It happened so fast. In the span of a few short weeks, the husboo discovered a mass in his scrotum, they did tests, it grew and grew and grew, he got it removed through a semi-intense surgery that went through the abdomen, he got a voluptuous prosthetic in its place, and then finally, after they were able to study the tumor, we got the diagnosis: Stage 1 Cancer.
The cancer diagnosis came paired with the announcement that he was cancer-free (they got it all!) which was really a mindfuck.
But it was cancer.
But he's FINE!
But there may be a round of chemo in the future!
But maybe not!
There's going to be an Aretha tribute at the VMAs!
But it's going to be Madonna in culturally appropriative clothing.
He'll be back to normal in a few weeks!
But might need to get lymph nodes removed.
But he's 100% okay!
But Madonna will only talk about herself during tribtue.
But there's no more cancer!
But it was still cancer.
People have been asking me how I'm doing in light of Andy's procedure and diagnosis and the answer is I have no idea how the fuck I'm doing. Numb, maybe? I'm nagging him every day to stop working and relax and heal (which never works, because he never stops).
I'm watching him heal up and get more back to normal every day, which is great, but I can't make it go faster. I can't make his new ball not feel weird and alien. I can't assure him it absolutely will never come back, even though it almost certainly will never come back. I can't absorb the sense of loss and grief that fills him in quieter moments. I can't go back and make the cancer mine, which I want to do, because he is the most pathologically healthy person I know and deserves none of this and I'm giant lazy video-gaming Diet Dr. Pepper-chugging garbage who would be a much more logical host for some ol' fashioned nutsack cancer.
I can't really do anything, which is infuriating. And since I can't do anything, I've mostly not felt anything. Which might explain the giant stress-based cold sore that invaded my face a few days ago and my random urges to scream into the void/pillows/shower heads.
I want to give him back what he lost, fill the emotional divot he's had to endure, but I can't. It really fucking sucks.
I don't know how I feel. I don't know how TO feel whatever it is gurgling beneath the surface. It's simultaneously a time when any emotion is acceptable but every emotion seems pointless, because he's fine. He's okay. It's over.
Andy is the greatest, kindest, most selfless, most health-obsessed, insanely hardworking and creatively stunning person I know and it just doesn't compute in my tiny brain that someone who creates so much light in the world would have to deal with this stupid darkness. It should be me. Or, like, someone heinous and unfuckable like Stephen Miller or Paul Manafort.
I mean, jesus, give Manafort all the nut cancer and then he can buy $30,000 ostrich eggs for nuts.
Anyway, I suppose there isn't anything else to say except GET YOUR BALLS CHECKED, GENTLEMEN!
[Extremely RuPaul voice] FONDLE THEM......FOR YOUR LIFE!!
I spent my 35th birthday last November waiting in line at the DMV and then getting a tire fixed. The two errands took most of the day. I was bummed, but now I realize it was setting the tone for the year to come.
2018 is a rebuilding year. And I'm glad, because gurl was in need of some renovations. Shit was leaking, pipes were bursting, mold was everywhere, floorboards were breaking, all from years of self-neglect.
Since leaving Chicago, my depression and anxiety has flared. Until recently, every moment was a combination of being convinced I'm the worst human on the planet and every bad thing that happens to anyone is completely my fault, and feeling like I'm watching life happen from the back of a very long tunnel because being present in the moment is just too horrific of prospect, so I'm constantly in a state of retreat.
By the way, I've suffered from varying levels of depression and anxiety for the better part of a decade (COMPLETELY UNRELATED: June will be the 10-year anniversary of my dad's suicide). Mostly, I've pushed through this fear and heaviness and sadness and hid it deep down like a good Midwestern Dutch/German male. I'm fine! Everything's fine! I think corn is a vegetable! I love Chevys!
But the cracks in the foundation were beginning to show. And I was tired. So tired. Anyone who knows me knows I can lift very heavy weights but this was too much, even for a Judith Light Sasquatch. Socializing was becoming a quiet nightmare, my fatigue was overwhelming, and doing anything creative felt like an enormous waste of time. The only thing I wanted to do was melt into my couch and become upholstery.
Moving to LA didn't cure me of my ailments, it ripped off the clever band-aids I had applied and has forced me to really look at the wounds and see how serious they really were. LA will do that to you, especially after living in Chicago, as you can no longer stuff your life so full of improv and sketch shows that you don't have time to notice how unhappy you are. I'm so fucking glad I'm in LA, as exposing as it feels.
I had to change something. And I'm a few sold pilots away from getting a much-needed forehead-reduction surgery, so I chose therapy.
About a month ago I went back to therapy for the first time in about 4 years. And soon I will start group therapy (or group play, as I am referring to it). And I'm now in the very exclusive Wellbutrin club (my new drag name is Auntie Dee Press-On) and had a reset of my anxiety meds. It's only been a week and a half or so since my meds changed, but already I feel steadier. I don't know if meds are a long-term solution, but for the moment I'm writing more. I'm listening more. I'm panicking less. I no longer want to be upholstery.
I need to do some healing if I want any chance of succeeding in LA. And there's no shame in admitting it.
Mental wellness is such a strange thing. Anytime someone else takes steps to improve their mental health, I'm like Yes! Do it! You go, girl! You are great! Self care! Get it, binch! But admitting to my own mental wellness needs is like solving a Rubik's cube of excuses and only sends me into further shame spirals.
I write this not because I've "figured something out" or that I'm all better and everything is dove farts and rainbow queefs. It's just to say I was falling and I'm not falling anymore. And that depression and anxiety are not abnormal, not wrong, not a sign of weakness, etc.
Actually, I guess I have learned something: to forgive myself for taking a break. And that rebuilding is just as important as building. And I'll never hold success in my hands if I don't let go of past failures and slights. You know, all that boilerplate self-help stuff.
I'm good enough, I'm smart enough and gosh darnit, one day I think I'll like me.
NOTE: I am nearly at my 6-month anniversary of Moving To LA, therefore I have decided I am an expert in all things Moving To LA and thus wrote this extremely helpful blog. You're welcome!
Congratulations! You, a Chicago comedian, have decided to leave/escape Chicago!
Either you have A) Finally collected 100 Crushing Disappointment Tokens and can now emotionally afford to leave, or B) Won your third Jeff Award and 15th Del Award and you're somehow only 19, so you literally have nothing left to accomplish in Chicago and also you're beginning to suspect every comedian over 30 secretly hates you (we do), or C) Finally realized that you don't have to live through 17 months of brutal, emotionally scarring winter anymore just for 11 seconds of summer/one wistful White Woman bike ride along the lakeshore, on a vintage bicycle, sweater-less, while listening to some shit like, I dunno, Feist? Is she still a thing? Or did she pass away when the flash mob trend died?
Anyway. How DO you do it? How do you make the Great Leap to Los Angeles, city of Angels, on-ramps and Dumbass Hats (copyright Kat Barker)?
Don't worry. I'm here to guide you.
ONE: Realize If You're Unhappy In Chicago, It's Likely Not Going To Get Any Better
Some people, better people, emotionally stable people, can be happy in Chicago. These people either achieve the success they want, are Seen and Understood by the comedy powers that be, or they likely don't care if they're ever on Superstore. Or, stay with me now, they might actually have full, vivid lives outside of the improv world from which to draw happiness.
PEOPLE CAN BE HAPPY WITHOUT IMPROV, JAYSTON. I DON'T KNOW HOW BUT I'VE BEEN TOLD THERE ARE JOYS TO BE HAD IN THIS LIFE OTHER THAN A WELL-TIMED WILFORD BRIMLEY DI-A-BEET-US CALLBACK.
If you're like me and Jayston, you're not so lucky to be an emotionally coherent adult. Snowflakes like us need constant outside approval from improv audiences and improv theater owners like a Hungry Hippo needs another fucking plastic ball.
If you've been in Chicago let's say, five or more years, seven maybe (I dunno, everyone is different. I would know, I'm a snowflake) and it bothers you that you're not achieving what you want to achieve, you should consider that you likely never will. At least, not anywhere between North and Howard.
That prestigious comedy theater isn't just going to reverse it's fetus-only policy and decide to cast a balding 37-year-old who's never heard of Yik Yak or that person they've never called back for auditions because they only play Bedeviled Duchesses in every scene. And remember, you are locked out of the Chicago Fire/Justice/PD/Chimneysweep universe because you played Call Center Employee #2 in that one episode, so no more TV roles for you.
If the above is true, what you want is likely something Chicago can't provide. It's a city of abundance, of lot of cool things, but they're all spoons. 10,000 spoons. And all you want is a knife.
LA is a city of knives. Go there.
TWO: Know That Your Sadness Will Follow Here You Like Pigpen's Stink Cloud
Los Angeles won't instantly cure your depression. Let's get that out of the way first. It will provide you space, time, air, openness to deal with said depression, and it might make it more manageable. It might also be so overwhelming that you freak out and return to Chicago to the safety of your Harold team, that tiny bro-plaid nation-state in which you were king, and pretend it never happened.
As with most things in life, our sadness isn't going to be cured by Things. Any success you have in LA will immediately numb the pain, be a wonderful infusion of serotonin, but once the shine is off your walk-on role on NCIS, that sadness will come back. You'll continue to compare yourself to others, to see yourself as not getting enough, not getting far enough, to not being Seen and Understood.
That's because that sadness is Your Shit. And we all have our own Shit to deal with, and no amount of success and money will completely remove Your Shit from Your Shoe unless you're doing the emotional work to remove it.
Your Shit isn't "No one wants to hire me to act," it's "I'm afraid of the implications of my own mediocrity" or "I just want someone to love me" or "For the three years I was out before my dad died, he never talked to me about being gay and so I still feel like I'm an incorrect son and when I don't get cast my feelings of being an incorrect anomaly intensify." You know, something pretend like that that I just completely made up .
LA won't fix Your Shit. But it will, if you're patient and work at it, allow your ability to handle Your Shit to evolve.
Chicago can feel like a personified, animatronic, Potemkin version of the Definition of Insanity. If you're starting to feel trapped there, or like you're losing your mind repeating the same mistakes and failures, then it's probably time to try something new. Like LA! Where everyone dresses like they're lesbian Coachella witches, even the men (especially the men).
THREE: Live Near People
LA is heinously expensive. LA is Leona Helmsley cosplaying as a nonsensical freeway system, and only the richy rich are truly comfortable here.
LA is also very isolating and lonely. In Chicago, all your comedian friends likely lived along the same few CTA arteries, the ones that carry you to the theaters you have shows at, so seeing them is never much work.
LA is vast. It's a digestive system for cars that goes on forever in all directions.
Because of that, getting a place within 20 minutes of a good friend or two or five is a must. That's because everyone in LA are horrible flakes and will bail on you if they have to drive more than 20 minutes. But also because, most 20 minute drives stay roughly 20 minutes long, because you can always go local. A 30 minute drive can easily become a 90 minute drive in bad traffic.
Sure, that far-away friend will drive to see you in your studio in Santa Monica the first week you arrive, bring you a succulent, hug you, etc. But after that you will literally never see them again for the rest of your life because no one wants to go to Santa Monica, ever. God it's so FAR.
Also, try to get a place that's reasonably close to at least a few thing to help with functional day-to-day life (a grocery store, a CVS, a Home Depot, whatever). Even if you can walk to one thing, even if it's a tire store, it will help you not feel so isolated and will make your transition from Sad, Slowly Curdling Chicago Improviser to Vapid LA Starfucker With Octagonal Sunglasses infinitely easier.
Lastly, consider taking a shittier place in a better location rather than a better place in a shitty location far away from people you care about or places you want to spend your time. For God's sake, don't live in Pomona. Or Rancho Cucamonga. You will die on the 210, slumped behind the wheel, stuck in your 854th hour of traffic, Terry Gross' slightly pinched voice asking Debra Messing about how her mother's stroke changed the way she approached the character of Grace.
Now, all of this apartment bullshit is much easier said than done, as getting an apartment is hell, and again everything is expensive AF out here, but fortunately there's some good news in point 4Q. KEEP READING!
FOUR: A Bunch Of Random Shit To Keep In Mind
A) If you have a pet, get their flea meds up to date. There are fleas forever, all year round out here and they will attack your dog like Lilliputians.
B) Some apartments don't have refrigerators! Some rental fridges have cockroaches! Try to get an apartment with a fridge.
F) There are rattle snakes out here! Get your pet a rattle snake vaccine
#) Chicago will always be there. Portillo's (god willing) will always be there. If LA sucks a big fat one for you, you can always go back. And there's no shame in that, just like there's no shame in admitting Chicago isn't going to give you what you need.
Q) Use your network. Reach out to friends, to friends of friends, to ex-Chicago improvisers you've heard of but never actually met. The world of Chicago comedy refugees is huge out here and very willing to help make your move as easy and gentle as possible. We will go see places for you, we will give you all our recommendations for moving companies, neighborhoods, resources. We will write needlessly long blogs about it because Moving To LA is what unites us all. It is a right of passage, an emotional tattoo. It is the scar on our taints between our vaginas and our buttholes from where we pushed out a screaming new life and tore ourselves stem to stern.
You're ready when you're ready. And whenever you choose to go, it's the right time. And if you decide you don't want to go, you want to stay in Chicago, that's also the correct choice. I'm not you, you know you. I just know my experience and Sandra Bullock's birthday (July 26, 1964)
But once you're ready to make the leap, I'll be here for you and so will a lot of people who you might not expect, and you know what? So will Beverly D'Angelo. I'm assuming she lives in LA. OMG YOU COULD LIVE IN THE SAME CITY AS BEVERLY D'ANGELO, JAYSTON, WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOOOORRRR??!?!??!!??!?!?!?!?
I was a C-section.
My head was too big to go the normal route. In elementary school, I was always the tallest or close to the tallest kid in class. In 7th grade, I had a size 13 shoe. It ballooned to size 15 by freshman year.
I’ve been known to break chairs, get my feet stuck under car seats, hit my head on just about everything. At six foot three and 230 pounds, I’m not the biggest person you’ve ever met but I’ve always grappled with my size.
The phrase “Too big for this world” has followed me throughout my life, mostly as a joke my friends or husband would say when I’d break a chair or bump my head. Because of this, I’ve worked exceedingly hard at becoming smaller. As you may know, I wear shirts several sizes too small. I wear size 14 shoes now, even if they give me blisters. I don’t speak much at social gatherings, and try to find ways to make my body smaller, either by sitting or slouching or raising the tone of my voice to a higher, less beastly register. And I apologize to everyone at any and all opportunity, for everything and for nothing.
I’ve had anxiety and depression issues for years, and some of it stems from my dad’s suicide in 2008. Some of it stems from a fear I’m a monster. That I’m an ogre who will accidentally bump into someone and send them flying off a cliff, or accidently sit on someone and break their legs. And some of it stems from still feeling like an anomaly that society is perpetually confused by, even 12 years after coming out of the closet.
I grew up in a conservative Republican Illinois town, in a conservative Republican jock family. I knew from a very young age I wasn’t quite “right.” I wasn’t what my surroundings wanted or expected of me. I didn’t fit the “type” that was lauded and appreciated in our macho corn town.
I entered the comedy world a newly minted gay man. I had just come out my senior year of college and jumped into an online relationship, and almost immediately started taking improv classes at the iO West in Hollywood. Finally, I was free to be me and leave the experience of being the Wrong Thing and that conservative, Republican town behind me. And comedy was going to be the playground where I truly would be able to archeologically dig out the me that had been buried for so long, and dust it off and discover my true self.
Yet, as my time in the comedy world went on, I found more closed doors than open ones. I began to run up against similar feelings. That I wasn’t quite “right.” That I wasn’t what my surroundings wanted or expected of me. That I didn’t fit any of the “types” that were lauded and appreciated in Chicago’s inbred, heteronormative community.
I became clear over the 11 years I spent in Chicago that my queerness was a liability rather than an asset, because it wasn’t the right kind of queerness. It wasn’t “marketable” or “safe” for the straights. My old lady wigs didn’t match my ogre body. My gayness wasn’t “just one small part” of who I was (a sentiment which straight gatekeepers loooooovvveeeeeeeeeeee) it was front and center in almost everything I did. I wasn’t a comedian who happened to be gay, I was a faggy fag comedian who happened to love doing fag comedy, faggily.
My queerness, the thing I denied and squashed and hated myself for until I was 22, was now the thing keeping me from opportunities. I was incorrect for what my surroundings desired. It was déjà vu all over again. I was out of the closet but still not allowed in the kitchen.
My most successful improv audition ever (and binch I absolutely destroyed that room, trust me) resulted in no callback because I had played all female characters, including Elizabeth Olsen with a supremely timely reference to her movie Martha Marcy May Marlene (John Loos never not be John Loosin’).
The message was clear: Make your gayness smaller. Be like your body. Be a football douche or something. You’re too gay/femme/queer yet you can clearly beat up every straight dude in the Chicago comedy community and that confuses us, so we’re choosing to ignore you.
Fortunately, after about 7 or so years, I began to say Fuck Off to this pressure to conform, and found a lot of joy in doing so. However, when my last series Sheryl Still Single (up to that point the most distilled and pure version of John Loos I had presented to the world) was rejected from 12 out of 13 festivals, I struggled not to revert to old feelings of inadequacy and isolation and a savage fatigue from trying so hard to please white straight dudes in Keep Calm shirts.
We’re all too something for this idiotic, narrow-minded world. Too fat, too skinny, too gay, too poor, too old, too young, too ethnic, too nerdy, too "other" for these asinine norms created without our input. And each of those experiences are unique and I don’t and can’t speak for all of them. But the feeling of being an anomaly, a puzzle piece that doesn’t fit, I know very well.
I created John Loos: Too Big For This World because I wanted to embrace the space I inhabit. I wanted to be big for once instead of small.
I wanted to relinquish myself from expectations that everything I create has to SUCCEED or ROCKET ME TO THE TOP and just have fun. And I wanted to show all sides of me, in one place, to prove that yeah, I can play monstrous straight man (see “Craig”) and I can play douchenozzles (“Twink Nouveau”), but I can also play psycho sisters (“Get the F Out”), gogo boys (“Gogo Away”), horrible British gay disasters (“Transintolerant”), celebrities (“Sia Saw It”) and moronic baguettes in need of a hairbrush (“Kellyanne Unboxing”).
I think I’m finally at a place where other people’s metrics for success don’t matter. I’m here, I’m creating what I want, and I’m working with astonishingly talented people who make me better and make me laugh (like my genius director CJ Arellano and fabulous producer Ryan Sands).
I may not ever get a show or be in a movie or write an Emmy winning script, and that’s fine. I’m not a straight dude who loves football, and I’m not a comedian who colors inside the lines or fits neatly into your box. But it’s nothing new.
Remember, I was a C-section. I was born not going the “normal” route.
There’s an improviser out there in Chicago somewhere, doing her fourth show of the week.
One or more she DEFINITELY slayed. One or more was DEFINITELY a shitshow.
She’s been at it for a year. Two years. Five years. Fifteen years.
She waits tables at a hellhole Wrigleyville dump. She temps at call centers and carves her initials under desks. She has a high-powered corporate job that sucks the marrow from her bones. She lives off her parents while trying to get her Etsy page dedicated to Ribbon Bracelets to take off.
She just scrolled through her Facebook feed and saw someone who has been here for half the time she has get an opportunity ten times bigger than anything she’s ever been offered. The person even time-stamped their post “Wow! I can’t believe after being in Chicago for six tenths of a second, I’m performing on the Second City Mainstage/got a recurring role on Chicago Fire/got SNL!!!!”
She kind of wants to die reading it but she hearts it and comments “OMG GIRL GET IT!!!”
She checks her email. Nothing. Still no word if that important producer/agent/manager is coming to her Tuesday night improv show at The Playground/one-woman show about growing up in a scuba diving family/sketch show she wrote with her classmates, half of who flaked during the process.
She stays at it for another year/two years/five years/fifteen years. She ages out of most opportunities, because the bigwigs have decided they only want to cast literal fetuses on their stages. She watches as a just-released sperm with a YouTube channel gets SNL and an egg that literally JUST entered the fallopian tube gets his own TV show.
She wonders if no one sees her because she’s too old. Too queer. Too esoteric. Too loud. Too quiet. Maybe she references Rocko’s Modern Life too much in her improv scenes. Or maybe she doesn’t reference Rocko’s Modern Life enough?
She starts teaching improv/interning at the box office/coaching an improv team to make a little extra cash/get some stage time/get discounted classes.
Her agent calls and yells at her for booking out wrong. She can never seem to do it right. She’s only gotten cast in one thing in her time there, a small role in a short film, and her part was cut.
On weekends she holds court at bars near the improv theaters that rejected her and laughs and tells stories of her miraculous bad luck and says “FUCK YOU!!” to the people who wronged her before taking another shot of Malort/Malort shot/it’s always a Malort shot at this juncture/swig of Malort. Then she goes home to her studio apartment in Lincoln Square/Roger’s Park/Bronzeville/Logan Square and cries with her cat/old dog/bowl of three-day-old Thai food because she can’t seem to escape this endless cycle of rejection/get people to notice her/remember how to love performing comedy/recognize the pain she’s inflicting on herself by continuing to pursue dreams that seemed electric when she started at 22 but now seems juvenile.
The pain she feels in her chest is the pain of realizing, slowly over her year/two years/five years/fifteen years, that wanting something is much different than deserving it. And deserving something means nothing if you remain invisible to those who can give it to you.
She has four more shows next week. And six the week after. And then a little break. And she’ll hate herself for being so busy and hate herself for having that little break. And she’ll hate herself most when she has a moderate amount of shows/rehearsals because it’s clearly not enough/it’s clearly too much and fuck her for not being able to control it.
More crying. More Malort. More three-day-old Pad Thai.
And then, one day, after yet another three-person audience/packed house/bad review/standing ovation, something will click into place inside of her. She has to move to LA. Suddenly, her stress and sadness will melt away because she’s reclaiming the power to define herself, something she’d ceded to outside forces for years.
This improviser exists all over the place. Sometimes she’s a he. Sometimes she’s a she. Sometimes she’s a they/zi/figuring it out. She is prolific and unique and rough around the edges and brilliant and deeply flawed and a mess. She has the audacity not to be a Shiny Object Everyone Notices, or just isn’t that good at self-promotion, or doesn’t stay out past 10 because she has kids/a stressful job/a dog/just likes sleep.
The Chicago comedy world is a land of abundance filled with people who operate in perpetual scarcity mode. We fear the success of others and see our comedy careers as ladders instead of ball pits. We work the system to benefit ourselves instead of raise each other up.
If 11 years in Chicago taught me one thing, it’s to notice those around you. The ones falling through the cracks. The ones putting in the work but not getting the opportunities. And recognize you have the power to create opportunities for each other and change each other’s fortunes.
I was ignored. I was overlooked. It hurt. And it’s been hard not to be angry about it. But I found abundance in Chicago, in amazing friends and collaborators. And I tried my best to create my own ball pit (well, let’s be honest, a wig pit). And it was the greatest experience of my life, until the day comes that Judith Light buys me Panera.
I’m sad for what I didn’t achieve, for what I gave up on, for the emails that never came, but also I’m sad for the people who didn’t give me a chance, because they didn’t get to see what I could do for them.
There’s an improviser out there in the Chicago somewhere, doing four shows a week. And she’s desperate for a fucking chance.
Give her the outstretched hand you’re waiting so impatiently for someone else to give you. Make space for her. Create something for her, or with her. Let her sit in with your group. Cast her in that JonBenet Ramsey show you’re writing, or the sketch show about butts you’re creating with classmates. Put her in your web series about zany bro roommates that you’re shooting on your iPhone. Invite her to your variety show. Put on a variety show with her. Notice her at the end bar, swimming in her phone, waiting for emails/opportunities that will never come. Buy her a Malort shot (but like, for fuck’s sake don’t be creepy about it).
Because if you keep ignoring her, she’ll quit. And her comedic voice will be silenced prematurely.
Or she’ll let the bitterness overtake her and become something she isn’t.
Or she’ll say fuck this and move to LA and become a showrunner on a wildly successful HBO show about huffy older women waiting in line at Lord & Taylor called Gentlemen Prefer Blazers.
There was an improviser out there in Chicago somewhere, doing four shows a week. Some she slayed, some were shitshows. Now she’s in a car on her way to LA. It’s been tough, but I think she’ll be okay.