"The scene here is pretty good, if you're the right people. If you're not one of the cool kids it can be tough. It's very, high school, very clique-ish."
Pretty much any larger scene I have walked into, I have heard some form of this statement. In Denver I would tell people pretty much the same thing. It drove me insane, how you had to meet some unknown standard, you had to be funny, but the "right kind of funny."
Or you could be like me, someone who was either lied to constantly or simply forgettable. On multiple occasions, people either thought they'd booked me, said they would when they could, so on ad infinitum. I was talented enough to do it, but only if they couldn't find someone else. I couldn't really resent them for it because I was the same way with my show. It ate me up, because, ultimately what I took that to mean, is that I was good, but I wasn't good enough. My participation was required only as backup. It hurt.
It drove me insane. I used to monitor how "well" the "good" people did, and any time their performance wasn't up to my expectations, whenever they weren't perfect, I would seethe, because it was proof that they didn't deserve "it" more than me. I would calculate how long they could continue being "not that good" and still be considered one of the cool kids. I wasted a lot of time on that kind of rage.
Once I decided that I didn't fit in, I decided to leave. I wasn't totally sure where I was going to fit in elsewhere, but I knew I had to find something else. I was stuck, either because I was being overlooked, or because I had resigned myself to being someone who felt constantly overlooked. No matter if that was the reality or just my mindset, it wasn't going to help me get better.
I started Here Today. I wasn't entirely sure what it was going to be at first. It was just a way to get to know how putting a show together in different cities was going to work. It turned into something much bigger, and much cooler, as I began to realize what I was really trying to make. As I traveled, and spent time in different cities, I was surprised, and not surprised, at how often I heard the same things.
It's competitive. People are clique-y. It's all about social climbing.
I should note that mentality is decidedly lacking in smaller scenes. People who are trying to put together comedy, but lack the infrastructure currently to make something as big as a scene like Chicago or Denver and so on, tend to be overall, much friendlier. Everyone is included because everyone is needed. As a scene gets bigger, people become pushed out to the fringes, because resources (I.E. stage time) are much more limited.
There's the cold reality that not all of us will make it, and the reality perhaps icier still that not al of us should. Not all of us have a message worth connecting to the entire world, and for the most part, none of us will really know for sure whether we're the chosen ones or not until we've delved so far in there is no way to turn back.
I think cliques form because highly social people don't necessarily have a high degree of social intelligence. They don't know how to deal with people that they don't like or don't benefit from them, and that's fair. You can't like everyone. Trying will leave you exhausted, and there are good reasons not to like people.
The fallout is that we don't utilize everyone and our social structure becomes splintered. We lack the oversight to recognize that there are methods of compromise, ways of being more inclusive that actually do benefit everyone. In comedy, it's the unwritten rule that we all want to be on stage, even though not all of us are suited for it. Most of us would rather avoid someone altogether than say that to a person's face. We think we're sparing their feelings.
After all, we rationalize to ourselves, who am I to say whether or not someone's funny?
You're you, you idiot. You have no bearing on whether or not they're funny, but you have complete sense over whether or not you find someone funny. If you don't think someone's funny, or not ready for your show, you need to say it to their face.
I'm beginning to think that sparing someone's feelings might be one of the biggest dick moves you can make. Feelings are resilient if you're reasonable. You just want to avoid confrontation, because they're uncomfortable and can potentially effect your feelings.
There is hope, though. If we are capable of being honest, and drumming up enough courage to say, "I don't think this is for you, but we should figure out what is." It's tough. Insanely tough, and it wouldn't be ideal to hear. One could make a lot of enemies. On the other hand, people who feel pushed out might be able to find ways to feel like they've been let in.
We need to harness a common interest in figuring out what people can contribute. Okay, Said person isn't a strong writer, or her stage presence is lack luster. Those are workable things. It's not on you to mentor someone, but if it's genuinely what you believe about them and you think it holds them back from getting booked, it's on you to say something.
From there, if you really believe in the community of it, which I do, you can find ways to incorporate people. Find something they like to do, something that they can contribute that brings them into the fold. I've met people who just like hosting. I've met people who like coordinating, or even just being generally useful, putting up flyers. Turning someone away completely because they shouldn't be a headliner is the reason our industry is so fractured and lacks economic stability.
People who aren't onstage could end up being helpful to what you're doing in a lot of other ways, as long as they recognize why they're doing it. It's not quid pro quo for stage time, but it's a good way to get exposure, get to know people, and potentially get better. We may look down on these as lowly roles, but they're really the only reason the center stage happens.
I don't know that I have the social intelligence to be honest with someone. It took me long enough to be honest with myself. I do believe that if we work together, we can fix everything. It takes a little self awareness, on everyone's part...
For lack of a better transition, one of my favorite trees is called a Catalpa. It's one of the first ones I learned to identify.
They're very striking, but they're not uncommon. You can find them pretty much anywhere in the US. I know because I've seen them literally everywhere I've gone so far.
I like them because they're showy and goofy looking. They have big, twisting trunks, long beans, leaves like dinner plates and bunches of white, bell shaped flowers in the spring. Beans, bells, big leaves, they don't seem to be completely certain of what it is they're "going for" as a tree, but damn if they're not going to try too hard. While the major limbs of Catalpa are gigantic, the actual branches are thin, almost spindly in comparison with everything they've got to handle.
The overall appearance makes me think of a giant, frozen entity trying so hard to carry all of her many tasks. This juggler sculpted from bark is carrying so many huge leaves that she must, at some point, have to fall. What Catalpa seem to always be in the process of forgetting, is that all of those little branches are connected to that thick, ever graceful trunk that is built specifically for the purpose of handling all of those leaves. It needs them, so it has them, that's why it built them.
At the risk of being another overly positive-vibe self help article, I think a lot of people I know, self included, are probably Catalpa trees. We are artists with big, beautiful ideas, but we have so many we feel clueless as to how to support them all. The thing to remember is that we grew them, and they have purpose no matter how overwhelming they may seem.
You can think about cliques as people with what you need, but won't help you. Alternatively, you can think of them as people who can't help you, in the same way that a different tree can't carry the Catalpa's heavy leaves. You're only wasting time trying to win the approval of someone you think will help your career if they like you. Find the people that like what you're doing, look inward, think critically, and know that what you have is something you made. Your prerogative is to cultivate what you have. No one else can help you with that.
Thanks for Reading
If you like what I do, would you consider sending it to someone you think it would resonate with, share it on social media, or follow OdDmosis on Facebook? You could also check out a show or donate to this project. In any case, thanks for reading. It means a lot.
Looking at how groups work as a whole rather than as individuals. Or something like that.