When I was young, I was a writer. I was the comedy editor for the school paper and my average grade in English was 98%. My pieces were funny and people told me so. I was very proud of my column but I’m not sure I ever really called myself a writer. When something comes naturally, it’s often hard to acknowledge it as a skill. Even as I’m writing this very simple description of myself I’m like, “is this coming off narcissistic?”
When it came time to choose a path after high school, I chose comedy. Guided by my love of SNL and writing, I moved to Toronto to attend the only college program in comedy that exists in Canada. I was so confident but the moment I got here and was surrounded by other funny people, that all fell away. Everybody was so loud and competing for the biggest laugh. Instead of having actual conversations, people would test out their new stand up bit on you as if it was just a story they hadn’t already punched up and written out in their notebook. When people ask me why I’m no longer active in comedy and I say “it’s exhausting”, I hope this helps you understand what I’m talking about.
I found a handful of people in my class that I connected with and I worked with them in and out of class. I created some really fun shit with those people that I still cherish. I felt accepted in the comedy community but always intimidated. In a world where the loudest person often got the biggest laugh, it felt like being a performer was far superior to being a writer. It was hard to beat the instant gratification of performing for a live audience. When people ask how I was ever brave enough to do stand up, that’s how. The high that comes from a room full of people telling you with their laughter that you are doing something good and they want more of it, cannot be topped. It’s completely intoxicating. But also, I’ve had nervous shits in every single comedy club in this city because I was a nervous wreck before every set. Apologies to anyone who may have entered those washrooms after me.
I was in arguably the most successful sketch troupe from my class and doing at least 3 shows a week. I was going to (most of) my classes and was a good student. When the end of the program show rolled around, I was told I wouldn’t be in it. Not everyone got to be in the “Industry Show”. I was told I was too quiet to be in it. That the audience needed to hear me. And finally, I was told I was a writer.
It wasn’t said in a positive way. It was delivered as if I was just a writer. And apparently not a good enough writer to be asked to write for the final show. I was devastated. Two years in a program for what? To be told I was an okay writer.
Sure, maybe I took it this way because I was projecting my own insecurities onto the situation but it definitely didn’t make me feel like writing. The program director told me to keep writing. That it’s a skill I have to exercise to keep improving. I’m not sure how I was supposed to not view it as a waste of time after this experience.
And now as I approach 30, I realize that I’ve spent the majority of my adulthood not writing. Not doing the thing that gave me so much confidence as a teenager. I let that program director tell me I was just a writer. I let MRAs on the internet tell me I was an idiot. I let a former boyfriend adopt a joke of mine as his own without asking permission. It’s not my fault these things happened but it’s my responsibility to myself to not let them dictate my life. Seven plus years is a lot of time to waste.
I still get compliments on my writing. I get told I should be a copywriter. I get told I’m funny. It’s always the negative comments that stick though, isn’t it? If a whole room of people is laughing but some dude in the front row is staring at you blankly, that’s the face you’re gonna remember. He becomes the only person you care about making laugh. But like, who gives a fuck about that guy? Maybe he’s in a MOOD. Maybe his mom dragged him out to this show and there’s been jokes about sex and now he feels WEIRD. Maybe he just doesn’t GET you. You can’t worry about that guy. I’m writing this to you but CLEARLY and NOT SUBTLY writing it to myself.
Mary, you cannot worry about that guy. Say your shit. Do what you want. Write some words down. Worry about yourself and if you have to have nervous shits in a public washroom, that isn’t anywhere you haven’t been before.