, Idaho is not going to give me a down payment on my dream house, nor will it make me rich. I don't care though, because I'm doing what I love and how many people can say they get paid to do what they love? Every time I get a check for doing comedy, no matter how big or small (it's usually small), I want to cry. When I think of everything I've been through in my life to get to where I am now, I get all sorts of emotional, because when someone asks me what I do, my answer is, "I'm a comedian." Not "I'm trying to be a comedian," because F that! No, I’M A COMEDIAN! Anyway, back to my story.
I worked as a "paid audience" member on a tv show that I think I'm not allowed to say, because I think I signed a NDA(that's Non-Disclosure Agreement, it's what we have to sign sometimes before an audition or taping of something, where we can't discuss it until it's aired). Let's just say it's a celebrity game show, hosted by a rapper (I think I can say that). In between takes, the audience warm-up guy(which is usually a comedian, their job is to keep the crowd energetic and enthusiastic throughout the day, so the people watching at home are wishing they were in that audience), does fun things with the crowd. In this instance, he asked if anyone wanted to participate in a dance contest. Two girls volunteered, and in front of about 200 people, not including the crew, danced their hearts out, and they were amazing! What amazed me, was how supportive the audience was of these two dancers, cheering and voicing their approval, which is not easy, since we've all been there for a few hours, waiting, clapping, yelling, because that's what we're being paid to do, but the enthusiasm and support for their fellow artists, really made my heart warm. When he interviewed the girls after, and asked them what they did, they both replied they were dancers, not that they were "trying" to be dancers, but that they were dancers. YES! I've never said I was trying to be anything, because trying admits to a possible defeat, and why do that? If we own what we do, it is ours, and nothing can take that away.
What also made me happy was to see how truly happy and in the moment these girls were as they were dancing in front of all of us. It's a feeling I can very much relate to, being on stage, doing what I love (comedy) gives me the best feeling. It's the best feeling ever. It is my drug, or in my case, my anti-drug, because I've never used drugs. As cliche as it sounds, it's extremely important to do what you love, whatever that may be. If a person loves dancing, they should dance. If a person loves doing stand up, they should be doing mother f-ing stand up! The "Do what you love," principal shouldn't be exclusive to pursuing an entertainment career though. If a person loves playing cricket, or hand ball, they should do those things too. We've all heard the saying, "If you do what you love, you'll never work a day in your life," and that is precisely why I want to cry every time I get paid to do stand up comedy. Back to the story. He brought out two more girls to conduct a sing-off, and they were amazing! What are the odds, we get two amazing dancers, and two amazing singers just hanging out, not intending to showcase their talents, because they were simply there to make money as an audience member, but in the moment, this great sequence of events happens, and it made me realize as artists, we can’t keep those things bottled up. The audience was just as responsive and supportive for these girls as well. It was just an amazing energy taking place in that studio that day, and it was about to get even better. On that same show, one of the guests was an award winning actor on a very big Netflix show, and the actor told us that they were about to give up acting, and then they booked the job on the Netflix show, and the rest is history. This actor went from about to give up, to Emmy winning, it couldn’t have been a more triumphant story. The actor told us to never give up. The host of the show (the rapper) then said, "Don't ever give up on your dreams, because dreams don't have a timeline." I was fighting back tears through all of this. It was truly a moment I will never forget. As artists we all go through moments of self-doubt ALL THE TIME! It was almost as if, wait for it...God wanted me to be there that very moment, to remind me, "Yes, you're doing the right thing." Even though I don't need any more reason to keep pushing towards my goal, even though I'm always open to inspiration, when it comes out of the blue, it is truly magical. I will never forget that day.
A few days ago, I was working "paid audience," on another show, and while we were waiting in line to check in (which can sometimes take a ridiculously long time for some reason) there was a girl singing. This girl was not singing to anyone, or for anyone, but she was singing, and she singing really well. So well, it made me cry. What hit me, was the fact she was singing, simply because she wanted to sing, and if nobody was listening, she was going to sing anyway. And I can tell by the passion in her singing, that she had a lot of passion for singing. She has an amazing voice, and I hope she can share her talents with the rest of the world. I hope when people ask her what she does, that her answer is, “I’m a singer,” and not “I’m trying to be a singer.” I think too many artists, feel they can only validate themselves as such if they are extremely rich and successful, and that’s why they feel hesitant to tell people they are actors, or singers. I’m here to tell you guys, it doesn’t matter how successful you are, because everyone’s definition of success is different. (“One persons idea of success, might seem like a complete failure to someone else.”-Tim Grover) The opposite is true as well, because while my career might seem like nothing compared to someone like Kevin Hart, or Dane Cook, but both of those guys were at my point at one time, and to the person who has never tried stand up, but always wanted to, or to the person who HAS tried stand up a lot, but has bombed a bunch and never actually booked a road gig, or even a paid gig, my career might seem like a dream. There’s always perspective.
This is why it is so important, that as artists, we share our gifts with as many people as possible. This is why, as artists, if our arts make us happy, then there's no reason why we shouldn't perform. Sure fame is great, but being happy is greater. I've been able to be surrounded by artists lately, and I have just been blown away by how many talented people there are. I’ve also been blown away by how supportive I have seen people be for one another in these moments, because we generally only focus on the negative side of the business. It is so important to be surrounded by people who support your passion and your craft. Not everyone can see the light at the end of the tunnel, especially if it’s our tunnel. There are a lot of people who will doubt your potential success, let them. Even though there is light at the end of the tunnel, it is also important, not to focus entirely on that end result, because there’s also beauty in enjoying the process. Enjoy every part of the creative process. I've been blessed to have the gift of making others laugh, and on the same note, I've been cursed into pursuing comedy as a career. I always encourage others to pursue their dreams, because why not? ("Failure is what happens, when you decide you've failed. Until then, you're still always looking for ways to get where you want to be."-Tim Grover.) I'm an artist, and I have something to contribute to this world. To all my fellow artists out there, do what you love, and don't stop, ever. To the artists I've encountered over the last few weeks, on set, at the comedy clubs, and anywhere in between, thank you. To all the people who have been supportive of others in their quest to pursue their dream, thank you. Thank you for cheering for complete strangers, because you recognized their talents, instead of being negative, or judging. Thank you all for shining your light on me, for sharing your craft with me, and for reminding me I didn't choose this life, it chose me. I am an artist.