Lucky and given. Those are two very very dangerous words for a comedian because those two words can put you to sleep. Especially once you get a taste of both: of being lucky, and being given. Because the days of luck and being given are about to end. They’re about to go away — not totally, alright, there’s always going to be comedians who through hard work, they’re going to get noticed by agents and networks and studios and directors and record labels. There will always be an element of that. They deserve their success, by the way. Everyone of them that still makes it with that model still deserves their success. And there’s always going to be people who benefit from that, alright? I hope it keeps happening. But what I meant when I said the days of luck and being given are about to end is this: Not being lucky and not being given are no longer going to define your career as a comedian and as an artist.
About a month ago Patton Oswalt appeared at Just For Laughs in Montreal to delivery the festival’s keynote speech. His presentation followed two distinct paths, offering similar messages to different audiences, weaving a consistent thread throughout: That the world of creation is changing. No longer does your success, as an artist, rely on gatekeepers allowing you to succeed.
From 2008 to 2009 I held a position at an alt-weekly, working as a regularly contributing freelancer. I was given the responsibility of creating daily web content, and was given a ton of opportunities to contribute to the print edition as well. Being a sucker for data, I kept track, and when all was said and done I had put together over 400 blog posts, concert previews, album reviews, and interviews by the time I quit. The point here is that I was given a chance, and I let it slip away.
By my account I was asleep, and the vast majority of what I was contributing during that time remains some of the least inspired writing I’ve ever done. But a crucial lack of maturity and clarity about how rare the opportunity actually was went right over my head. By the end of my time with the company, budgets were fluctuating and I was being asked to do more for less money. Despite this, I failed to recognize that I was still getting paid a fair(ish) wage in a cutthroat industry that very few people actually get the chance to make a living from in the first place. At the time I felt like I was entitled to the work, and that I deserved more, when in reality I was just lucky. Lucky and given.
It’s been nearly four years since I took my first assignment with that company and I still have yet to find a situation remotely as opportune as what I had. When a similar position opened up last year I decided it would be worth moving back to the city for, so I applied, but I never even received a response. When I actually needed it, there was no opportunity just sitting there, waiting to be given to me.
As Oswalt later reflected in his speech, in order to succeed in the future, “I need to stop waiting to luck out and being given. I need to unlearn those muscles” — words we’d all do well to remember the next time we find ourselves waiting for the next big opportunity to land in our laps. That, or more importantly, the next time we fail to appreciate what we’ve already been given.