A few months ago I was asked by a friend of a friend who had seen me perform at Gotham Comedy Club if I would be willing to discuss my career at their South Bronx high school career fair. My first question was, “which career – my defunct practice of law or my depressing practice of comedy?” The answer was all of the above. Now truth be told it was rather ironic to ask me to speak to young people about my two careers, because other than print journalism I am not sure you could pick two careers more on a path to destruction than law and comedy. My guess is that law will be the first white collar profession to start going the way of manufacturing in America. Companies are looking to get leaner and reduce their legal expenditures, and other than the absolute top legal talent which will always be in demand and command top dollar, much of the grunt work done in private practice will eventually be automated. Fortunately government work will always exist as long as we have a society that has both an increasingly large group of have-nots and for-profit prisons because people will always be needed to defend and prosecute crimes.
Not only did I bring this uplifting message about a career in law, but I also brought a wealth of knowledge on how to not succeed at comedy despite doing everything under the sun to increase exposure and develop one’s comedic skill set. Thanks to Twitter and YouTube, which have everyone thinking they are hilarious, and a system that favors cheap labor force (newcomers who do bringers and local mediocre talent to emcee and feature without the need for lodging) and benefits the already established upper echelon of comedic talent (unlike many of the banking 1%, at least the comedic 1% still has to work hard and provide an actual product to people to maintain their elevated status), the ability of an up and coming, hard working talent to rise through the ranks by simply working hard as a comedian is becoming more and more difficult.
But despite this depressing duo of life failure I of course said yes for a couple of reasons. The first reason was this had the potential finally to be my moment to plant the seed of an inspirational movie. After all my father is Morgan Freeman black and my Mom is even whiter than Michelle Pfeiffer so let’s just get Lean On Dangerous Minds into production already! The second and more serious reason is that it is important for inner city kids to see people from different walks of life and to get real exposure to careers that they might not encounter in great abundance, or at all, in their neighborhood. Having been lucky enough to go to an elite private school, most kids have Ivy League on their minds from the first day of high school and even if your parents were not lawyers, bankers or doctors, many of your classmates’ parents were. We often take this exposure for granted, but in some communities “college is a white people thing,” is a common idea, not because of some laziness, but because it is so unfamiliar to them (this was an actual quote a friend of heard at a Boys and Girls Club a few years back from a black teenager). So before I resume mocking myself and the career fair, the idea behind the career fair is essential to broadening the minds of kids like those I met yesterday.
And of course the third reason I said yes is that I love the Bronx because it is full of Latin women.
So I arrived at the career fair and my name tag said J-L Cauvin – “Comedians At Law.” I chose to use Comedians At Law, my touring band of lawyers-turned-comedians, because at least it was an eye catching and semi-respectable title for an affiliation. My other options were “J-L Cauvin – 270 pounds of wasted potential” or “J-L Cauvin – ticking time bomb.” In other words it may have said “career fair,” but I occuppied that thin line between “inspirational career fair” and “scared straight program.”
I sat down at a table flanked by an attorney, an actor/aspiring producer and a speech coach and waited for the kids to come in and soak up my years of bitter knowledge. Of course I immediately became a softie when these kids came in. I underestimated how young 10th and 11th graders actually look and finally was willing to admit to myself that R. Kelly really may have been in the wrong. Despite the youth of some of these kids their questions seemed oddly adult and parental. Here’s a sample:
- “What made you go from law to comedy?” Truth: Laid Off What I said: I wanted to follow my passion.
- “Don’t you make more money as a lawyer?” Yes. (while holding back tears of rage)
- “How come I never seen you on TV?” What I said: Because I was on at 130 in the morning. What I wanted to say: Who is Your English teacher? And you are a 16 year old Latino with a tongue stud so you are not in my target demographic.
- “What’s your best joke” What I said: I don’t really tell joke jokes, but more like funny mini stories that aren’t safe for high school. What I wanted to say: Well it starts with anal sex with an ex girlfriend…
- “Have you been on Comedy Central?” (no answer – I just walked out and went to the train to go home)
This was just a sampling of the interactions I had, but it was a worthwhile event for these kids. They were able to meet many people in different fields from acting to PR to computer science to medicine, and that is all well and good, but I would like to think that I may have done the best work of anyone. Thanks to me, dozens of kids in the South Bronx met me and will now probably avoid attempting careers in law and stand up comedy like the plague. Now they have a fighting chance at a good life.