mark toland mind reader

Feedback

Ten years ago I got an email from a man I had performed with during a variety showcase. This guy criticized my act and condescendingly told me how he could have done it better because of his “years of experience” and “expertise”.

At the time I was just trying shit out onstage in hopes of getting better and finding my voice. I was young. I had no direction or style. I barely had any stage time under my belt. I was just minding my own business and here was this guy invading my inbox with his “holier than thou” attitude.

I was devastated. And upset…and angry…and shocked. So I spent the next 24 hours crafting the perfect response, sent it off, and thought to myself: “That’ll show him.”

I never heard back. But that guy’s words echoed in my brain, haunting me for weeks afterwards. And gradually I started to make changes to my show just to move on and get that email out of my head.

Even though his ideas were horrible and I didn’t have to prove myself to that guy, it still bothered me enough that I went out of my way to appease a person I’ve only seen one night in my entire life. Unbelievable.

Flash forward to this summer and a similar experience…

An audience member emailed me to give some unsolicited advice about my show. He was cordial but slightly demeaning, telling me that I shouldn’t do certain things because he didn’t like it.

My first instinct was to laugh. Seriously, who emails a performer to tell them to change their act? If I don’t like something I just move on and assume it wasn’t for me to begin with…

After that, I started thinking about how to respond. I needed to be firm, but polite. I wanted to hold my ground and explain myself. But then I caught myself and had a wonderful realization: “I don’t owe this guy anything.”

I realized that it was a horrible decision to let one person dictate the direction of my show. No single person should have a say in my material, my wardrobe, my style, or my approach to performance. The only person who decides where I’m going is me.

It took me a decade of shows and thousands of comments, messages, calls, and e-mails to understand that, but when that thought came into focus it was crystal clear:

“No one else gets to determine the direction I’m going in.”

As I was sitting at my desk, pondering that email, another alert came in. It was another email, from a different audience member who had been at the same exact performance. She wrote:

I was at your Friday night show. I was visiting my in-laws and suggested an adult night out for the six of us for dinner and your show. I was slightly nervous planning this evening, because what if the show was a flop?!?! The most difficult to please person said to me on the way out, “this was a winner.” Yay for you and me!! Ha ha! I loved that you got so many people involved in your show, made it personal and interactive. You are witty and engaging and I was sad when it ended! Days later and we are still talking about your act. Well done. I’ll have my eye out for you to come to my area. Best of luck with your career - you do fantastic work!

Talk about perfect timing. That was all I needed to hear to know that I was on the right path.

Oh, and I only responded to one of those emails…but I’m sure you put that together already.


Other Thoughts:

  • Comedian Gary Gulman has been sharing brilliant tips of twitter all year. (Coincidentally as I was working on this post this week he posted this tweet. Glad to see I was thinking on the same page as one of the greats.) If you’re looking to be a better writer/performer or just enjoy good stand up, you should probably go follow him.

  • All upcoming shows are posted here.

  • Are you subscribed on YouTube? I have some awesome video projects coming up soon.

  • Here’s a killer photo from a gig last week at Stony Brook University in Long Island:

My New Typewriter

I learned to type at my dad’s office.

His secretaries had electric typewriters that I would poke around on after hours. I’d watch in fascination as the silver ball quickly spun around to the correct letters, numbers, and symbols before revealing them on the page. I always loved the click-clack of the keys and the sound of the bell when you reached the end of the line.

The office was lined with barrister bookshelves full of leather bound books. Often, I’d have an extra hour to kill before my dad would be able to give me a ride home. So I’d walk the hall admiring the bookshelves before taking a seat behind a typewriter to pass the time.

When my father passed away my siblings and I each got to keep one of the bookshelves. It’s one of my favorite possessions and I can’t help but think of those glorious afternoons exploring the office and typing away for hours on end.

Recently I’ve been on a mission to add mystery back into my life. I figured that if I’m trying to encourage my audiences to enjoy mystery then I should probably do the same in my everyday life.

Part of that push has been to live a more “analog” life. I’ve been limiting my screen time, staying away from social media, and taking a more “old school” approach to my daily routine. It was only a matter of time before I bought my own typewriter.

I’ve always been a fan of the mid-century modern aesthetic, so I went with an Olivetti Lettera 32. Isn’t it beautiful?

Typewriter.jpg

I love this machine. It’s in perfect shape, has a perfect fit to my hands, and it’s totally my style. Just seeing it each day makes me want to sit down and get to work.

Also, it’s a manual typewriter, so there’s no need to charge it or upgrade it to the next operating system. It just sits on my desk waiting for me to create something.

Speaking of my desk… I had remembered that my dad’s typewriters had been resting on these large metal desks. They were huge and solid and built to last. So naturally I wanted one of those.

After doing a bit of research I discovered that those desks are known as “steel tanker desks”. I started searching everywhere for a desk that would go well with my Olivetti Lettera 32. I went dozens of pages deep on Craigslist, eBay, and more, but I couldn’t find the model I had in mind.

One day Stephanie and I went out to browse antique stores. I didn’t expect to find the desk I was wanting but I was keeping an eye out anyway. And at our tenth store, in a beautiful moment of serendipity, Stephanie found it sitting just inside the door. Plus, it was on sale. They were practically giving it away.

We cleared out the seats, wheeled it to the back alley, and loaded a massive, solid steel desk into the car. Surprisingly it wasn’t too difficult to transport it across the city and upstairs to our apartment. And suddenly, everything came together.

The desk matched the typewriter, which together matched my lamp, chair, and wall art. Everything was perfect.

Desk.jpg

I glanced down at the desk to see a seal from the desk’s manufacturer: Globe-Wernicke.

“I wonder where this desk has been…” I thought to myself.

So I went in search of some information I could find on steel tanker desks made by Globe-Wernicke. Eventually I arrived at this article.

It turns out that Globe-Wernicke is best known for patenting the “barrister bookcase” - the very bookcase that lined the halls of my dad’s office. The very bookcase that sat nearby while I was learning to type. The very bookcase my father left me after he passed away.

I love when everything comes full circle in life. I love when things connect in magical, mysterious ways that you couldn’t possibly anticipate.

Life can be really wonderful sometimes.

And that’s the story of my new typewriter, my new desk, and what goes through my mind when I sit down to write each and every day.


Other Thoughts:

  • Check out some backstage mind reading from Liberty Magic:

  • I was a guest on The Lisa Show on Sirius XM Radio last week. Listen here!

  • Also, check out this interview I did with the Pittsburgh Current.

Experience

There was a fellow performer in my audience earlier this year. It was one of my best shows thus far in 2019. I was completely in the moment and the audience was loving it. Yet, this performer sat completely emotionless, arms crossed, refusing to smile or have a good time.

It reminded me of this cartoon:

1926919_10152102933506107_124105493_n.jpg

For the entire show I kept glancing over to see if he was enjoying it, but it just looked like the guy in that cartoon.

Honestly, it pissed me off.

When I go to another performer’s show, I try to be a good audience member. Reactions are contagious, so I try to lead by example for the other people in the audience: I lean forward, I smile, I nod, I laugh. I work extra hard to pay attention and respond accordingly, because that’s what I would want if I was doing the show myself.

Seeing another performer refuse to acknowledge my performance was incredibly annoying. There was no reason for him not to enjoy himself. It was a good show, in a gorgeous venue - did I mention I WAS DESTROYING THAT ROOM?! His lack of respect for my effort onstage was rude. There’s no other way to put it. This performer who I thought I respected and admired was being a complete jerk.

At the end of the show the audience leapt to their feet for a standing ovation. (I told you I was killing…) I stepped to the front of the stage and could see out of the corner of my eye that the only person not standing was this guy. So I turned, made eye contact, and pointed right at him as if to say “I saw you the whole show and that wasn’t cool.”

After the show this colleague-who-must-not-be-named made his way backstage and we passed in the hallway.

I said hello and shook his hand.

“Did you have fun?” he said, as he condescendingly put his hand on my shoulder.

DID I HAVE FUN? What kind of cop-out question is that? I could see it on his face that he refused to tell me I did a good job, so he asked a surface level question to maintain his seniority over me. He was treating me like a child, when I’m actually his competition. We’ve been in the running for the same big events, we’re of the same pedigree, we are both working professionals, but he was refusing to treat me with respect.

A lesser Mark Toland would have let that exchange bother him for weeks, maybe even months. The Mark Toland of ten years ago would have panicked and wondered what was wrong with himself. He would have thought “Wow, my show isn’t good enough yet. I have to work harder and one day maybe I can earn this guy’s respect.”

When I was just starting out an exchange like that might have soured my entire night. I would have played it over and over in my head, getting more and more frustrated with every single replay. I would have spent countless nights blaming myself and questioning my actions.

But that was then…

I’m more self-assured now. I have the confidence of a thousand shows under my belt. I’ve done shows on the other side of the world and worked for every kind of audience imaginable. Things don’t really get to me now like they used to.

I know now that that guy’s actions during the night were all due to his own insecurities. There’s something wrong with him that made him treat me like that, and it had nothing to do with me.

Isn’t it great to get older and wiser and feel more confident? Isn’t it wonderful to understand that you can’t control people’s actions and usually they have nothing to do with you? It took me years to understand that but I’m so glad I do.

“Did you have fun?”

Those words hung in the air for a moment. Then, I looked him dead in the eye and placed my hand on his shoulder in return.

“Did you have fun?” I responded, slightly sarcastically. And for an instant, I could see the realization flash across his face that he had been incredibly disrespectful for the entire evening. He didn’t say anything but I’m certain it was there.

I walked down the hall and thought to myself “Hmm, maybe I’ll write a blog post about this…”

Then I went and celebrated the success of the night. The standing ovation for my award-winning show, with a group of friends who had come to support it. It never crossed my mind again, and if I hadn’t jotted it down in my list of potential blog ideas I might not have even written this post.


I just got the first (hopefully, of many!) reviews for my show at Liberty Magic in Pittsburgh. Last night was the start of the 2nd week of my residency here. You don’t want to miss it. Go here to get tickets!