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October 17, 2009

Mad Pimpin'

One of the fun things about having a blog is being able to write unfunny posts about depression and desperation. SO FUN! I’ve been a depressive my whole life, both to myself and to those around me. The kind of guy who makes people say, “Let’s not hang around that fellow anymore.” Several years ago I started taking Lexapro, a serotonin reuptake inhibitor, which I think means that it works like the urine recycling thing in “Waterworld,” only instead of recycling your pee it recycles your happy moods. The Lexapro has been very good for me because it reduces the amount of time I think about hating myself to a manageable level, and when I do think about it, it’s not as bad.

I’ve also done therapy, although I find that the pills work a lot quicker. Rather than explore the causes of my problems, I’m much more interested in suffocating them under a blanket of complex chemicals. Lately though, as in the course of this tour, even the pills haven’t really helped.

Part of the problem is that the tour isn’t selling as well as I had hoped it would, which I take to be a referendum on my talent and worth as a human being. You can obviously understand why I would equate mediocre tickets sales with failure at humanity. The other thing is a vague unease with my entire career. I can define the unease like this: “I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing.”

I’m confident this is a common problem among people. They feel like a fraud to everybody around them and live in desperate fear that they will one day be discovered. That’s how I feel pretty much all the time. For a comedian, I have never felt very funny, and do not have any idea how to be funny. This a really bad combination for a comedian. And the older I get, the more I feel like the mainstream Hollywood community agrees with me. As a younger man, I thought it was only a matter of time before I got discovered and sent on a fabulous rocket ride of fame and fortune. (In my head, I think of that “rocket ride” as the end of the old “Wheel of Fortune” where you got to go shopping for ceramic poodles and elegant light fixtures with your prize money. That seemed to be the height of wealth and sophistication.)

Now that I’m older I realize that Hollywood has looked me over and found me lacking. My big chances have come and gone and I am left scrambling to keep my umpteenth basic cable television show on the air. I am left with this malaise, this feeling like I tried my best and my best was found to be marginal. I imagine a lot of people feel that way, like the dreams they had for themselves ultimately matter only to them, and their failure to achieve them is a letdown to themselves, but worse, to the people around them. By the way, nobody around me is telling me I’m a failure. On the contrary. But when those around me say encouraging things, what I hear is, “We’re just telling you this because you’re a failure.” So it’s a kind of a no-win situation for them. If they don’t encourage me, I think it’s because they think I’m a failure. If they do encourage me I think it’s because they think I’m a failure.

Do they make extra-strength Lexapro?

This kind of desperate feeling makes me want to do more, more, more. Like if I just make enough stuff, eventually something will break through and I’ll be able to breathe easy about my own self-worth. If you think, “That doesn’t sound like a healthy way to live a life,” I would say to you, “I agree.” It’s not.

In the last few years I’ve felt less and less like an artist and more and more like a hustler. Now, I like hustlers. I admire their wide-brimmed hats and coats with large lapels, but I don’t know that I want to actually be one. I don’t want to be a guy with ulterior motives or somebody who is doing something just to get paid, even if that something is extolling the rich, delicious chocolatey shell of a Klondike bar. (Which actually are delicious – no joke.) I’m sure I’m just like all of you: all I want to do is what I want to do when I want to do it. And like all of you, I can’t. Because, like you, I have responsibilities greater than myself. So I continue to hustle to meet those responsibilities.

Ideally I would just disappear for a while. I would sit at home and learn piano and play with my kids. I would lay in my hammock and read internet articles about Kevin Federline getting fat. I might write jokes on Twitter. I might get good at rock climbing. I don’t know what I would do, but I would like to figure out how to live in such a way that I don’t derive my self-worth externally, from the public. That’s the danger with my business. So much of it is designed to feed ego that people forget how to feed themselves. A lot of people like me maybe were never good at that in the first place so we always feel hungry for more. It’s a kind of reverse anorexia: the more we get fed, the more of ourselves we lose.

This is why celebrities get increasingly desperate to hold onto whatever fame they might have had at an earlier point in their lives. They need the attention because the attention is how they came to define themselves. I don’t think I’m like that but I would be lying if I said I was so far off. Fortunately, when you’ve only ever been a C-Lister, you don’t feel like you’re missing that much when you’re treated like a D-Lister. So thank God for small favors.

Anyway, the point is that it’s hard out here for a pimp. And it’s even harder when the ass you’re pimping is your own. 




UPDATE: Just wanted to write a quick note to tell everybody that, while I appreciate the supportive notes and such, I really wasn't looking for that. I just thought it might be interesting to share with you that I experience a lot of the same self-doubt that a lot of people go through and that I get depressed like a lot of people out there. Separately, I think there is a lack of honesty from people in my business about how scary and sad it can be. When everybody tries so desperately hard to be "somebody," it's hard to admit that most of the time we don't feel like anybody. Our real selves get sublimated by the image we're forced to create. Too often that image is supposed to be invulnerable. And I don't think it's just my business, either. I think it's the business of being American. Just wanted to share that I don't feel invulnerable.

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MB

If you were swinging through SLC I'd be there. I follow you on Twitter and am a facebook fan - does that help? I signed all the petitions to keep Stella on the air. To say I'm a fan is an understatement. How about that for a pimp?

sd

"Only five thousand people ever bought a Velvet Underground album, but every single one of them started a band."

Nick

Don't worry Michael. All the best artists were appreciated after they died. I'm one of the lucky few to recognize your genius while you are alive.

But if you want mainstream success, you would have to compromise your biting hatred and satire of the middle and upper middle class. Is that something you want? I hope not.

Tiffany

God, Michael, it legitimately hurts my soul to read about your feelings of worthlessness. I understand that you think people are sympathizing with you when we tell you that "We f-ing love you", but it's truly because we DO love you. We love the shit out of you.

This business has obviously had a profoundly negative impact on you. As much as I hate to say it (because you ARE hilarious and we adore seeing your handsome face on tv), maybe it's time for a career change. You only live once, and if you're not happy doing what you're doing, it's really not worth it.

E.A.

You're an artist Michael. I don't really even think that what you say could be classified as "jokes". That's what is great. It's unique. You'll always have a strong following with a small group of people. We just GET it, you know? It's like with Stella...people either LOVED it or they just didn't understand. Just remember that we all understand and appreciate what you do. You're not a comedian, you're an artist.

Michael

You're awesome Michael. You're funny and cool and talented. I love all the stuff you've been involved in (that I've seen anyway). I haven't yet bought a ticket for the LA show but I do plan on going.

Bailey

Aw it sounds like somebody needs a hug. Air long-distance hug!

Amy

Well, for whatever it's worth, I think you're great! :D

Aaron

I never looked at it as a bummer that your projects "failed" (financially anyway) because it always seems that you come back with even more content. As a fan, I'm happy you're doing anything at all, and I don't care if you get a TV deal for 5 seasons if it's not the genuine good stuff you're capable of.

In my mind, a failure is a guy who never even gets his shot. As far as I'm concerned, you're not only still creating great new content, but you have a wealth of material in your past to be proud of.

I wouldn't base my idea of "success" around the network idiots who thought it would be a good idea to make a sitcom out of Geico mascots. Also, Comedy central doesn't do a very good job of marketing your stuff. I didn't even know Stella was on TV until around the 6th episode. By then, it was on it's way to completion.

Aaron

By the way, does Michael read our comments? It would be good to know that he hears from the die-hard fans, regardless of whether or not he replies.

Savvy Veteran

Michael, I'm a fan of basically everything you've ever done, and I suspect that I always will be. Simply, I think you're brilliant, and I really hope that you get feeling better. It seems good that you recognize some of these feelings you're having as irrational, and that you've even found some of the humor in them, and I hope this leads you towards eventual recovery. No matter how long it takes, we'll all be waiting when you get back. :-)

Karin

My boyfriend and I are seriously considering using most of our savings to fly across the Atlantic to one of your shows. We're even talking about naming our first daughter Stella. That's how much we enjoy and admire your work.

Lex

Michael,

When you're in Jersey, call me. My family would like to have you over for dinner.

-Lex

Alice

I, and everyone else I have directed to your blog and twitter account, love you. Not in a creepy cult love way, but we admire and respect your wit. You have a large body of fans who are devoted to you, just because we may not be mainstream hollywood fans doesn't mean you are any less accomplished. I sincerely hope you feel better!

Ben

Over the last couple months, I've been putting the finishing touches on my first screenplay--and thinking of all the reasons it will never be bought or made or liked. I've been doing some soul-searching, trying to figure out how to find my voice and how to pay the bills in the meantime. You may be interested to know that one of the most meaningful sources of inspiration I've been consulting is My Custom Van. Contrary to what you wrote, your humor is among the freshest and most natural of any out there. It's one of the reasons I decided to write comedy, and it's been tremendously influential on a huge number of people in my generation.

So while I can't relate to the fame aspect, nor to being anywhere on the ladder but at the bottom, I can say with some confidence that if you don't think your work has any meaning or impact, you're wrong.

Anyway, very moving post, and thanks for sharing. Although it's now undeniably clear that you're gay.

Richelle

I also take Lexapro and sadly, there is no extra strength.

I've never bought into the whole A-list, B-list, C-list etc. thing. Who the hell cares! Yes, I can see how it would be nice to make more money and such, but look at what you don't have to deal with. Paparatzi, stalkers, tabloids, those freaks over at TMZ. The list goes on. There are so many people out there who love you. Concentrate on them and not the people who don't want to take the time to "get" you. You are awesome and you and Sho need to stop in NYC on your tour. You know you can always count on us!

Leesa

I've been reading your blog for quite some time now and I've never left a comment. Now seems to be the perfect time to do so.

I'm 20 years old, a film major, and desperate to find a way into writing for comedy/being in comedy. I love your blogs because sometimes they are hilarious, but even better a lot of the time they're helpful and insightful about the inter-workings of show business. Your dedication to comedy is what really inspires me because I'm constantly giving up. I understand how frustrating it is to give a project your all and truly believe it was good and your best and have nothing come of it. Maybe that's why so many of us look up to you. We don't see you as someone who has failed projects, but someone who never stops creating. It's incredible to me that you have so much creativity and humor and ambition to be able to produce and write and act in so many fantastic shows and projects.

Your entries have run the gamut of every emotion for me: moving, inspiring, hilarious. Because of that I think you could really do more writing. If you could get a deal with a magazine and give your opinion on one thing or another or write another book, specifically about your life, than I know I would read it/buy it!

Whether or not your projects fail, just know that because you continue to pursue fulfillment in your career choice, you have succeeded over 90% of America. I hope I'm even half as successful as you are when I'm your age.

Thanks for everything!

Cheryl

I know you're not looking for praise, but I think you're one of the best comedians alive. (I'd have said "the best one alive" but then it would sound like hyperbole, and you'd dismiss it altogether.)

The Naked Redhead

Madeleine L'Engle discusses your very issue (well, not the Lexapro thing. I mean, she was pretty old and probably still believed in blood letting for whatever ails you) in several of her books. What's more important, the work? Or the acknowledgment of the work? I think she believed that the work was most important, but that the old "Catch 22" is that artists must have their work viewed to complete the artistic process.

Well, shit.

Anyway, all that to say, don't buy the hype. Keep creating, and every once in awhile remember to give H-town the old finger.

Reen

Thanks for being courageous enough to write this entry, a true window into your life, at this time. I hesitate to write those words, and the ones that follow, as I know you are uncomfortable with all that gushy sincerity. Perhaps that is because compliments truly go in one ear and out the other, with nowhere to land. After a while it must just sound like pretty noise.
That said, I suppose that is better than believing your own press. Obviously the healthy place to be is somewhere between self loathing and self importance.

I can only speak for myself, but I suspect others may feel the same, when I say you're wrong about people not wanting to hang around you. You see, we just feel/know you don't want to hang around us. And rightfully so. You have your family, your friends, the last thing you need is a bunch of strangers that you feel you have to entertain and "be on" for in your free time, off stage. There's no way to convince you that most people don't expect that, that they really would like to get to know who you are, even briefly, even if the conversation isn't sparkling and full of witty one liners...but so it goes for the celebrity/fan relationship, I suppose. I have nothing to compare it to - other than a bumpy one way relationship.

You're much different than the guy on stage who pantomimes defecating on womens breasts. That guy on stage is your job, the guy who wrote this blog is you. Good writers eloquently expose themselves, and in doing so, allow readers to recognize themselves in the entry. It's healing for both. I believe you to be more of a writer than an entertainer, but you are absolutely excellent at both. Believe it or not. (And I know you don't.)

Happiness is elusive. I know of no one who is truly happy. I guess all anyone can do is to keep searching for that peace - however, wherever, and with whomever.

Zane

I liked this blog so much. I am not surprised by any of it as you certainly have been exuding this scent for the past few years.
I have liked you from the moment I first saw you, I cared to bother finding out about you and liked what I found out enough to continue to seek out your blog and interviews and to try to strike up a friendship with you. I made a nuisance of myself extolling your worth to me in my many repetitive letters, somehow hoping to connect on some level. You were always kind, polite, distant, and finally, done. Understandably, but it still hurt. I wish you the best successes that life has to offer, but hope you can learn to accept that each day is a good one regardless, and can only impress upon you that small pleasures are still worth tasting. An admiring smile here or bag of creepy homemade cookies from some dirty looking fan there should be able to reach you more than it seems to, and that is too bad. I will try to come to the show in LA and I will try to get a moment to say hello afterwards because that is such a pleasure for me to enjoy; you can be as friendly or not as you choose, but gosh wouldn't it be swell to finally see you smile.

MH

Michael, I think you (and all of the commenters) are missing a crucial point: Do you even want to be a mainstream comedian? There's a reason why the word "mainstream" has a bad connotation. Anything that the general population likes is bad: music, movies, food, etc. Even if you personally like pop music, you have to agree that objectively, pop music is musically inferior, not unlike how a scooter is inferior to a private jet. Your not making it big is not a reflection on you not being funny, it's a reflection on your not being funny to the masses. People with good senses of humor, like me, love you. :)

If you wanted the money and recognition that comes with fame, then I could understand you being upset. But I don't understand fame validating your comedic talent. You have somewhere between a cult following and a mainstream following, consisting of people with discerning taste. You are a comedian snob's comedian.

By the way, I didn't have cable growing up so I missed you on The State. I first saw you on celebrity poker tour. Your bit with the David Copperfield photo had me laughing hysterically and I've been following you ever since.

Kevin (Always Home and Uncool)

If it helps, my 9 year old loves "Run, Fat Boy, Run" and refuses to allow us to delete it from the TiVo. These repeated free recorded viewings, though, are probably hurting your residuals. Sorry, dude. Play on.

Cotie

Michael, thanks for sharing. Wait until you get to LA, it will work like extra strength lexapro!

cat

DUDE. Who knew we had so much in common? I too take an antidepressant, celexa. I have to start seeing a shrink, a little nervous about that. Anyway, I am very excited to see you and Sho this Thursday. I have been pimping your posters in the dark streets of LA for the last few days. Being a female freshman college student, it was a bit um, scary. Well, I hope I can say hello after the show... thank you for everything, Michael.

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