When I got to college at Ohio State, I had no idea what I was going to major in, but I was pretty sure that I was going to be a comedian.
The first club I tried to join was the improv group on campus, 8th Floor Improv. I immediately got cut from the audition process my first quarter, tried again my third quarter, and got cut from the audition process even more quickly.
So I found my way into working with those same college comedians on a humor magazine called The Sundial and a satirical newspaper called The Sentinel instead.
I only had a few pieces printed in the Sundial over the years and I ran The Sentinel into the ground, so you could safely say my attempt at comedy was a spectacular failure.
But I still love comedy — I’m constantly watching stand up specials on Netflix, listening to the comedian interviews on the podcasts WTF and You Made It Weird, taking first dates to comedy shows, and so on.
I think there’s a lot of common ground between comedians and entrepreneurs — both are trying something extremely difficult, both require attention to detail in the world around you, both are generally irreverent to “society” or the generally accepted ways of operating.
I love how the minds of comedians work, and I try to emulate that myself if for no other reason than to be a thoughtful conversationalist.
Recently I was watching the show Crashing on HBO (created by the host of You Made It Weird — Pete Holmes — and Judd Appatow) and was thinking about what standups call “barking.”
Barking is what they call the act of standing on the street with flyers and promoting a club or show to people passing by. “Great live show tonight!” — you know those people.
They bark because that’s how they earn time from the club owner to go on stage and perform their set. You bring people into the club, you get time on stage.
You don’t necessarily like barking — trying to catch peoples’ attention and convince them to come to this club where you’ll be performing. You wish they would just come to the club on their own and see your act, but that’s not how the world works.
And, barking seems sort of like a right of passage, paying your dues. The type of shared experience comedians can bond over.
Starting a business feels a lot like barking. You’re new at this, you know your stuff kind of sucks but you’re trying to make it better, but to make it better you really need people to pay attention and give it a chance.
You’re constantly getting rejected, feeling self conscious, and maybe even humiliated if your “set” doesn’t go well. But there’s no time to dwell on it — you’ve gotta get back out there tomorrow and bark so that you can try it all again.
It’s physically and emotionally exhausting.
You don’t know how long you’ll have to do this…you’re asking yourself if it was like this for everyone else who is successful now.
You’re constantly running the math trying to understand that even if you had a modicum of success if that was even going to be financially viable to follow this passion of yours.
But over time, you graduate to bigger stages. You no longer have to bark to earn your time. Your work is good enough that you’ve been asked to come to those bigger stages, and people join the audience willingly. Maybe they’ve seen some of your work before or someone else told them about it. You even start making some money doing it!
But it all starts with barking.
PS: While I am a comedy failure, my sister Emily is not. Follow her on Twitter or check out her stuff on her website.