From the ages of 11 to 17, I used almost every birthday wish, penny tossed in a fountain, and prayer to ask, hope, and beg to be popular. I had friends. I was well liked. I was living comfortably in the middle crowd. But I wanted more.
Cut to ten years later: I’m a creative whatnot trying to “make it” in New York and become famous-ish. I still want to be popular, but now the world is my high school, Facebook is our cafeteria, and landing a TV gig is like scoring pics on prime yearbook pages.
So, when I received the email invitation to my 10-year high school reunion, my initial reaction was panic. It had taken years for my adolescent wounds of mediocrity to heal. (OK, more like two days. Those lame wounds disappeared fast after my first weekend as a college freshman, attending keg parties and making out with strangers.) Regardless, at the prospect of seeing my old classmates again, all in one room, that desire and drive to be popular came rushing back. Would the kids at BHS now see in me the massive amount of cool potential they let slip right by?
I was drunk upon arrival at McWhatever’s Pub, where my lovely senior class secretary had reserved a tiny, non-air-conditioned, non-ventilated room to pack in 100+ inebriated, awkward, pseudo-adults. My gorgeously straightened hair had sprung into a sloppy, frizzy rat’s nest almost immediately upon entering the humid bar. As a person already prone to heavy sweating, I was forced to hug my former classmates in a stiff and unwelcoming manner to avoid them encountering my soaking wet armpit. (The right more than the left, not sure why that always is.) Had I succeeded in losing those eternal 15 pounds, I would have rocked that reunion in my bra and panties, it was that fucking hot.
Once I accepted my sweaty saturation point, I began socializing and schmoozing. All of my old insecurities, which had padded my self-conscious desire for ultimate popularity, faded as everyone shrieked to one another “Oh my god, is that ______?! You look so good!” Everyone had turned out okay. Everyone was genuinely happy to see everyone else. My “I’ll show them” attitude disappeared. My fantasy of one day returning to high school as a successful fancy-pants was now a silly memory. All was good.
Until people started asking me about being a comedian.
I realize that as a comic I should love attention. Many creative types (especially struggling creative types) are sometimes put on an impossible and uncomfortable pedestal, while it’s the lawyers, the people who’ve just returned from teaching in Africa, the people with savings accounts and houses, that I find awe-inspiring. These people have fulfilling careers and paychecks, but because I was in a sketch on the Jimmy Kimmel show for 50 seconds, I am the cause for intrigue.
People are intrigued by that which they do not know. Just as people wanted to know what it was like meeting Pauly Shore, I wanted to know what life was like for my former classmates with kids. Honestly, I was impressed and fascinated to note that the kid who sat behind me in math class reproduced. Amazing! But when I wanted to ask more about it, my queries were swatted away with replies of, “Yeah, whatever, you do comedy! That’s so cool!” followed by “What do you do comedy about?” and “How do you do comedy?” and someone actually said, “I saw that you have a website and a blog and everything!”
Everything? What’s this “everything” you speak of? Anyone can have a website and a blog. The Internet didn’t invite me to join its exclusive club, though I was flattered and touched to know that a large handful of folks had seen, read, or heard about the things I was doing or trying to do.
Each of us in our respective professions are surrounded by people chasing dreams similar to our own, and it’s easy to disregard our achievements in comparison to those of our peers. As a comedian or actor without a large paycheck, it’s easy for me to think, “This is stupid, why the hell am I doing this?” — and in a profession that openly invites countless opportunities for criticism, failure, and rejection, it’s also easy to feel like a loser. So, when we have the opportunity to be recognized as passionate, driven, cool risk-takers, we should cherish those moments. My dream was to be popular, and, standing in that grossly hot sauna of a bar, I felt as close to being prom queen as I ever would. And I kind of hated it.
Eventually at some point (probably when I had successfully drowned my anxiety in booze), I stopped analyzing everything and I actually began to cherish how genuinely happy people were for me and for my career. I ended up staying until last call. I ordered about three rounds of shots for many of my new best friends. I felt like those wounds, those stupid wounds that we all have from our self-conscious adolescence, really would close up and disappear. I felt my thoughts finally shift from caring what others thought to realizing most people don’t think about other people as much as we think they do, and if they do think about other people it’s usually not as mean, vicious, or deep as we think. (I said most people). As I polished off the remainder of my vodka and soda, I embraced the decision not to care about popularity anymore — in my high school past or in my world at present. Yes, I embraced it, with my big sweaty arms, giving it a squeeze and everything.
I wanted to end this essay with that last, feel-good paragraph, but what happened next must be shared:
In the midst of my magical moment, a boy — once a member of the “cool” kids — offered me a ride home. I accepted, and piled into a car with a few other dudes and chicks from BHS. Someone suggested g
oing back to someone’s house in our hometown to drink beer and smoke weed. After consuming a bottle of Prosecco, three shots, and three vodka cocktails, I agreed this was a great idea, but first I had to take a piss in front of this carload of people, most of whom I’d hardly spoken to in high school. Since I am not one who normally whizzes on city streets, I was not very discreet in my dropping of trou and laughed loudly as I peed all over my shoes.
After pulling up my jeans, I proceeded with them to my classmate’s parents’ home and stayed up until 4:30 AM, partying with my temporary group of BFFs who thought I was “hysterically shocking.” Had I been a doctor, a lawyer, or an investment banker, I may have been ashamed of my behavior. But I’m a comedian. I got a free pass to be as big of an asshole as I wanted to be, I got to piss on my shoes, and everyone thought I was so incredibly cool.
Copyright 2009 Shoestring, LLC.