Why Comedy? Token 10 Years Later
The hardest part about doing anything is getting started. Perhaps that’s why, even though I wrote my first real “joke” back when I was in college, it took me four years after I graduated to get up on stage for the first time.
(That joke, by the way, was about how Jesus was really a Mexican. If you ask me nicely, maybe I’ll tell it to you sometime).
That’s also why, even though I first thought to sit down and write this a long time ago, I’m just putting pen to paper now, barely making my deadline.
But on this, the 10th anniversary of the day I committed to seriously pursuing comedy, there are a few things I need to address.
There are some people who feel privileged to jump on stage and express themselves in front of other people. I feel obligated.
Don’t get me wrong. I love what I do. Nothing I’ve ever tried to do has made me feel more alive, given me more meaning.
I feel obligated because I’m not like most people.
You may have heard this about me, but I’m what you call a token minority. I’m proudly black, unapologetically gay and yet, somehow, I’m still the odd duck even within my own tribes. I spent the vast majority of my life trying to fit in, trying not to be a unicorn in a world full of donkeys.
Comedy has taught me many lessons. I don’t think there are any more valuable than this: the things about me that were used to make me feel less than are the things about me that actually make me greater than. I’m not nearly as funny or interesting when I hide my inner Token from the audience. I’m pretty regular actually. But when I embrace him, I am undeniable.
So, I’ve learned over time that audiences don’t actually gives a fuck that I’m different. They only give a fuck that I’m honest, both with myself and with them. They demand a vulnerable jester. For them to feel it, they require a little piece of my soul.
Maybe other comedians’ experience is different. Maybe the stakes are lower for them. But this is why I feel obligated. I’m hilarious but obsessed with making that laughter mean something. It’s not enough to just tell jokes for me. Comedy chose me to tell a particular story. I am obviously not the only one it has chosen. But I am the only one who can fulfill my particular assignment of offering a living example of why the things that divide us are arbitrary and stupid.
I feel obligated as well because comedy saved my life. I am a 35-year-old man, full of hope and promise and big plans for the future. But there was a time not that long ago when I couldn’t have imagined surviving to 35.
When I’d lost my way, the one thing that kept me focused was an album recording date. I couldn’t see how I was going to survive week to week, but I did know that I had to share my story with all of you.
I couldn’t see because I let so many other things cloud my vision. I lost clarity. I forgot that the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. And my main thing is comedy.
I am far enough over my last mountain to appreciate that I’ve come a long way. I’m not far enough from it to fully be able to talk about all the things I’ve been taught through the climb. When I am I will share them in the safest place I know – standing before a room full of strangers with a microphone in my hand.
December 9, 2017 – the night I recorded my live album, Insert Token, was the single greatest night of the first decade of my comedy career. That moment in time, the crowd, the electricity in the room will live with me for the rest of my life.
Before that moment there was only possibility. After it, there was legacy. Living in my own truth and having a packed house stand and applaud for it changed me forever. And now that it’s over, I move on to bigger highs.
I have found no drug better for the physical and emotional pain that has followed me most of my life than comedy. And believe me, I’ve been doing my research. I am addicted to stand up comedy and I love the ways that it is changing me. I hope it loves the ways I’m changing it.
To be continued…