Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Nashville, Now.

I only went to the Earth Day Protest because I was starving. I would normally never go to such a spectacle because I am no fool, not any more, any way. I've learned this year that if Christianity is indoctrination, so is Liberalism. This is what I have learned living in the south. I started listening to conservative talk radio ironically, but I was still listening.

It being a Saturday, and as I found out, the farmers market, the city was busy. Couples, families, children, and the majority of them, I observe, white people, frolick the quaint streets like a human dog park. I decide to go to the same breakfast place I went to the day before and, because I am a creature of routine, I order the same meal again too. I bet people think it's sad, me eating by myself, but they don't know that I'm a comedian and eating alone is part of the job. You have to be funny, but it's more important to be able to stay sane; to be able to face yourself in a hotel room for a weekend, that is the real craft.

In the restaurant, I notice a sign: This is a sanctuary restaurant, there is a seat for everyone at this table. I look around the room and, again, it is a sea of affluent looking white people. My first instinct is to mock the sign. Maybe it's because I'm a comedian or maybe it's because I'm too impressionable. For a second, I think, what do these people know-but what am I thinking, what is that thought? I remind myself that I am an immigrant, and sanctuary spaces are for people like me, anxiety ridden misanthropes, brunettes.

I leave the breakfast place, and I see that the farmers market is closing down, but I'm ok with this because I don't need anything. Maybe I should buy someone a gift? It will make me feel good to remind myself that I am, or can be, a nice person. But I don't buy anyone a gift. I just keep walking and working out a joke in my head about getting older.

I saunter toward the capitol building. The building is large and impressive and demands to be approached. I read that the city is built on an Indian burial ground and that the capitol building has burned down twice. I bet that most locals probably don't even know about the capitols sorry past, only the tourists who look into it. I wonder if places, like people, can have bad luck, and I decide yes, and add that, it's probably the places that engender people with bad luck in the first place. I take out my joke book and write this down. I'm feeling profound.

It's a beautiful day, a little windy, and I think, this place is just like Canada. Whenever Americans complain about Canada's weather, that's what I always say, I say Canada isn't so cold, it's just windy. But Canada is cold. It's cold and windy. Wind is cold. I like to defend Canada. Canada is easy to defend.

I can see with my own eyes that this is a good city, a safe city, and that it is doing cool things, like exercise and pet salons. I'm sure they have those in the south too, pet salons, but the name strikes me as ridiculous. I'm comparing the north and the south, liberals and conservatives, because even though I am a liberal, or was a liberal, I live in the south, and perform in the south, and walking through this progressive town is giving me culture shock.

I listen to the Earth Day speakers. The crowd is cheering and protesting, but everyone seems to be in total support of the cause. Who are they complaining to? They are talking to themselves. I do that sometimes. I talk to myself. I just need to say the things out loud, confirm my story, it usually happens when I'm at my healthiest or very angry.

I see a table with a man selling Socialism pamphlets. It says, Build the Left, Fight the Right, which sounds aggressive, and decidedly American, so I respect it. I ask the man how much the pamphlet costs, he says one dollar and smiles at me, and I think, this place reminds me of home. It's so nice here, but then I correct myself, but this isn't the real world, and then another thought, wow. it's weird that I think like that now.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Growing Pains: The Story of a Young Female Comedian

The comedy community means two things to me, comedy and boys. Over the years, I have entangled myself in both pursuits, with varying amounts of success on each account. I have suffered great pains and great joys as a comedian, or as the rest of the world calls me, a female comedian, but I am still alive tell the tale, and I regard my mistakes as battle scars and my victories as flukes.

A cool skater girl in college always told me how funny and talented I was, so, naturally, we became best friends. I liked hanging out with her because when we'd go out together she would pull me out of my shell, talk to anyone, and through proximity to her, people, or as I call them, idiots, thought I was fun too. I was interested in comedy, and she wanted to have a good time, so I asked her if she wanted to start a sketch troupe with me.  She said yes, and my first sketch comedy troupe was born; conceived in the womb of my insecurity and born into the world I was desperate to please.

I looked up sketch comedy troupes in the city and I stumbled upon a popular sketch comedy show that happened every weekend. I went by myself, watched their show, and it was packed and awesome and I was impressed. I sat quietly by myself in the corner, watching the show in awe and hoping the guy comedians would talk to me, but they didn't, and I didn't talk to them either. I don't think of myself this way anymore, but at the time, I was shy.

This is where my college best friend flirts her way into the story. Determined to befriend the guys in the sketch troupe, the next weekend, I took her to the sketch show with me, and my entire experience changed. She and I drank lots of beer, and after the show, without hesitation, she ran up to all the performers and introduced herself to them. She talked to all the cool people, like she was allowed to, and I followed her lead. We closed down the bar with the cool guy comedians, and it was the most exciting time I'd ever had in Toronto.

After that night, we were hooked. I dragged her to every show, and she enjoyed it, because it involved lots of beer, boys and often times, late night karaoke. We went to almost every show for 6 months, but slowly, our relationship with the guys in the sketch troupe began to change. At first, we were the cute, new girls, but soon, too soon, we became the drunk, annoying girls. Some of the guys, to be clear, were nice to us, but most of them were aloof and ignored us. I totally noticed the dynamic change, but we kept going to their shows, telling ourselves that, eventually, they will like us.

One night, or a couple, I slept with one of the guys in the sketch troupe. That marked the end of any hope I had of the guys in the sketch troupe respecting me as a person, let alone a comedian. It didn't matter that I was passionate about comedy, I slept with one of the guys, so I was a slut. I was officially, and this is hard for me to admit, a comedy groupie.

But we kept going to their shows even though I knew they didn't like us anymore, and I suspected that they made fun of us behind our backs. Who knows, maybe they never thought about us, but we thought about them, all the time. We wanted them to like us. I wanted them to think I was funny. But the harder I tried to win their friendship, the meaner they got.  Every week, they got a little crueler to us, but we kept going, kept getting wasted, kept trying and failing to impress them.

Finally, I accepted that they didn't like us and I stopped going to their shows. I tried to comfort myself  with the notion that maybe the cool guy comedians hated all young, female comics- that they just didn't like woman in comedy, that sexism was the root of the problem, not me personally. But my theory was blown wide open when, just after I stopped hanging out with them, two new, young, female comedians stormed the Toronto comedy scene, and became beloved by them and everyone else in the city.

I licked my wounds and watched the new female comedians steal my thunder, the thunder that I never had which is what made it hurt even more. The girls were just like my friend and I, best friend, female comedians, only they were way more popular and funny.  It turns out the sketch guys didn't hate young, funny girls, they just hated us. I didn't understand why these girls were welcomed into the scene, and not me. Of course, it had nothing to do with the fact that I was drunk for half a year, but in my defense, I was really good at Irish accents, so they were missing out.

I saw the new girls take everything I wanted, all the stage time and all the respect. They got on all the best shows, were considered professionals, meanwhile everyone just kept telling me that I had a lot of potential. I'd see pictures blow up on Facebook of the new girls at parties with the cool sketch guys, all of them getting along, seemingly patting each other on the back for how funny and cool they all were. I wasn't invited to the parties and no one was asking me to be on shows.

I smoked cigarettes on my back porch re-playing all the cold shoulders that had been thrown my way that year. I felt misunderstood and alone, but I wasn't. My best friend was there with me, going through the same rejection. We had no shows, no friends, but we had each other. It was the lowest point, socially, I've ever felt as a comedian, and eventually, I got over it, but I never forgot it. Since all this went down, ten years ago, whenever I've run into some of the sketch guys, they are still unfriendly. I guess they'll always see me as an annoying groupie, which is fine, because I'll always see them as assholes.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Nashville, Now

I do stand up a lot.

I do stand up more now than I ever have at any point in my ten years working in the entertainment industry. I moved to America on a visa that only permits me to work as an actress or stand up comedian. I can only work as an "entertainer" which basically means that I dream of being a waitress.

I live in Nashville because I fell in love with a southern man, who is also a comedian, and he sold me on the idea of moving down south and doing stand up together. I accepted, because every Canadian moves to LA or New York, and I like to be different. When I see pictures of Canadians in LA, all hanging out with each other on the beach, I'm like, oh gosh, I really dogged a bullet, but then I look out my window and see a confederate flag, and accept that there are lots of different ways to be an embarrassment.

I can only work as an actress or stand up, but there is very little acting work in Nashville, plus I'm not a good actress, so I am relegated to making a living in stand up, something I never had to do until I moved to America. There is one club in Nashville, which is very good to me, but in order to pay rent and buy weed, I go on the road. I am road comic, and believe me, it is as sexy as it sounds.

My life for over a year has been nothing but stand up.

I think about stand up all the time. Since I'm a girl and Canadian, I also think about how to sell myself to southern audiences, and it has been a series of trials and errors. Whenever someone tells me to "just have fun on stage", I wanna say fuck you, which is probably not the healthiest response. I will clarify, stand up can fun, but I didn't get into show business to have fun, I got into it to prove myself, to who or what, I'm not quite sure, and if anything has remained constant over ten years, it is that insecure driving force.

When I first moved to Nashville, I tried to maintain the routine I had in Canada. In Toronto, I would wake up around 10am, write for a few hours, go to the gym, read, and then go out and do shows at night. But when I moved to the States, I quickly learned, that that routine was impossible, as was any  routine, of any kind.

I wasn't able to write the way I wrote in Canada, which frustrated me, because also in my first few months in America, I discovered how little stand up material I actually had, and what jokes did work had no through line. I didn't have an act so much as 4-7 jokes I'd accumulated over five years. I had writers block and ten minutes to try to make a living off.  I could showcase well, but anything more than hosting and I was essentially screwed.

It wasn't until Zanies gave me a month of work hosting last July that I actually came up with new material. They gave me permission to experiment on stage, which was awesome. I learned that I don't need to write, especially over write, before trying something on stage. It taught me to just have an idea, the funny part, maybe a tag or two, but to just test the idea first, and play with it, and don't worry about nailing down the exact wording right away.

After a month at Zanies I had a couple of new bits and decided to not quit comedy yet. I wanted to retire all my old jokes, but I had nothing to replace them with, so I was still doing four year old jokes about getting gang-banged even though sometimes I was on the same show as my real life boyfriend.  I had a few new bits, but bits don't mean anything if there is no personality behind it. 

In the fall, I became preoccupied with what I looked like on stage. I was very self conscious of how I was coming across to the audience, and for a while, I was sure that if I looked super hot, this would help me. It was mostly insecurity. In my own estimate, I was doing really poorly on the road. I got polite laughter mostly every where I went, or I would bomb. So I thought, well I might as well look great if I'm gonna bomb. I started wearing heels on stage, full make-up, lipstick, hair done, nails. The full effect. I always hear "dress on stage how you would on a first date" but let me tell you, I've put more effort into what I look like doing stand up than I ever have for a man.

This approach lasted for a few months. Working weekends at clubs, Thursday through Sunday, two shows a night, is a long time to wear heels on stage. By the time Saturday night hit, my feet would be killing me, and I still wasn't doing any better on stage.  I became disillusioned again. I don't doll up in my real life, so I went back to jeans and t-shirt, and attempted a more Louis CK, schlubby approach. I never looked bad on stage, but I was over being glamorous, because all I really wanted to be was legitimately funny.

Then, I went on the road again.

One show, I left the mic in the mic stand, and just stood on stage, not moving very much. This made me feel really grounded, and I had a good set, just standing in one spot telling jokes, so I thought, ok, maybe this is my thing. I'm the "leave the mic in the mic stand comedian", and for a while, it really helped me focus on saying my jokes in a funny way. Instead of yelling my jokes and feeling like I had to be a circus-ring leader or weird hype woman, I could just say what I wrote, you know, just be funny. That was the idea, the execution of this theory was not so flawless. I worked with Wendy Liebman, who I love so much, and she's a petite woman and also very much her sweet self on stage, and what I love about her is that she never jumps around or is loud on stage. Her skill and jokes speak for themselves, and she draws the audience into her and crushes. So I thought, ok, that's what I'll do. I'll write really good jokes, be chill, cause I'm chill, right, and then my skill will be so good I won't need to be energetic at all.

I did this for several months.

I never took the mic out of the stand, and I was like, ok cool, this is what I do now, but then I worked a weekend performing for a mostly black audience and changed everything again.  I was like oh shit I need to move around, these audiences don't like "wry". So, I fundamentally changed who I was on stage for an urban club, which is a hack and terrible thing to do, but I'm out here trying to work and get hired again so I just need to make people laugh and I can't worry about appeasing some UCB rule book of what is cool.  UCB doesn't do comedy in the fucking Bible Belt. So I got hacky, and I got hacky fast. I took the mic out of the stand, and I moved my eyebrows around a bunch, and I strut around stage like I was on Comic View and I never said anything bad about the Clintons and I didn't die on stage which was all I was trying to do. I learned that it felt good to be goofy on stage, and that maybe trying to be cool and chill wasn't really me, so I was like, ok, I'm gonna move around on stage again.

Then I went to a festival and there was another comic there, a super hot black guy, and I thought he was amazing, but then I thought about him later, and thought, was he really funny or did he just look cool? He had great style, and a cool hair cut- he looked like the kind of guy that is way to cool for me and I respected that. So right now I'm on this tip where I need to look cool on stage. Not hot, cooooooool. I bought a pair of white converse shoes, I'm wearing black tank tops, and a lot of dark eye make up. It turns out that it is expensive to look cool, and try as I might, I still know that everything I'm wearing is from Target.

I was working at a club and a male comic discussed with the owner how he likes woman to dress like woman on stage. He said it so matter of factly, like woman should take advantage of being attractive, like it's that simple. Just throw on some blush and I've got an hour. Wow. Thanks.

I'd rather be a beast than look pretty on stage, and I would hope, club owners would rather me do a great job for their paying audience, than be mediocre and look like a day time talk show host.

But hey, if someone knows how a Canadian female road comic can crush audiences in the south, then please tell me. I need all the help I can get.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Self Esteem via Unrequited Love

The greatest loves of my life were not men I actually dated. 

This is probably offensive to anyone I've been in a relationship with and to the institution of monogamy as a whole. I'm not proud of the fact, nor is it healthy, that the men who have had the biggest impact on me, were those I've never kissed, and in some cases, never even had more than a five minute conversation with. The ones that got away because I never really had them, have, individually, had a huge influence on the trajectory of my life, and at the risk of blowing my cover, I'd like go into detail about one such gentlemen now.

Context is everything. Before I discuss this particular infatuation, first allow me to paint the picture of Hannah Hogan in the year 2008.

I had just graduated from acting school and was trying to get an agent, but no one was returning my land-line phone calls.  I've never had more stamina in my "career" than right after I graduated college, so I wasn't discouraged, rather, I felt invigorated by the industry's apathy towards me. I was Meryl Streep being told by Hollywood that her nose was too big, I thought rejection was necessary step in the life of any great talent, followed immediately by me becoming a national treasure and my home town renaming its streets after me. I also suspected that, if I were poor, I would work harder, so I refused financial assistance from my family- the bravest thing a white woman can do- and got a job at Timothy's, a Canadian coffee shop that wanted to sound like Tim Hortons but look like Starbucks. The day job paid my rent, and allowed me to afford my own head shots, acting classes and of course, Belmont Mild cigarettes. I was an actress now, so I had to stay on brand.

I made the mistake of signing up for classes at The Second City, and was immediately infected with the improv virus, a disease that took me years to shake from my system. At the time, however, I loved improv, and I thought I was on a path destined for SNL or the very least, This Hour Has Twenty Two Minutes. I wanted all the stage time I could get, which is hard, because unlike stand up, improv is a coordinated event, where a group of people, if not always an audience, must agree to show up and perform. Team work has never been my strong suit, hence, why I am now a stand up comedian, but I was too young then to recognize my flaws, and instead pushed ahead, foolishly thinking I worked well with others.

It was my great fortune that, after taking a Harold Class, I was invited to be on an improv team at The Bad Dog Theater. I was thrilled to be asked to be on a team, because it was the first time any one, other than myself, had recognized my talent. I always suspected that I was amazing, and believed I was an undiscovered living legend, but no one else had openly acknowledged my genius, so when I was cast on a team, I was reassured that my path to stardom was going according to plan.

There were a few hitches, though, namely, that I was a bad improviser. The problem with having a lot of passion is that that's all it is: a lot of energy, not enough skill.  I thought I had "great ideas", but my team mates informed me that I was just "bulldozing every scene." Apparently, improv is about listening and being grounded, two principles that confounded and disturbed. How can I listen if I'm busy being the funniest person on stage? None of it made sense. So, after a few terrible shows, and an audibly frustrated team and coach, my confidence began to wane. I got in my head, which is not a good place to be in when doing improv, sex, or karaoke. After all the classes, rehearsals and shows, I felt like I was getting worse at comedy, like I was un-talented, or at the very least, like every one around me sucked, and both these conclusions depressed me.

Like all my great loves, I fell for him right when I was ready to give up.

I showed up at The Bad Dog Theater and had already resigned myself to the fact that I was going to have another terrible show. I knew I was doomed to bomb on stage, or worse, be mediocre. Internally, I was in a foul mood, but on the surface, I was smiling and talking a lot, most people probably considered me cheerful, but inside, I had forsaken my hope of ever being funny, and it was with this suicidal attitude that I took to the stage to entertain.

I don't know what I said, I just went on stage and started talking, probably in an incomprehensible accent, very typical of my sensibilities at the time. I expected who ever joined me on stage would call me crazy, we'd die a slow death, and then someone would sweep the scene and relieve the room of our treachery.  That, however, is not what happened. HE came on stage, and began delivering all these brilliant straight man responses to my over-the-top, hack, character. He made me look good, and the audience was laughing at me, at him, and at us. Our scene was funny, and the audience loved every bit of it. The show proceeded, and every time I walked on stage, he joined me, and again, we crushed it- together. It was the first time that my identity as a genius actually manifested its self in real life and I was shocked when I didn't receive a standing ovation at the end of the show.

I fell in love with him because he made me look good, which is the only reason to fall in love with someone.  It should be noted that we were on an improv team for several weeks before this particular show, but it was not until he made me look funny that I in any way noticed him as a sexual being. I always knew he was handsome, but so are a lot of guys, and I need something more in a man, namely, their ability to prop up my self esteem.

Thus ensued my summer long infatuation with a guy on my improv team. Our team had weekly rehearsals, and it shocks me to admit now, but improv was the best part of my week because I got to see him. Of course, when he was around, I didn't talk to him, in fact, I mostly avoided him. I thought he was so cute, talented and amazing that I blushed at the site of him and I didn't want him to know I liked him because he had a girlfriend but mostly because, deep down, I thought he was out of my league. From what I gathered creeping his Facebook, he was very well educated, a real prodigy,   and had lots of friends who did fun things like drink and play pool. I, on the other hand, am not well educated, not unless you count a two year diploma for Acting For Film and TV, and while I had friends, they were not mainstream cool, namely, they were improvisers.  I felt honored to even know him, confused as to why he was even doing improv, but blessed because working with him made me want to be funnier, and wanting to impress him inspired me to work harder.

That summer, while in the throws of unrequited love, I started a sketch comedy troupe. It was all I could do to keep myself above ground. Our sketch troupe performed every Thursday, and we wrote and performed new sketches every week. I was riding the waves of love and the ensuing creativity that were the symptoms of said love. They say Aphrodite is the goddess of love and creativity, and if my twenties taught me anything, it is true that love or lust definitely arouse great amounts of art, or in my case, character monologues.

I began reading The Artists Way, which is a very artsy self help book that helped me to identify my insecurities, creative blocks and deepest desires. I felt good artistically but awful emotionally. To distract myself, and appear popular on Facebook, I started hanging out with other comedians, going to parties, making friends, writing, and of course, making vision boards. It was summer in Toronto! The flowers in the Annex were blooming, people were getting Vitamin D again, life was rich and painful and I was inspired by every love-sick moment of it.

Then, suddenly, tragedy struck. One day at rehearsal, he announced he was quitting the improv team because he was moving away, to another city. I was devastated. I was almost ready to make eye contact with him, and now he was leaving me, perhaps forever. I went through all the normal stages of grief, but landed on denial, and decided to hang out there for a while. How was I going to stay inspired if he was gone? How was I going to be funny with out him? I started drinking more, and really related to the pop song, Bleeding Love, by one hit wonder, Leona Lewis.

The last improv show we did together was a very big deal to me, and after wards, I analyzed every moment of the scene, looking for subconscious hidden meanings behind the "chicken scene", but came to no satisfying conclusions, no real evidence, that he had feelings for me. After the show, I walked up to him and said, it was nice improvising with you, you are so talented,  and he said, thanks, and then walked away, out of my life, forever. He was always, unlike this blog, a master of brevity.

The next week, after he abandoned me, through Bad Dog Theater, I had an audition for a TV show. They were doing an across Canada search for young comedians. I auditioned, it went well, and I got a call back. I auditioned a third time, and was cast as one of the leads of the new sketch TV show called, "That's So Weird". It was so stressful auditioning for the show, but when I felt untalented, or like I couldn't shake-off my self doubt, I thought of him. I thought that he thought that I was funny, and I kept going.  To this day it amazes me that I booked that show. Since then, I have bombed so many Tim Horton's commercials, but at that time, I channelled my twisted, perceived confidence HE had in me, and it made me feel invincible.

Eventually, because I got a real life boyfriend, I deleted him off Facebook and I got over it.  I am embarrassed that I let my infatuation go so long and deep, and now that I've had serious relationships, I know I didn't actually love him. You can't love someone you don't know, or at least that is the mature thing I feel like I should say at this point of the story. I'm thankful for him being in my life, for the brief few months that he was, because he did bring out the best in me, and that's what love is supposed to do.