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November Blog 2019

My November Blog. (That’s my new hat.)

Hello, reader. Things really are falling into place, which I imagine continues to happen throughout one’s lifetime. But for me in particular, things seem to be sifting down to the essentials.

I have so much acting work, and I’m loving it. Roles on several TV series, involvement in experimental TV projects — this is unexpected and most welcome. But it’s cast a different shade of light on making decisions about, specifically, the stage performing part of my life. Many times I ask myself, why am I doing it? I don’t seem to need to. I make almost no money at it. It takes an enormous amount of effort.

Well, here are some reasons. I love my show, Older & Wider. I love doing it. I love making people laugh and I love being on stage telling my stories. I love meeting the people I meet because of doing this. I love all of it. I’m proud of Older & Wider and I want to show it off. I like the sense of command I feel on the stage. The laughs are like heroin. I want my show to be filmed, to be out there, to be available along with all the other wonderful (and not so wonderful) standup comedy shows. But it’s not easy to keep performing it.

This month, that meant doing things like performing at Joe’s Pub in New York, then taking a car to JFK for an 11 p.m. flight to Buffalo, arriving there at 1 a.m. to be met by a car that drove me three hours into the woods of Canada where I had to shoot a scene. A scene with a lot of lines and a lot of action. A scene that took all day to shoot. I did it. I prepared for it, got my lines down a day before, rehearsed them incessantly on the way. I made it through. But oh boy, afterwards it seemed like I needed several days to recover.

I went to my comedy booking agent in New York and ticked off all the cities I wanted to take Older & Wider: Vancouver, Toronto, Pittsburgh, Minneapolis, Columbus, San Francisco, Berkeley! She sat looking at me with a calm smile. At one point, I sighed. She sat up and asked, “What was that?” I said, “Oh, I’m just tired from the last week of stage shows and filming American Gods in Toronto.” And she said, “No. It seemed bigger than that, like some very, very deep kind of sigh. Are you sure you want me to book you into all these cities?” I said, “Yes! I love all those cities, I want to go to each one so badly and do my show. I love discovering different stages, hanging out in different backstage green rooms and getting to know other performers! Do it.”

Two days later I called her and said, “You were onto something. I am so, so, so, so tired. I’m just so tired. I’m so tired I can’t say anything but ‘I’m so tired.’ Why can’t I just give it a rest?”

The truth was, on top of several stage shows this fall, I was workshopping — still am workshopping — a new one called I, as Well. It’s a serious endeavor, taking up a lot of head space as well as time. I’m doing shows Saturdays and Sundays, in Los Angeles and Santa Monica respectively, each weekend through the end of the year. And editing and revamping and writing during the week.

I used to have this adage that ‘You shouldn’t make decisions when you’re tired.’ But maybe that’s wrong. Maybe when you’re tired is exactly when you should be making decisions.

So I sat and thought. And thought. I was home, here in L.A. I knew I had two weeks before heading back to Toronto, but was still working on I, as Well.

I came to this. Older & Wider is really done. I have a plan to perform it in Seattle on February 1 at The Neptune, then to film it in Spokane on April 2 and 3. Once it’s edited, I can try to sell it to a network that offers such things — Netflix, Hulu, Showtime, Amazon…. I may or may not sell it. But either way, that show is over.

I will continue to work on I, as Well.

I love, love, LOVE the acting. I don’t know why I didn’t try to do more straight-up acting before. I love playing my part. I actually even love learning my lines, even though it takes me twice as long as it did 20 years ago. Being on a set, the production, all the people, the equipment, the concentrated effort of so many — it makes me nearly weep every time I step onto a set. What a new, unexpected thing: to love to act. I think I’m pretty good. I want to try to get better. Which means, get better at it by doing it more.

So, basically I’m dialing back on stage performing in various cities. I’m only going to do Older & Wider live for those three shows I’ve booked, and possibly another in New York. The response the first time in New York was wonderful — overwhelming, actually. I got a great review in Broadway World (didn’t even know there was a critic in the audience). Now I have a lot of pressure to come back and do a last few shows. Maybe one. We’ll see.

But let me write a little about I, as Well. This has been a bitch! I’ve had the hardest time cracking this nut, maybe even harder than writing Letting Go of God. The material is very sensitive — the whole show is a meditation on the Me-Too movement. It’s hard, and sad and frustrating and shocking and obvious and universal and just … everything. It’s hard to figure out what I can really do in 13,000 words. It needs to be funny, too, not just me on a soapbox complaining about the more outlandish aspects of Me-Too. I want to go deep, want it to be compelling. I want to show how my own mind has morphed about Me-Too, and others’ views as well. It has to follow a traditional dramatic narrative, but again, be funny. Writing this show has made writing Older & Wider seem like a walk in the park. Even though my husband reminds me over and over again that I have felt this way before and then when the show finally comes off, I forget about all the labor that went into it, all the uncertainty that it could hold together and work.

Last Sunday at Westside Comedy in Santa Monica I did a 5 p.m. show. They told me they’d sold 19 tickets. I was happy with that. Tickets are $10; I want the price super low, because this is a workshop and a lot of it … needs work. (I always feel as if I should be paying the audience.) Anyway, only about 10 people actually showed up. The manager told me that when the price is so low, a lot of folks buy tickets and then decide at the last minute to stay home. I knew he was right — I do that myself all the time! Anyway, 10 people. I think they laughed maybe … maybe five times in 70 minutes? It didn’t feel as if they didn’t like it. It just wasn’t all that funny. And the comedian part of me was in anguish. I was dripping in flop sweat at the end. Afterward, my friend Steve Kessler and I went for a drink, he didn’t think it had gone as badly as I did. That made me feel better. But people, I dunno. It’s hard.

The next day I told my husband, “If I could have you give me a shot that makes me forget all about this show and I could stop trying to make it work but not feel bad about not figuring it out, I would have you give me that shot.”

Over the next three nights I was awake thinking about how to make certain swaths of narrative move better, how to say it more succinctly, how to make it come alive. Jokes that might work. I mulled how long it would take to get a certain laugh, and if it was worth it to go there. Now I’m excited to try it again this weekend.

And I don’t feel bad about stopping the Older & Wider performing. I thought I might feel regretful after a few days. But no. I feel calm. I have enough on my plate, and it’s just the right amount.

Okay, until next month.

6 thoughts on “November Blog 2019”

  1. Hi Julia,

    I love reading your blog, as well as listening to your shows. At this point, I know ‘God Said Ha!’ and ‘Letting Go Of God’ almost by heart. I do hope you sell ‘Older and Wider’ so people like me, living in different parts of the world, get to enjoy it.

    Best wishes for 2020!

    1. Wow, Rodrigo, thank you for writing. Yes, Older & Wider will be on film soon. I’m so flattered that you liked my other shows and appreciate the compliments!

  2. I saw Older & Wider in Chicago with some girlfriends and we all LOVED it!! I’m so happy you’re going to film it, I really wanted to take my mom to see it too but the timing never worked out, so yay, thank you!!

    1. I really love doing that show, and I’m glad you liked it so much. It will be on film soon, you can show it to your mom!

  3. Julia, I love your work. ‘Letting go of God’ was my first exposure to you: fantastic! Looks like there’s much more for me to see/hear. I was raised in the Calvinistic Christian Reformed Church, but realized I’m an atheist at around age 40 (I’m now 72). I’ll be trying to access more of your work from now on. Thank you for all you do.

    1. Wow! Thanks so much for leaving a comment. Calvinistic Christian Reformed Church, well, that sounds intimidating. Ha. I became an atheist at age 40! I have found a lot of people become atheist when they are very young, in their teens. Or later, when they are around 40. I think those of us that waited that long are people who are more likely to be joiners, to want very much to be part of the community of people they are in. So I have a special fondness for people who become atheist at a later age.

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