Little Things Mean the Most When You Stand Up

Little Things article

I am surging with love for stand up comedy right now.  I am overflowing and spilling my excitement for the artform from my brim because of so many great comedians and so many great venues.  When you are able to survive, to really live, and to remain alive doing the thing you love the most, it is difficult to find many bad days.  Even amongst the raw throats after 3 shows in a smokey room on Saturday or a drunk guy who just doesn’t understand where your sense of humor is coming from, it is ALL worth it.

Looking back on my relatively short time in stand up, I am becoming more and more aware of certain key moments and mentalities.  There is never enough hindsight available to any of us to understand how damn important the littlest things we encounter along the way will ultimately prove to be.  There is no real tangible measuring stick other than that moment realizing something unspecific in the heat of the moment has somehow led us there.  If you really think, if you tunnel down into the deepest thoughts about what stand up comedy can be and truly is, it becomes so simple – a person on stage talking into a microphone attempting to make people laugh.

What does that mean?  It means that there are no rules about development other than doing the thing that it is at its core.  Sure, there may be classes to kickstart people’s interest or weekend workshops, but those mean nothing and they do nothing to make a stand up comedian.  There is no doctorate program to enroll in, no shortcut to becoming a master of the craft.  The environments will vary greatly, but each world is relatively the same when it comes to hands on development outside of your immediate peers when pursuing a career in stand up.  There are only local guideposts in the form of club owners, club managers, the waitstaff that has been there for 15 years and drank with all the heroes of your younger days.  There are local comedians who have been in and out of doing the gig full-time in their own lives for 20-plus years until their kids needed to go to college and they had to make what could only be the most difficult decision a performer of any kind makes – to stay local and homegrown.  Can you imagine the choice?  The moment when you have to compromise the future of your own dream to ensure that your children have the best chance to have their own.  I cannot imagine that moment with any real clarity.  Maybe that is why I have never had more than even maybe one serious pregnancy scare in my entire life.

These local comedians who some young comics may think “have given up” or “they’re stealing stage time from us!” are there to serve a most valuable service to you if you’re willing to open your eyes and ears.  They may not have many new jokes, they may be local flavor heavy in their punchlines, and they may seem to have a deep sadness behind their eyes, but always know that I respect and admire them (most of them anyway) more than I could ever express.  Why?  Because it is easy to be loose, be free, no commitments, nothing tying you down, living single and carefree even though it can lead to a deep sadness and loneliness.  There is no way to measure that amount of pain or the number of my own personal relationships that have suffered or even disappeared completely because of my desire to blindly pursue this dream of stand up.  But, all of that pain and loneliness pales in comparison to the courage it must take to face your real life responsibilities and let this insatiable addiction of telling jokes take a backseat.  The mere thought of stepping aside from stand up comedy makes my stomach churn.

There is a real nobility and courage in being a real person.  In being a real and good person.

Those local comedic legends have seen shit you’ll never see, been screwed over in ways you’ll never be screwed, and can offer some helpful insight on some missteps you could possibly avoid.  Hell, you might even hear some really great stories along the way.  The point is that even though there are people in positions of power and booking in this world we have chosen to spend our lives occupying, NO ONE can ever tell you how you have to develop or the way you have to perform.  Will you get work if you don’t do things the way they like them?  Probably not.  But, no one has control over what you will become except you.  You are the one in charge of your fate as a stand up comic.  That is such a beautiful fucking thing that I can barely contain my excitement typing it.  Do you see?  Do you understand how wonderful of a thing that is?

You can be anything you want to be.  Anything at all.  There are no rules about how you should deliver your jokes, how you should dress, how you should speak, what you should discuss, or how many different voices you can use or noises you can make.  Yet, so many of us fall into the trap of feeling like there is some archetype or form we must fit.  There never truly has been or ever will be.  So many beautiful minds find their way to our wonderful world.  It is exciting to think about what gorgeous weirdo will find their way to their first open mic next.  Do you agree?  I hope so.

Remember the little things.  I assure you they are the most important along your journey.  Do I have all the answers?  Not even close.  Do I know all that much about stand up comedy?  To say yes would make even me laugh.  But, nearly 12 years has taught me a few things and that is that I keep my ears open.  Sometimes young comics will judge in the back of a room at an open mic like they have it all figured out 2 years in to the life.  That is the funniest thing that will happen at any open mic, anywhere.  Often times, those beautiful weirdos that you think don’t stand a chance will one day have a breakthrough and you’ll be left wondering how you missed it.

You will never be able to identify the moments while you experience them that will shape your career’s success.  Just be glad that you are one of the lucky ones who can have moments in stand up comedy’s history as one of its participants.  Years later you will look back and smile and just know that all the driving, all the writing, and all the hanging out paid off in way you cannot properly verbalize.  We all chose to be these people chasing these crazy laughs and no one of us is better than another.  The moment you think you are somehow incredibly important or supremely cool, that is the moment you forgot that we are all luxuries and totally unnecessary.  Don’t forget that the only reason you’re able to even consider this life is because you were lucky enough to birthed into a part of the world where it even exists.  Get some perspective before you big time somebody because you think your shit don’t stink as a stand up comedian and think you can treat people like shit or make crazy demands like any of this shit really matters.

Sit back in your chair in the Milky Way Galaxy and peer down on how small it all truly is.

If you’re like me and somehow you stumbled upon the luck to make a living traveling around telling jokes, please PLEASE try to enjoy the time you have doing it.  All of us are only given so much time, let’s try not to only appreciate it after its gone.  Milling around in the parking lot in between shows with local comics who are smoking or a bartender who is telling you about his last trip to the riverboat casino is just one of the moments you may share, but its just as important to me as all the rest.  How lucky do we have to be to recognize and acknowledge it?  Let’s do it in the moment.  NOW.

It is easy for me to get so damn excited about this shit that I can barely contain myself around people.  The last two weeks of my life have been the best. Why?  Because they were the last two weeks.  The next two weeks will probably replace them two weeks from now and then be replaced and so on and so on.  I am not the only one who tries to be a positive person in this world of stand up, but about five years ago is when I decided to change my life permanently.  I had the help of a few very special women, who shined a light into my life that will never extinguish and I’ll be eternally grateful for that.  Something as small as lending me a book to read, or telling me she believed in me, or reaffirming to me that I had a mind worth sharing with a simple smile are just some of the small moments of my last 5 years that transformed me.

I could write forever about stand up comedy and I will try to do just that – just not in this one blog post.  I can speak from experience when I say that you do not have to be some lost, dark, hopeless soul to exist in this world.  There is room for the light even though a lot us deeply believe comedy comes only from the darkest of places.  I am not one of those stand up comedians and as of right now I am managing to squeak by and make a living in the world that most people assume only has room for the jaded.  You can be dark, jaded, and dismal and the chances are that I will love you and your stand up.  It is not me, but I still love it and it makes me laugh deeply.

I would rather talk off stage with comedians about three comedians you think I might not know that I should know because of how funny they are than to talk about one person that is hated.  I fall into the deep pit of dark just like anyone else from time to time, but that doesn’t mean that we have to stay there.  I learned years ago that the more shit I talked about someone, the more time I had to spend around that person.  It was like the universe was teaching me a lesson about shit-talking.  It might not be the most noble of reasons to not talk shit about someone, but it led me to make a habit of trying not to do it.  I think I have become a better person, a HAPPIER person because of it.  The littlest thing can change everything for you and the world of stand up is so small that you will most certainly shit-talk your way into some real problems eventually.

The idea that we get to spend years going on stage after stage with no net and no guidelines as to what we are supposed to be in enough of a risk to deserve the respect of anyone who also does it.  I am so fascinated by the idea that years of performing lead us all to our current versions.  Anything can happen and we could have taken so many different turns or became so many varied versions of who we are.  My mind almost explodes when I try to process this journey and the freedom of it.  What will you become?  What will I be in five years?  It is damn exciting to ponder.  The one thing we do know is that we do not know and that is beautiful.  I am in love with stand up comedy and I am more than happy to share it with everyone.

There are so many great comedians, new and seasoned, showcasing their brilliant creation creatures into mics across the country and world right now that you would be doing yourself a disservice to not give yourself a chance to get to know them.  There is a reason that certain people gravitate toward the world that stand up comedy is and it just might be the best time in the history of the world to be a part of it.  Some of us have chosen to commit our lives to this thing regardless of the costs, so no regrets no matter what the outcome.  I just hope I can get better and keep doing the little things that matter the most.  Because I know they will pay off someday without me being specifically aware of them because little things mean the most when you stand up.

I hope to see you on the road and share a little bit of time…

18 thoughts on “Little Things Mean the Most When You Stand Up

  1. This is poignant and I couldn’t agree more. I saw you I’m Raleigh with Maron and think you have a so much to look forward to. Keep it up and good luck! Oh, and come back to Raleigh 🙂

  2. I’ve heard that big ideas exist because we all agree to believe in them as a people. If we stopped believing in money, it wouldn’t work anymore. If we stopped believing in Hollywood, it might stop being.

    When I read things like this, about other people who are so dedicated to funneling positivity into this completely insane, delusional world of comedy, it pumps up my faith in all of this, and I remember that I exist in a world that is purely sustained on our delusions, and the whole delusion is so good that who could deny it?

    I have so much hope for comedy that I just cried all over the work computer. Rockin blog, buddy.

  3. Great article, Ryan. I’ve got so much appreciation for you writing this that I can’t put it all in just a comment. Your words hit me right at a time when I needed to hear them. Like blowing on the still hot coals of a fire that you thought had smoldered out. Thanks, man! You’re the best!

  4. When I first saw you on stage, I was blown away at how incredible of a standup comic you are. I thought that even though I may never be that good ever, I want to try. Since then we’ve become good friends and I have been blown away at how incredible of a standup person you are. Your influence has had the single greatest, positive effect on my life since I started pursuing this insane and unpractical way of life. You taught me a perspective that transcends comedy: there is no destination, it’s all about the journey.

    You’re the BEST!

    Love,
    Gilbert

  5. Ryan – what an inspiring post. I really like your message here and as a comedian who struggles every day with the “am I good enough?, will I ever be good enough? what am I doing? Did I start too late?” questions, you provided a poignant perspective about the journey – the most important part.

    I am going to mention this today in my blog (marckayetoday.wordpress.com) because it is so great to hear a positive message from a successful comedian.

    Hope we get to work together one day.
    Best,
    Marc

  6. At first when i stumbled upon this blog, i thought this is Ryan Sickler blog (a stand up comedian also), i mean at first glimpse, then i read twice, oh ok, it is Ryan Singer blog.Nevermind.My mistake.

    “The idea that we get to spend years going on stage..”

    Sometimes i do wonder, comedian got bored with their joke, i mean of course it is joke for newcomer who heard the joke for the very first time. But by doing it over and over again, sometimes, it reach some point, like you said, it became so many varied version of who you are. Thanks again for an inspiring post.

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