This past weekend, I turned down a paid hosting gig at one club in favor of an unpaid spot at another club. This prompted a few people to ask me why on Earth I would do something like that. Good timing, as this touches on a topic I’ve been meaning to write about for some time.

Now, I’m not really in a position to turn down money. I’m a full-time comic, which is just a nice way of saying I’m unemployed. (Shoutout to Swedish taxpayers for funding my rock ‘n roll lifestyle.) Not only did I choose an unpaid gig over a paid gig, I ended up performing to a crowd half the size of the other. Doesn’t matter, I’m happy with my choice.

I’ve gone through several phases as a comic. When I first started, struggling to get spots at the one club that would sometimes book me, to performing five to seven times a week at several clubs, to keeping that pace but also running my own club. To “slowing down” and only doing my own club twice a week and hosting another club twice a week, to today when I’m primarily hosting at a club every weekend and doing a few spots here and there. Compared to my peak many years ago, I’m barely on stage at all, not to mention the even fewer times I’m just doing a spot.

That’s why, in this case, I chose to perform rather than host. My last entry here was about hosting so I’m not going to repeat myself now, other than to say how much I enjoy the freedom of a set. Also, a little variety now and then is very much needed- all work and no play makes Ryan a dull boy. I’m not doing myself or anyone else a favor by only hosting the same room every weekend, doing virtually the same material, watching virtually the same lineup. That said, I still enjoy hosting very much and I absolutely appreciate the opportunity; it’s certainly a position I’ve earned.

In regards to phases, I’ve reached one I feel is nihilistic, that nothing I do actually matters. That sounds bad but let me continue- I don’t think anything my peers do matters either. I should probably explain that.

Years ago, when I was performing several times a week at several different clubs, I got jealous of other comics very often. There were many comics- even comics who had been around longer than me- who were getting a tenth of my opportunities, but I wasn’t thinking about them. I was only thinking about the opportunities I didn’t get, comparing myself to comics who got those gigs, got invited to do podcasts, etc, and, oddly, I was always more talented than them so why wasn’t I getting those offers?! I helped new comics with opportunities, either at my own clubs or at others, watched them surpass me and get to the point they were offering opportunities, but rarely to me. Is it true that no good deed goes unpunished?!

I am far, far more relaxed now. At the time, even other comics would tell me that jealousy is a good thing, that it fuels ambition. That might be true to a certain extent, but I’ve also seen comics become bitter and stay that way. There’s nothing worse than seeing a comic on stage who feels like the club is beneath them, that they’re doing the club a favor by being there. Seems it’s easy to forget the point, that whether there’s 20 or 500 people in the room, they’re there to be entertained and it’s our job to deliver. And if you’re headlining, you’ve got a spot that dozens of comics currently performing will never attain. Jealousy might be a fuel but I find it far more rewarding to appreciate what I have than to obsess over what I don’t.

Those feelings of, I’m funnier than comics who get opportunities I don’t, I’m too good for this room, they come from the same place- every comic thinks they’re funny. It doesn’t get more basic than that. We go up on stage and say things we think are funny and hope the audience agrees. If they don’t, then we work on the material or abandon it or keep doing it anyway because obviously the audience is just stupid. But it’s rare that a comic walks away from a bomb wondering if they’re actually funny at all. That’s a confidence that may or not be misplaced but is always there as a foundation.

When I say that nothing I or anyone else matters, I’m thinking of those times I saw a comic in a club that had been on TV, been an opening act on a huge tour, and was jealous. It occurred to me all too recently that I’M SEEING THEM ON THE SAME LINEUP AS ME. Sure, they’ll do rooms I can’t or be regulars on a podcast that isn’t interested in me, probably get more corporate gigs than me, but for the most part we’re still rubbing elbows in the same clubs with equal amounts of stage time. I imagine that contributes to the bitterness I’ve seen even successful comics fall prey to, to attain such heights and yet still remain on the same lineups with far less successful and ambitious comics such as myself.

It could be my imagination but it feels like doing standup for the sake of standup is a rare motivation these days. It could be a result of the pandemic- nearly all clubs shut down in Stockholm and while many have returned, including brand new locations, the lineups are very limited. Also, it’s unusual for a club to not charge the audience, when the opposite was true just a few years ago. For the many, many comics who can’t get those spots, it must be like a glimpse of distant water while lost in the desert.

On the other hand, for those comics who do get those opportunities, I’ve noticed an increasing sense of entitlement. I deserve more stage time, I deserve better spots, I absolutely deserve to get paid and paid more. Hey, we all love and need money and I’m certainly no exception. But if I’m performing at a club in front of a large crowd and I’m responsible for exactly zero ticket sales, I’m not going to stomp my feet and cry about not getting paid or not getting paid enough. While there are a handful of comics who sell tickets on name alone, that’s hardly the case for the overwhelming majority of the community here.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that comics should just accept every offer with a smile and never ask for more. We should all set a value for ourselves, for our time, and if we’re offered less than it’s up to us to say yes or no. I frequently hear comics compare standup to slavery but, as far as I know, plantation owners didn’t give slaves the option of not showing up for work. If the club is too small for you or the pay insufficient, nothing wrong with saying no!

I guess it’s a lack of humility I often see in others. I certainly enjoy getting paid for telling the same dick jokes I’ve told other times for free, but money is a nice bonus, not the end goal. I’m a comic because I love standup and my heroes are all comics. Call me an odd duck but I perform standup to perform standup.