December 2008, Christmas Eve morning somewhere over Indiana I was done. I was not feeling it and I was mad at myself. So I quit. The previous five days I had performed, every show was blah to me. What made it worse was I was doing a week at the club I considered my “home” club. Though I did not start there, when I moved there they were the first club to believe in me and push me to other clubs. They believed in me and a week I was scheduled to perform for them, I was not giving them my all. Again, I was done.
The most consistent dream of mine and the one that was within my grasp since the first time I snuck a listen of a Richard Pryor tape was to be a standup comic, as of December 2008 I was a comic and that was the only money I had coming in. So my living was that of a standup comic, I had essentially reached my dream. I was not famous, had no credits, but I had enough work coming in to eat. What was my problem? I was faking it. I was not talking about anything worth talking about; nothing was my voice except for the first 5 minutes I was on stage. The only material I had that came directly from my life experiences were in the first 5 minutes and I killed the first 5 minutes EVERY NIGHT! Any comic will tell you to get the crowd in the palm of your hands in the first few minutes makes everything else a breeze.
The rest of my stuff was funny, but not me, and it ate at me every night. I had bits that kept the crowd with me, could give it to any heckler, and a closer that never failed. Unfortunately, I was hoping for hecklers so I could shoot off the top of my head and improvise two minutes of jokes and insults so I could knock out a couple of jokes that ate at my soul to tell again. There is great joy for a comic when you can riff and get a laugh, that’s when comedy becomes jazz, you are in the moment, and everything in the room becomes one. Unfortunately for me, I was working clubs now where I was known and it was made clear to people, by others, when I was on stage it could turn into a very embarrassing situation for you and nobody wants to be in the middle of a situation. So speaking when I had a mic in my hand, or yelling at me in the middle of line, was only for those very secure with themselves and nobody is that secure outside of Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant.
Saturday night, I am sitting in the lobby of the hotel waiting for the very funny and nice Dwight Slade to come downstairs so we could roll out to the club and knock out two more shows. Dwight noticed I was not ‘here’ and instead of waving me over so we could leave, he sat down in the seat next to me and asked “you alright”? I told him I was not feeling my act. He assured me I was funny and I the crowds were getting me. I told him “no, except for my opening bit… I don’t believe anything I am saying and it is killing me”. Dwight said “you might wanna take a break… after this week of course”.
So flying to Chicago for the holidays, over Indianapolis looking at downtown (where I had performed many times, as much as any place in the country)… I quit. For some reason I decided I was going to work with kids in Chicago and for the last 4 years, I have done just that. I have worked in some of the worse schools this country has to offer. I have sat across from kids that would not live to sit across from me again. I have seen what rough is and changed a life or two in the process. I have experienced more pain and frustration. I have been treated as if I am a threat because of my intelligence and as a joke (ironically) because of perceived lack of it. I have lost more people who I love, but gained people who will love me unconditionally.
What I missed from comedy was a life to talk about. So like Richard Pryor, who once walked away from comedy to observe and write about a life he could relate to, I walked away to live. I now have a life, I now have a voice. My brain is giving me jokes again, not lines that are funny but jokes that are twisted and express my thought process. My jokes now are not clever; I am too old to be clever. If I was a 22-year-old kid, I would need to be clever because I would not have done a damn thing worth talking about. I am a college graduate, with years of work experience, a family to take care of, who has lost more people along the way other than an Iraq War Veteran. I really do not care about what people care about what I say and I do not care if it offends anyone. I have the truth, in the reality of my life, to talk about and that is where a comic lives and breaths, in the truth.
The gloves are off; I do not expect anything from a club, an agent, or a manager. I want to get on stage and speak from my heart; I will be relentless and unapologetic. You only get to come back once… So with that, like Jordan… appropriately, I’m BACK! Back in the city I started in, Chicago… I am going to put the city on my back and take it with me wherever I go. This time believing in every word I say and not protecting my pain or insecurities. You’ll see me soon…