Occasionally, while sitting in my hotel room, I’ll write letters to my kiddos.
The following is something I wrote to my son a little while back.
Today was an interesting mix of good and awful.
Several weeks ago, one of the most prominent booking agents in the comedy world referred me to a management company in Los Angeles. He said I could use his name to get my foot in the door.
Mommy and I wrote up what we thought was a solid introduction letter. Not an email, an actual old-school letter.
We put it in a box with a little, “Hey, we researched you, so here’s a little swag from your alma mater,” and sent it off First Class mail. Two days later, post office tracking showed our package had been delivered.
Over two weeks passed. The manager ignored our introduction; he didn’t respond with either interest or thanks.
So, I reached out via email and offered a kind, “Hi, I’m following up on a package I sent your way…”
I got a one-sentence response. He half-asked for some video but seemed more annoyed than curious.
I sent him a link to a video of mine; his reply was a basic admittance he didn’t understand how links worked. Instead of clicking on it and watching my video, he said he couldn’t figure it out.
I walked him through everything—“Move cursor over link; click. Watch video.”—and heard nothing for over a week.
He finally emailed me back today while you and Sister were napping. It was an indifferent rejection.
The way his note read was almost as if he either didn’t watch my set, or watched it while doing something else and barely paid attention. He never mentioned the introductory letter, my recommendations, or my jokes.
In short, he asked what my “hook” was.
Having original material and a unique voice wasn’t enough for him; in this business, you need a “hook.” Do you have a catchphrase, a repeated refrain you sprinkle throughout your set? Even if your comedy is uninspired and lacks originality, if you say something after each joke that people can latch onto, they will remember that signature slogan and launch you to the top of the stratosphere.
Or maybe you’re socially unique—a left-handed orphan raised by wolves, or someone born with six fingers on each hand. Those are selling points; something that can be sold on paper without examining actual skills.
He was looking for something to pitch: what was my angle? Because in the world of stand-up comedy, being funny isn’t an angle anymore.
I think the most angering aspect is how poorly written the rejection was. The manager confused “your” and “you’re,” and “there” and “their.” When I forwarded the email to Mommy, she was so confused by his inarticulate response she responded, “I don’t get it… what is he saying?”
The word salad the manager barfed up was so poorly written, Mommy couldn’t make sense of it. I had to tell her he was passing on me.
This might leave you wondering, “Do you really want someone like that representing you?”
The answer is yes. And no.
I mean… right now I have no one in my corner. And as it stands, people like him are the gatekeepers to power. They guard the passageways to those who can put you on television and get you booked in great clubs.
The people in power don’t want to be inundated by the unwashed masses, meaning people like me. They use people like the manager I contacted as buffers. You generally need to use a manager or an agent to hook up with someone who can put you in front of a camera.
(Trust me, I’ve reached out to those in power many times.)
Anyway, the entire incident left me frustrated, angry, and admittedly a little depressed. No one likes rejection, and even more so when it’s done with a lack of respect.
After the rejection, I looked up the manager’s client list, and that made everything worse. I realized I had worked with someone on his roster a couple of years ago; they were my opening act and struggled all weekend. Each of their shows was mediocre, with the audience not laughing because the material wasn’t interesting.
When I got on stage, however, I got big laughter and applause. When his client was on stage I would wonder, “Is this a dead audience?” only to discover, “Nope. They were just waiting for someone funny.”
I have to admit that it swelled my ego every show; I thought I was hot shit.
If there’s one thing I’ve been able to take pride in regarding my career, it’s the compliments I’ve received from people who work at the comedy clubs where I perform. When a manager, bartender, or doorperson tells me, “I see a lot of comedians, and dude, you’re good,” it means something. When I get told, “You’re different from everything I see,” I am humbled.
My favorite compliment came from a doorman in Cleveland. After my show, he said, “I’ve been here a year and can guess the punchlines of most of the comedians that come through. You? Not so much. You surprise me. I like that.”
I write all that because…
…well, in all honesty, I’m trying to feel good about myself. Thinking of the manager’s rejection, the way he did it without taking even the most cursory examination of me or my comedy…
I need to latch on to the accolades I’ve received.
A year after feeling like hot shit for being “better” than the manager’s comedian, that comedian was on TV; the manager got his client on one of the top late-night talk shows.
Suddenly, the fact I had bested them in a small club didn’t mean much. My ego had run amok that weekend, but the other comedian trounced me in the greatest of ways and was on to bigger and better things. Today, that comic is getting prime slots across the country. Meanwhile, I’m fighting with 100 other comedians for a gig at a Moose Lodge in Nowhere, Iowa.
Anyway, after reading the rejection email, I just sat, staring at my computer screen.
Rejection hurts. Comedy is about putting your thoughts, your ideas out there. Having those thoughts, those feelings ignored or dismissed hurts.
When given criticism, you must digest what has been said; you always have room for improvement. But sometimes the judgment passed on you is an expression of that person’s limitations, not an assessment of your abilities.
So, that was the awful part of the day.
About fifteen minutes after I received the email, you woke up.
I’ve mentioned this before, but you don’t wake up easily. You generally wander out of your bedroom rubbing your eyes. Your hair sticks out at all angles. You shuffle as you walk. You’re generally looking for love, and for the most part, you want Mommy. But, every so often I’ll do.
Today you came out holding your water bottle as if it was a security blanket. Your eyes were squinting. You saw me and shuffled over; I was lying on the couch, staring at the ceiling and stewing.
You crawled up onto me, laid your head down on my chest, and snuggled in deep. And for a moment, everything went away. For a moment, everything was OK.
You weren’t trying to make me feel better; you were just trying to take in the world around you. “I was asleep… Daddy is here… I’m not ready to play yet… I just want to lie down for a couple more minutes… on Daddy.”
You weren’t trying to make me feel better, but you did. You snuggling up to me took all the anger away, at least for a while. A smoker doesn’t quit cigarettes because they put one patch on their arm, but it lessens the craving. That’s what you were to me at that moment: a patch. You helped me refocus on what’s important. You. Sister. Mommy. Kitty. Our family.
Today was one step forward, two steps back. Or maybe it’s all even. I don’t know.
I didn’t have a manager before; I don’t have a manager now. Maybe the hope it was all about to get easier, or better, is what made today feel so defeating.
I tell you this, though: through everything, all the ups and downs of my career, Mommy has been there.
There is an old saying: Behind every good man is a great woman.
I think that’s nonsense.
Mommy has never been behind me. She has been by my side: my partner, my equal, my better. She has been out in front of me, cajoling me forward, encouraging me during times like this when I’ve just been kicked in the teeth or made to feel like what I do doesn’t matter.
“I believe in you.”
That’s what Mommy tells me.
“I believe in you.”
Those four words are sometimes the most important things I hear.
When it comes time for you to marry, marry well. Learn what you can from my mistakes, but absolutely learn from the one thing I did right: find someone who supports you and who you can support in return. Never date or marry out of desperation or the idea, “Well, this is good enough.”
Find your partner, your equal, your better. Find that person, that anchor, and tether yourself to them. Love them with all your heart. Make sure that you have a sanctuary to return to, a place you can exist where everything is OK personally, even when things are askew professionally.
Yes, being rejected felt like a kick in the gut. It always does. But you, Sister, and Mommy carry me through the tough times.
I used to want success because I wanted recognition for my thoughts and ideas. Now? Now I just want to provide for you and Sister. I don’t want either of you to want for anything.
There is an old saying about no door being closed without a window of opportunity being opened in response.
The manager closed that door and locked it. I’m just waiting for my window.
If you’d like to read more letters to my kids, the books It’s OK to Talk to Animals (and Other Letters from Dad) & Hey Buddy… Dubious Advice From Dad can be found on my Amazon Author Page.