I like this community a lot, and this forum is small enough to through out some…I dunno…just emotional support. And tiny dumb little skills we can share that help us not get tripped up on elements that can make other communities toxic. Like, establish a language that we can use for each other in support.
Basically, when the names of who’s in the Partner Programs are revealed a bunch of people are going to be happy, but a WHOLE LOT more people are going to be disappointed and I thought I would give tips on how to handle that disappointment. (honestly, this came from me thinking about my high likelihood of being rejected)
I’m a stand-up comedian. Been doing it for about 7 years now. I have been rejected a lot (clubs/festivals/packets) even in instances where I thought I was a shoo-in, or that I deserved it, or that the other people weren’t as talented as me. One time within an hour, I was rejected from a club I put a lot of stakes into, had a short story rejected from a literary journal, and then learned that I was rejected from a comedy festival that I had started. (lol)
I think I’m pretty good at handling rejection these days. Of course, it always hurts. It just doesn’t sting, it stings a lot. But I think over the years, I’ve built for myself a few “safeguards” and little self-tests and reminders to help me stomach rejection. They don’t make the hurt go away, they just make the recovery time a little bit faster. These include;
If you are not picked, that doesn’t mean that the people who are doing the picking don’t think you are good. Sometimes, they actually love you and think you’re awesome, but you just didn’t fit into the “slot” they were looking for at the moment. Sometimes they’ll think you’re good, but not quite ready yet and you need some time to mature artistically. That last point means that there’s a benefit to entering into something and being rejected, because it means that the next time you enter they’ll remember you and possibly seen how much you’ve grown. Instead of looking at a festival or club rejecting me as “no forever” I see it as "no for now."
I’ve been on the other end and was on a selection committee of a comedy festival. Booker’s jobs are very, very hard and most of the time they aren’t making easy decisions. Sometimes decisions are decided by a coin flip. Or we use the fact that you filled out the form wrong as an excuse to exclude you. (after all, the other ones followed the rules) Most of the times choices aren’t made based on who’s “the best” but on how all the candidates gel together as a whole; like, if you got three really loud comedians, it make things a little hard to add a fourth really loud comedian, no matter how talented they are.
The point is - challenge and question what you think you’re being told when you find out you’re rejected. What are ways that rejection letters are a positive thing? How is it validating? What is exciting about it?
Being rejected is not a reflection of your value as an artist or the value of your art. Of course, that’s so easy to say but the reality is that, if we’re artists, we’re insecure people and a big part of doing this is for validation. Being rejected is, uh, the opposite of validation.
So much of how we talk about art and success is bullcrap about meritocracy and “just be good, and success will come to you.” There is some truth to that, but also that idea masks a couple of other truths. One of those is that there is no universal audience. You can never be so talented or great that you’ll appeal to everyone. Sometimes you’re just not somebody’s tastes. You’ll never win them over. And it becomes this maddening, unanswerable riddle trying to figure out how to change that reality.
It’s really, really, really hard to seperate yourself from that line of thinking. I can’t stop it in myself anymore than I can stop a train coming at me - but one thing that helps bring me back down is going through my head and counting all of the blessings that my art has given me; attaboys I’ve gotten from people I respect, times I did win contests or got booked, or when I made a great video/set/story, even if it didn’t get the audience I wanted it to. I try to visualize a little box and put all of those “wins” inside of it, and I get to pull that box out whenever I feel blue. Because we’re artists, it’s hard to understand the proportion of what you’ve got, but odds are you are underestimating yourself. Like, let’s say you are sitting there and are upset that “just” have 30 followers. (or “just” 100 or “just” 1000) …Uh, 30 followers is AWESOME! That’s great. Imagine a room full of 30 people telling you that they like you enough that they want to hear from you every day. You’d be lucky to have such a thing. Or, say, you made a video that bombed but that makes you laugh. …That’s incredible! You - first of all, had the privilege of taking a risk! And you did it! You know how many other people out there are too scared to even make a video? And then you had the maturity and taste and foresight to make something you’re proud of? You better put that accomplishment in your g-ddamn box.
Let’s say you entered into the Byte Partner program and find out that you’ve been rejected - you didn’t even get a notice, you just started to see everyone else making announcements they got in and you realize you did not. That is an awesome thing. You took a risk on yourself, you lost and you find out that on the other side you’re still alive. Not only that, but that you’re a brave person who believed that YOU are worthy to be the face of Byte. That means you are an awesome person.
The other people - the ones who were picked - don’t suck. Well, maybe some of them do. Some of them are untalented, got their success through means other than merit, some of them are mean, horrible people who do horrible things like kill puppies. But a lot of others are people who are just not your tastes. Most of them are just people going through their own journey just like you, and are in their own head and - after they got over the short-term thrill of winning a contest - have gone back to being insecure and self-conscious and focusing on the next goal/brass ring in their life. The point is, they’re not the enemy.
Something to keep in mind is that, if you’re in a contest like one of these, you have a lot of stakes in results and such a thing can skew how you view people you consider competition. If you’re rejected, it’s easy and comforting to paint a picture where you’re the unappreciated genius who’s passed over by all these other goons. Which is to say that in this little arena, you probably don’t have the most objective point of view.
Everytime I go through comedy and I have a negative thought about an artist, I second guess that thought. Sometimes I’m right about my first assumption and that person is a jerk/untalented/garbage pile. But, after I second guess - no matter what the answer is - my next question is how much intellectual space I want them to occupy. Usually the answer is none, or very little; instead of fretting about them in the shower, I could think of my new stand-up bit, or Byte or how I can hide the fact from my girlfriend that I broke her favorite coffee cup.
Here’s a question I ask myself a lot; how would I behave if I knew that I would never be successful in what I do? A wizard came in and cast a spell that made it so that everything I want for a career could never happen How would that make me feel? After I get over the hurt, would I still do comedy/youtube/make Bytes? This question is important to me, because it reminds me about what’s important about doing art. Sure, successes are awesome and the sugar on top of the ice cream, but it’s important not to lose site that making art is inherently good.
Art lets you know yourself. Art is therapeutic. It lets you know others. It gives you political power and makes your voice louder than society wants it to be. Art is fun in it’s own. Beyond material rewards, making art brings you a shower of rewards.
Honestly, when you let go of material focuses like that, you open yourself up a little and a small, small stream of material success starts coming in. I can’t promise the world, but when you relax a little it comes off on the art and audiences respond to that.
Comedians are often combative, insecure monsters and I’ve had instances in my life where very, very condescending comics have tried to cut me down by throwing in my face “what are your successes?” I always throw back into their faces that I’m successful because I have a strong network of friends and a community where I get to express myself and grow every night and seven years of incredible memories…and I’m in the position where I could throw in their faces career material successes but flexing on those aren’t as important as the spiritual successes. If you’re reading this, you’re already successful. You’re on Byte, making awesome videos around awesome people who like you. You’re already successful.
Now, as I write this - I’m not some sort of self-esteem superhero. I still get caught up in just as much dumb insecure crap as the first day I did comedy. Last week I was at a funeral for a close friend, and a person who was more successful than me (that I spend a lot of time building up as an antagonist. She is my Lex Luthor, by a mile. No. Actually, that doesn’t accurately describe my hate, because Superman doesn’t hate Luthor. You know how much Lex Luthor hates Superman? That’s how much I hate her.) was also there and I spent emotional energy fretting over them while someone I loved was 5 feet away in a casket.
This stuff happens because emotions are emotions and you can’t control what you do with them, you can only control how you react to them. In terms of the funeral, I could grind my teeth and text my group chat about how Diane is here and how much I hate her…but what I did do was sigh, walk up to her, hug her and talked about how much we’ll miss Steve.
If you let your art help you grow, help you explore yourself emotionally, you can achieve incredible things and are always impressing yourself.
Last thing I’ll post is this great article written by the stand-up comedian Andy Sandford on handling bitterness in stand-up. I think a lot of it can apply here too.