Look BanterGirl!

with Advice Columnist KAYTLIN BAILEY

Women on the Road

I've done stand-up in new rooms where I know who some of the other comics are, and they have heard of me, but we don't really know each other. I have found these situations sometimes even more hostile than rooms full of complete strangers! I get that there's a certain amount of "earning respect" that needs to happen, but when none of us are famous and we're all just trying to get better at stand up, how do you recommend I handle this? Is kill them with kindness really the only option? It makes me so mad sometimes! Like, is it really that hard to be nice?

Look BanterGirl, when my father was in Vietnam he talked about not wanting to make friends with the FNGs (fucking new guys) because they were more likely to die. 

New comics, whether new to the craft or new to a scene, are a little like new soldiers. They’re making a lot of mistakes, and they probably won’t stick around long enough to help you survive. That’s especially true in places like NYC that eat young people’s dreams for breakfast. Befriending a bewildered, overwhelmed, and underprepared comic is like getting a puppy.  It’s a lot of work.

If I see a new, green, terrified face around, I try to be extra nice. We all owe that to our younger selves. But honestly, if I’m working on something, or tired, or cranky, I don’t want to talk to someone unless I think they’re funny or we’re already friends. I especially don’t want to answer dumb questions about NYC from some delusional kid who’s been doing comedy for two months and is definitely not moving here “soon.” It’s almost as exhausting as explaining to a drunk lawyer why I’m not going to tell them a joke.

Comics are basically feral people. And just like feral animals, we’re uncomfortable around people most of the time. We are wired weirdly, and we compound that weirdness by cultivating the parts of ourselves that make normal patterns of polite engagement painful. Small talk started to feel like nails on a chalkboard to me a few years ago. So. the answer is yes, sometimes it really is that hard to be nice.

So, if by “kill them with kindness,” you mean force polite chit chat on someone to calm the turmoil of your own lonely self doubt, then no, please don’t do that. You show up, you do your time, when you start to Kill, the cold faces around you will brighten. Until then, keep working. If you feel awkward or lonely, read articles on your phone, chat with the bartender, text your mom. Eventually, you’ll meet people you click with. Hang out with those people, go to the same mics, cry on each other’s shoulders. This is your crew now. You can’t force “polite” expectations onto a motley crew of contrarian addicts. You just have to find your people. Be patient.

I have a boyfriend, but I obviously perform most of the time without him in the room. This may just be a general woman question, but when and how am I supposed to bring up the fact that I am not single when shooting the shit late at night with male performers? It just feels SO awkward and impossible in situations where a guy is just talking to me, offers to get me a beer, I respond like "no, no, no, it's ok," trying not to lead him on, he says, "it's just a beer," and I agree because I realize I might just be totally misinterpreting his platonic offer as a come on. And then, of course, he puts his hand on my shoulder and I feel like an idiot for accepting the drink.

Look BanterGirl, there isn’t a simple answer to this question. Trust your gut and know that your gut will get smarter the older you get. In the meantime, you’re in a social minefield full of poor communication, delicate egos, and ridiculous expectations. Good luck.

Buying drinks is a fraught social ritual because it can mean so many things. It can be a gesture of camaraderie, or dominance, sexual interest, or an apology. Part of your job as a performer is to make audiences, peers, and bookers like you. No one likes someone who makes them feel like a loser.

Most performers, and men, and people, hate rejection. They will tell you that they prefer “honesty,” but this is only partially true. It’s something people say that they wish were true about themselves, but isn’t. It’s easier to demonize you than face the fact that they were being a creep. We all do psychological gymnastics to protect our fragile egos. This isn’t a flaw of men, this is a flaw of people. The line between being “direct” and being a “bitch” may not actually exist.

Sometimes you can avoid that conversation, sometimes you can’t.

If you’re not sure what a comic’s expectations are, offer to get the first round and then protect your personal space non-verbally. He should get the message without the need to directly reject him. If you’re broke, and your spider senses tell you something’s up, ask him to get you a water. If he tries to touch you, or flirt, or you just feel uncomfortable, create distance between the two of you by engaging with someone else. If you feel comfortable, let someone buy a drink.

If things keep escalating and you’re not sure how to get out of it, try “I’m sorry if I gave you the wrong impression, but I’m not trying to flirt right now.” This gives him an out. If that doesn’t work because you’re dealing with a coke fueled narcissist who does not respect you (this will happen a lot), feel free to talk to him like you would a dog. Short, simple, commands. You are allowed to enforce any boundary you like whether you have a boyfriend or not. You don’t have to explain to the dog why he isn’t allowed to chew on the furniture, you only have to communicate that he can’t.

All that being said, flirting is fun! Comics, musicians, actors, creative people, we’re all attention whores living on the edge of polite society. I believe in mixed motives, complicated friendships, and staying friends with your ex. I reject the idea that just because a man indicates sexual interest in a woman it must mean that he doesn’t respect her, or isn’t able to work with her. I work with a lot of people I’ve had sex with and a lot of people I’ve had to shame into respecting my space. I’ve also walked away from opportunities, and been iced out of scenes for making too many men feel bad about themselves. And that’s OK. We’ll figure it out.

And dudes, if you politely express interest in a woman who “flies off the handle,” ask yourself, did you maybe miss the first no? Or were you just the unlucky son of a bitch who happened to be the last straw in someone’s day? Either way, try not be a dick about not being able to get your dick wet.

I am having such a difficult time balancing self care/alone time with jumping at every chance I get to be on stage. You hear about Trevor Noah doing eight shows a night around NY, and it absolutely blows my mind. I just feel like I could never ever do that. Also, people say you have to go out and live life because if you're just watching stand-up all the time and thinking about stand-up, you'll just fucking implode and all your material will be self-referential meta comedy bullshit. Help me find a happy medium?

Look BanterGirl, I don’t believe in work life balance. I also don’t believe in formulas for success. This is your career and your life, so you get to do it however you want. That being said, there is no such thing as more than one number one priority. Comedy is like a drug, and like other addictions, it will ruin your life. If you aren’t addicted, the grind will kill you.

It helps me to think about stand up like school. There are projects, and seasons, and breaks. I go through creatively driven periods where I do 15-20 sets a week because I have a new bit or idea burning a hole in my brain. This feels like a combination between an Adderall fueled finals week and the best orgasm of my life. If I’m working on another project, sometimes I only get to do stand-up 3-4 times a week, this feels like doing a research paper for a class that isn’t a part of my major. And sometimes, probably once a season, I take a break. But, stand-up comedy is my number one priority, so I’ve organized my life around getting as much stage time as possible.

I like goals and metrics. You may not. Some people lose weight by weighing themselves every day. Other folks just feel whether or not their clothes are getting tight. In general, on average, I aim for ten sets a week. I count a mic or showcase set as one, and shows where I perform for more than fifteen minutes as two. A bit is ready when it gets, on average, a laugh every fifteen seconds at a show. I try to tweet five jokes a day that each get more than five stars. Make up your own metrics, something that works for you. Or don’t.

Taking care of yourself is big part of any performer’s job, but you have to distinguish what you need from the what makes you feel comfortable. Being comfortable is for retired people.

Email Kaytlin for advice at: kaytlinb@gmail.com

Trish NelsonComment