Lately, I feel like a kid left alone in an elevator. I can go to any floor I want but I can’t help pressing all the buttons! Like Buddy in Elf — I want to see it light up like a Christmas tree! The Brantford Comedy Festival has come to a close which has become a yearly marker for me. It’s basically my New Years because we’re in the throes of my favourite season, Fall, and I have rituals that I must attend to or else my soul will leave my body and live in a squirrel. And if you’ve ever had to retrieve your soul from a squirrel, you would know, it’s a nasty piece of business.
The festival tends to end mid-to-late September and it’s my contemplative-look-back time. It used to be a self-assessment on my stand-up, a personal review I conduct for myself to see how I’ve developed as a stand-up comedian. But over the past few years, and this year obviously being the clincher, there’s been a shift in how I approach stand-up and life in general and I want to talk about that today.
My stand-up career was born in resistance. I was flat on my ass after the recession dried up indie-film funding and my path-at-the-time of being the next Quentin Tarantino came to an abrupt halt. I found myself in a call centre that encouraged upselling satellite packages to the elderly. It wasn’t for me but I needed the money. Not that I was going to accept this reality as my end-all-be-all. I needed to know I could strive for more. I wasn’t going to accept defeat. I’ve allowed gravity to take me this far but there comes a time in most lives, when things get tough, and you need to teach yourself how to defy gravity.
Stand-up comedy was that defiance for me. If I couldn’t create in the film industry, I was going to find another way. When I touched the mic for the first time and said I only moved to Hamilton because I “saw the word HAM and kind of lost my mind.” I knew this was going to be my path for a while.
The tricky thing about stand-up is how much time and effort it takes to get good for very little pay off. You meet 20 year pros with zero thanks to their name. A lot goes into a successful comedy career and the truth is, much of that is outside of our control. A lot of luck, demographics, culture conditions, etc. But when you’re in the thick of it, you think, “This is my everything! This is who I am now! This is what defines me!”
And it’s that commitment to definition that’s the problem.
I did this once before with the word Christian. It took up the whole of my identity and everything I said and did reflected, not on Clifford the person, but Clifford the Christian. It wasn’t until I took a few hits, got humbled and got woke, that I concluded being a Christian was one part of my identity.
I didn’t realize I was doing this, of course. It was just a natural occurrence of being too deep on one thing. Then comedy came around and I did the same thing. I became obsessed with becoming a good comedian for the sake of peer validation, audience validation, industry validation. Everything but self-validation. There’s no way I could confidently validate myself if the word “comedian” was to be the whole of my identity because there’s just no way I would live up to any of the marks.
When I left my job to pursue stand-up comedy full-time, I don’t think I was making a hard choice, I think I was just making the right choice at that time in my life. I left my job, recorded a comedy DVD called ‘Oddyssey’, toured around Canada, started a new monthly show. I learned very quickly what I value and what I don’t value in the world of stand-up comedy. Leaving my job was an act of commitment to walk towards my values. So I wasn’t going to stop the practice in my new role as “full-time stand-up comedian” even though it’s incredibly hard.
Here’s some things I learned the first 9 months of what it means to be a full-time stand-up comedian:
- You need to be aware of what’s going on with culture and how that effects you as a public speaker
- It’s lonely, all you have is you, even though everyone else will have an opinion on what your career should look like.
- The struggle to be original is real with so much accessibility to ideas across the internet. Instead, reach in, and struggle to be honest instead. Originality will come out as a bi-product.
- You’ll become obsessed with dissecting the craft of stand-up and that takes away a lot of the fun.
- When stand-up comedy is your job… that also takes away a lot of the fun.
- Lastly, if you want to make money as a comedian in Canada, you need to tour a lot, you need to sell merch and you need to self-promote like never before. I didn’t like seeing my kid through a computer screen while on the road so that was red flag number 1. I made merch but wasn’t attached to the creation on a personal level so that was red flag number 2. And I don’t like constantly begging people to come to my shows. I’d rather just go out for breakfast. Red flag number 3.
These things added up for me. Though I set out to accomplish exactly what I wanted to accomplish and did so in record time, I had to admit a couple of things to myself. 1) That a traditional career in stand-up was not for me and 2) That I can do stand-up on my terms in my way and be content with that. That’s how Comic Encounters was born. The new show I host at the last Wednesday of every month at Mancala Monk in Hamilton. It’s a board game cafe.
I wanted to be in a place where people leave the internet to be a part of a stand-up comedy show. They already leave the internet to play board games there, so this just had to be the place. Our first show was last Wednesday and it was everything I envisioned. A sense of elation came over me when I saw my vision of isolating stand-up in a specific place to a specific community of people, to keep comedy personal and give that sense of ownership over to the audience, and I couldn’t be happier. I felt at home and understand my role in comedy. I host inclusive comedy shows to different communities. It’s what I do. It’s what I’ve always done but now that’s the specific niche I want to work towards.
Stand-up comedy is no longer the whole of my identity. Like “Christian” it’s found it’s place as a part of my personality. This is my diversity. This is what makes me me. That I’m not one of any of these things but one of all of them as a whole.
Creating ‘Oddyssey’ felt like a book-end. A sense of closure on what comedy was and what I want it to be. I don’t crave big stages or TV time. No name in lights or millions of Twitter followers. None of that matters. That’s all bullshit. What matters is creating great comedy for people who need it, who seek it.
Something else I learned in my year off that I may not want to commit to being a full-time stand-up comedian but I do love my freedom and independence and anything I commit to going forward will promote that. I have a potential employment project on the horizon that excites me and it has everything to do with people. And in all my chapters, it’s always been about people. I will work with others who align with my values and disallow any influence from people who object to what I value.
I wouldn’t have gone through the self-work necessary to come to these conclusions if I didn’t take a leap of faith and commit to taking some risks. It was worth it and now I’m an adrenaline junkie. Looking forward to what my next chapter brings. But for now, it’s all wrapped up in dad life.
That’s one word I’m okay with being the whole of my identity: Dad. I’m a father. As a father, it’s my job to teach my son right from wrong, to encourage him when he feels defeated and help guide him along his way. My adventures in Christianity and Comedy have both strengthened me in a way that prepares me to do this. Because on a societal level, things used to be centred on family values. Culturally, we have shifted to a focus on identity. We live in the age of the “personal profile” so summing ourselves up or knowing who we are is important to us. And it’s going to be important to my son so I had to make sure exploring the idea of “identity” was important to me as well. So I can be a good father to him through these topsy-turvy times.
Oddyssey was death of who I am as a comedian. Comic Encounters is the birth of who I want to be as a comedian, but the whole of who I am is wrapped up in being a good father. Providing for him emotionally and financially and setting that example because he’s watching everything I do.
It’s important to me. And I’m happy to serve him as my son.
If you’re interested in buying a DVD copy of ‘Oddyssey’ contact Clifford Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org to work our pricing and shipping information. Thank you for reading todays post.
Clifford Myers is a father from Hamilton, Ontario who will never stop exploring.