hard work

This Is What I Do

Recently a lady was dead set on trying to embarrass me during one of my events.

“You seem uncomfortable,” she said, surrounded by a group of friends. “Are we making you uncomfortable?”

I wasn’t uncomfortable. I’d just finished my show and was standing calmly at the side of the bar waiting for the party to end. I wasn’t nervous or bored, I was just being patient until it was time to depart.

There’s always one person at a gig who is too cool for my entertainment. They’re defensive or confrontational. Typically they’re used to being the center of attention and don’t like that a new person might have the spotlight for a few moments.

There’s another person at my gigs. They’re the one that gets it - the type of person who just wants to enjoy the mystery and not ruin the entertainment for others. “Wow, you really know how to work a room,” they say, curious to learn more about my craft and how I ended up being at the party with them.

Those people are a joy to perform for. They’re engaged and intrigued and easy to talk to. They make my nights fun and memorable.

People like that woman, however, are quite the opposite.

I used to become defensive or upset when people would accost me. One person’s actions would lead to a minor confrontation and end up ruining my whole night.

It took me a while to realize that it didn’t have anything to do with me when people behaved that way. It’s not my fault they are being rude or negative. More than likely, it has something to do with their own insecurities. After years of talking with people at events, I get that now and choose to respond differently.

“You seem uncomfortable,” she said smugly, “Are we making you uncomfortable?”

In a flash, my mind went to the very beginning. I flipped through my mental rolodex, remembering how I’d ended up in front of that lady.

I remembered my early shows at schools and nursing homes and libraries and churches.

I thought of the plays and musicals and speeches and improv games.

I recalled the writing and acting classes, the rehearsing and practicing.

My years in theatre school flashed through my mind, along with every role I’d ever performed.

I remembered the two dozen TV appearances I’ve had, many live on air in front of millions of people.

I thought of my sold-out tours, my weekly shows, my corporate and college gigs, and everything else in between. There was the time I worked for 16 people on a rooftop under The Empire State Building and the time I got a standing ovation from 6,000 students on a college campus.

I remembered being in front of audiences around the world, sometimes using props as a shield and sometimes having nothing to hide behind at all.

I thought of writing and delivering my dad’s eulogy. Or speaking at my best friend’s funeral after he killed himself.

I thought of the gig I’d had the night before and what I was doing the night after.

I’d been here before - many, many times.

“No, I’m not uncomfortable.” I said. “This is what I do.”

Do The Work

The answer you’re looking for is in the work.

Want to be a better performer? Do a hundred shows. Then do a hundred more.

Want to be a better writer? Read and write every single day.

Want to excel at your craft? Work at it, every chance you can.

The answer you’re looking for is in the work.

But you knew that already, right? You know what it takes to get better because you’ve heard it before. The secret to getting better has been there all along, staring you in the face.

You can only ignore it for so long, until you admit that it’s up to you to bite the bullet and do the work.

There’s no secret shortcut or magic pill for getting from Point A to Point B. There’s no life hack or pro-tip that will take you from amateur to expert. There’s no substitute for hard work.

But I don’t have to tell you that. Deep down you already have all the answers you need. Deep down you know what needs to be done. Deep down you’re ready to do whatever it takes to get to the next level.

You don’t need fancy new gear or the latest and greatest tech. You don’t need everything to be perfect. You don’t need someone else’s permission. You have everything you need.

It’s time to stop waiting for the perfect moment. It’s time to stop holding yourself back from what you know needs to be done. It’s time to do what you’ve been waiting for.

It’s time to do the work.

Lean Into It

I have very specific tastes. I only like certain kinds of art or music or books or movies. I prefer things to be done one way over another. And the more stuff I see, the pickier I get.

But - and this is a big BUT - there is always an exception.

For instance, I was never really into rap but I can’t get enough Kendrick Lamar. And I don’t really seek out many musicals but Hamilton is the best thing I’ve ever seen. For every thing I don’t like there is an example that proves me wrong, urging me to rethink my opinions.

The exception isn’t the craft - the exception is the work that goes into it. The exception is the people who fully committed to their craft and worked hard to make it the best it could possibly be.

My favorite artists are the ones who are so full of enthusiasm for what they do that by the time I’m done watching them they make me want to learn more about it. When I watch Neil DeGrasse Tyson most of what he says goes right over my head, but his love for his work is so contagious that it makes me want to dive headfirst into a pile of science textbooks.

It seems to me that you don’t need to cater to the diehard fans of what you do. The musical theater junkies will be camping out for tickets like always and the science nuts will be first in line for the lectures.

It’s not the true fans you have to worry about. If you want to transcend and get people to appreciate your work on a different level, then you have to think about the people who don’t care about what you do at all. Those are the people that matter most.

The best way to get those people to care is to lean into your craft so hard that you can’t be ignored. It doesn’t matter if what you do is silly or serious, cheesy or complicated - it only matters that you work at it so hard that the people who never noticed your genre before can’t look away.

Convincing the cynics to appreciate your work is no easy task. Doing what’s been done before is out of the question. You can’t go halfway, you can’t pander, you can’t patronize. Every ounce of your work has to silently scream “HEY! THIS MATTERS TO ME AND IT SHOULD MATTER TO YOU!”

When I see a cringe-worthy performance the cringe comes from the performer not going far enough. You can sense they want to cringe, too. Instead of leaning into their schtick, they shy away from the moment they’re trying to create. They are ashamed or uncomfortable with what they do and it shows.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Either go down a different path or f*cking OWN IT. Embrace the absurd, own the over-the-top, commit to your choices, and force me to care about what you do. Make me become a fan of something I never knew I liked before. I want to, but you’ve got to show me why I should. And there’s only one way to do that.

You’ve got to lean into it.