The celebration of my ten years in comedy continues this week with another retrospective post. Admittedly, Monday’s post had the celebratory feel of a 9/11 memorial service so with today’s post I hope to offer something a little more instructive and even-handed. My ten years in comedy have taught me many things, both good and bad and I thought I would share what I believe my worst and best decisions were in those ten years and how they impacted my career.
As is my nature let’s start with the worst decision. For many comedians, both delusional (majority) and realistic, the goal is to get management. Having someone reputable and connected guiding you, but more importantly for tangible benefits, getting you in front of people with power in entertainment, has become the holy grail to most comedians. A lot of comedians talk that rap of “I just want to get better,” but getting better, especially early on, when the highs from compliments and laughs are super high, is really just a means to the end of money and recognition, if not fame. I once had management. I had sent out a mass mailing to a bunch of agencies and even though I was only 4 years in to comedy, I believed (correctly) that my volume and quality of material was at least moving beyond my peers so I thought – “it’s time for me to take the next step!” I sent a DVD/headshot/resume (which included every club I had done an open mic at) to dozens of managers and crossed my fingers.
To my surprise, several months after doing the initial mailing I received an email from someone at a very well known management company. It surprised me that they would contact me over some smaller outfits that I had reached out to, but so be it. I ended up having some very good conversations with Jamie, the manager who contacted me and then a very inspiring call with the head of the entire company. After that I was submitted for The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson and before you could say “Who the fu*k is J-L Cauvin?” I was booked for the show. I ended up getting one other regional television booking a couple of months later, all while higher-ups at the agency kept telling me to move to California. However, my name was not signed to any paper, signifying an official relationship and although confident that I was funny, I was not confident enough to leave NYC on the encouragement of people working in the most dishonest business in the world. But Jamie continued to call me once a week to chat and to tell me about things he wanted to submit me for. On a personal front he also made a few correct predictions about my ex-fiancee.
But then just as I felt like I was building momentum Jamie was let go (as it was presented to me) by the management company. And I had a very abrupt decision to make – do I stick with the individual who has helped me or do I stick with the big name company with more connections? I chose the company – or the road more frequently travelled – and that made all the difference unfortunately. My ex-fiancee and I broke up and I had a subsequent pair of mediocre showcases (though one was a NACA college showcase and last time I checked – student body presidents from small colleges in the Dakotas are not power players in Hollywood) in the wake of that personal annoyance. The management company quickly lost interest, but did not tell me to look elsewhere for representation for another 6 months. Meanwhile, Jamie now represents several writers in Hollywood and appears as loyal as ever to his talent.
Since my decision to stick with the name instead of the person I have not been back on television and have had to hustle and fight for every small piece of the comedy pie that I have had over the last 5+ years. Who knows what would have happened if I had stuck with Jamie. Perhaps nothing, but having someone who believes in you in your corner is something that, I have learned the hard way, is invaluable in entertainment. So if there are any young comics struggling or comics just starting to see a rise in their fortunes, choose the person who believes in you over the person who impresses you the most (assuming, of course some base level of competency in management for both parties – needless to say the woman in my building that I chat with in the laundry room believes in my comedy 100%, but I would not have her manage my career). It is a mistake I have made and will not make again. It is the same logic that showed why Boof was such a better choice than Pamela in Teen Wolf. Someone who believes in you will give effort that cannot be intellectually manufactured. They will fight as hard as you because they share your belief in yourself.
So what is possibly the good decision here of this ten year journey? Well, recently I had a couple of meetings with managers, based largely off of the success of the Louis CK video (their lack of subsequent contact has given me comfort knowing I may not need to make a tough decision on picking representation). I also got an opportunity to do a web series shortly after leaving a comedy group that I had been part of. These are small things, but they are the result of a simple decision I made – to stop trying to be successful. This was more a mental choice. I still work as hard as I have been, but I now have removed expectations on myself. The only demands I place on myself are to make good comedy and good comedy products. Anything after that is not really in my hands. So when a young comedian says they only want to get good I don’t believe them. You have to have that natural inclination to egotistical attitude humbled out of you (I don’t even mean bragging or talking sh*t – I just mean that intoxicating feeling that takes hold of you early in your career when a good looking woman tells you you were funny or when a crowd pumps you up – it is too strong early on not to have your ego, even if quietly, take some control of your expectations). Some guys keep rising and then believe they can pontificate on what it means to be a comedian, but their experience is the exception, not the rule. I now just want to be great because that is all that is left for me to aim for. When no other validation seems available or possible that is when being great at comedy for comedy’s sake can really and finally take hold.
So I guess this whole post could summarized by saying the worst decision I made in comedy was putting my faith in the wrong people and the best decision I made was letting go of the mental state that got me to have misplaced faith in the first place.