In 2010 I performed in the Boston Comedy Festival. I was extremely excited and honored to be a part of it, and had high hopes that this festival could help direct my career towards a fast track to stardom. Or at least a TV credit. The first round went great. I drew 2nd, which isn’t horrible. Going first is called “Taking the bullet” because it really is like being sacrificed for the benefit of the competitors performing after you. For some reason, no matter how well the MC does at warming up the crowd, the odds of having an amazing or memorable set are abysmal if you have to go first. But I didn’t draw first. In this initial round of The 2010 Boston Comedy Festival, I drew 2nd. And I was ecstatic.
I had a great set. Myq Kaplin did an amazing job of warming up the audience, he was the MC and Headliner. The comedian before me, who drew the dreaded #1, had a decent set, but they were just enough buffer for me to relax and get the response I was hoping for. About 10 or 12 comedians performed that night, and I was one of the lucky ones to move on to the semi final round, along with my good friend and fellow Minnesotan, Chuck Bartell.
My comedy career had been a surprise to my parents. They supported me but had always hoped I would become a doctor. To be honest, I think I was just as surprised that I had abandoned my childhood dream as they were. When I decided to pursue comedy, it basically nullified all the countless hours I spent taking AP and honors classes in high school. I entered college with almost a full semester of credits under my belt, testing out of English, Writing, Calculus 1 and 2, and Economics. My entire senior year, I spent 7 hours a day in school. Then 5 hours a day studying after school. And 5 hours a day at color guard practice or tutoring ESL and honors students. I honestly don’t know how I did it. And I’m not sure why. Actually I know exactly why. I looked up to my mom and dad. When they gave me praise, it meant something to me. Disappointing them just wasn’t an option. I knew that I was lucky to have parents that worked so hard, that they were able to put me through college. I didn’t have to work while I studied. Something I never wanted to take for granted.
But being a comedian added some guilt. My parents had invested so much in me, and I wasn’t able to repay them. At least not in a way they could brag about to their friends and clients. And I definitely couldn’t repay them financially.
So I remember this conversation clearly. I remember talking to my dad on the phone when I was in Boston. I told him how my first set went, and how I had drawn second, and how that although it wasn’t ideal, it was still great. I told him that I thought I had a really good shot at winning this thing, all I needed to do was just not draw the number one position the next night and I’d be golden. He didn’t necessarily sound convinced, but he was excited for me. He reminded me that he and mom would help support me until I turned 25, but after that I’d have to get a real job. I was 23 at the time. By 25, I’d surely be rich and famous. I didn’t really worry about it. Heck, if I won this contest I’d get like 6,000 thousand dollars! We didn’t talk on the phone often, maybe a few times a month, but this time we talked for 7 minutes and 16 seconds.
The next night, Semi Finals roll around. I’m nervous as all hell. The only thing on my mind is hoping and praying that I don’t draw the number one slot. I had my jokes down. I had my clothes picked out. I was ready. The only thing I had to do, was not draw the first spot. I built this thing up in my head, I dwelled on it endlessly. I had in depth discussions with Erik Allen about what it meant to go first. We talked about our friends who’ve gone first and not been able to get the response they deserved. I gave it power. I fueled the number one and worshipped it like an evil God that could not be appeased. I’m cocky enough to think that I’m so funny, that the only thing between me and victory, is not having to go first. Pretty naive. But it felt true. And to be honest, I’d be fine with losing a contest, and I have many times, but it only feels fair if I lose under similar crowd conditions. I like being in control. I think most people do. If we fail, we want it to be our fault. I like being able to chose my jokes, and my timing, and chose how hard I work.
It comes time to draw our slots for the Semi Final round of the Boston Comedy Festival. 10 folded squares of paper lay in front of me on what felt like a very giant hand. I let a few people take their slips of paper. My hand moved towards a white rectangle, then retracted with doubt. Then I lunged for a piece and drew it into my chest. I looked at the people’s faces around me. No one looked upset. This worried me. I opened my slip of paper. The number one glared back at me. It had happened. I would be going first. I was devastated. My friends tried to cheer me up. They told me the MC was awesome, and that I would do great. I started to believe them.
Then the MC began his set. He was no Myq Kaplan. It was horrible. From what I remember, he didn’t even really tell jokes. My friend later admitted that they told me he was amazing so I wouldn’t psych myself out. The MC ended his set by saying he wished the audience had been more warmed up. Well who’s fault was that? I texted my friends and family at home letting them know that I probably wouldn’t be moving on to the finals. I texted my dad and he replied “Want me to talk to somebody?” It was sweet. He had showed his text to my sister and mom and chuckled at how clever he had been. But there was nothing even my dad could do. My dad. My superhero. That was the last text message I ever received from him. He died suddenly in a freak car accident a few days later.
So did I move on to the final round? Did I have a good set?
Does it really matter?