This is an oldie but a goodie. I’my retiring my CreativeLife podcast and the connected blog posts so I thought I’d repost this one that pretty much started it all. Throughout the year of interviewing creatives I learned so much about the kind of hard work, passion and courage it takes to put your heart into the world. Thank you to all my guests. You helped me to transition into this uncertain but inspiring and exciting lifestyle built around writing and comedy.
Thank you: Sarah Negahdari, Emily C. Chang, Jennifer Jajeh, Ryan Andreas, May Lee-Yang, Ann “A’misa” Chiu, Quan Phung, Steve Nguyen, Jocelyn “Joz” Wang
This post appeared in May of 2011 and drew the best responses (comments from the original post copied below). I hope you enjoy it. And please reply and let me know what you think!
I work snark for the money.
Yeah. I said it. I “came out” to my parents that I’m serious about comedy. Let’s be real here: I have no real comparison to what it might feel like to have to “Come Out” to my parents in the traditional, sexuality sense. But I’d like to think that telling my parents that I’m taking “joking” rather seriously was like a close friend of a distant cousin to the real “Coming Out” experience. I started doing comedy a couple years ago. After a few months I realized I liked it and will pursue it while I kept my day job. So I figure, I should probably tell my parents, cuz that’s what a normal adult child would want to share with their parents when they make a large time commitment to a new hobby that brings them joy.
We were at our regular local hotspot, the Souplantation. That’s an all-you-can-eat salad, soup and baked goods bar where Torrance families like to go to have their unsupervised children smear their nose-picking fingers in the rainbow sprinkles bowl by the frozen yogurt machine. That place is so crowded and old I can’t imagine how they could have kept that place clean since I started going there twenty years ago. I’d wonder why I haven’t gotten sick from that place but I figure I’ve gone there so many times my bowels have developed a strong immunity to Souplantation’s microbes. They say they have specific hours but it feels like they are never closed. They have this never-ending buffet line of people who like to eat food from their trays with bare hands while they wait for my older Chinese parents to balance the sunflower seed spoon over to their own plate.
During the prolonged silence and everyday drivel that is usually the extent of my conversation with my parents over meals, I decided to tell them that I was starting to do comedy. This is exactly how it went, translated from Chinese.
Me: Mom, Dad. Did you know I took a class on how to tell jokes?” (I don’t know how to translate the term “standup comedy”) You know. Where you tell jokes in front of a group of people to entertain them.
Dad: Oh yeah?
Mom: (Silence – continued sipping of her chicken noodle soup)
Me: Yeah. It’s fun. I’ve been having a good time with it.
Dad: That’s nice. Performing sounds exciting.
Dad: (To my mom) Did you want some of my pizza? It’s good.
Me: What do you think? It’s kinda cool right?
Mom: Well I don’t know. How much did the class cost?
Me: Oh. Well it was 8 weeks and we met each week for a few hours. I donno. over $200?
Mom: (Does mental calculations and writes them with her fingers on her palm) Oh well that’s not bad.
Mom: (To my dad) Here. Take this. I can’t finish any more.
Dad: Well if it’s interesting to you that’s good.
Me: What do you think about that Mom? (I just couldn’t let it go)
Mom: I don’t know if I like it. Because telling jokes is always those dirty jokes. They always say bad things about their family members, too. And people tell them at night in those dirty bars. They’re dangerous. Is that where you’re going? You have to be careful in those places.
Me: (But mom you have never gone outside of the house. How would you know?) It’s not like that mom. It’s fine. Not dangerous at all. People are nice.
Mom: Yeah well you’re only doing it for fun, right?
Dad: You have to try this brocolli. It’s sweet.
Before we proceed, NOTE that my mom’s FIRST reaction was to ask how much the class cost and proceed to do precise calculations to see if I overpaid. Kudos to mom for staying in-character! I would expect nothing less.
Something that is typically considered frivolous like comedy and joke-telling was probably not what my parents had in mind for me we moved from Taiwan when I was five-years old. I probably built up the moment of telling them about doing stand-up a little bit in my mind because I didn’t know how negative their reaction would be. It wasn’t like I was announcing to them a whole new lifestyle – I was still keeping my day job (for the time being). What I did realize was that I could still feel like I was engaging with them and honoring my relationship with them by letting them know about this change in my life. I didn’t have to feel like my self-worth was pinned onto their support of my decision. It wasn’t like I said “Mom, Dad. I decided to become a private escort, turning tricks for money.” That, I’d imagine, may elicit more of an intervention. “Informing” them becomes more of a “courtesy” rather than a “request for approval.” Well, that’s kinda nice.
How about you? Did you ever have to have a “Coming Out” conversation about your creative pursuits with your family or loved ones? What was that like for you? What was their reaction? Or was it not a big deal at all? Holler.