Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Comedian Lost

In recent weeks, I haven't been able to pay much attention to my own life. I don't want a gold medal, but it's a matter of fact that I have been giving up some of my life for my family lately. I'm not mad at them for this, I wouldn't have it any other way - I want to do this and be here. It's hard to declare this without sounding dramatic and like I'm complaining - let's just make it very clear that I'm not.

But I am feeling something partly related to this experience, and partly related to the isolation that preceded my father's stroke - a month in europe, and the past year in grad school.

My first standup show was for my 3rd grade class, and my first character performances were daily characters of the day in my 2nd grade class (all I remember is that I was a California Raisin on Mondays). Life: gut feelings, the totality of my experiences - told me that being a comedian and storyteller is the life for me, and so I pursue that end.

You have to constantly put yourself out there to get ahead in comedy (and in much of the media world) unless you get really lucky and randomly discovered - but that's not the sort of thing anyone worthwhile should count on. I'd been putting myself out there in every way I could manage for years now, though I always made room for living (all artists must be more than just artists or they have nothing to express!). Grad school started less than a year ago, and in taking it seriously, I put a lot of things to the side.

And here I am, the next summer after performing on Comedy Death Ray and Sweet - two of the absolute best comedy shows in LA and NYC - and I feel like the comedy world has already started moving past me. If I go to a party I may know everybody, but sometimes the crop of performers and administrators/business folk is so fresh and new it's overwhelming. I have the NYC comedy scene deeply and richly woven into my personal history. It's been a part of my life for the past 15 years now, as I started visiting NYC around 1996 in high school. I always had something to aspire to, grip onto, target with lasers and say - there - that's where I need to be - that's the mountain I need to climb. But the mountain is changing.

And so I don't think I can approach a comedy career that way anymore. I have been ok with doing less comedy since day one of Grad Film School. The reason I did standup in the first place was because I wanted to be a comedy tv or film writer. I never really wanted to tour the country and perform at Chuckle Huts - though performing in other cities is a ton of fun - I just don't see standup as a sustainable career - or at least not an end. A means to an end.

So it definitely made me feel like crap when I got a cold hard no recently when asking to book a show at UCB NY. I've gotten no's before. Failure and rejection are inherent parts of comedy (you have to have to take risks to find the good stuff) - but just in this moment I felt - man, these people don't even know me anymore. They don't know my history here. They don't know how I embrace this community, and have invited its members to take part in the things that I create. Things move quickly, and I don't have a grip in this world anymore.

I may have comedy friends, famous connections, and folks who have noticed what I do along the way - but I'm not a headliner, not a seat filler, and not a cold hard Yes, yet. It seems the achievements of my past can't be rebuilt, piled up, or built higher higher, high enough. But I do feel good about what I am capable of. I feel great about it in fact. I really like what I do when I do standup. I really like what I can do when I do original sketches or characters. I know the shows I do go well - but they certainly haven't gotten me far yet. They have brought me unforgettable moments, so props to that.

At the end of the day I have to make something great, that's always been true. It's going to take true patience, and being ok with driving in the slow lane to get where I'm going as people pass me by. As long as I get there in the end, because if I don't, I will have to redefine who I am as a human being.

I am a comedian.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

June 2010 Update

I got rid of my NYC apartment once my first year of film school ended on May 8th and on May 9th, I flew to Europe. Spent two weeks at the Cannes Film Festival, then traveled for 2 weeks in Italy and the french riviera. While I was there I partied with (next to) Lindsay Lohan, lost my ATM card and washed dishes for food in St Tropez, walked in the snow in the Alps, ate snails, tanned myself on fabulous beaches, and got back together with my boyfriend Adam over email. My dad picked me up from the airport on Tuesday June 8th. I made dinner for my family with a special soup mix that has been discontinued in the US but I found it in Switzerland and bought 9 packages. My dutch mom used to make this soup all the time so it was a missed taste of childhood. The next day I spent time with my parents at home. Dad was going on and on about politics and I told him to cut it out. He was also making renovations on the house and moving lots of things around. I said I love you and drove into the city to meet Adam for Brooke's birthday at Tine's apartment in the Danish House. The Danish House is a house for Danish artists living in America and Tine is a classmate of mine in film school.

I met Adam at the Outback steakhouse where I was having a beer. We walked over together and were enjoying drinks and potluck food. I was excited to see everyone and share stories from the trip.

At 8:30pm my mom and dad sat down to dinner and a movie and my dad had a strange look in his eyes and my mom knew something was wrong. She asked my sister to call 911 while she tried to attend to my dad. My sister called 911, and my mom and sister thought dad was having a heart attack. My sister followed my parents in the ambulance and called me at 9pm. My dad had a stroke due to his high blood pressure. I lost it and was hysterically upset and confused. They said my dad had a stroke and Adam and I took a cab to my car which I parked in Williamsburg, and he drove me to the hospital.

He was operated on immediately. The hospital was impressive. It was the night before my 29th birthday and I was in the hospital where I was born. The grand piano, water fountain, marble, and nice landscaping made us all feel like he was in the right hands. They operated immediately, and my dad was paralyzed on the right side of his body and could not speak. He was very out of it and confused and nothing was clear. We did not know the extent of the brain damage.

After about 6 days he was moved to a rehabilitation center which is only 5 miles away from my family house. He could now be out of bed in a wheelchair, and will be in daily therapy to learn to walk and speak again. We do not know if it will take months or years, but he has a lot of good signs that it will happen. He understands most of what's going on, he just can't communicate back to us yet beyond gestures and facial expressions. Every day he makes some kind of progress. He's very strong and extremely motivated to rehabilitate. The rehab center allows visitors, has decent food, and an outdoor area he can go to. He eats in a dining room with other people instead of at his bed. He is being rehabilitated to do every little thing for himself again. It's not going to happen quickly. It will take time, patience, hard work, and positive attitude. Soon my family will learn more about how we can help him too.

When I came home from europe, I didn't have a lease to worry about or a summer job. At least for the summer, I am taking over my dad's responsibilities, and spending the day with him at the hospital while my mom is at work.

My life for now involves spending the day with dad at the rehab center, and readjusting to suburban life. I'll be playing detective work figuring out how to pay the bills, how to garden, how to take out the trash, go food shopping, do the dishes, maintain the cars. I took the car for an oil change today. Just that simple thing is something that a city slicker like me hasn't done in a DECADE! I sat with dad at lunch and chatted with the other patients at his table. Dad is the youngest one there at 67, and he looks even younger because he's such a health nut. An 81 year old woman named Marge had a stroke too and she was very chatty. She loved the food there and was happy not to have to make it herself. Marge is feisty with a sense of humor and I think I'll enjoy having lunches with her at the table. Another couple asked if I was my dad's wife. I don't think they could see very well, the man thought my dad was about 45. This was a compliment to dad, who had shaved off his mustache 2 weeks ago for the first time in my entire life because he decided it would make him look younger.

I'm currently trying to figure out the damn remote control for the Dish Network system that my parents recently switched to because it's cheaper than cable and they barely watch tv anyways. I'd really like to find my camera battery charger so I can share photos from Europe. I'm also doing lots of healthy cooking for mom and me. Today it was grilled portobellos and yesterday there was baked chicken with apples, and I figured out a really tasty yogurt salad dressing: plain fat free yogurt, lemon juice, mustard, plus herbs (chives and parsley, but any are good).

And my neck hurts.

From now on I'll be visiting with dad during the day, and playing dad around the house during the weekdays. On weekends I'll be visiting NYC and friends elsewhere. There will be a lot of time in the car and a lot of driving, though I much prefer the subway.
If someone asks "How is your Dad doing?" The true answer is bad. This really sucks and it's sad and really really difficult. But how he's doing doesn't matter. The fact that there's a lot of love in my family matters, and the fact that he will do better and he will rehabilitate matters but he's not there YET. So he's not doing well just yet. There are plenty of little blessings like the fact that he can swallow and has a very strong left half of his body, seems to remember and understand, and laughs and has a sense of humor.

My time away from home with friends also matters a lot. I need to keep my soul healthy and happy and keep growing as always. I want that and of course dad and mom want that too.

Soon I'll spend some time on my films this summer, getting them out to festivals, shooting new shorts AND I intend to keep up with standup, who knows a place to perform in Morris County? Eventually things will need to be hilarious. Like this:

Morning Prayer with Skott and Behr - Black Francis from Tim and Eric on Vimeo.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Hey there,

Back from Europe, but a lot has happened.
There has also been a difficult family emergency.

I'll return to write here soon.

- Heather