Tuesday, April 14, 2015

WORKING ARTIST OBSERVATION #1: IGNORE EDDIE MURPHY

Evidently, Eddie Murphy once said something to the tune of, “If you get another job (besides comedy), chances are you'll wind up doing that with your life instead.”

Eddie Murphy touched on a very real fear that comedy artists have: the fear that, if we spend any of our energy and/or talent on something OTHER than art, then we will clearly fail at art, that we will never make money from our art, that we will end up giving up our dreams, and being just like the man who measures our feet at the shoe store, mumbling “you want jokes? I used to tell jokes” all the while moving that metal geiger-counter thing up and down our arch to check our foot length.

Fuck this fear. Fuck it right now.

Here's what this fear produces, more often than not: sad, poor comedy artists. These are people who have to do something to pay bills, because comedy isn't doing that yet, so they get shit work that doesn't fulfill them at all, and isn't skilled in any way, and they probably have to work long hours doing that shit work, and then they get home at night and are fucking tired because they worked all day at a job they hate, so obviously, not much time for comedy art at the end of a day in which you got your soul sucked straight out of your nostrils.

Let's return to Eddie Murphy, and his theories about being an artist. Just to refresh everyone, Eddie Murphy was a star by the time he was nineteen years old. Not just a working comedian, a fucking star.

SO, given Eddie's career trajectory, I would say that it was smart, on his part, not to pick up another career, say, in the ice-cream coning sector, before his testicles descended and he found himself selling out stadiums. And, by extension, I would say to you, that if you are nineteen years old, or, hell, let's take inflation into account and say twenty-two, and you are finding yourself paying your bills through art, then you really have no need to figure out anything else to do. Mazel tov.

This is a message for everyone else. (Or for you, twenty-three-year-old, once your baby fat melts off and the Disney channel is done with you.)

Consider an alternative: you know you want a career as an artist. You know, like all wonderful things, that it is worth waiting and planning for. You want to last. You find something else to make money: a job that utilizes skills you enjoy using, something you are good at and makes you feel productive, something that gives you some satisfaction and rewards you financially. Even better, you land on something that can ultimately become a freelance operation, so that you can set your own hours, work less than full-time, have some flexibility. And meanwhile, you can afford things. Classes and workshops, rehearsal space, tickets to shows that will inspire you, taking role models out for coffee, a gym membership, organic produce, quality footwear.

You know what happens to a lot of poor, sad comedy artists who work shit jobs because they don't want to "give up their dreams"? They give up their dreams. They get tired, they poop out babies, they drink too much, they tell themselves it was never what they really wanted anyway.

You know what else happens to poor, sad comedy artists? They don't get better. I hear so many artists say that they cannot afford classes, or tickets to shows. How do you expect to get better at your craft if you do not invest in it? Are there ways to get good as an artist without spending money? Sure, probably, of course. But that hasn't been my experience, so I don't know how it's done. What I know is, you spend money, you take classes, you pay people who are better than you, you see shows that are better than your show, so that you can be inspired. And get better.

The model of Making It As An Artist Right Away, Or Starving Until You Do Make It, is not the only model you can choose on your artistic path. In fact, there might be a model that is healthier, a path that is strewn with quality-of-life things: a cute dress now and again, a trip abroad, kale. These things do not just make your life livable, they support the body that gives birth to all that art.

So I say, consider another career. Yup, I said it, a career. Nothing that takes too much time or energy. But something that makes you a specialist, with skills people want to pay you for. And during "work" hours, you can keep that secret artist identity of yours on the DL, under your trench coat, and that can be fun in its own way.

You may never make your living solely as an artist. There are gazillions of super talented people who do not make their living solely as artists. If you ever make money as an artist, celebrate it. Then celebrate it some more. Then next year, raise your rates.



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