The Struggle to Maintain a Comedy-Work-Fitness Life Balance
Earlier this month, comedy scene vet Chris Gethard’s one-man special Career Suicide premiered on HBO. In it, Gethard addresses his struggles with depression, anxiety, and more. The difficult relationship comedians have with their mental health has been well-established, and Gethard isn’t the only one who doesn’t shy away from discussing it openly. Comedians like Jacqueline Novak and Aparna Nancherla have also publicly discussed their struggles with depression on their podcast The Blue Woman Group in a way that is both comforting and funny.
But for a number of comedians, balancing their health and comedy careers extends beyond their mental fitness — it extends to their physical fitness, too. For most in the New York comedy scene, seriously pursuing comedy comes on top of working some kind of full-time job, leaving nights and weekends devoted to writing and performing, with exercise and meal planning often put on the back burner. “Being a comedian, your schedule is so erratic and crazy,” Shannon Odell, a comedian and PhD candidate at Weill Cornell Medical College, says. “You get home late, you leave early.” Stefanie Flamm, who performs regularly at Reckless Theatre, likens it to the gig economy, writing, “you feel like if you’re not constantly busy that you’re going to become irrelevant. You want to always be performing just so that you stay on people’s radar.”
However, as Scott C. Reynolds, a writer and recent Atlanta transplant, notes, sometimes it feels like there’s “a pressure to use social media in just this very specific, ‘brand-aware’ way, where people are afraid to be too earnest or too personal without a joke attached,” perhaps making comedians self-conscious about posting their #fitnessgoals to their general social media channels. And, from his purview, sometimes it feels like getting healthy is viewed as the equivalent of selling out. “I won’t paint with too broad a brush, but I feel like a lot of us spend a lot of time sitting down agonizing over scripts and jokes and sketches, or staying up too late doing bar shows and eating garbage, or even being afraid that self improvement would negatively impact our artistry (rubbish),” he says.
In this vein, Reynolds created a Facebook group called Bit Fit, a community where people (most of them comedians) can, in Scott’s words, “share their struggles and triumphs, or, more specifically, where I could share my struggles and triumphs and get a damn dopamine hit from likes on a gym selfie and not worry about how it’s perceived by a wider audience.” The content of Bit Fit varies: Members will, yes, post gym selfies, but will ask questions about things like counting macros, tips for running half marathons, and just generally share any gains made or commiserate over road bumps. Halo Top comes up maybe exactly as much as you’d think. Reynolds will also lead weekly challenges, prompting members to “get outside” one week, or cumulatively reach a mileage goal together.
Overall, Reynolds hopes that “people see that they’re not the only ones that struggle, have food issues, body issues, and mental struggles” surrounding fitness. Plus, he says “it’s a constant reminder that there are people out there putting the work in, and they also were up late doing a set or are in the middle of a writing project.” And if they can do it, maybe you can, too. “It feels like the Island of Misfit Toys and we all understand each other in a very specific way,” Sarah Boatright, a comedian and personal trainer, says.
In addition to Bit Fit, comedians have found other ways to embrace the “community” aspect of the comedy community and ingrain it into their fitness routines. Volleyball, basketball, and baseball teams have formed, lending the opportunity to move around a bit while feeling a sense of camaraderie. “If one of my mantras is ‘ball is life,’’ Amanda Giobbi wrote, “imagine how much sweeter it is when I’m balling with people who I love and feel supported by!” Plus, given the highly politically charged nature of these trying times, support might feel like an increasingly hard thing to come by these days. Reynolds specifically spoke to the empathy of Bit Fit: “It’s the only place I have on the internet where nobody’s ‘actuallying’ everyone all the time.”
When it comes to successfully maintaining a career in comedy — especially given the constantly changing nature of the industry and the second coming of the comedy boom — stamina is key. “It’s a long game. Nobody is gonna ‘make it’ overnight,” Reynolds says. “So if you’re going to have the energy to pursue it long term, you need to take care of yourself. The brain is nothing without the body.”
For Nicole Conlan, a comedian who’s in the midst of relocating from New York to Los Angeles, it’s her disciplined attitude towards fitness that allows her to be similarly regimented when it comes to her craft. While this might not ring true for everyone, she says that “the mental aspect and discipline of working out is only good and will only help you accomplish more comedy-wise.” However: “I’m not going to say it necessarily made me funnier…but there’s something tangible that I’ve been able to produce as a result of employing those techniques.” And, if there’s one thing that rings true about comedy, it’s the necessity of discipline.
Lana Schwartz is a writer and comedian based in New York City. Her work has been featured on The New Yorker, The Hairpin, Mental Floss, The Toast, and various other sites around the internet. You can follow her on Twitter @_lanabelle, on iTunes via the U OK? Podcast, or IRL at her monthly show My Hometown. For more on Lana, as well as instructions on how to pronounce her name, please visit www.lanalikebanana.com.