On my 5th birthday, I found myself on the floor of our living room, staring up at the popcorn ceiling, completely blown away by the realization that no matter how long I lived, I would never be four again.
"Goodbye four," I said aloud, into the ether.
Four was it. It was the best of youth, the ideal age. And it was over. That was it.
As I got older, I started to develop a very unhealthy relationship with time. I was always aware of exactly how much youth I had left, how much longer I had until I was too old for my toys, how much longer until puberty ripped me away from childhood.
When I was in 5th grade, my friend Joe and I were playing pretend in his room, jumping around the beds like superheros. We had done this many times before. But this time, we quickly got bored. We were getting too old to play pretend. This, in fact, would be our last Pretend.
I was devastated.
I thought back to my life in 4th grade, 3rd grade, kindergarten.
That was it, I thought. The best of youth. And it's gone.
Through middle school and high school, I stood idly by as my classmates matured and got hickies and handjobs on the band bus and eventually started having sex. As a closeted gay kid in a conservative town, I had no interest in the physical. In fact, as a defense mechanism, I decided I was better than everyone else for not giving in to my dirty carnal urges.
In reality, I was pouting. Over losing a childhood I wasn't ready to let go, that I felt I had squandered and not properly enjoyed.
College represented a turn. Out of my hometown, with the knowledge that I would probably come out at some point, for the first time in my life my excitement of what was to come outweighed my devastation over what was no more.
I came out. I had sex. All the colors I hadn't seen before came trickling through my eyes. Suddenly, I only wanted to get older, more grown-up. I never wanted to look back.
A few weeks after I graduated college, I moved to Rancho Cucamonga for an online relationship and became a house-husband in the suburbs. Now, instead of being far behind my friends' growth curve, I was far ahead.
This is it, I thought. This right now.
I got a grown-up job. And I commuted. And commuted. And realized maybe this wasn't it.
I enrolled in improv classes and found a space to play again, to be four again. I became obsessed.
All the famous people on the wall were calling me to join them. Tina Fey. Seth Meyers. Andy Dick. Andy Richter. Rachel Dratch. I was headed to the magical golden place they were; I just had a later flight.
I studiously IMDBed every famous person who had ever done improv at the iO or Second City or Groundlings and started doing math. So-and-so got onto Saturday Night Live when they were 28. 32. 23. 34. If they weren't on SNL, I noted when their big breaks were.
I did more math. It would be a year before I finished this program. I would need a few years to become a Thing in the improv community.
Eventually, I decided I would be easy on myself and give myself till I was 30 to make it on Saturday Night Live. That was more than enough time.
30 was it. 30 would be it.
My improv classes and my relationship came to an end after a year and change. I failed thrice to get on a Harold team. I was single and gay for the first time in my life. So, I decided to move to Chicago to be in the Mecca of improv and sketch. I quickly realized this would require taking another year of classes, which would eat into my cushion of making it on Saturday Night Live before 30. That didn't matter, though.
Chicago was it. Chicago was where it was at.
I did another round of improv classes and a year of writing classes. Again I did not make a Harold team. I began performing with independent teams and bars and even shittier bars. I got cast in GayCo Productions, the premiere gay sketch group of the city run by my future husband Andy. I got cast in Skinprov, the almost-naked improv show at The Annoyance. I found new outlets to perform at, friends to collaborate with, new ways to create my comedy.
At the same time, I learned the most common route people took to make it to SNL.
1) Understudy a Second City touring company
2) Get on a touring company
3) Get a resident stage
4) Get invited to an SNL showcase
5) Get invited to New York to audition for Lorne Michaels.
That would be it. That would be the way.
I began to expect things. A cardinal sin. Time passed. I did more shows. I made more comedy. For some reason, I still couldn't even get close to Step #1. I got frustrated. Angry. Petulant. Impatient. Shitty bar improv began to feel beneath me. I should be advancing faster than this, goddamnit.
Step 1 will be it. Just focus on Step 1.
More time passed. I got cast to perform on a cruise ship.
This would be it. The stepping stone to Step 1. The Step 0.5.
I performed on a ship for four months. And then another ship for another four months. And then nothing. Nothing even close to Step 1 happened for me.
I had to find an alternate route to SNL. Maybe try the iO again? Or through the Annoyance?
30 was barreling down the road toward me. Time was running out. But still, 30 would be it.
30 was it.
30 came and went. Nothing. 30 wasn't it. I was no closer to my completely vague idea of superstardom than I had been at 25.
I continued to perform, frustrated and angry. Shows became chores. I became bitchy during rehearsals. I began to hate the fact I was still doing the same things, that I hadn't advanced. I was an entitled asshole who thought he was an insulted prince.
Yet, I still created, because I didn't know how not to. I created plays, musicals, sketch shows, web series, and I started to create them from places of spite, bitterness or profound sadness. Because in my first 5 years in Chicago, none of the gatekeepers seemed to care about me or notice me.
Chicago wasn't it.
Comedy wasn't fun anymore. Comedy was a chore, an annoying means to an end I should've attained long ago, but I hadn't because I was stupid and untalented and lazy and not the right kind of gay. I was in 5th grade again, still playing pretend, getting bored and realizing I was too old for this shit.
Time went on. I developed a new tactic: extreme abundance. I began creating comedy in CostCo sizes, constantly, with no breaks. I wanted to show everyone how much of a machine I was, and make those who had not noticed me feel stupid for overlooking such a clearly profound genius.
I even created my own solo play about never getting invited to an SNL showcase, right during SNL showcase season. No producers came, of course. No one noticed. It ended with me screaming at the top of my lungs for Lorne Michaels to notice me and then getting killed by a police sniper. It was a good show, actually. But I was not in a good place.
This isn't it, I thought. This isn't how it was supposed to be.
Two years later, I finally moved back to LA with my husband. LA is a big, insanely busy, completely empty and lonely metropolis. I adore it. I wanted to break free of confines of Chicago, let go of my anger and pain, reclaim my narrative and find a new, viable path to wherever it was I was supposed to be.
This will be it, I told myself, over and over.
We arrived in LA and I promptly fell deep into the sofa. Partially because I fucking needed it. I was exhausted from 11 years of the Chicago grind. Still, a new type of depression pulled me into the cushions and held me there. I stopped performing for the most part. I wrote some things. And rested. And got more depressed. And mad at myself for not being what I thought I should be. I said mean things to myself when no one was around. Horrible things. I was worthless. I was nothing. I was a failure.
Then I started shitting blood.
This is it, hypochondriac John thought. This is butt cancer. This is the end.
I got medicated and I got a colonoscopy. Everything was fine. Except my comedy career. I had nothing going. No gas. No direction. No path.
Then we bought a house. A weird, old house that I desperately love. And we moved in. And it's amazing and surreal and great. And two days later I turned 36. And the night before, as my husband travelled, I sat alone in our new, weird, lovely old house and was dumbfounded by the wonderful progress we had made that I hadn't noticed because I was busy being a sad asshole perpetually focused on the next thing. And I began to think of what had to be left behind to get us to this benchmark. And I started to cry, the first time in I don't know how long.
Once again, I was completely blown away by the realization a beautiful, transformative phase of my life was over. Forever.
The rehearsals in freezing classrooms. The boozy nights at the old Annoyance in Uptown that seemed to last forever. Staying out at the Green Mill until 4am. Having post-show beers in a post-show glow in the windows of Old Town Ale House on a sticky August night. Doing improv warm-ups by the dumpster behind The Playground and having to move whenever a bus drove through. Taking a shitty temp job so I could afford new show shoes. Getting my lanyard at that big annual SketchFest meeting. Riding on the high of a standing O for a week. Getting depressed when no one came to the show I spent a month preparing. Shopping for blazers at Village Discount Outlet. Working on a tight 5. Getting nervous around a Big Deal improviser. Getting asked to sit in on a show starring that Big Deal. Constantly making new friends, creating together, trying together, flying together, crashing together, burning together, yearning together, flicking it all off together. Being an annoyed duchess on stage over and over and over. Putting on drag makeup poorly. Buying wigs and jewelry at Beatnix, 70s blouses at Ragstock, martinis at Mini-bar, catching the train to catch another train to get to another show. Being there and being part of it and breathing that electric air when the night is alive with comedy and adventure.
That was it, I thought. Goddamnit that was it.