“Well, what does he want to do?” the second woman asked.
“He wants,” she said, “To be a businessman.”
That’s fantastic. That two people could be so naive --the boyfriend with the vague yet driving ambition, the girlfriend with the blunt execution of it-- strikes me as hilarious, sad, moving and hilarious again all at once. Not finance, accounting, marketing, or banking. He simply wanted to be... a businessman.
And that’s the moral of the story of the ex-boyfriend of the girl I know: the only thing laughable about his ambition was that he was so honest about it. He wanted to cut deals, hit sales targets, hire, fire, merge and acquire. He wanted to get up at dawn and check how the markets did in Asia, watch CNBC on the TV attached to his elliptical, have loud conversations about balance sheets on the train and then get to the office before the district manager did. He wanted to stay until after the cleaning people shut off the hallway lights and he wanted to fall asleep with a copy of The Art of War on his chest. And he’d do it all again tomorrow, even if tomorrow was Saturday. He did not want to do anything specifically. He just wanted to be the guy who did shit like that.
I heard recently that a twelve year old nephew of mine wants to be a stand-up comedian. After 14 years in The Game, I find that as ridiculous as if he said he wanted to translate William of Ockham’s minor works into Dutch. How did he ever hear of Ockham? What in the hell does that kid know about comedy? He’s twelve.
But I know exactly what he means because I was also a twelve year old who wanted to be a stand up. I was probably a seven year old who wanted to be a stand up. I liked clowning around at school and I liked watching SNL. I liked Carson and Letterman and stand up comedy, but I certainly was not aching to get up there and tell it straight. I had no crooked mirror to hold up to the audience so that they could see how the world really looks, man. I had no goals, no themes, or even any jokes. It just seemed like a cool job.
Like I said, I have been ballin’ since the ‘9-8. I bombed in more states than you could name. I’ve killed in as many. I even performed in Toronto. But I never did stand up. The Game for me was improv.
[ASIDE: I once heard that pick-up artists refer to their craft-- complimenting women’s shoes in exchange for their phone numbers-- as The Game. So I now call anything I enjoy The Game. It’s too stupid not too.]
Anyway, for me comedy meant improv. With improv, I was able to be ambitious only. Pointlessly. You were allowed to be funny with no preconceived plan. (Yeah, yeah--you also were supposed to serve the scene and never go for the laugh. Sure.) What did I have to tell 300 Canadians on that hot July night in 2003? Nothing particular at all. I was just there to riff. (The suggestion was "Chaka Khan.") I like to tell people that, “I have never recited a line of prepared material onstage in my life.” And for the most part that has been true. I was a comedyman like that woman’s boyfriend years and years ago was a businessman. It was the lifestyle that appealed to me.
It’s a joy to see people who need to do what they do. Most comedians seem lucky to be famous, but with the elite few, you cannot imagine doing anything else. Chris Rock, Steve Martin, Tina Fey. If they weren’t lucky and, in a worldly sense, had been failures, they’d just be unfamous comedy writers today. They’d be toiling away in obscurity because they had to. Rock, Martin, and Fey need nothing from us. Whatever drives them may be hard to define, but it seems to spring from the most mature and sincere inspiration. While being that successful is a nice lifestyle, that’s not why they are doing it. They’d be doing it if it was hell.
So if that nephew of mine ever asks me what he should do to become a comedian, I’d probably say just go for it, have fun. Practice a lot and don’t worry about bombing. It’s cool to do something you enjoy, but the business of man, I’d say, is to do what you need to do. Even if you are terrible at it.