I Left My Heart in San Francisco

When my husband first brought up the idea of moving to New York to pursue his dream of being a stand-up comedian, I wasn’t thrilled. He had quit his job in San Francisco almost a year earlier, and now he wanted to move us across the country to continue making no money, just in a different place. Great plan, sign me up!

In San Francisco, we had a beautiful condo, a lot of friends, my parents (who had followed me out there a few years earlier), terrific dog parks for our fur baby, hiking a hop, skip and jump away, and wine country a slightly further drunken stumble away. In New York, I still had a handful of friends from when I used to live there, but other than that…pretty much just concrete and an expensive rental market.

What I did not have in San Francisco was a job grounding me there. After being scarred by working at two crappy startups in a row, I had started doing my own marketing consulting from home. My current gig at the time the NYC talks got more serious was a long-term contract with Capital One, and the team I was working with was actually based in Virginia, so I didn’t have a great argument for needing to stay on the West Coast. Other than the condo, the family and the friends, of course, which were by no means insignificant.

At this point, people might be wondering a few things, such as… Why can’t your husband just pursue his comedy dream in San Francisco? Shouldn’t you wait to move across the country until he sees some tangible success, like paid gigs or a large following? Should you maybe just tell him to stop dreaming, get his head out of his ass, and find a real job that he can stomach for the next 30 years?

Those are all good questions and I’ll address them one by one.

Why can’t your husband just pursue his comedy dream in San Francisco?

The thing is, the comedy scene is just not that big in San Francisco. There are many fewer open mics and shows than in NYC – it’s not where the industry is. And what’s the point of going for your dream if you can’t really go for it? There are a handful of comedians who are able to make a name for themselves in smaller cities like San Francisco, but it’s a lot harder, and the chances are that much smaller (i.e., really really tiny as compared to really tiny). Don’t think I didn’t put up a fight, though. I had moved to San Francisco 7 years earlier from New York and never looked back. I loved the City by the Bay and truly had no desire to return to Manhattan – except, maybe, to get a taste of the seasons again – but that does come with winter, so then again, no thank you. But at the end of the day, New York City is just the place to be for comedy. If my husband had quit his well-paying consulting job to pursue this, it only made sense that he go all out. If he didn’t, he might flounder in some no man’s land of comedy and dreams for a much longer period of time, or he might have to become a “road comic” which would mean traveling to obscure towns and being away for weeks at a time. And if he never made it in comedy at the end of all that, he would always wonder what could have been if he’d taken the plunge.

Shouldn’t you wait to move across the country until you see some tangible success, like paid gigs or a large following?

This was another thing we talked about, and unfortunately it becomes a bit of a chicken and egg scenario. It means taking more time trying to “make it” in a not-so-great-for-comedy area, and/or spending time on the road trying to build up an audience. Moving to a comedy hub like NYC means the possibility of going to several open mics in a night, getting to know people who are really trying to make it in the industry and aren’t just doing it as a side hobby, and even starting your own open mic to meet more people and make connections. It can still be difficult to get paid gigs and a following anywhere, but at least in NYC, if you’re talented and you put in your time, you’ve got a better shot of expediting the process and seeing some success than you do in a place like San Francisco.

Should you maybe just tell him to stop dreaming, get his head out of his ass, and find a real job that he can stomach for the next 30 years?

Don’t think this hasn’t crossed my mind (or appeared as a thought bubble above my head in more than one imaginary conversation). I’ve heard more than one woman say, “I won’t let my husband quit his job.” But hold on…you won’t let your husband? You’re both grown adults. Is that like not letting your child leave the table until she finishes her broccoli? Even if many wives may keep a tight rein on their husbands, that is not how our relationship works – nor how I would want it to work. I don’t even want to have that type of relationship with my future kids. My husband and I are both equals in this relationship, and if one of us wants to pursue something after giving it a lot of serious thought, who is to “not let” the other one.

When I was very unhappy at a job, Michael encouraged me to quit and take a little time off to really figure out what I wanted to do, instead of trying to talk me into staying so we could continue making a comfortable double salary. Had I decided that I wanted to try to write a novel, I’m sure that he would have supported the idea. If I didn’t now support him in pursuing his alternative career idea, I would either be forcing him to choose between me and the possibility of getting his dream job, or I would be shutting down his opportunity to actually be happy in a career. I wouldn’t feel good about either scenario. And as nice as it would be if he loved consulting and wanting to climb up the partner track, that was not the case and I certainly didn’t want to be with someone who made a bunch of money but came home unhappy every day – or didn’t even come home at all, because he was traveling to somewhere like Waverly, Nebraska every week.

So we agreed to give NYC a shot.

The next question you might be wondering is… How long will he give himself to make it? That is another good question, and one I’m wondering as well, but one we’ll have to revisit at a future date. Unfortunately, there’s no career track for comedy that lets you know that if you’re not a Senior Manager within 2 years, you should probably start looking for something else – so it’s hard to put a definitive time limit on it. Michael keeps reminding me, “It takes people 10 years to make it as a comedian!” And I keep reminding him, “You don’t have 10 years to figure this out!” But then what is the right answer…2? 5? 3.5? This is where a leap of faith is required, along with trust that my husband is an intelligent, reasonable person who will not continue pursuing something if he is seeing no success. All I know is that it will be a minimum of two years, since we signed a 2-year lease. And probably more like a minimum of four (sorry, Mom & Dad).

So we rented our condo, packed up our belongings, said a teary goodbye to our friends and family, and made our way across the country – to New York City, the city that never sleeps. Which left plenty of time for comedy.

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