This is Day 3 of a 21-day effort to see the good in what might, at first, look like an irredeemable drag. Its name comes from a classic bit of dialogue uttered by actor Kevin Bacon in the comedy classic of my generation, Animal House.
They say everyone gets fired from some job at some point in her life. Me? Hasn't happened yet from a paying gig, but I feel like I got my at-bat (or "yer OUT!") some 10 years ago, when I got the boot from the Groundlings Sunday Company.
For the uninitiated, those outside of that small, Hollywood/Chi-town/NYC sketch comedy triangle, let me explain: the Groundlings comedy improv troupe is basically a farm team for the majors. Today, with the proliferation of sketch and improv-based shows, there are lots of outlets, but back in my day, the Big Time meant SNL (for writers and actors) and network sitcoms (for writers.)
I didn't know this going in. I was what you might call a rube, or a hayseed, I definitely fell off a turnip truck, and it was definitely five minutes ago. I found myself at the Groundlings by accident, and found myself whooshing my way up the ladder there even more by accident. Really. Yes, I was, am, funny. And a good (and prolific) writer. But the Sunday Company I found myself in was populated by the likes of the fastest and funniest, people who'd been at this acting/sketch/writing thing for 10 years, many with school training, to boot. Fully half of our graduating "class" found itself in the employ of NBC at SNL a mere six months after I got the boot. I remember; I signed over the rights to two of my sketches to my co-writer/performer who had gone on to the Majors from my sad little day job. I cried a lot those couple of lunch hours.
Hell, I cried a lot, period. No one, my husband, our friends, even fellow Sunday Co. members, could believe how upset I was over being fired from something that wasn't a job, that didn't pay a dime. But you see, this was more than a shot for me: this is where I was when I decided I really did want to be an actor, and my being there, a part of this august group of almost-professionals, was the proof that I'd have a chance at it. The person who made that fateful call telling me I didn't make the cut might as well have told me I had pancreatic cancer: I spent the next six months alternating between crying and stoically awaiting my imminent death.
I'm still here, of course. And the reason I'm still here, that I ended up flourishing, that I learned how to really act and not just flail around on a stage for cheap laughs like the clueless wonder I was, is because I got the boot. I don't give up, you see; I hang in there and hang in there and hang in there even after Them What Knows have fled for higher ground. If they hadn't have booted me, I'd have stayed. Hell, I'd still be in grammar school if they'd have let it go on indefinitely. Not a fan of change, am I.
Being forced out also forced me to take a look at a few things: what was missing, what I wanted. What I felt. Funny, how long you can go without really asking yourself what you're feeling.
Forced to consider that perhaps wig-and-glasses monkeyshines was not the be-all, end-all, I began to explore other aspects of performance. Slowly, painfully, I learned how to act. And then, ultimately, I learned that acting wasn't particularly what I wanted. No matter, I needed to learn the acting part first, in order to grok it. No skipping steps.
I wish I could say I felt nothing but gratitude both for the opportunity and the result, but that would be a lie. It hurt. I hurt. I'm stubborn and pig-headed, qualities that trip me up as much as they get me through. So bad feelings die hard with me. I've been back to the theater to see lots of friends in other shows; I feel strange and ill at ease every time I cross the threshold.
It is not necessarily a bad thing. It is just a true thing.
And after all these years, the thing I know for sure above all is that if it is not the truth, it will not do for me.
So I thank you, anonymous Groundlings, for kicking me to the curb. That I have ultimately found so much happiness as a result makes me question who was responsible for the original feelings of unhappiness.
Well, not really. But you get the idea...