”I’m just trying to rid the world of all these fevered egos that are tainting our collective unconscious and making us pay a higher psychic price than we can imagine.” – Bill Hicks

To paraphrase Hicks and Allen Ginsberg, I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by fevered egos.

Being a 48-year-old straight white man, obviously I love Breaking Bad, a show that demonstrates how destructive ego can be. The first episode sets this up perfectly- we see Walter White, a Chemistry teacher, lecturing his students. Here he’s in his element, no pun intended, and he humiliates a dumb jock in front of his peers. Teaching doesn’t pay all the bills, though, and we later see him at his part-time job at a car wash, on his hands and knees, scrubbing the hubcaps of an expensive car… owned by that same dumb jock, who watches with glee.

You may not be surprised that I think of this frequently at Maffia Comedy Club, where I host the show and then put chairs away after it’s over. The club has a history of offering spots to rookies in exchange for helping out and, for a short period last year, the thought that other comics might think I only get spots because I work there really got me down. I’m glad to say I got over that, although I think it’s more apt to say I got over myself.

A friend back in high school leveled this criticism at me, “You think you’re the center of the universe and you don’t even like yourself that much.” As I entered the world of standup two decades later, I realized that this applies to nearly every comic I’ve ever met. I’ve said a million times before and will say a billion times again that it takes a special kind of broken to seek approval from drunk strangers. Ego and insecurity have a bizarrely symbiotic yet destructive relationship, fueling each other one minute, wrecking each other the next.

It’s up to every comic to determine their own worth, but it’s an understatement to say this can be very difficult. I’ve met many comics over the years who overestimate themselves. Mind you, I’m basing this not on my own opinion of their comedy – humor is subjective – but on how well they do in front of audiences. I’ve seen comics get nothing but polite chuckles, if even that, yet walk off stage with chest and ego inflated. In my experience, the comics who are most vocal about not getting what they deserve are often among the least deserving.

I know a comic who would absolutely crush set after set, show after show, miserable because other comics wouldn’t recognize his brilliance. Upset that lesser comics got opportunities denied to him, blind to the fact that those same comics didn’t get his opportunities. No thought on what he had, focus only on what he didn’t. He’s very open about being a narcissist, though, so if you’re reading this- yes, I am talking about you.

I know a comic who would get five-minute spots in exchange for helping out, that decided after awhile that they’d rather not perform at that club until they were good enough to be booked without helping at all. They missed a few years’ worth of opportunities as a result, but also developed over that time in other clubs so much that they reached their goal. Not only do they get booked without helping, they’re about to headline for the first time.

I saw a comic given a brief spot do twice their time on stage, because it was unfair that everyone else on the lineup got longer spots. Rather than focusing on a short, powerful set, killing from start to finish, that would all but guarantee an invite for more spots in the future, they opted for a longer set with prolonged silences and polite chuckles. For all I know, they might’ve thought it was a huge success. It’s also likely that their insecurity made their ego explode.

Self-worth and self-esteem are vital. So I’ve heard, at least. We shouldn’t do things we feel are beneath us, but perspective and self-awareness are also important. Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.

Last year, I was offered a spot at a club in exchange for helping out. My ego screamed, I SHOULDN’T HAVE TO!!!! but I said sure. It was my first invite to the club and I thought, what the hell, don’t have anything better to do. It’s their house, I’ll go and be the only unpromoted comic on the lineup, prove myself, maybe get a promoted spot in the future. I went and felt like it was mission accomplished. Later, I got another invite to perform… in exchange for helping out. I politely declined.

That club owner may feel that I’m at a level where I need to help out in exchange for spots. I disagree, but I don’t think he’s an asshole. Maybe his opinion of me will change in the future, maybe not, and that’s also okay. Hell, I might be bored enough to accept a similar offer from him down the line, and that would simply be my choice.

A few years ago, I was offered my first and perhaps last spot at RAW Comedy Club, 25 minutes. I initially planned a 25-minute set but pared it down to 20, as I knew it would be better to focus and take my time rather than pad it out to the gills. It ended up being, hands down, the best gig I’ve ever done. The club owner wasn’t there and, moron that I am, I didn’t film it, but I doubt it would’ve mattered. In addition to the fact that I have tens of social media followers, the club owner knows me, we’ve gigged together, he’s seen my posts, he knows what I have to offer and nothing makes him think to invite me back, and that’s also okay. I’ve seen other comics in similar positions blast him openly on social media, because, as I said before, some see a closed bridge and blow it up to feel better about themselves. What’s the point, though, other than assuaging a bruised ego?

“We all love ourselves more than other people, but care more about their opinion than our own,” said Marcus Aurelius. Psychologists often put it more bluntly- no one cares about you as much as you do. Get out of your own way and accept that it isn’t that you’re not getting what you deserve, you’re getting as much, or possibly even more, than you deserve. Want more? Work harder. Be undeniable. Maybe you’ll get more, or maybe not, because luck has more to do with than you’d like to think. Life’s unfair, kiddo, so run your own race and spend more time appreciating what you have than pining for what you don’t.

People achieve undeserved success all the time and maybe, someday, you’ll be one of them. Fingers crossed!