The Joy of Failure

Many thanks to today’s Guest Blogger – comic Danny Rouhier!

Danny Rouhier is the host of Overtime weeknights from 7-11 on 106.7 The Fan in Washington, DC. His highly acclaimed show has landed him spots on Comcast Sportsnet, features in the Washington Post, and the regular slot hosting the station’s Redskins post game show with Lavar Arrington. As a comic, Danny has traveled all over North America performing at clubs, colleges, and festivals. Combined with his incredible gift of impersonations and character imitation, Danny uses a lightening quick wit with a charming self-deprecating style. His unique voice resonated with Washington Redskins fans and the weekly videos he produced about the struggles of the team have garnered over 200,000 views to date.

Danny has performed with industry giants like Jim Gaffigan, Kevin Nealon, Bill Burr, Dave Attell, Jim Norton, Todd Barry, Daniel Tosh, Bob Saget, Reggie Watts, Adam Ferrara, and more. In addition to many of the best clubs in the US and Canada, he has performed at numerous festivals including the Bumbershoot, DC, Boston, and Detroit Comedy Festivals. Danny has also been featured on numerous TV programs including: ‘The A-List’ on Animal Planet, ‘TV’s 25 Biggest Blunders’, and ‘The History of Sex on TV’. He was also the studio comic for the Tyra Banks Show which means he performed in front of over 300 judgmental women per day.

Check out his website  and follow him on twitter – @funnydanny.

 The Joy of Failure

I’m typing this is I watch one of Chris Rock’s HBO specials. He has the crowd eating out of his hand. Through his hour special, he takes the audience on a winding road. He is like a conductor of a symphony calling on applause and laughter almost at will. He has the audience applauding at their own faults and even at assertions like the federal government hates rap music so much, they’ve prevented law enforcement from finding Tupac Shakur’s killer. They love everything he does. At this point, he could take out the phone book and read it with comments and get a standing ovation. That’s the end game. That’s the pinnacle. That’s the perfection point.

Standup comedy is hard. The great ones make it look easy but it was hard for them too. For every sold out theater show where a famous comic kills for a crowd who paid to see him, there’s a million shows at bars where they don’t turn off the tv, shows in cafeterias, or shows in conference rooms. The process can be frustrating, humbling, and terrifying. To really be a standup comic, you have to face a litany of fears. There’s no net. It’s YOUR material. It’s YOU up there. The audience can see you and you can feel them. If it doesn’t go well, you’ll know right away. In addition to the fear of failing in front of a group, a comic must confront his own faults and quirks and learn to share them with the crowd. You’re going to fail and you’re going to fail a lot. The most important thing you can do as you embark on this incredible experience is embrace that simple fact: You are going to fail.

I suppose it’s like anything else in life in that you need experience to get better. We all fail at first to a degree. It’s of course what you choose to do with that failure that makes you who you are. Failing in standup comedy is different. It’s live. That’s what makes it both exhilarating and scary to those from the outside. Comics know the rush they get from a joke gone well and seek that feeling every time they write a joke. But to have it go bad? That feels like dying. That’s why comics call it just that when they have a bad set. To fail onstage, in front of a crowd, is one of the top fears that human beings have. On every survey that comes out, public speaking ranks right up there with fear of heights, spiders, and things that can actually kill you.

So, where does that leave us? We know comedy is hard and we know people are afraid to fail in front of others. It also means that you are to be congratulated. It means you are willing to put yourself out there. It means that you are willing to go on an incredible ride of self-discovery, face your fears, fail, learn, grow, be humbled, seek to be more than you are, hope, not be satisfied, desire, believe, and create. Embrace the process. Understand that this will be an incredible challenge. Believe in yourself and your ability to meet challenges. It’s not a race so don’t worry about how fast you progress or don’t. Just know that this will be what you make of it.

Congratulations. I mean that more than you can know.

Am I A Failed Writer? It depends on the day.

t’s not often that I feel like a failed writer. I certainly have not succeeded – at least in terms of big success – yet. I have had screenplays optioned twice. One is currently under option now with Runaway Productions. I’ve earned all of $100 total for these options. For several years, I attempted to start a copywriting/ video scriptwriting business. Very few people hired me, but the ones that did seemed happy with my work. In 2008, I got hired for all of one scriptwriting job. However, that video won an award, so I was pretty happy with that. I still do an occasional odd writing job here and there, but I can’t afford to keep driving to networking meetings and sending out mailings to advertise my services. I gave it a good, solid shot for about two years, but I just can’t afford to try it anymore. My business simply failed. It happens. I can accept that.
Overall, I’m pretty much okay with being an unsuccessful screenwriter/novelist. Usually the writing is joyful enough for me, with or without recognition or success. Don’t take that to mean I’m not ambitious or that I don’t care. I get up at 5am every day to write for 1-2 hours before work and I write on as many nights and weekends as I can. And I certainly do care. I don’t really mind when people are prettier, smarter, or richer than me. But I can tell you that it hurts when I hear of someone selling a script or a novel. I’m happy for them – really, truly. But it hurts. It’s a gut reaction, that pain. I can’t control it. But I get past it and move on.
Anyway, this week I’ve felt like a failed writer. I’ve recently returned to work full time since my kids are in school now. I’m working longer hours than I have in years, yet we have less money. This is mainly due to problems at my husband’s work. He is one of the only honest people working at his place of business, and that’s why we’re broke. He gets punished for not lying and cheating the customers. The employees who cheat not only make more money, but are rewarded by management. The corporate office found out – to a degree – what was going on so the local office fired the manager just to make corporate happy. A bit of justice, we thought! At least the dishonest, horrible manager is gone. Yesterday we found out that the manager was re-hired at another local office owned by the same company that fired him. One that is busier. This means that he makes more money. He essentially got promoted for his cheating, lying ways.
What does this have to do with feeling like a failed writer? I really don’t think about writing as a means to make money too often, at least with my screenplays and novels. But if I made money- good money – as a writer, I would get paid to do what I love and my husband could tell those crooks to go to hell. He wouldn’t have to bravely go into battle at work every day and get punished – verbally and financially – for being a good person. In the movies, the bad guy doesn’t win. But this is real life. These bad guys have been winning forever. It’s not going to stop.
So at times like this, when we watch people lie and cheat and steal from their customers as they profit heavily and live in luxury while we cannot afford the day care so I can work full time, I feel like a failed writer. If I was a success, this wouldn’t be happening. Like my husband, I work hard, too. Both at my day job and I pour my heart and my soul into my writing every day. At my day job, I don’t get paid enough. For my writing, I don’t get paid at all. But still I continue to work and to write.
This is just a tough week. Even the little money I’ve made on my scripts, I cannot keep. It took me 15 years of screenwriting to get that $100 for my script option. The only thing I wanted was to go out to fancy dinner with my husband to celebrate this success. But it was not to be – that money went to pay bills instead. I didn’t cheat to get that money. I damn well EARNED it. But I still can’t have it.
The money and awful work situation will stay the same for a long time, but I won’t dwell on it. I cannot change it, so my anger at these cheaters will dissipate, and I’ll get on with life.
I just started a new screenplay this week. And when I write in the morning and get lost in the characters and the story, nothing else matters. It doesn’t matter that I don’t have enough money or that I don’t get paid for my writing. It doesn’t matter that I write a blog that nobody reads.
All that matters is my story, my characters, my world. I’m only on page 10, but the deeper I get into the story, the happier I am. And then it doesn’t matter if the script sells. I’m not a failed writer anymore. I’m just a writer. And I’m not waiting for a paycheck to prove it.