Babies and Dogs: They’re Not All That Different

My now-husband and I got our dog four years ago, when he was just a 12-week-old puppy. I posted a photo on Facebook of us holding our new fur baby with an ironic (and hilarious, if I do say so myself) birth announcement description. Following that were many photos of our new family member, doing various cute things, and at one point I even (half-)jokingly posted something on Facebook comparing how having a puppy must be like having a baby. One of my friends took that as an opportunity to let me know that I could not be more wrong. Her condescending reply to my post went something like this:

“Oh Emily, ha ha ha ha ha, how adorable. You think your puppy is like a baby! Well I had a baby 5 seconds ago, and let me assure you that it is NOTHING like having a real human child to care for. Not that I would really know because I don’t have a dog, but I am 100% confident in this statement. Should you ever be so fortunate to get married, like I did, and to bear children from your womb, which is hopefully fertile, then you will understand. In the meantime, have fun with your little joke. Toodles.”

Ok that wasn’t exactly it verbatim, but you get the gist. Now fast-forward 4 years. I, in fact, WAS fortunate enough to get married (Can you imagine life without a partner? Gah! The horror!), and it turns out that my womb IS fertile and has born me the gift of a human child. So now I am in a quite equal – nay, more qualified – position to say…

HA, TOLD YOU SO!! It turns out that having a puppy is very much like having a baby. It’s like a practice baby. And much more effective than carrying around a sack of flour for a week. In addition to introducing completely new responsibilities into your life, some of which you now have to coordinate with a partner (should you be so lucky as to have one), there are many other similarities. Let’s explore some of the things you have to do for both puppies and babies:

  • Provide food and basic care → check
  • Rush them to the doctor when they ingest something they shouldn’t → check
  • Clean up a lot of poop → check
  • Help aforementioned poop come out on occasion, which you previously thought would be really disgusting, but now just provides a great sense of relief → check
  • Train them to be more independent and well-adjusted using methods that require you to listen to gut-wrenching cries → check
  • Desensitize them to crazy noises like the vacuum and your singing → check
  • Help them learn how to share their toys and not become possessive or aggressive → check
  • Play with them a bunch to tire them out before bed → check
  • Teach them new skills, which require practice over and over and over again, until you think you may go crazy, when just in the nick of time they finally get it, and then you’re simply elated and think it was all worth it → check

I could go on.

Now OF COURSE having a human baby is more work, more time and more energy, and each phase/stage lasts a lot longer. But anyone who got a dog first and then had children will most likely agree that – just like having a human baby – getting a puppy for the first time completely changes your life, requires a whole new level of responsibility, and shows you what unconditional love is. We call them our “fur babies” for a reason.

So, to my friend or anyone else scoffing at a dog person’s assessment of love and responsibility, I say…Oh, how easy it must be – you ONLY have human children to care for.

And also, SUCK IT!

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I Am Baby, Hear Me Cry

I am Baby, hear me cry.
Well what do you expect,
Letting me lie
Alone in my bed,
Filled up with dread
That you might not come back.
I’m having a panic attack!
I’d much rather be
Safe in your arms,
Amused by your charm,
As you look in my eyes
And delight me with surprise.
A smile and a wink
Make me think
Here’s where I’ll stay,
All night and all day,
If it’s ok with you –
Or do you even have a say?
If you disagree,
I’ll issue a decree
That from this point on
I will wail
Without fail
Unless you pick me up
And hold me with care,
Stroking my hand
And caressing my hair.
Happy I’ll be,
Just you and me,
The best of friends
Till the very end.

I Love My Baby When She’s Sleeping

Don’t get me wrong. I love spending time with my baby. She’s nearly three months old and getting more interactive by the day. I love seeing her develop a new skill, like holding her head up during tummy time or batting at the toys in her activity gym. I love having a “conversation” with her, which consists mostly of us cooing back and forth. I love reading to her and being able to hold her attention for an entire book. And more than anything, I love when she flashes me her giant toothless grin when I do something to make her laugh.

Buuuut, it’s also pretty great when she’s sleeping. First of all, I feel a huge sense of accomplishment when I’m able to get her down for a nap. If I can catch the nap window early and get her down on the first try, I literally feel like a superhero. Then I practically get giddy thinking about all the things I can do while she’s sleeping. Shower…eat breakfast…put on real clothes…tidy up around the house…unload the dishwasher…pay the bills…write thank-you notes…order dog food…GO TO THE BATHROOM. All these mundane tasks that I would normally take for granted or roll my eyes at suddenly become the highlight of my day.

And if she sleeps more than 1 hour at a time? Oh my gosh, WHAT ELSE COULD I DO?! I become manic just thinking about the possibilities. So much so that I normally squander away the extra time running in circles, starting five different things but finishing none of them. (This blog, for example – I’ve sat down to write it at least three times in the past month and keep increasing the age of my daughter with each new attempt.)

Having a baby can be exhausting, and especially at this age when there’s only so much to do with them while they’re awake, it can sometimes feel like a hamster wheel of activity gym, tummy time, book, song, repeat. So fellow moms, relish in the naps and don’t feel guilty about enjoying each additional minute that your baby is sleeping! Just make sure you prioritize the shower, because we all deserve clean hair at least one out of every three days.

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.

Gettin’ Schticky Wit It

Michael said that this title was “too clever.” Which I think was his way of saying “too hokey.” But I don’t care – I’m doing it anyway! (Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It, get it?!? Na na na na nana.)

Annnnyway, where was I. Right, schticky. This has become something of a joke between me and my husband, because I can always tell the moment he turns from having a normal conversation into trying out one of his new bits. His voice and demeanor change, and he goes into “performance mode” – complete with pauses for laughter.

He’ll usually do this if someone has already started laughing at some casual jokes (a captive audience!), which is great for providing him with affirmation that he’s a funny guy and belongs on a stage making people laugh. Comedians often seem to have underlying insecurities and constantly need this reassurance – especially if they’re in a rut and aren’t getting the kinds of laughs at open mics that they think they should be capable of. At least this applies to my husband. Whenever Michael is feeling down about his comedy, he gets a boost from situations like these – like a hit of a drug. (A drug called laughter!) Recently, we ran into some people I knew on our way home after dinner, and Michael made them laugh for about ten minutes straight – just one joke after another. After we said goodbye, he was like, “I loved them! We should all meet up sometime. Should we go have a drink with them right now? Should we go live with them?”

Sometimes he’ll also do it if he’s bored at some party I’ve dragged him to and he’s trying to amuse himself, which can get dicey (mostly for me). He will go to GREAT lengths to amuse himself, and doesn’t care if others don’t find him funny – or, worse, find him incredibly strange. The reactions vary widely in this situation. Occasionally, there’s big laughter (good potential bit); sometimes a couple chuckles (this one may need some work); and other times people look at him like he’s nuts or nervously shuffle away (probably not a bit that should ever be surfaced again). But does that stop him? No. He just considers it a challenge to rework for the next social situation in which he’s bored. One time, we were at a dinner party, and I heard him say, “I think domestic violence is hilarious!” My head spun around in horror to see two people staring at him with mouths agape. “Wait, hear me out…” His point was that he can’t imagine a world in which the person you love makes you so mad that you actually hit them. I might have used the word “unbelievable” instead of “hilarious,” but comedians don’t always play it straight – they go for the punch. And for Michael, it may not even matter if that punch isn’t accompanied by laughter, because sometimes he just likes to get a reaction out of people. I think it’s the theater minor inside him, going for dramatic effect. He wants laughs at the end of the day, of course, but some of his “comedy” is just for him.

Occasionally, there’s a third scenario: he starts getting schticky with me at home, which can turn dirty fast. Get your minds out of the gutter – what I mean is that if I don’t laugh at a joke, he can get offended. Or if I find it amusing but just say, “Oh yeah, that’s funny” instead of actually laughing, he can get offended. And if I like a joke, but offer up suggestions that I think will make it better, he can get offended. So I’m pretty much screwed unless my reaction is simply big, genuine laughter. Ho ho ho, that’s HILARIOUS, Husband! Tell me some more!

People always ask me if my husband is funny and if it’s so much fun to live with a comedian. Um, I hope so – otherwise, what the hell am I doing with my life?! He is, of course, very funny and he makes me laugh REALLY hard at times. But to me, he’s funniest when he’s just being his goofy self and not trying too hard. Being the “potential audience member” at home isn’t always that much fun and can actually be a lot of pressure at times. But watching him dance in front of a mirror and make crazy faces and sing impromptu jingles in silly voices? A nonstop riot.

Improv vs. Stand-up, in a Nutshell

When I first told my friends in San Francisco that we may need to move out of the Bay Area at some point so Michael could pursue comedy for real, several of them asked me if we were considering Chicago because Second City was there. I replied probably not because Second City is improv, not stand-up, and they just looked at me with blank faces.

At the time, I was surprised that anyone would mix the two up, since they’re so different. But by now, after hearing this a number of times, I’ve realized that it is not in fact common knowledge, and that a lot of people have no idea that improv and stand-up aren’t interchangeable. They think it’s all just funny people on a stage saying funny things.

I’m obviously a lot closer to the whole world of comedy than most people, but my introduction to improv came much earlier than when I met my comedian husband. I remember way back in high school (way back), a group of classmates who were involved in theater decided to form an improv group. I went to their first show and it was HILARIOUS. I was literally gasping for air. I also remember being super impressed, because improv seemed really hard – while you can practice how to do improv, you can’t prepare for exactly what you’ll do on stage, because that’s the whole point of improv: you’re making it up on the spot.

Wow. That blew my mind. I wasn’t even comfortable getting up on a stage to say lines I’d memorized ahead of time, much less getting up there not having any idea what I’d say or what direction the show would take. My husband is constantly encouraging me to try improv, because he thinks I’m very funny (I mean, duh), and at home we often get into back-and-forths that are very improv-like. But if I were to try to do that on a stage, I’m pretty sure – nay, 100% positive – that my mind would go completely blank and I’d be in a black-out state for the entire show. And not the kind of black-out where you’re still doing and saying ingenious things, but it’s such a blur because you’ve transcended into some kind of quick-thinking, on-all-the-time performing machine (think Will Ferrell’s debate scene in Old School). I’m talking about the kind of black-out in which you can’t think of anything at all to say, but can still feel your heart racing and your face getting hot, and then you block the whole thing out of your memory immediately afterward because it was too horrific to revisit. So, yeah, I’ll pass on improv and just continue to enjoy it from the other side of the stage.

I had another early exposure to improv, even earlier than high school – it was the show Whose Line Is It Anyway?, which my parents and I first caught in the UK long before the U.S. version came out. We were spending Christmas in London, flipping through the channels one night, and we were instantly hooked. The original British version was terrific and a bit racier than the American version, since they don’t have as strict censor requirements as we do. I’m sure it was entirely inappropriate stuff for a 10-year-old to be watching, but my parents were cool. This is one of the perks of being an only child – your parents think of you more as one of them instead of “the kids,” so you get away with more adult things. Like the time I was 12 and my dad was supposed to be taking me to see City Slickers, but asked if I’d like to see The Terminator 2 instead. Just two adults enjoying an extremely violent movie with a lot of swearing. It also explains why he tried to push Monty Python and the Holy Grail on me when I was in 4th grade, at which age I didn’t quite get the humor yet and just thought the “bring out your dead” scene was totally gross.

So if you’ve gotten this far in my blog and are still wondering what the hell improv is and how it’s different from stand-up, here are the two main differences:

  1. In stand-up, there’s one person on a stage with a microphone. In improv, there’s a team of people performing together.
  2. In stand-up, the material is written and rehearsed ahead of time. In improv, there might be a general structure to the show, but all of the material is made up on the spot.

I really can’t decide which is more terrifying. In stand-up, if a joke fails, it’s just you up there on stage, floundering, with a bunch of faces staring back at you. I really don’t know how comedians get back up there time after time when they’re first starting out. I don’t think I’d be able to handle my first non-laugh – I would either walk off the stage immediately or start crying, and that would be the end of my stand-up career. 15 seconds after it started. In improv, if a scene doesn’t go well, at least there’s a team to share the embarrassment or to laugh with afterward. But that also means that it’s not just up to you to be funny – you have to rely on other people to carry along a scene. You could say something hilarious and have an idea in your head of where the scene should go, and then another person could kill it and take it down an entirely different path that isn’t nearly as good as the one you had envisioned. I think that would be extremely frustrating for an improvisor, and I’ve seen it happen many a time.

You can probably tell that when I think about trying stand-up and improv, all I see is the potential for failure and fear of embarrassment. Which explains why I don’t feel any need to try these activities for myself. Of course, there’s a clear upside to both and it’s very rewarding when things go well. In stand-up, if people laugh at your jokes and like your set, it was all because of you and you get all of the recognition. In improv, if you’re the one stuck on stage, another person could step in and save the scene, bringing it in a direction that you didn’t even see, and even draw a better performance out of you. I suppose it’s kind of like doing an individual sport vs. a team sport, which I can relate to better. I was always more of a team sport person myself – I didn’t like the pressure of individual events like a track race or diving meet. I preferred to be a part of a team, and to share successes or failures. Also, the way I see it, in a team sport, there are two ways you can win: the best, of course, is if your team wins the game; but it’s still a pretty good feeling if you had a great game even if your team ends up losing.

Huh, that wasn’t a bad analogy – I’ll have to use that one the next time someone asks me the difference between stand-up and improv. In the meantime, I’ll still stick to sports and let my husband do the comedy among us.

…and You’ll Get a Stupid Answer.

When people find out that my husband Michael does stand-up comedy, they always ask him who his favorite comedians are. That seems like a pretty simple, straightforward and reasonable question. Right?

Wrong. He hates this question and always gives a stupid answer. I’m not even sure why exactly. Maybe it’s because he doesn’t want to associate himself with any well-known comedians while he’s trying to come up with his own original style. Or maybe it’s because he feels pressure to give a unique answer and not name the biggest names in comedy. Or maybe it’s because he likes a lot of different comedians for different reasons, and has a hard time choosing just a few overall “favorites.” Or maybe he’s just being difficult.

Whatever the reason, it’s always painful to hear his unsatisfying response when people ask this question. It’s always something like “Hmm, that’s such a hard question” or “That’s tough to say, there are so many good ones” or “Oh, gee…”

You’d think he’d learn to give a better answer, after seeing people’s faces fall and experiencing the awkward silence that follows a conversation coming to an abrupt stop. I mean, this has happened a number of times. But no, I finally had to spell it out for him.

Me: “Michael, you know those people who dead-end a conversation? The ones who make you work for an answer and do nothing on their part to contribute to a normal back-and-forth?”

Him: “Yeah, I hate those people!”

Me: “Well you sound like those people.”

Him: “Nuh-uh.”

Me: “Yuh-huh. It’s like if I asked someone where they’re from, and they said, ‘I’m from a bunch of different places.’ That was a simple question and they gave a shit answer. Just pick one of the places then. Or name a few. The place you were born or spent the most years or went to high school. I don’t even care that much. Just give me a real answer!”

Him: “Ohhh…”

Me: “So you get it? ‘Who are your favorite comedians’ is a perfectly good question, and you need to come up with a better response! Just pick a few. Your top three. Someone you just saw. Anyone you like. It doesn’t have to be your best, most insightful answer ever. This won’t be written in stone anywhere. People just want a name!”

Him: “You’re right, you’re totally right. I sound like an ass.”

Yes. So now he half-heartedly names a couple comedians he likes. It’s still usually not a great answer, but it’s better than nothing. If I had to answer the question for him, which I sometimes do if he gets stuck groping around for the best possible names from the long list of all present and past comedians, here’s what I’d say:

1. Louis CK. He’s always the first comedian that pops into MY head when I hear someone ask the question. Michael fucking loves Louis CK. Michael, you fucking love Louis CK, remember? This should be an easy answer! You’ve watched all of his comedy specials, you’ve bought tickets to see his shows whenever he’s in town, you own his TV series Louie, you quote him on a regular basis, you squealed like a schoolgirl when he made a surprise appearance at the Comedy Cellar one time. Louis CK is a terrific comedian – witty and clever, doesn’t care what anything thinks, with a self-deprecating style that makes him feel like a regular everyday guy (if you forget momentarily that he has a net worth of $25 million).

2. Maria Bamford. She is a bit of an acquired taste. The first time I heard her comedy was on a Spotify playlist on a road trip, and I was like, Who is this crazy person and who let her out?! Watching her perform makes more sense than listening to the audio only, and the more I’ve seen of her comedy, the more I get it and like it. Michael is a huge fan. Michael, you’re a huge fan, remember? You practically lost your mind when you saw her live in San Francisco last year – you laughed so loud and insanely that people actually turned around to see who this human hyena was in Seat F-3. Maria’s comedy is unique, brilliant, and on the extreme end of quirky, which probably explains why Michael likes her so much.

3. It’s hard for me to choose just one third, because there really are a lot of great comedians that he likes. So I usually just start spouting off names at this point: Dave Attell and Dave Chappelle (don’t mix those two up), Patton Oswalt, Chris Rock, Eddie Izzard, David Cross… Or I throw in some of my own favorites: Amy Schumer, John Mulaney, Jim Gaffigan, Mike Birbiglia, Tig Notaro.

The answer itself doesn’t even really matter that much – no one is going to remember what he says anyway, or hold him accountable to that list later (you didn’t say Sarah Silverman five years ago – you can’t add her now!). It’s just a conversation starter, and a natural question to ask someone in a particular field – like one might ask writers who their favorite authors are, actors which legends they admire, or painters which predecessors influenced their style. I also think that because stand-up comedy is more of a niche entertainment area, people partly just want to see if they’re familiar with the comedians he mentions. Everyone knows the Hollywood actors and pop musicians of our day, but it’s still somewhat unusual to find people outside the biz who know more than a couple comedians. People sometimes like to throw in a couple others they know and like (Aziz Ansari), and as long as it’s not Jeff Dunham or Dane Cook, we’re ok.

So Michael, what have we learned? (1) This is a perfectly good question, and you should act neither annoyed nor surprised when you get it. (2) You’re going to get asked it again, so you should start preparing your answer now. (3) The answer needs to be a real one; don’t be the “I’m from a bunch of places” person. When in doubt, just say Louis CK.

A Make-or-Break Date

The first time I saw my now-husband Michael perform comedy was very early on in our relationship – about six dates in. He had only been doing stand-up for a few months by that point and invited me to see him do an open mic at The Purple Onion in San Francisco.

The Purple Onion used to be a somewhat famous club in the 1950s and 1960s, seeing the likes of comedy legends Bob Newhart, Richard Pryor, Phyllis Diller, and Woody Allen. More recently (and during our lifetime): the hilarious Patton Oswalt, Zach Galifianakis pre-Hangover fame, Judah Friedlander from 30 Rock, Greg Proops of Whose Line Is It Anyway, and the beloved Robin Williams. Over the past decade, The Purple Onion had lost steam and popularity, not drawing the big names or crowds of its older days. But it was still a cool venue in North Beach with an intimate and loungey feel, and you could imagine how great it must have been in its heyday.

I was excited to see Michael get up there on stage! That is, until I mentioned it to a coworker, who told me that a friend of hers had watched a guy she was dating do stand-up, and he was so bad that she found herself no longer attracted to him. Umm, I hadn’t even thought of that. Uh oh, now I was nervous. And even worse, I had invited a couple girl friends to join me, so if Michael bombed, it was not only going to be uncomfortable for me but for them too. Well, it was his idea to invite me, so hopefully that meant he wasn’t too bad…if he even had that much self-awareness…oh my god, what had I gotten myself into?!?

Since this was only a few dates in, it was before we had had the exclusivity talk, before we had called ourselves boyfriend/girlfriend, before anything was really solidified. We really liked each other, but it was still at that stage where something insignificant could make you lose all interest in the other person. Like if you learned that he only brushed his teeth once per day, owned capri pants, or rocked out to girly songs by pop artists like Kelly Clarkson and Avril Lavigne. (All things I later did learn, after we were already in love and living together – i.e., too late to use as a reasonable excuse for breaking up, unless you’re a character on Seinfeld.)

We showed up at 7pm and I paid the admission for my friends, so they weren’t out any money in case this was a terrible experience that they had to suffer through with me. Each comedian got 5 minutes, which might sound like a short amount of time, but proved to be WAY TOO LONG for some. Holy crap, did they let just anyone up there on stage?? (It turned out that yes, that was exactly what an open mic meant – anyone who showed up and put their name on the list was allowed to perform.) Add all of those 5 minutes up, and it can make for a painful night.

With every bad joke and awkward silence during which the audience did not laugh, I grew more and more nervous for Michael. One guy told a string of dick jokes that elicited nothing more than groans from the audience. Another only made eye contact with the women he found attractive, staring for way too long at one of my friends (he himself being old, overweight, and more than a little creepy). Then there was the guy who basically ranted about his day for 5 minutes and berated the audience for not laughing at what was apparently supposed to be a joke in the middle (honestly, it was hard to tell).

Michael was the last one to go up. As he ran onto the stage, he looked at me and smiled, probably expecting a warm and encouraging smile back. But instead I froze, sitting there like a deer in the headlights, bracing myself for what could be a total failure. He quickly looked away and started his set.

He kicked off by noting that he had a lot of friends in the audience that night who made up most of the crowd, saying, “Sorry, guys, we could have just done this in my living room.” (Hey, that was funny!) Several of his written jokes made me laugh out loud – like how his liberal arts background was such a departure from his business-loving colleagues that he might as well have gotten a bachelor’s degree in the Renaissance Faire (complete with an act-out of reading memos from scrolls and prancing around his office in tights). His closing joke even had me in hysterics at one point, as he conjured up an image of some douchey guy in a Las Vegas bar trying to hit on a girl with a glitter penis stuck to his forehead.

My friends and I agreed that he was by far the funniest comic that night (admittedly a low bar), and we were impressed at how well-written his jokes were and how comfortable he was on stage after only doing this for a few months. So it was a success! It takes an unbelievable amount of courage to get up in front of an audience and put yourself out there like that, and I liked him even more after seeing him perform. Of course, if he had been terrible, my admiration probably would have been overshadowed by my embarrassment; but I’m glad it didn’t come to that, and I was looking forward to date #7 – even though I had already seen more than one Avril Lavigne song in his phone.

Don’t Quit Your Day Job

Michael (my then-boyfriend, soon-to-be-fiancé, later-to-be-husband) held up his phone and triumphantly showed me his new countdown clock:

QUIT MY DAY JOB
256 days, 8 hours, 57 minutes

Even though I had gushed to him at our two-year date-i-versary the week before that I was supportive of his leaving his well-paid job as a management consultant to follow his dream of being a stand-up comedian, I have to admit that I wasn’t totally on board with the idea of losing half our security for the future. Most people don’t quit their day jobs until they’ve seen some tangible success in their side business; and while Michael was a funny and talented guy, he was still very much an amateur comedian. He hadn’t built up a followership, he wasn’t booking paid gigs, and he wasn’t even headlining often in unpaid gigs.

But it was admittedly a chicken and egg situation. He couldn’t keep up this 50-hour-per-week corporate job and devote enough time or mental energy to stand-up to even see if he could be successful. If he felt that this was something he had to try or would regret it for the rest of his life, then he needed to go for it 100%. He was 32, ten years older than most people starting out in this type of career, and there wasn’t time to keep slowly working at it on the side. It was all or nothing, and nothing was not an option for him. I got it, even if I didn’t completely like it. So I smiled (grimaced), gave a thumbs-up to the countdown clock, and thought, well at least he had the good sense not to resign until he got his annual bonus.

This eight-month transition period also gave me plenty of time to break the news to my parents that their only daughter was planning to commit her life to a man who was going to quit his respectable job and try to make it in an occupation with a near-0% success rate. My parents were two sensible and responsible people who thought that one should find a good profession and stick with it for the next 40 years until it was time to retire. And that if you did need to leave a job for any reason, you should never ever do so without already having a new one lined up. So how about leaving a job with no new one lined up, only a pipe dream with a fuzzy career path, no near-term income and no guarantee of success? This was going to be a tough sell, if I wanted them to continue liking Michael and welcome him into our family when he finally did propose.

I tried to help them understand that people in my generation do quit jobs to pursue dreams, and do not stay in professions that make them unhappy. (My dad’s response: an article titled “Why ‘Follow Your Passion’ Is Bad Advice”.) I also assured them that Michael was a smart and sensible person too, and that he wouldn’t keep trying year after year to make it as a comedian if he wasn’t getting anywhere with it. (Right?? At least that was my understanding…) But even if this just led to a more creative career path than management consulting, that was worth a shot, instead of feeling unfulfilled for the rest of his life, stuck on the hamster wheel that is Corporate America.

I myself had gone down the path of marketing, and it was a good profession, but it wasn’t what I was passionate about and I couldn’t imagine doing it for several more decades either. I also would have loved to pursue a dream job – something that I truly enjoyed and couldn’t wait to get up in the morning to do (what a concept!) – but I hadn’t yet gotten up the courage. So, good for Michael! Maybe he’d even inspire me to give it a shot. But not right now – he had called dibs on dreams, and I was too practical and too risk-averse for both of us to quit our jobs and make no money for an indefinite period of time. No, that definitely could not happen. There had to be a plan if this was going to work. And it was for me to support both of us with my marketing job, while Michael threw himself 100% into trying to make the transition from open mic hobbyist to professional stand-up comedian.

That plan would have worked just fine, if not for one tiny little thing…

I got laid off. Four months (112 days, 2 hours, 34 minutes on the countdown clock) before Michael was planning to leave his job. Oh nooo. This was not happening. It was the first time I’d ever lost a job, and the timing couldn’t have been worse. Suddenly the promise of a steady paycheck had disappeared, and the future didn’t seem so certain.

Normally I would have just rushed right out to find a new job, but my recent career choices had felt like giant mistakes in hindsight – namely, leaving a great job at a large tech company to join the San Francisco startup scene, which did not end up being my cup of tea – and I wasn’t feeling as confident about my place in the working world as I had a few months earlier.

So what to do now… Should I just return to a large tech company? Most of them were in Silicon Valley, and I couldn’t face the long commute again after having done it for four years. Or should I take this as an opportunity to try an entirely different career? People always talk about how getting laid off gave them the freedom almost permission to try something different, which they never would have done if that had meant voluntarily leaving a good job. The thought was enticing, but I didn’t have too long to figure it out, as Michael’s “Quit My Day Job” countdown clock drew down.

85 days, 4 hours, 27 minutes, and counting… Crap.

Will You Marry…a Comedian?

I was out with my boyfriend for our two-year dating anniversary (“date-i-versary”, as we liked to call it – adorable, right?). We were eating great food, we were drinking great wine, and we were having a great conversation about how lucky we were to have found each other. All of a sudden, he started looking at me with a very connected, deep look in his eyes. Wait a minute…was he going to propose? I had been waiting and hoping for a proposal for six months by this point, trying to be patient as his man brain caught up to the fact that he obviously wanted to spend the rest of his life with me.

He took my hands. Oh my god. He said, “Emily, there’s something big I want to talk with you about.” Holy shit, here it comes. “I’ve realized that I want to spend the rest of my life with you.” Today is the day! The happiest day of my 30something life! “But before I propose…” Huh? “…there’s something you should know…” Seriously? I thought we’d covered all the you-should-knows already. “I’ve come to the point where I’ve realized that the corporate life just isn’t for me, and I’ll never be completely happy if I keep this up. I need to quit my job and pursue my dream of becoming a stand-up comedian.”

He then went on to say that I should think very seriously about this, because our lives would change. We wouldn’t be able to enjoy the same lifestyle as when we both were making corporate salaries and working regular hours. We may have to move to New York or L.A. He might have to be on the road a lot, seeking out comedy opportunities in obscure places where he could get booked and honing his art. And it may delay our timeline for starting a family.

Oh. Okay. So this was not the romantic proposal that I had thought it was going to be. It was like a pre-proposal to make sure I’d want to commit my life to a poor comedian, and to give me an out if I didn’t.

While I was admittedly disappointed to realize that this wouldn’t actually be the happiest day of my 30something life, I wasn’t entirely surprised by his big announcement. He had been doing comedy as a hobby for three years by that point and had gotten more serious about it lately, going to open mics several nights a week and waking up early to write new jokes before work. He was fitting comedy in around his day job as a management consultant, which is no easy feat; and this was a guy who had majored in English and theater in college, so consulting was not exactly his dream job. I certainly wasn’t opposed to the salary he was making, but if I wanted him to keep up that lifestyle forever, then I was probably fighting down the sneaking suspicion that he would eventually descend into a deep dark depression if he continued up the ladder and down the partner track.

At his team’s holiday dinner a few months before, all of the wives had sat around talking about how they’d go to bed alone every night, then awaken at 2am to find their husbands bathed in the glow of their Blackberries, and how they’d had to make a rule about no laptops in bed. Being a management consultant, while lucrative, was a pretty miserable life full of late nights at the office and weekly trips to places like Teaneck, New Jersey and Overland Park, Kansas. Frankly, I didn’t know how anyone kept that up for more than a couple months. This wasn’t necessarily the life I wanted for my future husband – or myself, for that matter. Even if it came with a nice salary for vacations in Italy and Hawaii, were you ever able to relax enough to enjoy them?

At the time he told me, I was caught up in the date-i-versary moment (and the wine), high on the knowledge that he wanted to marry me, so I simply gushed about how I had a feeling this was coming, I was totally supportive, and I obviously still wanted to be with him. I just wanted him to be happy! I knew that consulting wasn’t for him, and I didn’t want to be one of those wives complaining about how she never saw her husband. I would rather be with someone who was happily (if pennilessly) pursuing his dream than someone who was wealthily but unhappily slogging along in life, just waiting until the day he could finally retire. And what courage it takes to pursue a dream – how admirable! Not to worry, we’ll make all of this work. I wasn’t sure how it would all play out exactly, but I had a fairly well-paying job, and we both had some savings stashed away. We weren’t desperate.

When I woke up the next day, the wine and the pre-proposal high had worn off, and I was left with the fact that my boyfriend, soon-to-be-fiancé, was going to quit his job and try to make it as a stand-up comedian. And that he needed to tell me this and make sure I was on board before he proposed. He hadn’t just accepted my profession of love and assurance that I just wanted to be with him; he really insisted that I give this some thought before committing to anything. Which got me thinking. What did that mean exactly? It was either incredibly thoughtful or a heartbreaking ultimatum, and I wasn’t sure which. What if I decided that I wasn’t supportive of his dream and didn’t want to live this kind of lifestyle – would he have broken up with me to pursue comedy? He had said this was something that he had to do. Were the only options Me + Comedy or just Comedy?

I tried not to play out that ultimatum in my head. I loved him and wanted to spend the rest of my life with him, no matter what career path he chose or how much money he was making. He was a smart, funny, thoughtful, caring, loving, genuine, attractive guy, and those don’t come around every day – or every 10 years – trust me, I kissed a lot of frogs before him (and dated even worse). Besides, you never know how life is going to go. You could marry a well-paid consultant who later loses his job involuntarily, or a hedge fund manager who decides he’d feel more fulfilled being a high school math teacher. I was not going to choose a future life to marry, but a person that I would want by my side throughout whatever the future held. So for the time being, I decided to focus on the fact that my boyfriend loved me too and wanted to spend the rest of his life with me.

Me + Comedy.