What advice would I give my younger self? That’s a tough ask. There were so many missteps along the way. Right now I recognize that yes, on some level, I’m meeting with success. I’m a working actor. I’m a touring comedian. I host a television show. I’m mounting an Off-Broadway show. These are good things.
But I’ve spent so many years in the trenches. I’ve done countless bad improv shows that fulfill every cheesy stereotype of that performance style. I’ve been on thousands of auditions that made me feel less than human (most notably a commercial audition where I was told to stand still and not react while a man threw Cheerios at my face). I once performed 90 minutes of standup to a literally empty field.
So it’s hard to choose—what is the advice my younger self most needs to hear? And after a lot of soul-searching, I think it’s this: Never, ever turn down free food.
You spend so much time in the trenches as you find your way. For the first phase—and this can last years—you often feel like you’re on your own. You’re scrapping for stage time, setting up your own auditions, praying for a break, all while figuring out how to pay your rent. It’s not easy, and it doesn’t happen the same way for any of us.
But eventually, if you work hard enough and you get lucky, people come along who can help. These are agents, managers, publicists. And these people are going to take you out for lunch once in a while. You should never feel bad about accepting this free lunch. My first lunch was at a comedy festival and I ordered a side salad while the agents all ate scallops. It is my greatest regret in my time in entertainment.
I know that you want these people who can help you to like you. It makes sense. Our initial instinct is to please them, to not get them mad, to not be presumptuous and order dessert. To hell with that—always get the crème brûlée.
And not out of spite for them or your past. Order it because you’ve earned it. If you have their attention enough to sit down at that table, it means they see potential in you: artistic potential, and the potential to make them money.
Remember that these relationships are parasitic. Not in a bad way, just in that, should these relationships develop, you will help each other live. Nature is full of species that live off of one another. There is a type of shark, for example, that has its teeth routinely cleaned by smaller fish. They swim into the shark’s mouth, eat food out of its teeth, and then swim away. Everyone gains something by it.
And this is why you must accept the free lunch with no guilt, and why you deserve to have a couple of sides with your main course. When you get to the point where you’re invited to the lunch, you need to realize that you’re no longer the small fish. You’re the shark. People think they can now make their living off of you, which means you yourself are making a living. So live. Order one of the fancy drinks instead of a Diet Coke and know you’re really living.