Monday 9 February 2015

I'm doing good, thanks

Not long ago, my brother was recounting an anecdote about his son. My nephew had recently come home from school announcing that he'd "done good" in class. It became my brother's duty to sit him down and teach him a couple of important lessons. Firstly: the correct use of the adjective and the adverb. More importantly: doing well is not at all the same as doing good. The people who do well in this world are rarely if ever the same people who do good. That's quite a grown-up lesson.

For the last couple of years, I've shifted my creative energies away from improvisation towards solo semi-scripted comedy. In doing so, I've met with a degree of success. I've done a few decent shows; I've been given opportunities to perform in front of larger audiences, alongside some remarkable people; and I've been written about on prestigious blogs.

People sometimes tap me on the shoulder to congratulate me on how well I'm doing.

But "doing well" in a creative career is not the same as "doing well" at school. At school the rewards are fixed and specific: getting good grades, winning prizes and coming first. In a creative context, the grades, prizes and targets are the ones that you set for yourself. And these targets are constantly shifting and will never, ever, ever be entirely met. If I happen to do a good show, the goal is to do a better one. If someone happens to pay me to perform, I will afterwards wonder if I might get paid a bit more in future. And so on, forever. (For comedians, this process continues until they become Lee Evans, and then they stop.)

Achievements such as fame, money and creative success are not the rewards for hard work. They will only ever be receding mirages that seem to beckon me onwards through a featureless landscape. For me, the true measure of my work is the confidence and joy I get from doing what I want to be doing, to the best of my ability, moment by moment. The work is the reward.

If my goal is to "do well" in comedy, I will always be disappointed. Instead I have resolved to "do good".

This way of thinking has its roots in the philosophy of improvisation, which continues to inspire me, even though I'm no longer an improviser. Whatever my nephew chooses to do with himself in the future, I hope he does good.