I try not to belabor the points of my stories. I prefer the stories to speak for themselves. Sometimes, however, in allowing my stories to speak for themselves, they end up saying different things than I had in mind when I wrote them.
There are a number of possible explanations for this confusion. The reader may read things into the story that I never intended to be there. Or, I wrote the story insufficiently skillfully, and the message I had in mind didn’t come through. Or – and I truly believe this is often the case – those insidious stories, acting on their own, make the point they want to make, haughtily oblivious of the writer’s wishes.
(This usually involves a snooty French accent:
“Zis wra-ter has zumzing on ‘ees mahnd, but – hoh-hoh-hoh – we, zee ztor-ee, weel, how you say, sabo-tage ‘ees in-ten-cion.”
Call it the unconscious, with snails.)
I recently wrote about how I once had serious thoughts of becoming a comedian, and went on to enumerate – rather easily – fourteen reasons why that was, in retrospect, an illogical aspiration. You might wonder why I wrote that post. It may not have been such a great idea. Not all of them are.
I write a post because I’m excited when it materializes in my mind, and, having not written it yet, I’m intrigued to see how it’ll turn out. “I tried to become a comedian. It didn’t work out. Should I have known it wouldn’t work out? I believe I should have. Why? Well, here are fourteen reasons. Unfortunately, in making my decision, I neglected to consider any of them.”
This brings me to the “Public Service” reason for writing a post. It goes something like this:
“Perhaps my experience will resonate with decisions you are currently wrestling with, and, having learned from my mistake, you will put that decision to a more rigorous test.”
When I was in my twenties, giving the matter almost no thought whatsoever, I decided to move to New York and become a stand-up comedian, performing at comedy clubs like The Improv and The Village Gate. The experiment lasted five weeks.
I guess it was okay that I tried. It didn’t kill me. And there were some isolated high points. Once, I did really well. The audience responded enthusiastically, which surprised me, since, a) I was terrified, b) I didn’t know what I was doing, c) my material was of an inconsistent quality, and d) a roof-raising Harlem gospel choir, dressed in zebra-striped dashikis, drove the audience into a frenzy, making it quite a challenge for the next performer, a low-key comedian from Canada, to get their attention. But somehow I did.
There was a reason I succeeded that night. I had decided to abandon on my quest to become a comedian, and return home to Canada. This would be my final performance, and with nothing to lose, I relaxed and I “killed.” (It’s easier to deliver when it no longer matters.)
Being a comedian was the wrong fit for me. I’d have known that had I been alert to the signals. Being in show business, however, was the right fit. Once again, the signals were apparent. But this time, I noticed them.
A Canadian ad agency once hired me to write and perform some radio commercials for Shopsy’s, a Toronto deli, looking to expand its product line into supermarkets. In one commercial, I took on the voice of one of their featured entrees:
“Hi, I’m Salisbury Steak. I come with mushrooms, but they don’t talk.”
The agency liked what I’d done on the Shopsy’s account, and after I completed the commercials, they offered me a full-time writing job at their agency. This was my reply to them:
“I appreciate the offer, but I’d rather stay in show business.”
An honest response. Only one problem. At the time I said that,
I wasn’t in show business.
I don’t know where that came from. Somebody offered me a secure career opportunity, and I turned it down, using as my rationale a competing opportunity
That didn’t exist!
This was a signal.
I clearly wanted to be in show business.
Here’s another signal. Best of the West is in production. There’s a run-through on the stage. There are golf carts available to carry us there. As the other executive producers climb into the golf carts, I do something that is characteristically light years from my recognizable M.O.
I run to the stage.
That’s a signal. “I’m in the right place.” How do I know? No one, including myself, had ever seen me run anywhere before.
What’s the difference between the writing and the comedian situations? Is writing for television easier than being a stand-up? No, they’re both hard. The difference is that in one place, I belonged – as reflected by my spontaneous exuberance – and the in other place – as reflected by an alternating mixture of depression and “the shakes” – I didn’t.
If I’d spoken to one comedian, and asked him what it was like being him, I would quickly have realized that that line of endeavor was not for me. This blog concerns, among other matters, an all-encompassing recounting of what it’s like writing for television.
Maybe it’s for you. And maybe, once you’re more aware of what’s involved, you’ll decide that it isn’t. Or that it wasn’t, and you were (maybe instinctively) thoughtful enough to have realized it.