Several times recently in my comedy career, usually when I've been hurrying from one rehearsal/show to another on a random weekday night, I've had a distinct thought: "What the effing fuck am I doing?"
Busyness. At some point for every burgeoning improviser, it becomes mistaken for happiness. First, we improvise because it's magic. Then, if we don't quit and go back to our lives, we double down and begin improvising and doing sketch shows to get a foothold in the community. We perform for momentum, attention, ladder-climbing. And then, at some point, once enough opportunities have past us by and we've shat out enough show runs to fill six theaters, we start doing shows because we're afraid of how we'll feel if we stop.
To get ahead in this crazy world, you have to produce, produce, produce. That means improv shows on Tuesdays at 10:30pm for four people/the other team. That means constantly performing or being in process for a sketch show. That means crafting solo material, a tight five minutes, a bevy of audition-ready Christopher-Walken-at-Hot-Topic impressions ("How maach...for this............candy purse?") That means finding new creative collaborators, working with more and more esteemed directors, seeing shows of popular performers, mimicking them, studying them. It means creating your own "brand," selling yourself, marketing yourself, Facebooking your friends about shows until you and they all want to puke from how routine it's become (Anniversary? 250 likes. Show tonight? 3 likes, from people also in the show). It means not stopping, ever, because to stop is to fall behind. To be forgotten. To cede stage time to someone younger, funnier and with their nubile finger on a stronger, hipper vein of comedy.
There's a question that is often asked among performers. There are two types of responses:
"What shows are you working on?"
[Panic] [1,000 deaths] [heart-sobbing] "Umm, you know, I might be doing something in a few months maybe."
"What shows are you working on?"
[1,000 boners] "X show and Y show and I'm understudying Z show! Oh! And XX show and YY show. And the ZZ showcase. And I'm writing a solo YYY show. And I may get to sit in with the XXX's when they do their improvised Cold Case musical. But you, other than that, not much."
I'm tired. All the time. I'm tired right now. I'll be tired in 20 minutes, I'll be tired at 9pm tonight, I'll be tired when I wake up tomorrow. Rehearsal processes for me, now, are like triathlons. By the end, I'm bow-legged and blistered and just want a shitload of carbs.
But I keep going, keep producing, because I don't know any other way. I've never not been busy. In high school, I left speech meets early to make basketball games. I was on the quiz team and the football team. I always had too much going on. If I'm busy, I'm vital. I'm interesting. And we all know the worst thing anyone can be is uninteresting.
I'm heading into a fall chock full of shows and projects. I didn't intend to set myself up like this, but then again I never do. It just happens. One avalanche after another. I say yes to most everything. I'm an improviser, it's what we do. And deep down, nine years after starting this, I still feel like I have something to prove, something new to show folks that they haven't seen from me.
I could stop. I could sleep more. But I love it too much, even when I hate it. Running late to rehearsal with my shitty ass backpack weighed down with gym clothes and scripts is as innate behavior to me as a male penguin incubating his mate's egg, or a pelican face-planting in the ocean. It's second nature to me now.
And I know that even if I were to transition to the life of a muggle, I'd find something else to overflow my life with. And, between hurrying from a LARPing festival to my outdoor novelty-sized chess tournament, that voice would come back.
"What the effing fuck are you doing?"