“Ohmigod THANK GOD you brought your camera I just have like a HUGE favor to ask! Can you video the show and then email it to me?! Like tonight? Like as soon as you get home? Promise? Thank you SO MUCH!”
Doing stand-up comedy at college brings a fleet of people into your life who want the dream. People just like you, only they choose to be louder about it.
But maybe they don’t choose.
Maybe they can’t help it. And I don’t mean that they “can’t help it” in the sense that it is like eating a sleeve of Oreos on the way home from the gym – a bad habit of theirs that they have been meaning to kick – but that America’s environment of achievement-based attention via technology has been around just long enough to form a modern young person’s very being from Second One.
Getting ready for these comedy shows, as inconsequential as nobody realizes that they are until several years later, is fifty percent nerves and joke-related and fifty percent technology-related. Everybody has a designated friend planted in the audience to take photos and/or video from the best available angle. If anything racist or even kind of bad happens on that stage that fateful night during the Kooky University Komedy basement show, there would be enough film of it from all different angles to cut together a sweeping fast-cut-filled montage worthy of a Bruckheimer movie trailer or a Kennedy Center Honors clip package or a .gif, whichever is more popular that week.
Everybody has been posting regularly every sixteen hours on Facebook leading up to the show to get the word out. The event page has been scanned nervously throughout the day by each performer to keep tabs on who said that they are coming and, most importantly, who said that they are not coming so that they know who to glare at next time they stroll through the student union. So they can know who is not acknowledging their accomplishments that they have been convinced are important and will give them even more chances – say a magazine spread or an awards show, even – to have their existence realized by more.
Young comedians are constantly being told that all we need to do is make things and get them out there and that that alone will make us successful. “Make things” is a paraphrase of the last few sentences of every single episode of every single comedy interview podcast ever recorded. So if we are making things, like a seven-minute stand-up comedy set (which consists mostly of material about Tom Hanks and fear of groups of other girls in my case), but we don’t follow through with Part Two of the advice to “put it out there”, does it really matter? Should I have even tried to do well in a stand-up show that was not supported by one or more iPhone cameras switched to the “video” function? Why would I have agreed to do a show in the first place if I was not implicitly promised that it would be recorded and available for me to embed on my Tumblr? Because, according to what every current successful comedy writer says in my earbuds at night while I drift to sleep, I need to “get it out there”. I mean, I should never waste my precious youthful time with something that might not get seen by Judd Apatow like in those ridiculous success storied you hear on Oprah all the time. Efficiency is everything, right?
This fear is real and absurd, and I thank the Universe that creativity and performing are far too important and ingrained in me to be permanently clouded by these things. I see it around me all the time, though, and I’m not going to say that the above paragraph doesn’t whiz through my head for a few gut-wrenching minutes on a monthly basis.
As I write this in 2013, modern photography is an enzyme that eats up our society’s fears and contemplations that pop up when we consider our smallness positioned inside of the unimaginable vastness of the universe. The consideration of existentialism is thwarted once again when a young mother posts a photo of her son’s first haircut on Instagram and receives eighteen “likes”. It will be thwarted, still, in fifty-three years when she is looking through a photo album and spots that very photo, letting her know that, yes, the memory that has been firing in her mind with no proof of its occurrence except for the very neuropaths that first motored it along did definitely happen.
This new existentialism is no less tortured than any incarnation that came before it. The most current American achievement mindset is powered, fueled, and one hundred percent funded by the blurriness of the line between actual existence and simple records of it. Take a look at all of the exclamation points that come along with Facebook photo albums posted from students’ study abroad trips. They are born out of desperation and rewarded with the acknowledgement from others that silently scream these experiences have indeed been experienced!
When I’m out with friends and one of them has not brought along their camera, I think, “what a bad ass.” If it’s a guy, that alone will attract me to them. Not constantly having a camera to capture proof that one has friends is the new leather jacket. I think to myself, “If there is anything in this generation that is close to a motorcycle-riding James Dean character, it’s this guy who ordered a cool-looking cocktail and is just drinking it to drink it, goddammit.” I sigh adoringly.
I am constantly told to appreciate this moment. To appreciate college. To appreciate these beautiful rolling hills that are currently surrounding me on this study abroad trip to New Zealand. And yet, I am doing the opposite. I am fearing. Constantly fearing. That I’d better appreciate it! I’d better bring my expensive digital camera on this dangerous kayaking trip because what if we see dolphins and I don’t get that image saved somehow and then would it even matter if I saw them? These fears swirl like a cyclone and I never ever ever really appreciate anything. Until, of course, it is over. That’s when the nostalgia pangs start. And even more severely, the scrapbooking.
In the mindset of the majority of young Americans there is no difference between photograph-proved existence and existence itself. If Facebook suffers a glitch and as a result every single photo of somebody holding a microphone in a college performance hall is deleted, the occurrence of which is as simple as a few programmers feeling like backpacking through Europe instead of going to work one impulsive week, there will be cyclones upon cyclones of void-trudging in studio apartments everywhere.
It will be good for everybody.