The increasingly atrocious facebook still has the "memories" feature, which I enjoy. I treat it kind of like a horoscope: a few years ago on this day I was thinking about this or that, so maybe today will also be a this or that day. Sometimes it is.
Four years ago I went to Vienna to do standup, my first time out of town. I was very excited, 7 whole minutes! I invited some of my friends to come -- I was doing this relatively new (to me) thing and I wanted very much to have the support of people who already liked me there, one friend from Brno and a few locals as well. Despite not being from Vienna I was a "bringer" and a good one at that, and still am I guess. I think there were six other performers, five men and one woman. They talked about dating, girlfriends, living in their parents' basements, masturbating, fast food, shit. It was... not different from most of the folks doing the central Europe comedy loop. They passed a hat and my friends put in money like the supportive pals they are. At the end of the show the other performers (just the men, if I remember correctly) divided up the money in the hat, and I watched them split it. I stood there awkwardly for a bit, and then left, because I had a bus to catch. My Brno friend told me, as we ran for the bus: Never let that happen again, that they don't pay you.
At the time I tried to justify it to myself: I was new, maybe they thought I wasn't that good. Thinking back on that night, a lot is unclear to me because I've come really quite far since then but what I do hasn't changed much. I was trying, and I am still trying, to do the kind of comedy I think is funny, which is the kind that makes me think. I don't think jokes are bad; I just don't generally like them as much as stories. I'm pretty simple: I like comedy that doesn't make me feel bad (unless I should), that connects ideas in ways that surprise me, and that makes me laugh. I am better at articulating what I want to do and I hope I am better at doing it. But in retrospect, I don't think I was bad back then, not so bad that I shouldn't be paid when people are paid. I was, though, and still am (though in waves, rather than consistently) really uncertain of how others see me and sometimes I'm not sure when it's a situation where I'm supposed to walk away or speak up.
I am sometimes so angry about how unfair things are in performance and specifically in comedy, but also in life, and that's not new. Sometimes I think about how hard it is for me to ask for what I want, and sometimes I ask and I still don't get it, and I watch the same hands drop what I asked for in the lap of someone else and I have to bite entire holes in my tongue. Sometimes I think that's how the world works and I just want to stay home and never go out again. Sometimes I think that if that's how it is then I have to work harder, so that whoever comes after me will get to keep their tongues intact and be stronger, funnier, happier.
It was nice, though, to have that memory pop up and think: I get paid pretty well in Vienna now. And I will bet that even if I haven't changed what I'm doing much, I have improved considerably more over the last four years than the rest of the people who performed that night. I think I'm funnier. I might even be having more fun.