Promoting Myself Into Oblivion
I’m a comedian. You’d think I spend my days writing jokes, funny songs, doing photo shoots like lying in a massive pile of banana peels. You know, the usue. Because that seems like what a comedian should do. But nope. Nopety nope nope. I am a professional Self-Promoter. Ugh. Garglefalookymuuuuugh. (That’s a comedy barfing sound.)
You know how sometimes people talk about weight-creep? Gaining pounds after having a baby or menopause? It’s like that. I have self-promotion-creep. You start out making all this comedy — or back when I did theatre and felt less embarrassed to promote it because we called it “art” — and you make this art stuff and in the days before Facebook, Twitter and Instagram you would go to a theatre festival and DO this art and maybe hang around on the street out front handing out fliers to real live human beings and strike up an actual human conversation about what your show was about, and you’re moving your body in real time as you speak and often in the sun (!) — or in the case of Edinburgh, the wet cloudy soggification — and often with a nice break for a ham and cheese crepe sold by another live human who after 20 days of serving you (because clearly you don’t know how to cook) takes pity on you and invites you into their crepe truck to show you how to make the damn things yourself (true story), and you go home two weeks later and buy a crepe pan and now when your friends come over they sheepishly ask if you’ll be making your awesome famous banana and Nutella crepes for dessert. And then life’s a happy freakin’ song.
And I vaguely remember all that. But here’s this past year:
First: Wake up, check socials, read craptastic news, post about a few outrageous civil rights violations and then have the sense to know deep down that posting does absolutely nothing to help the world and probably makes me feel off the hook from having to actually genuinely help in some way, which of course is worse.
Next: feel depressed a bit.
Next: remember that caffeine is an upper! The upper for those attempting not to become alcoholics since the election. Have small amount of caffeine but not so much that I feel anxious. Worry about this. Feel shame that this is occupying my mind while people have REAL problems.
NEXT: Citibike to my Brooklyn co-working office. Love every second of that ride. It’s only 6 blocks, so it’s actually just a bunch of seconds. Dock my bike outside my office and marvel in the convenience AND the joy. Whisk helmet off head smiling to everyone else who just docked their bikes. We understand each other. Small secret society. Actually very large profitable corporate-sponsored society. Fine, whatever.
NEXT: — oops, excuse me. 4 squirrels just ran frolicking down the path next to my park bench where I’m writing. They stopped and are staring at me, like, “Lady, we’re SQUIRRELS. Bottom of the food chain and even we have are less stressed than you. Get a grip, woman,” they say. Now I’m hearing wild animals speak to me in my head. Awesome.
Okay, NEXT: and here’s where it gets sad and maddening. Email, email, email. I know: zero sympathy. You do it too, no matter what job, but let’s all agree shall we that it has totally RUINED EVERYTHING. And then it’s all about pitching pitching pitching.
There was a paragraph I just deleted because it was about as obnoxious and whiney as I’ve come lately. Inner monologue rebuttal: “But Jeeezus, girl, you are a paid writer and performer, how spoiled are you??” Of course you have to promote! Of course you have to hustle! Don’t be such a baby. You want a job you hate instead??
But that’s the problem. The shows and even packing those 6 suitcases filled with costumes and mics and getting on planes and rehearsing and everything to do with the show, is absolute gold. I love the prep, I love the other actors, the audiences, the performances, the social satire message. No doubt. And no doubt that every creative, cool job has parts people hate. But the hustle and self-promotion has become 95% of my time. Not. Exaggering.
And here’s the biggest question I have for all of us. Does it even work? I don’t mean does it make me money, does it make us famous, does it make us “successful” whatever the hell that means. I mean if the “goal” is a happy fulfilling life, and you’re doing something that makes you feel yucky and narcissistic for 95% of your day, is that successful? Clearly not.
This past summer I paused my comedy career to be the Director of my summer theatre camp out in Montana. I would wake up, make about 4 liters of iced tea for myself for the day (it’s Montana… it’s DRY), try to decide which camp songs would be best for morning meeting (The Cat Came Back? Wagon Wheel? Mrs. Murphy’s Chowder?), talk through the plot with my staff for our morning meeting skit — pretend scientists who are using our recyclables for world domination and when things are in the wrong bins something terrible happens like one of our interns who’s their assistant turns into a hedgehog for the day! — then off to workshops where we teach kids how to be good humans through art and collaboration which we hope turns them into great adults one day who will, like, oh say, not lie to the nation or call impoverished countries sh*tholes, or take away health care for poor kids or assault women, just as a few examples… And during this time, I didn’t say one self-promoting word for 8 weeks. And I was never happier. I missed performing for those two months, but I got back to it. But this juxtaposition with what I had been doing all year was really startling.
And feeling connected? Why yes! Real human interactions! Creativity! Imagine that!
You know how 80 year olds who know some stuff always say things like, “I wish I’d known when I was your age what to worry about and what not to give a crap about.” But I want to know the difference now. Not wait until I’ve wasted all this time hustling for some level of achievement that is so unbelievably arbitrary anyway. I mean we all know this: if you gain some achievement you just want more. So… does this endless struggle really make any sense???
Is anyone feeling me on this?
I just want to make stuff. If people see it, great. I’ve had millions and millions of views of my comedy videos. At what point is that enough? What number of hits means I’m okay and doing enough? 5 million and one??
I think it’s sinking in though. Make stuff. Okay. Got it. I make social satire. Promote only maybe 20% of the time if that’s all I can take before it starts taking the joy out of life. Be totally fine with how many people see or don’t see it. There isn’t a magic number of views or Facebook likes that means you’re a good person who’s made enough of a difference in the world. Why is that so hard to believe and remember?
So. Okay, basically this is all just a promo piece for my next book about ditching self-promotion and how to have a genuinely creative life… Ha! Kidding!
Oh dang, wait. Maybe I’m not kidding. That’s not a bad idea…