One of my earliest memories was back in kindergarten. Mrs. Kraut handed us green hats with big frog eyes on the top. She taught us a song to perform to our parents, the lyrics were loaded with frog-based puns.
There was this moment toward the end of the song, somewhere in the chorus, when I blurted out, “Sing it with me now!” in my best Jamaican accent. Just felt like the right thing to do.
It got a laugh and I remember loving that feeling. It was cool that you could think up something funny in your head, throw it out there, and the laugh was this immediate feedback whether it worked or not.
I’ve loved making people laugh ever since. In elementary school, I was the class clown. Middle school I took things I was insecure about (glasses, acne, wearing Rec Spec goggles on the basketball court) and turned those into jokes. In high school, my friends and I were doing improv comedy without really knowing it. We were always trying to make people laugh.
The pinnacle moment, in terms of performing comedy, took place senior year of high school. It was called “Rhapsody Rendezvous,” an annual talent show in front of a couple thousand people. I was one of the four MCs and we performed these little 3-4 minute skits in between the acts.
But something weird happened after that show. The only thing I can compare it to are those moments in sports when a John Elway or a David Robinson retires right after winning a championship. It was like I looked at Rhapsody Rendezvous and decided, “Yep. Nothing will ever top that moment.” And, if nothing could, then why try? It’s a better storybook ending than ending your career on an interception.
So I didn’t go back on stage for over a year. I preferred to sit and admire last year’s championship trophy.
I was also playing a lot of basketball. I poured everything into my senior season and the original plan was to keep playing at Hope College. Summer goes by and I arrive in Holland, Michigan. Go to the first mandatory 5 a.m. workout and quickly realize: Woah, these guys are a lot better than me. The post players are bigger, the guards are faster. And they’ve been training all summer long. I was out late with friends getting Taco Bell. They were up early hitting the gym. Plain and simple, these guys wanted to be college basketball players more than I did.
Since second grade, basketball had always been a big part of my identity. Without it, I was heading into one of those great “Who am I?” or, “What am I going to do with my life?” questions that tend to strike during a year of change. Freshman year of college. Losing a job. Turning 30, 40, 50. Those are prime quarter-life/mid-life crisis arenas. And it takes awhile to figure out the answers.
But what happens, or at least what happened to me, is during the rebuild, I naturally gravitated back to things I loved to do. I started writing every day. I got on stage and performed a stand-up comedy routine. A lot of the punchlines that night were from the hard times freshman year. A sad freshman year break-up turned into the joke, “You ever been so sad that you’re standing in the shower naked, peeling a clementine, and just openly weeping?”
Think of something funny in your head. Throw it out there. See if there’s a laugh. Sing it with me now.
What I love about comedy is you can take any memory – the good, the bad, the ugly – and turn it into a story. So in the good times, you’re thinking, “Wow, this is great!” In the bad times, you’re thinking, “Well, at least this will make for a funny story.” Comedy is there no matter how things are going.
But there is this question hanging over your head in college and then post-graduation, the one that goes: Yeah, but what are you going to do with an English major? What are you going to do with comedy?
And these aren’t unfair questions. It is hard to make a living on those pursuits. I wish the answer was as simple as the Disney-esque: When you wish upon a star. But reality is more complex. Sometimes you get to the basketball court and realize, “Woah, these guys are better than me.”
So then what do you do with something that you love to do but 1) It might not be a sustainable full-time career and 2) You might never reach the elite varsity tier?
The answer I arrived at in college and again here at age 30 is painfully simple and Nike kind of beat me to the punch. “Just do it.”
Going back to the basketball example, there was this really cool moment once the playing-on-a-varsity-team ship had sailed, when I realized, “I love this game.” I love the competition. I love the feeling of making a three. Making a great pass. The games when everyone on your team can’t miss and you win 7-0. After college, I didn’t need basketball to be anything other than basketball. It doesn’t mean you’re not trying as hard on the court, it’s just not the end-all-be-all anymore. It feels weird to say, but I might’ve had more pure joy playing basketball a couple weeks ago at an open gym than I did playing varsity in high school.
I’ve never let go of writing, but I did drift apart from going on stage and performing comedy. Over the last eight years, jokes have been limited to presentations at work and a couple of best man speeches.
The reasons not to dive in deeper are still there. What are you going to do with comedy? It’s not a career. You’re not going to be the best in the world at it.
To which my reply is: Yeah, but it’s still fun to do. It doesn’t need to be anything more than that.
Here in 2020, I’m reclaiming an old love. I’m gonna be the kid wearing the frog hat again. And I’m excited to announce that starting January 10th I’ll be part of the cast of “New Year’s Revolution,” a Writing 6 show taking place at The Second City Training Center. Performances are on the 10th, 17th, 24th, and 31st.
The writers have written a great show and I’ve been working hard on the rusty skill of remembering lines. Writing a blog post is pretty safe. I can’t hear if things are working or not. Getting up on stage, that’s an unknown. Higher risk. The feeling of, “Will this work? Will this fail? Will I forget my lines on stage?” that’s all part of the process. The nerves. The butterflies. The eventual thrill of telling the jokes on stage. The high afterward. None of that goes away, whether it’s a full-time pursuit or reclaiming an old passion.
It’s good to be back in the process.
Here are some more details on showtimes and how to order tickets. If you can make it, would love to see ya there!
And it’s good to be back for another year of Medium Rare. Next week, I’ll keep the adventurous streak going and will be sharing a story about trying a restaurant without checking Yelp first. Spoiler alert: It’s now my favorite fried chicken spot in the city. But you’ll have to tune in Monday to find out where…
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