If you've been entrenched in the Chicago comedy scene long enough, it's hard not to look at our little, endearing biodome as a haphazard collection of mini-cliques, many unintentional and some very, very intentional. We have our Breakfast Clubs, our Heathers, our Alpha Betas, our Goonies and our Garden States.
Thus, it's very easy to focus an inordinate amount of your energy on the groups you're not a part of, as opposed to the ones you are. After all, we're all here essentially playing a complex RPG, doing whatever shows and taking whatever classes we can to level up and grow stronger and cast bigger and badder comedy spells (you guys, I'm a fucking BOSS at metaphors).
I suppose this isn't very different from most corners of civilization. However, in a system dependent on the eagerness for advancement held by the underlings, the feeling of not belonging can be crushing. It can also be easily conflated for rejection.
Even for someone like myself, who has been here for eight years and has had many amazing opportunities and been a part of some incredible shows, it's easy to slip into a schoolyard mindset and cast myself as a loner, a rogue, a square peg. It's easy to see cool hipster cliques everywhere, and feel sorry for myself for not being a part of them. It's easy to see something great like The Jangleheart Circus and think "Well, that's another uber-insider thing I'll never be a part of" instead of "How cool, good for them!"
I try to counteract the more self-defeating viewpoint by looking for ways I DO belong, the groups I am a part of, the friends I've made along the way. Because, just as I once looked at people who made Harold teams or got callbacks for Playground incubator auditions as basically God, I know there is someone newer and greener than me who would look at where I am and I want to go to there.
Personally, I think my feelings of isolation come from my extreme introversion. Every online test I take, I am 100% introverted. I like being alone, on my couch, playing video games. This has made the necessary social aspect of being a Chicago improv comedian difficult.
I also have pretty advanced social anxiety, the fun special flavor that allows me to deliver a glowing, earnest compliment to a colleague and then walk away convinced I just mortally wounded them with a heinous insult and that they hate me and that I am horrible. This basically makes doing insult-bits, the social backbone of many improvisers, virtually impossible.
So, even when I am social, sometimes I am not the right kind of social. Huzzah!
Anyway, years and years ago, I clearly remember a well-intentioned friend tell me, after I didn't make a Harold team for the third time, that I needed to be more social. I needed to show my face at the iO and play the game. I hated this notion. Either the comedy Gods wanted me, or they didn't. I wanted to be thought of as a good improviser, not a good sit-at-the-bar-and-do-bits-and-hope-people-notice-iser.
So many years later, I understand this is simply a truth of the world we inhabit. If you want to be a part of those "cliques" you see, you have to be out, be visible, have an answer to the question "what are you working on?" and make yourself known. You have to build a buzz. Build a brand. It doesn't always feel great, but it's necessary for a lot of the leveling up we seek.
You can't join the Kiwanis Club or Carol's monthly book club without showing up. It's simply part of the bargain.
I don't get asked to do a lot of shows, and that's okay. I write my own. I don't sing very well, let alone musically improvise, so that world remains foreign to me. My Facebook will always be littered with comedy-scene in-jokes I'm not a privy to, experiences I won't get to have, but the simple fact is, none of them are preventing me from making my own.
And if I'm a perpetual outlier, or an insider who just doesn't realize it, it doesn't matter. I have my friends, my allies and my creative collaborators, and with them I am invincible.
Don't have a clique? Build your own. And then make it a force for good.
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