ear of failure. This is how I’ve armchair diagnosed a friend of mine. He’s an extremely creative and talented guy who’s resisted ever pursuing those talents professionally. None the less he pursues them. In his spare time. A weekend hobbiest of music and film and art. But recently my friend stumbled into a bit of a great project.
His tinkering with short film has landed him a commissioned gig directing a budgeted documentary. (I toil away for years, this guy steps in it like gum on the sidewalk – go fig). The thing is, my friend doesn’t want the gig. Being paid to deliver results; that’s not his scene. That’s responsibility or onus or accountability– Whatever it is that he’s avoided as long as I’ve known him.
Years ago. Before the word blog existed. When YouTube was inconceivable. When modems had wires and made ridiculous screeching noises. I had just graduated college and was the assistant manager at something called a video store.
And assistant manager at a video store was as far as I’d plotted my professional life.
Round about that time, a buddy of mine and I were exploring this burgeoning internet thing. This was a different buddy. What came of it was a humorous web magazine. A venue for us to air our tomfoolery to the world. It was fun. I remember one time we got mentioned on a local radio station. Our five views a day spiked to 75. Then back to five. What a hoot.
Flash forward six months and the site’s grown in popularity along with the medium. Then we get a call. We’re invited to a meeting with the organizers of the largest comedy festival on earth. You know the one. Yeah, that one.
We’re just kids (mentally). So in we walk, lambs to the slaughter, to this ridiculous corner office at the top of a very tall building. Once we dispensed with the pleasantries they asked:
So, how long have you guys been doing comedy?
Not only did we not have an answer to this seemingly casual question, we couldn’t even really wrap our heads around it.
Professionally. That’s what they meant. How long have you been doing comedy professionally?
I’m the assistant manager at a video store– How long have I been doing comedy? What?– Corner office, guys in laid back stylish suit jackets with jobs– This wasn’t a joke, we’d been invited there as professionals. When did that happen? That morning I was just an idiot with working knowledge of HTML and some funny observations.
That was the during the dot-com boom. Much stranger things were happening. But this was our strange thing. And the reason for this meeting, the reason these kings of comedy had invited us to their palace in the sky, was to offer to buy our little web magazine.
Could have been the altitude, but my ears popped.
Between two elevator trips, one up and one back down, I had become a professional. A professional comedian as it were. Still a very odd notion to me, even – or perhaps especially – now. But from that point on I wouldn’t be able to look at anything I did the same way again.
From then on, I no longer had hobbies. I had ventures. Some would succeed, most would fail. But I made sure that everything bore the sheen of professionalism.
That’s what my short film hobbiest friend is facing now. What, I suspect, is worrying him. That once you go all the way with something, once you act the part and succeed, then you can never go back. You’ll always be taken seriously from then on. And for a lot of people, that’s too much. Responsibility, onus, accountability. Too much.
We passed on the offer. The offer from the kings of comedy. We beelined out of the building without turning our heads asking each other if those rich dudes really just asked to buy our stupid little website. We were young, charting new territory, didn’t exactly know what we were going to do next. But we knew that if they wanted what we had, we were going to hold on to it.
After all, we had to think like professionals now.
When I think about that time, I don’t wonder where I’d be now if we had taken their offer. I wonder where I’d be now if they’d never called at all.