Struggling Comedian: A Story of Middle Aged Bar Hopping and Living with Uncertainty

by Jozalyn Sharp, 6:18 A.M., Monday August 20th, 2018

 Mike Simpson & I backstage at The Orpheum Theater

Mike Simpson & I backstage at The Orpheum Theater

We walk up the ramp to the entrance of Mike & Rhonda's "The Place". A group of tourists who speak no English secure their spot on the waiting list for a table. I am wondering what brought these tourists to a little college town in the mountains of Arizona. The sole man in the group turns around and he has three individual rat tails that have been dread-locked hanging from the base of his skull. The rest of his head is shaved. What in the actual fuck. 

     Mike pretends to be talking on the phone so he can take a photo of the man. Not " THE Mike" of Mike & Rhonda's. He's "A Mike" of Phoenix, Arizona. He's a friend who traveled up to Flagstaff to open for me at a little gig downtown the night before.
     It's really eating away at me, my curiosity. What could have brought this man with a style all his own? 100% his own.  I would spend heaps of money to get a tour of this dudes house. I imagine it to be full of other off beat style choices. Like a meat smoking room that's also a movie theater. 
     Think of the circumstances that have to take place in your universe for you to end up with a rat tail. Now think of the circumstances that would have to transpire for you to end up with dreadlocks. Now picture the Venn diagram of the overlap. 

 Totally scientifically accurate Venn Diagram. 

Totally scientifically accurate Venn Diagram. 

     Mike and I spend the evening drinking excessively. We had plans to Uber back to where we were staying so we were going to take that $9 charge as a carte blanche to get absolutely annihilated. 
     I am certainly trying to drown my personal sorrows. Comedians are not known to be solid financially. It's always a struggle to find consistent gig work and I have no management to rely on to help me.  I have no television credits for people to recognize me for, and I certainly am just barely, if at all, on the radar as far as skill level goes in the grand scheme of comedy. I normally would calmly reassure myself that I was working up to a whole new set for the next years run of shows, and that the work always comes back around. However, I am a little over 36 hours past finding out I may no longer have my regular source of income from my day job. 
     I won't bore you with the details of how hard being a full-time performer is. You've heard it. Is it gratifying? Yes. Does it sometimes strip you of all of your dignity and make you constantly question your validity doing the only thing you've ever loved? Yes. It's always worth it, though. Even the most painful to execute of sets are a joy because you know the real comedy is going to happen in the back of the room when you and your friends make fun of just how poorly you did.

 Comedy Mayhem at the M, July 2018, Photo Credit:  Tina Compise

Comedy Mayhem at the M, July 2018, Photo Credit: Tina Compise


     Anyway, my sole source of income was comedy for over a year and it was fucking hard. I have no business having comedy be my sole source of income! I have put myself in a place where I have no choice. And having no business and no choice doesn't leave you with much except to just do the fucking thing and cross your fingers that the universe will gift you some good fortune. 
     I really struggle with anxiety. Uncertainty is none too kind to that part of my brain either. The uncertainty of my future does weigh heavily on my chest. Chasing your dreams is not the easy feat they tell you all about in elementary school. They don't tell you about the effect it has on your partner, your family, or your psyche. The only thing I learned that was a useful truth from elementary school was you should never eat a grilled cheese that comes sealed in a plastic bag. That is a steamed cheese. And it's a travesty and tastes like moss from a foot.
     I'll swallow my anxiety about this uncertainty because it's unproductive. I have to channel this energy somewhere else or I will stress eat another Party-Size KFC Popcorn Chicken. Tada! And thus this blog is born. I accept the fact that I have no idea where my financial contribution to my household is going to come from and spend hours working on arbitrary things that will have no long term effect on my comedy career but make me feel productive anyway. Tada! Like a blog. 

 Mike lamenting another loss at the claw machine. 

Mike lamenting another loss at the claw machine. 

     So Mike and I are feeling exceptionally old this night, but are determined to take advantage of the rare occasions we get to really bro-down. I bitch and moan that the bars are too loud. We walk until we see a bar on the corner called "McMillan's". I breathe a sigh of relief as I cannot hear music blaring from the sidewalk. This is a good sign. 
          "This place looks good & quiet." I say stepping up onto the threshold. 
     The bar was either in some kind of sound proofed time warp or the universe was feeling incredibly cheeky that night because that was the moment a DJ inside dropped the beat of all beats and I started to bleed from the eyes. 
     I turn to Mike and he is as red as beet. Just delighted with what seems to be a karmic prank being played on me. We both about piss our pants at the thought of us wandering around a college town looking for a quiet bar and the universe basically telling us to go fuck ourselves. We lower our standards for decibel readings and go across the street to Collin's. Fast forward to two hours later and Mike and I are 3 or 4 beers, a couple shots of whiskey, and an Irish Car Bomb deep. We have successfully wasted $5 trying to win a "Mr. Poopy Butthole" plush, and we both punched the electronic punching bag once before realizing rotator cuffs don't grow on trees. I am fist bumped by a dude who says "yeah old guys!" and am full on ogled by a man in a fishing cap and velcro sandals. We saw a very poorly executed street fight, and we ended the night by playing a drinking game I barely remember. This night is by far reminiscent of my early 20's except I am an unfuckable entity in this college bar. I am 30, my shirt is disheveled, I have jeans that stink like green room and Corolla road funk on, and I have cut my hair in a way that would suggest I'm trying to signal to other predators that I am dangerous. To be invisible like that made people watching better than it's ever been. (Also I can't say completely unfuckable because one girl did give me eyes on her way in, but again it was a dark bar and she may have mistaken me for a member of the Cardinals D-Line). 
     We both hop in the backseat of an Uber to head back for the night. Mike and I demand information from our Uber driver about the horrors he's seen in that very backseat. It turns out he's from Vegas so we all just start nodding and naming Las Vegas subdivisions until we get to the house.
     We get out and hang out on the lawn talking so as not to disturb the family inside. We hear a coyote. We are trading drunken stories form our youth. We may as well have had shawls on and been whittling ourselves pipes on the front porch. One of us is mid-story when we hear what sounds very much like hooves on asphalt. We slowly turn to face the street.
     A deer runs down the residential street as if it lives at the end of the block and left the stove on. It seems so out of place its jarring. 
     "Aaaaaand, now we're going inside." Mike decides for both of us. 
     We both ended up leaving essential night time items in the car so we drunkenly coordinate missions to retrieve the items without being mauled by whatever that deer was running from. (What are ESSENTIAL NIGHTTIME ITEMS, you ask? Well that is a fancy word for iPhone Chargers & HydroFlasks).  

     What is the point of all this? I'm not sure. I guess the point was to say, I have no idea what my plan is right now. I have no certain path. What's my plan? I don't have one. Not a concrete one at least. My plan is to take this incredibly inconveniently timed opportunity as an invitation to reflect on what it is I actually want to do. And as an excuse to eat junk food and binge watch I Am a Killer on Netflix.