Keep the Comedy, Ditch the Self Loathing

I was reading through old journals yesterday prepping for a reading I’m going to be doing this weekend when I stumbled across this from January 24, 2011: “I’m excited to become a comedian because it is one profession where self loathing is an asset.”

Reading this rattled me for a couple of reasons. First, the timing of the writing. In 2011, I remember jotting down jokes on the bus to and from work, but I wasn’t actively pursuing comedy. I wrote this two years before I signed up for my first improv class, four years before I started doing comedy full time. Given the time lag, it almost seems like a prophecy.

The other thing that rattled me is that I disagree with the statement I made about self-loathing being an asset. Having worked in comedy and the arts for a few years, I no longer subscribe to the tortured artist myth–that is believing artists are self sabotaging, drunk, crazy people who’ve made bad life choices and should just get a real job.

Comedians and artists are people who’ve chosen to take an honest look at their life and the world around them and to relay those findings to others. This honesty can look like self loathing because we’re admitting we’re not perfect. We’re admitting we have flaws. But admitting you have flaws doesn’t mean you loathe yourself. In fact, it can be the first step to loving yourself more.

For me, when I finally signed up for an improv class, it was because I was drowning in a sea of unhappiness and wanted to reconnect with things that made me happy when I was younger. Admitting I was unhappy and trying to take action on it was a huge step in healing.

I see this with students in my improv classes. Some come to improv when they’re looking to make a change in their life. Some take improv classes to reawaken their creativity. Some are looking to have fun and connect with others. Seeking out comedy tends to come from a place of self improvement rather than self sabotage.

To do comedy at its most basic level, you have to be willing to stand in front of a group of people and believe what you’re about to say is important enough for them to listen to. You can do this and loathe yourself, but it’s probably going to be more fun for you and for the audience if you care about yourself and are confident in what you’re doing. Which doesn’t mean covering up flaws–the truth is what’s funny after all.

If I had to rephrase my statement from 2011 to reflect my current reality, it would go something like this: “I’m excited to be a comedian because it is a profession that allows me to be honest, connect with people, and entertain them. Comedy makes me happy.”

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