I’ve been thinking about art and how the pay works. There was some talk about pirating works recently on Twitter. And then that spiraled into another discussion about how streaming and whatnot affects artists. I’m not in a band, but I do travel for comedy. I am at what you’d call a somewhat lower level – no one is demanding that I headline or anything, and I’m just one guy sending out avails to bookers like everybody else. Both bands and comedy involve a lot of slumming it. Lots of nights driving to and from places. The money isn’t great, as you’d expect from bar shows doing it out of passion – dingy Irish pubs, cheap beers, cool out of the way spaces like book shows and art galleries. That’s the stuff; it’s not corporate gigs and it shouldn’t be. I once said I made enough money doing comedy to survive in the specific lifestyle portrayed in the 50s book MIDNIGHT COWBOY, where most of the characters are homeless drifters. I stand by that and it hasn’t changed.
It’s funny how it works – I’d really like to be able to go travel and do comedy way more. I’m at least good enough to get booked consistently now. But the gas prices don’t care about that. It might be going down a little now. $4.49 for gas seeming like a bargain – what a world. It’s still just not worth it to go and drive more than a few hours. Even driving two hours, while doable, I’m losing money. It’s more out of passion and playing a long game – if I travel enough and get seen enough, I can build momentum. Or that’s what I tell myself. But with the insane gas prices and everything else being so fucking expensive, I just had to start really calculating things. I’m pretty awful at math, but it seems like I just have to be way more choosy about where I go. It’s a cost benefit thing. Then again, since I started this piece, gas prices are mildly down at like $4 a gallon now. We live in the lap of luxury.
And this isn’t a new thing I just invented or thought of. Any artists or bands will tell you it’s a fucking criminal thing, the pay and all of that. We’re out there making a go of it and if we don’t have rich parents to help us live in LA or NY and get the right connections, we’re all pretty indie for the most part. For comedy you can do the cruise ships or the corporate gigs, but really, not everybody’s cut out for that. Not everybody really wants to do the board room lunchtime gigs where everyone’s eating gas station tuna sandwiches and apples and drinking Cokes in the middle of the day. A buddy of mine said you do those shows to do the comedy you really want to do later. I can respect that.
Read a NYT piece recently about Janeane Garofalo, whose work I’m not familiar with. It basically went into her strident devotion to being “alt.” Back in the 90s that was all the rage. It spilled over into the early ’00s when I was finally becoming culturally conscious in small and weird ways – I remember loving all the weird movies I could find, getting into heavy metal, all this stuff; I was really into that sense of finding something “other.” It’s a very pure instinct.
The Garofalo article makes mention of how she would never even repeat bits that did too well – “anything that was successful, she didn’t want to do.” I love that. There’s something in it, a spunk, that really speaks to me, because it’s sort of the essence of comedy to me. The going-out-on-a-limb. The adventurousness. I do repeat bits that work, as do a lot of comics, but that Garofalo anecdote really spoke to me about what the most exciting part of it is, which is the failing. When you come up with a good bit and throw it out in the void of a crowd at a mic, not knowing whether there’ll be any return. Especially for more long-winded or complicated bits. That’s what I like about doing this. I think it should be valid just to like doing something to do it. The Mike Birbiglia movie DON’T THINK TWICE was about that.
But everyone needs art in their lives. And as a whole it does have an industry. Just taking a cursory glance at the statistics for Florida’s arts and culture economy:
“The industry generated $166.3 billion of economic activity and $63.8 billion by the nation’s nonprofit arts and culture organizations. This economic activity supports 4.6 million full-time jobs and generates $49.4 billion in resident household income. The arts and culture industry also generates $27.5 billion in revenue to local, state, and federal governments—a yield well beyond their collective $5 billion in arts allocations.”
Quite a hefty thing. The report ends up saying the arts have a ripple sort of effect on everything else. You go out to the arts and then you pay for parking, dinner, a bunch of stuff. But there’s also a wide gulf there because there’s so many artists out there, and the big respectable money isn’t funneled in every direction equally. Then they cut the arts funding for schools and kids. Spotify will cut peoples’ comedy albums off their service and hoard all their money for a bodybuilding anti-vaxxer. There’s not a lot of equity going around. Never has been.
And it just goes into another thing I just read yesterday – this Carmen Maria Machado piece about why it’s OK for artists to not rush into the business side of things. It talks a lot about how sometimes really good art takes a while to marinate. But the rush is understandable because, again, we all need the money and we want to try and climb that ladder and open doors. I always thought this too. Why rush? Why promote a product that isn’t really as good as it could be yet? Of course, now we have to contend with the burning Earth. How much time do we really have left? Who knows?
But it’d be nice if we could all just have the time and license to do whatever we want more often.
Nothing I’m saying here is going to change anything. It probably comes off as a lot of bitching. But I think about this stuff a lot.