Our series, “A Comic’s Life” focuses on life on the road, performing stand-up. Dan Perlman is a young writer and comic, who has been performing comedy full time for just over two years. He performs nightly in New York City, and tours around the country at festivals, clubs and colleges. Dan is writing a series of articles for “A Comic’s Life”, which chronicles some of his thoughts and stories about being a young comedian just getting started in his career. This week, he writes about negativity and competition.
“Is the scene competitive?” is one of the questions I’m asked most frequently by non-comedy friends and acquaintances.
Of course there is competition. There are hundreds of aspiring stand-up comedians in New York City — at various stages of experience and commitment. The level of talent and skill is extreme and the number of capable stand-ups in New York seemingly only grows over time. This large pool of talent is motivating. It keeps me writing daily and performing nightly, because tremendous dedication is the only way to improve and build a career. See-ing how high other comedians have set the bar serves as inspiration.
That said, I don’t waste energy bemoaning others’ accomplishments.
I ran track in high school. I was a sprinter — a decent, unremarkable one. The main thing I retained from track is the level of focus required. You have to keep your head, and your mind, in your own lane. If you tilt your head even slightly to see how the person next to you is faring, you’ve lost ground. You’re finished.
That’s carried over into how I think about stand-up. The time spent complaining about someone else is time that could be spent improving, writing, or performing. It does no good to grumble about opportunities someone else receives, nor to compare your achievements to others’. Success is not finite.
Jealousy exists in any field. “How’d she get X?” “She only got that because of Y!”
When I hear comments like that, I think of Pig-Pen from the Peanuts comic strip, the dirty kid who had a constant cloud of dust surrounding him. Those who dwell in that atti-tude radiate negative energy, a dirt cloud, into a room. This cloud pollutes and infects those around them.
I don’t want to surround myself with those who spend an inordinate amount of time trash-ing their peers, while complaining about their own status. People are free to view things however they want and express their views in whatever fashion. I’m only speaking for my-self when I say that I find that bitterness to be toxic. I try to actively avoid Pig-Pen.
Stand-up owes me nothing. If I quit doing stand-up, maybe some comics would text me. Possibly I’d run into a comedian on the subway, but over time, no one would be impacted. Those committed to comedy would continue to pursue their passion, while others would eventually fade into other fields. Comedy in no way hinges upon my input.
The fact that comics are not owed “success” — however that’s defined — may sound depressing to some, but I view it as comforting. I can focus on enjoying the process of trying to get better, while trying to build the things that I want to make. My only control in this en-tire pursuit is finding the positions in which I put myself and the effort that I put into this world. Since the success of one comic does not directly block the success of anyone else, there is no sense investing energy in this area.
In the comedy scene, I’ve met some of the funniest people I know, who have become my closest friends. I’ve also learned how to navigate around the few who create lousy envi-ronments. I spend enough energy trying to keep my own feelings of self-doubt at-bay. No external voices of bitterness, directed towards myself or others, is needed.
By trying my best to dodge these land-mines, I can feel competition without viewing the competition as sudden-death. This thinking, for me, helps a little.
Dan Perlman is a stand-up comedian from New York. Follow him on Twitter @danjperlman.