Jealousy in Comedy

I was working a theater show the other night with some other comics and while we were talking backstage, the topic of jealousy in comedy came up.  The Green-Eyed Monster might as well be the official mascot of stand up comedy, because it’s so pervasive. Consider the following questions:

“Why did he or she get that bar show and not me?”

“Why did he or she get that club show and not me?”

“Why does that booker use him or her and not me?”

“Why was I not asked to open for that big-name act like that other performer?”

“Why did that person get a shot on Conan-Kimmel-Colbert-Jimmy Fallon and not me?”

“How did that person who has been doing comedy less time than me suddenly blow past me?”

Questions like these will really do a number on a comedian and turn them into an angry, bitter wreck.  So what do you do about it? Here are some suggestions.

Don’t compare your career to the career of other comics.  That’s the fastest way to drive yourself insane.  Just because someone got an opportunity that you didn’t, doesn’t necessarily mean they were better than you.  It means the other comic was good enough to do the job, and was in the right place at the right time and had a standing with the right decision-maker to be allowed that opportunity.  If the comic attained a goal that you truly had for yourself, you should observe what they did to get there and learn from it. If you have a good enough relationship with the performer, ask them questions.  You might learn something that you can use to your advantage in the future.

Don’t consider another comic’s success as your failure.  No matter where you are on the comedy ladder, it’s your ladder.  No one is above you or below you, because you aren’t competing with them, you’re competing with yourself.  You should be doing the best work you can, showcasing it to decision makers, and taking steps toward your goal.  When Jerry Seinfeld got his own TV show in 1989, Tim Allen didn’t throw his hands up and quit, he worked harder and got his own show in 1991.

Don’t get tagged as being “hard to work with.”  People who book talent for jobs don’t like performers they have to jump through hoops for.  They also don’t like performers who whine and complain. When a decision comes down to two performers who are equally qualified for a job, the performer who is easier to work with is the one who gets hired.  In my own practice as a person who hires comedy talent, my first phone calls are to performers who I know are not only competent, but professional. If I know a comic is habitually late, drinks too much at a gig, or any other infraction that would reflect poorly on me to a client, I choose someone else.

Develop at your own speed, and set reasonably attainable goals.  Everyone is funny, but not everyone learns how to harness that into an act that will please an audience.  Some people figure it out early in their career, and others take time before they really get the hang of it.  If it seems you are lagging behind and not getting the audience response you want, the kind that will get you noticed by decision makers, do something about it.  Take a class, either in comedy writing or theater; either one will make you a better comedian. Read some books about stand up, there are dozens; even if you take away only one tip, that’s one piece of information that will get you closer to your goal.  And work harder. If you get on stage twice a week, get on stage three times a week. If you write jokes two or three hours a week, maybe increase that to four or five. Be the quality act that bookers want to use.

Finally, Don’t discount the achievements you’ve already made.  No matter how far you’ve advanced in the comedy business, there are still plenty of performers who are less accomplished saying “That lucky bastard….why them and not me?”

Unfortunately, it is very likely that the Green-Eyed Monster will never completely go away, as we live in a competitive society and social media lets us know about others’ accomplishments almost immediately.  But the monster can’t consume you if you don’t feed it; keep it weak and feed your energy into what you are doing, and you won’t have the time to be jealous of others.