OK, I finally figured it out. It took me long enough, but now I get it.
For years, I’ve had a fascination with stand-up comics. I’m not just talking about their comedy, which I certainly appreciate on its own. Indeed, George Carlin has been Slope’s patron saint for years. I mean my ceaseless interest in their work. What they do. How they do it. What their life as a comic is like. What it really means to be a comic day after day.
I’ve never tried stand-up before. It isn’t out of shyness. I enjoy public performances. I’ve been on stages many, many times. Usually talking. Believe it or not, sometimes even singing. Yes, me, singing on stage. For an audience. Honest. But I’ve never tried comedy, even though I’m known to occasionally write funny stuff.
But it finally did click: I’m already doing it! I’m a stand-up. Or at least something extremely close.
Allow me to explain by way of bullet points. In my opinion, here are some common elements between the life of a stand-up comedian and my own day-to-day labor of love:
- The Long Tail: There are thousands of comics out there. But there’s only one Jerry Seinfeld. One Jim Gaffigan. It’s really tough to rise to the top, because 99.9% of the comics out there are essentially unknowns. It’s the same in the world of – – what do I do? – – financial journalism? For every ZeroHedge, there are about 1,000 smaller sites. It’s easy to get lost in the shuffle. I’m floating around in the middle somewhere.
- Original Material: Unless your name is Gilbert Gottfried, you are bloody well expected to create new material as a comic. George Carlin was fastidious about this. It needs to be fresh. People don’t want to hear the same jokes year after year. It’s the same for me. I always dread that I’m out of ideas, but mercifully, they always come to me. My construction of the Best Posts page convinced me of that. I’ve done well over 20,000 posts on my own, and the need to keep it engaging is a constant.
- Personality: George Lopez. Tim Allen. Flip Wilson. Brian Regan. They all have (or had) distinct personalities and styles. You’d never confuse a Sam Kinison with a Sarah Silverman. It’s the same with my world. You’re never going to confuse me with Josh Brown. Or Dennis Gartman. At least, I hope not.
- The Third Rail: I’ve learned from hard experience that no matter how much I may be tempted to do so, there are certain topics that mustn’t be discussed. Or even mentioned. There are certain jokes never to be made. So much so, that I’m not even going to go into what the might be here. Louis C.K. torched an incredibly lucrative career instantly by the world finding out he liked to whack off while a woman was listening on the phone. (Yeah, I know). This hasn’t been an issue for me, but suffice it to say that I know certain behaviors to avoid, if I know what’s good for me.
- Don’t Get Stale: It’s easy to fall into a rut. If you’re a comic, you need to stay on top of the trends, on top of the news, and on top of culture. Even on top of the technology, like social media. I need to do the same. Mercifully, the markets are always moving, so I am blessed with a topic of discussion which is, by its very nature, dynamic.
- Engage the Audience: Clinking glasses. Drunk patrons. It must be hard for a comic to keep the attention of their audience. Especially when they are just starting out. I’m in the same boat. I need to give people a reason to swing by and read whatever I’m doing. These days, I’m pretty much the only guy on stage. There have been times in Slope’s life that I’ve had so much outside content, I was practically a guest contributor. These days, I’m the only game in town, so I need to keep people interested.
- On Your Own: There’s no HR department. There are no staff meetings. And God knows there’s no benefits package. Whether you’re a comic, or whether you’re a – – whatever I am – – the successes and failures are utterly your own, and the risks you take are completely yours. No cushion. No fallback. No golden parachute.
- Serendipity and Success: I’ve heard plenty of tales of the people who found themselves on Saturday Night Live and how they landed there. It’s not like Lorne Michaels holds a contest. The paths they forged to get there were relatively unique, and filled with random chance. It’s the same in my world. The important pivot points in life come down to just a few moments, and you never know when they are arriving, and you barely know when they’ve past. It takes perspective. As the saying goes, a big part of success is just showing up. I just need to keep doing what I’m doing, and hope people care enough to notice. Wakka wakka.