comedy is hard

I haven’t written about my second manuscript, the one I wrote last year, the one we’ve been having a hard time selling. I haven’t written about it because I don’t really want to jinx it, but we’re at the point now where we’re past jinxing, and I’m just kind of wishing and hoping that someone will take a chance on it.

It’s looking like that’s not going to happen, and that I’ll have to move on to the next manuscript, and lovingly put this one in a drawer, or try to sell it with a pseudonym–

I wonder if I’m even allowed to talk about things like this. Well, if this entry comes down suddenly, you’ll know it was advised against.

Anyway, I’m moving on, but I still love my second manuscript. It’s been harder to sell because it’s not chick lit, and so it’s not in the marketplace I’ve already established myself. It’s about stand-up comedy, and more specifically, one of the characters is fashioned after a comic not unlike Orny Adams. I’ve known many an Orny in the years I’ve been hanging out with stand-ups, and I wanted to write a bit about my time in that world. Well, much like Sarah’s reaction to Orny above, editors have been responding similarly to the manuscript.

Pass letters include the lines:

“…the novel’s sardonic narrative voice ultimately made me wonder whether I was supposed to empathize with or simply be amused by the misadventures…”

“I think the writing and the story are terrific, but there’s some concern here as to how we would sell it…”

“It’s a charming novel… I think Ribon has a strong sense of her characters, and I admire the way she loops them together through their shared insecurities…but I’ve just taken on a similar novel about stand up comedians…”

“I had a difficult time connecting to any of the characters, as intriguing as I found the set-up to be…”

“Overall, it’s a little more aggressive — and perhaps harsh — than what we generally go for.”

“I found that the characters, though interesting, weren’t particularly sympathetic.”

“I didn’t find the characters as sympathetic as I would have liked them to be.”

“…this was too ‘dark’ and literary for [us]…”

“I think this is one of the most fascinating manuscripts I’ve seen in some time. But ultimately… I just don’t think this story is right for me.”

So what do you do? I have to move on. I want to keep writing books, so I don’t want to pass up the opportunity to write more instead of stalling here. I guess this manuscript needs another draft, maybe when I’m a little older, maybe when I’m a better writer.

When I performed at the HBO Workspace six years ago, I certainly thought I was on top of my comedy game. But I know now, after performing last week, that I was nowhere close.

I hadn’t been on stage like I was last week in a long time. It was just the two of us for an hour, talking with an audience. And for the first time, when I took that stage (to the wonderful sound of applause, so I guess a few friends did get reservations after all), I felt like I belonged. I didn’t feel like I had something to prove. I was supposed to be there, saying the words I was saying, doing the show Liz and I had worked on for so long. And yes, for about five minutes we were both terrified that we had made a terrible mistake, but then they kept laughing, longer and harder, and stopped us for applause breaks and they were with us. They understood us. And when I held things my hands weren’t shaking like they have done so many times before in the past. I even got the chills a few times because I was having such a good time and it seemed so natural to be saying those monologues and getting that reaction and feeling an audience go with you through emotions and stories and then to look over at Liz and think, “She’s so damn funny,” and feel proud of everything — it was completely different than six years ago, when we were terrified and clumsy and worried that we’d forget something, unsure if everybody was going to remember everything, banking so much hope on thirty minutes. The hour flew by and the next thing I knew we were done with the show and it was in the past and all we wanted to do was get up there and do it again. So we’re working on that right now. We’re trying to find a way to do another couple of dates. Because when we were finished, people stood.

I don’t remember ever having a standing ovation like that. I remember a few times people would stand for Call Us Crazy, but never like that, never at once, all of them, never for something I wrote and said. Maybe it’s because I was acting again for the first time in years, not just doing comedic readings or stupid sketches where I play a twelve-year old. I was performing monologues. I even did a vocal warm-up before the show, despite the teasings of everyone else. I was using my training again for something I truly enjoy doing, something I had been missing without even realizing it. And I could see the difference in how I felt on that stage last week, and how I’d felt even last year. I’ve been improving with practice, even if I don’t realize it. Every time I write an entry here, I get a stronger sense of storytelling, of audience, of timing. (Although this site has made me terrible at editing. Man, am I wordy. It’s because there’s nobody here to tell me to shut up.) Every time I’m on stage I get a stronger sense of breath, of how to stand, of where to look, how to react. I love it so much.

And maybe with this second manuscript (only the second, it’s only the second, I have to remember that), I was trying something new that I’m still learning. I challenged myself, and maybe it’s good, maybe it’s passable. It’s funny, and it tells a story, and there’s something there that people are honestly responding to, but it’s not ready yet, I guess. It’s not finished. It’s not making people stand up on their own to clap, instead of because someone in the front row did. It didn’t take them somewhere else and make them forget about everything else for a little while.

“I needed that,” a man said to me after the show the other night. He shook my hand, hard. I could tell he wanted to hug me. “Thank you so much. I really needed to see that show. You guys made me feel so much better.”

“I went home and I wrote myself a letter and it helped me get through something. You guys are awesome.”

“My baby was kicking inside my stomach the entire time. He loved the show. He couldn’t stop kicking. He must have thought you guys were hilarious.”

“I cried, and then I laughed and then I cried and then you got me thinking about letters I have at home, that I haven’t sent. Really, it was like, I came here thinking I was going to see some comedy sketch show, but you guys gave me a night at the theatre. It was art!”

We honestly can’t believe the reactions we’re getting. We are so flattered, and so proud. We’ve been working on it for months, and everybody worked so hard, gave so much of their time for it, believed in it even when Liz and I were like, “Eh, I don’t know. Maybe it’s not funny.” And then we had this night, where everybody was so proud and happy, and that’s all you want as a performer.

It’s all I want as a writer. I want people to be proud and happy. So I’ll move on for now, and keep this manuscript close by. It’s not ready yet, I guess. But someday I hope I’ll be good enough to turn it into what I see in my head.

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