The strangest thing happened to me a little while ago. I got a callback. I never get callbacks. And this was for a TV show, of all things.
Then, a hysterical-Winona-Ryder-drawing-the-alphabet-on-her-wall Stranger Thing happened. I got cast. On Shrink. A new TV show for NBC's streaming service Seeso.
Immediately, I thought it was a mistake. This is how I handle success, by the way. I immediately panic and reject it and decide someone made a mistake, that I'm a fraud, that I tricked someone. My first reaction to succeeding is to want to desperately apologize to the people who think I did a good job.
I can't even look at texts that contain a compliment. As soon as I see a compliment is coming, or a heart emoji, I hide my phone because I don't deserve it. I tricked someone.
Strange things happen in adulthood after you spent 22 years of your life hating yourself for being secretly gay in a conservative family living in a conservative small town.
My internal dialogue growing up was that I was an anomaly. A mistake. Love wasn't made for me. Something fucked up on the assembly line and I ended up having an SUV's body with a jetski engine and rowboat interior.
Since coming out and embracing my gayness and finding love, this sense of perpetual failure and being a walking mistake has hopped like a parasite to feed on my comedy career. And so I've spent the last decade and a half convinced I was a comedic anomaly, that success wasn't meant for me, that I was a forever going to be the Chicago comedy equivalent of the Feed The Birds lady in Mary Poppins (played by Academy Award winner Jane Darwell, goddess of my being).
And, as a coping mechanism, I started to wear this sense of failure, this narrative of being perpetually overlooked, as a badge of honor. If I couldn't get a touring company or a stage at Second City or a Harold team at the iO, if I was never invited to perform in any classic Annoyance shows, then I would position myself as the tragically overlooked comedy martyr. I would "show them" by being the busiest comedy creator in the city, fueled by a sense of injustice and hairbrained conspiracy theories as to why the powers that be have, for a decade, chosen to ignore me.
It was pretty cozy, this little narrative. I relished the sadness of it and wore it like a sharf (shawl + scarf). I love an underdog story. I use to LOVE rooting for the yellow sweater-ed Team 3 on Supermarket Sweep that never had a chance of winning the Final Sweep. And here I had brilliantly made myself the ultimate underdog.
And then, I got cast. And I was confused. And panicked. And kind of sad for a moment. Because my painstakingly crafted narrative of loserdom had just gotten shattered. Who...what....HOW?!
How could I continue being Chicago's Most Tragically Overlooked Gay Comedy Powerhouse if I had just booked a principal role on a TV show?
I couldn't. And I can't. So I'm changing the narrative. Because that narrative was fucking dumb to the maxxx. I've had so many wonderful experiences and opportunities since I've been in Chicago. I'm extremely fortunate, and also I'm not entitled to a single goddamn thing. Not a single role, not a single stage, nothing. I can succeed just like anyone else, and I can fail just like anyone else.
Yeah, okay, truth talk. I honestly feel like the major theaters fucked up in not casting me at any point in the last five years, because everyone and their uncle knows I could write 40 different mainstage or e.t.c. Second City shows tomorrow that Chris Jones would give at least three stars to (and three paragraphs devoted to fawning over the new white straight dude.) Writing sketch comedy is my superpower, but there are many factors that go into hiring someone and perhaps other skills I have aren't as strong.
But also, just because I know something is within my capabilities doesn't mean I deserve it, or that there's been a grand conspiracy to deprive me of the opportunity.
The narrative now is this: I'm a workhorse writer. I'm flawed but talented performer. I look great is pink glitter platform heels. And, I have the ability to get cast on a TV show. I can succeed. I won't always, but I can. I am capable.
I will not always be right for the part, nor will I always knock every audition out of the park. Good things can happen to me that I actually deserve. Just as I can deserve to not achieve things. I am not an anomaly. I am a comedian, ever growing, ever learning, ever stumbling, ever achieving, ever experimenting.
I am more than my failures and more than what I don't have on resume. I'm John Fucking Loos. And I can act on camera. And I can reference Jane Darwell in a blog about being an actor in Chicago. And I can write you literally anything. AND I CAN GET CAST.