2020 has been a rough year for me.  But then, how many people are going to look back at this year with nostalgia?  Not many, unless things get real bad in the future.  “Well, 2020 wasn’t great, but now it’s Trump’s sixth term and it’s literally raining fire.”

Still, I don’t want that to belittle my own problems.  Even before covid, I’d decided to step back from the stage and focus on getting my life together.  Some things I was able to fix, others learn to live with, and in the meantime, new problems reared their ugly heads.  One thing is certain: I haven’t been feeling particularly funny.

I fell in love with standup when I was a preteen and, for nearly ten years, I’ve been performing myself.  Chasing gigs, running clubs, going on road trips.  It has been, by far, the greatest passion in my life, so it’s been sobering to see that, not only has my drive to perform cooled considerably, I haven’t missed it very much.

Maybe it would be different if we weren’t living in the new covid normal, if all the clubs were running as they always had.  I can’t be certain, but I don’t think so.  So many comics have talked about getting addicted to laughs, but I’ve never experienced that [insert no-one-ever-laughs-at-you comment here].  My drive to be a comic has always been due to my passion for standup and, due to not being passionate about anything this year, that drive has suffered along with everything else.

I’ve been very outspoken about being a comedy snob and I’ve noticed that my snobbery has, somehow, increased over the last year.  For example, there was a scandal this summer at one of the few Stockholm clubs that has remained open- a heckler got upset at comics doing offensive material, was thrown out, leading to a backlash on social media towards the club, leading to comics rushing to the defense with the Free Speech banners held high- but the only thing I could think was, “Yes, you can joke about anything, but how about being funny?”

If you’ve got a joke about Down’s Syndrome and it’s really, really funny, people will be laughing so hard they forget to be offended.  Unfortunately for 99.99% of the comics, just saying Down’s Syndrome is the punchline.  I should know; when I first started, I had a Down’s Syndrome joke.

The other thing about that club is that it was open seven days a week during the summer.  I know a lot of rookies who went there several days a week looking for gigs.  I also know that, when I finally see these rookies for the first time in many, many months, they won’t have any jokes I haven’t heard them say before.  But hey, they’ll have more gigs under their belts.

It gave me the idea to run a comedy course designed for rookies who’ve been performing for one to three years.  It would be a one day event.  Each of them would do a five minute set and then I’d tell them to continue grinding for gigs or, in most cases, I’d say, “Look, you’ve never been very good and you won’t get any better.  Maybe stop wasting your time and pick a more lucrative hobby.  Stamp collecting, perhaps?”

Naturally, no sooner had this idea struck me than I checked myself.  First of all, there’s nothing wrong with performing just to perform, without ambition, or even with ambition that will never be realized.  Also, who am I to judge?  I was at an open mic last week and when a rookie who’s done five gigs asked me how long I’ve been performing, I was almost embarrassed to say nearly a decade.  I’m doing alright but I’ve seen comics with far less experience pass me and reach heights I won’t attain.  And that’s also okay; I’ve never had much ambition and it shows.

Becoming bitter is a trap I’ve seen many comics fall into and that’s not for me.  I can’t say I jump for joy when I’m not an advertised comic on a lineup or put first, or at the fact that more clubs than not won’t offer me gigs unsolicited, and plenty of those clubs won’t book me even if I ask.  I just shrug my shoulders and accept that, based on my level of ambition and talent, I am right where I deserve to be.

Besides, one thing I really enjoy is seeing rookies and their unbridled enthusiasm for being in the club, walking off stage after a thoroughly mediocre gig but shining like they’d just slaughtered at an arena.  It reminds me of when I felt, “Oh my God, I’m booked at an open mic in two weeks, I can’t fucking wait!” instead of, “Ugh, I’m booked at an open mic tonight, I should just stay here on my couch.”  Or nine-year-old posts on Facebook I made saying “I just killed at an open mic!!!!!!!!”  I’m sure I didn’t, but thanks On This Day for reminding me.

I’ve never been one for nostalgia. I honestly get sad when I hear people my age talk about high school as the best years of their lives.  I’ve never wanted to look back at my happiest days; I’d rather feel that I’m happy now and/or more happiness is just up ahead.  But I do catch myself sometimes, looking back at those early days when I was more wide-eyed and enthusiastic.  I also know that this is a common feeling amongst comics who’ve been at this just as long.

Speaking of common feelings, there’s the “oh it used to be so much more fun to hang at clubs” feeling.  One I hear often, in particular, is the era of Maffia Comedy at Baras Backe, a bar where there was a side room in which all the comics could hang before, during and after the show.  I tend to look back at that time with rose-tinted glasses and miss it today, but then I remind myself that it was a show where no one respected how much stage time they got, making a two-hour show stretch to three hours and beyond, and if I wasn’t hosting, I was “headlining.”  (A comic nicknamed me Mr. Sist, sist meaning last in Swedish.)  As a result, while everyone else was hanging out and having a good time, I was usually the only one paying attention to the show.

Which is not to say that I didn’t enjoy it, because I did and I have a lot of fond memories of the place.  I’m guessing, however, that there are a host of rookies out there right now that are having just as much fun as we did back then, that will look back at even these terrible times with nostalgia.  Nothing wrong with that, I suppose, just be sure to take those glasses off.

I’m not sure where I go from here.  Back in the early days, I’d see very funny people suddenly disappear and wonder how they could’ve just quit like that.  Now I see how easy it can be and I still care enough about standup to find that worrisome.  I’ve done a few gigs recently, I have a few booked, maybe I’ll get back to the grind.  Maybe I’ll open a new club, but not before all the covid restrictions are gone.  Hopefully there will be a nice window of time between the release of an effective covid vaccine and the sky falling.  Happy times ahead.