How Do You Stay Motivated When Your Friends Are Finding Success and You Aren’t?
As a former comedy agent at UTA and WME, Priyanka represented numerous big-name writers and performers before leaving to start a TV production company with Jack Black. Now she writes and produces on her own, but she still encounters a tidal wave of comedy hopefuls looking for the advice, information, and pep talks that only a former agent can provide.
In show business they say that it’s all about who you know. Well, you’re in luck, because now you know Priyanka!
You often talk about the value of a comedy community. I’m on an improv team that gets a pretty good response, but some of us are doing better than others — one of the cast members got a gig on a TV show this season, two others sold a pilot, and it seems like nothing has happened for me yet. I’m feeling pretty discouraged, and the “friends” I’ve made are now too busy being Big Time to help me move forward. What’s your advice for keeping my spirits up?
–Ruchi P., Los Angeles
Thank you for submitting the plot of Mike Birbiglia’s last movie, because clearly this happens often enough that a bunch of established comedians were like “I understand this so much that I want to re-live it.”
Ugh. It’s a bad feeling, isn’t it? The worst! We don’t work in a business where someone tells you in your quarterly review that everything is going to be OK (or not). But you’re not alone. Not one person I know in entertainment thinks that they’ve made it and have job security forever. From showrunner to fancy agent to studio exec, everyone is just hanging on for as long as they can. I can’t tell you how many times I’ll be having a spirited conversation with friends about how excited we are about our slates, or whatever project we have in post, and then we will sigh and say “…but who knows, it’s all a house of cards, anyway.” This is not an exaggeration, these are real words being said at lunches across the land. We all know how lucky we are and how fleeting a relevant career in entertainment can be. Unfortunately, at this point, we don’t know how to do anything else, but on the bright side, we don’t want to do anything else. I’m assuming you feel the same way, so let’s roll around in the sunlight a little, and teach you how to give yourself a pep talk on loop.
The road to making a living in comedy is full of fits and starts, and nobody proceeds at the same pace. Some people are, frankly, more talented, some people were on the Lampoon (that is only 30% a joke), some are better at self-promoting, but as long as you keep moving forward, you’ll end up in roughly the same area. It just might take longer. But speed is no indication of a lasting or meaningful career! For every story of a wunderkind who made it off of one standup clip, there are ten stories about people who plugged away making great work at the Groundlings before they won an Oscar or Emmy in their 40s or 50s. If you’re not in it for the long haul, then you probably don’t want to be in it.
Second, put your blinders on. It does not matter what anyone else is doing. When you hear about a friend getting a great job, or read online that someone sold an idea you have been working on, try to process it as evidence that there are many opportunities out there for all of us. I, too, am deeply flawed, so whenever I read about a sale that bugs me, I take a breath and think “this is good for comedy.” Or, more likely, I start complaining aloud, and my husband yells “IT’S GOOD FOR COMEDY.” The more comedy is being made, the batter off we all are. As for your Big Time friends, you’re right. They probably are getting too busy for you. But so what if they’re not texting back in a timely manner right now? In the long run, the more people you know in positions of power, the more job interviews you are going to ace. Someday the peers who were moving faster than you are going to be making movies and TV shows all over town, and you’ll be high on their lists, as long as you…
…Third, keep doing the work. You can keep a detailed mental list of all the ways your peers have lucked out and you haven’t, but that is only going to drive you completely insane, and that’s when the Scientologists will find you. The only part of your career that you can control is creation. You can’t control how people will respond to your work, or which managers will come to your show, or which casting directors will think you are talented. All you can do is keep making things, and performing, and maintaining friendships with funny, hardworking people. When you have your own TV show, it’ll be your turn to make a list of potential hires, and I know you will think back to some of the people you met in your improv days, who don’t have their own shows (yet). And you will fight tooth and nail to get them hired, because that is how the comedy community works, and why we don’t all give up on day one. It is all going to be OK, because it is constructed to be OK.
Have a question about the comedy biz for Priyanka? Send your queries to firstname.lastname@example.org or bug her on Twitter. No submissions of material, please! Priyanka can’t and won’t read any scripts, etc. sent to her.