It was among the saddest, most isolating experiences of my life.
I would go to this open mic late on Monday nights at a bar, going straight from my weekly improv class to sign up on the first-come/first perform list. So while my improv friends were out at the bar together cracking jokes and deconstructing that night's class, I was waiting in another bar across town for my moment to go on.
The standups were a close-knit group that I wasn't part of. They watched each other's sets and laughed heartily in that way you do that's more about knowing the performer than truly appreciating the comedy.
By the time I got on stage, around 1 or 1:30 in the morning (these were Monday nights, btw), most people were off gabbing in the front room. I would do my two minutes or so, sometimes bombing, sometimes getting yanked and once or twice doing okay. Then I'd head over to the El and sit waiting for the Brown Line train, which often took a half-hour at that time of night.
Needless to say, I didn't do this for very long. A few months maybe, with other open mics mixed in. But I was always sad and lonely and thinking about the bonding time I was missing with my classmates. It really made me appreciate the value of an ensemble.
Hustling this book has been a similar sort of experience. Mostly on my own, constantly pitching to strangers, with a mix of rejection and acceptance. Today was a pretty good day, though. I'm going on TV in Washington the morning after Thanksgiving. Duly inspired, I'm going to pitch a second station for midday.
But even more satisfying than that were these words of encouragement I received in an email today from an old colleague:
Rob, you should feel a great sense of pride. Not only did you forge out to explore acting and writing, but you have succeeded at both! And, with all your speaking engagements and media appearances, you may be hiring staff soon.
That's really, really nice to hear. It fortifies me a little as I pick up the phone to call another editor or producer. (Talk about a tough room!)
Even with a lot of encouragement and support, I doubt I would ever have been a good standup comic. But I think I'm getting good at this other thing, and building toward something pretty cool.