I had the privilege of meeting the World's Next Great Comedian this past week. Since I am not at liberty to divulge their name, I'll refer to them in this post at the WNGC.
This person showed up down here last week, ostensibly to 'get advice' from one of their relatives. When a person is seeking 'advice' it can mean a different things; like they really want to know an experienced person's point of view, they need money or a place to crash. Maybe it's all three.
You don't just catch the next subway, train, bus or plane to get to where I live. Let's just say that I'm so far out in the sticks that I can get one TV station without satellite, which I don't have, there is no cable hookup and I can't even get a decent Internet setup through the phone company, it's all low-tech dial-up. The closest China-Mart is about 17 miles away, which is where the local Fast Grease Food emporiums are located. To even get a gallon of gas or a quart of milk is a journey of about four miles. I love it! If someone wants to visit they have to make a serious effort. It weeds out the drop-in visitors big time. Not to mention the know-it-all relatives.
When the WNGC showed up, my neighbors were just expecting a quiet, Sunday afternoon visit. You know, coffee and some sticky-sap cinnamon buns while catching up on the relatives.
I had been invited to stop by for supper earlier in the day, but told them I wasn't feeling well. She's a good cook and it would be a break from my basic chow. I'd call before I drove over.
Which is a good thing that I did. It was the old, "We got some unexpected company. Why don't y'all come on down and I'll fix you a plate. Just come on in the back." Translation for Yankees and Coastals; 'One of our leech-sponge relatives is here, I'll give you a doggie bag to go. Stop in at the back door, they're all on the front porch.'
I get in Little Redneck, the farm's small pickup truck and rattle over to their house. Things are a bit spread out around here. My closest neighbor lives across the street and it's 100 yards between the houses. These folks are my next nearest neighbors and they're almost a half mile away. It's a nice walk, but you don't do it with stray dogs, hungry coyotes and random snakes between here and there. At least not when you're carrying food.
Imagine my surprise when I walk up to the back porch and everyone is in the family room/kitchen. Time to face the relatives. Introductions are made and I get to meet the WNGC and their mate. The WNGC starts off by telling that they are the FUNNIEST PERSON I HAVE EVER MET. Really? I didn't know that I had led such a sheltered life. The pleasantries begin.
WNGC wants advice. Has heard that I've actually been to Hollywood and New York City. What should they do about their upcoming recording session? Huh? Seems that they have talked a producer into a recording session.
"You got a contract, right?"
WNGC, "Uh, no."
"How about an agent or lawyer?"
"I haven't talked to one."
"How long you been doing comedy clubs?"
"Never done any, don't need to. I just do stuff on tape."
"What are you going to do when it comes time to go on the road. All comedians, sooner or later, have to go on the road."
"I'm not going on the road, I'm not leaving Memphis!"
Then WNGC wants me to listen to their screamingly funny comedy tape. I get to hear about ten minutes of it. Out of five jokes, one is not too bad. I ask them how many they've got. They claim to have "two tapes worth". How about copyright? Never done it, doesn't need to.
"Everything is all in my head".
Welcome to fantasy island, backwoods style.
I have copies of different contracts from a screenwriters conference that I attended a few years back. Since it now turns out that the WNGC will be staying for a few days, "to continue getting advice" I volunteer to give them a copy of a contract to review.
Then were spoken those words everyone loves to hear.
"I'm gonna be here a few days, just to be able to do my work."
In this county there are about 10 bars, all serving beer, you can't buy liquor and there aren't any comedy clubs. I doubt that the material I heard on the tape would be played in one of the 117 churches we have for our 10,000 residents. Let's say that this is serious Bible belt country.
You can't imagine how overjoyed I was to hear the next comment.
"If you aren't busy in the next couple of days, I'd like to talk to you about my work."
Didn't we just do that?
After all, I was just sitting around, waiting for you to show up. I'm working on a book, rewriting a business plan, maintaining a 300 acre farm and restoring an old car. My days are a minimum of 16 hours long, every day of the week. Lots of spare time. Which is spent looking at the back of my eyelids.
I had just spent the last hour and a half with this person, explaining what little I know about the entertainment business. They had proceeded to tell me that none of it applied to them.
You don't need to do any work, just show up at the recording studio.
Why worry about a contract, the producer is going to pay me, right?
Hey, I wrote this stuff, so nobody can use it but me. If they do, they have to pay me.
Why write anything down, I can remember it all in my head!
This is all being said while the WNGC is drinking shots of Uncle's whiskey and sipping beer to chase it. Then complaining to Uncle about the "...cheap rotgut that you drink, can't you buy better booze?"
After that I excused myself, took the doggie bag and headed out the back door.
WNGC got the copy of the contract the next day. I got the "Yeah, it doesn't matter." speech. Probably right, it's just words on paper. When this happened, I realized that this was more than a waste of time. There was work in the barn to be done, so I went there next.
Rerun everything I wrote above, just change the setting to the tractor shed where I repair the farm equipment. This happened everyday for the next three days. How many times can you tell someone the same thing? I tried the allegory method, the personal example, etc.
It's like hammering on a large piece of steel with a wooden stick. You exert your energy, but nothing changes. OK, the stick will flatten out and eventually splinter. Like my reserve.
I finally had to say those magic words.
"I don't know what to tell you."
When a person knows more than you do about a situation, just give it over to them. You might have all the experience in the world, but they are going to make their mistakes, no matter what you tell them. Save yourself the time and effort.
Wish them the best.
Then go on with your work.