Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Opening Act

“It’s started.” That’s what my friend Nick said to me a couple of weeks ago, when I began to tell him of the positive reactions I’d been getting from the comedy community lately. He was referring to some lofty vision he has of my meteoric rise in comedy, after only thirty years in the business and gender reassignment surgery. All I was saying was that I was surprised at the audiences’ reaction and my fellow comics to my newly written act.

Nick Cosentino has always had more belief in my ability as a writer and comedian than I ever had. And since I was the queen of low self-esteem, his compliments always embarrassed me a little. They still do. But deep down inside of me, there was a little part of me that believed him. And lately, I can feel myself beginning to accept his opinion just a little bit more. This re-entry into a world that I love has been a wonderful personal victory, because it means that I am beginning to shake off even more of the awful weights of a lifetime of self-doubt that were brought on by a confluence of horrible childhood memories and experiences. Though some of the major ones still plague me, I can feel myself being freer to just be almost daily.

It seems stupid doesn’t it? I’m going to be sixty years old in a few months, and I still react reflexively when I get even a modicum of success. It is an issue that has plagued me for my entire life. Over a lifetime of self-talk, I have managed to build this unscalable wall for myself, making it higher each time I came close to personal fulfillment and success. Now, perhaps for the first time in my life I feel that I am undoing that wall one painful brick at a time, and I can see the pinpoint of daylight from the other side. Soon it will flood my life with the good, clean, positive energy that builds and doesn’t destroy.

Love is what it really is, you know. The purest thing in the universe is love, both of self and of others. It is a stunningly simple thing, yet the most difficult to achieve because of its simplicity. The act of loving, particularly of oneself, requires surrender to the foolish notion that one can control his or her life, or anyone else’s for that matter. To try to do so can only ever end with an unfinished protective wall of frustration and sadness. Whereas a life of love, of making the most of and appreciating every single moment without a single expectation? Ah, that’s the stuff, right there! Because when you begin to love yourself like that, you learn the value in loving others. Love produces only more of the same.

This really wasn’t the topic I had planned to write about tonight, but I guess it is fitting in light of what’s going on in my life these days. I would particularly like to relate an incident that happened earlier this evening.

I have a very dear friend who did a very wonderful thing tonight. As you may know, tomorrow I am beginning a weekly show at a club in Philadelphia called the Dark Horse Pub. It is the realization of a dream I’ve had for many years, because it brings together nearly all of the performing arts in a single show, and at the same time encourages performers to step out of the discipline that the ‘gig’ demands (after all we do work for money), and allows them to stretch their creative wings.

My friend knew that I needed a piece of equipment for the show, which I could not afford at the moment. Selflessly and lovingly, she purchased it and presented it to me. Now in the past, I would have been resentful of such an act, deeming it an insult to my pride. But instead, I accepted her act of love, with love, and can now hold this experience in my heart as precious instead of letting it fester and grow resentment inside me as it would have done in the past.

This isn’t an isolated incident either. Since I have come out and begun to live a truthful, loving life eleven years ago, I have found that the acts of love given to me and those which I gave in return far outweigh the hatred I have felt from those who cannot understand who I am. I am truly blessed, and it took my return to comedy to finally see and understand the extent of it.

With three very notable exceptions, I probably love the art of comedy more than anything else in my life. I view it as a medium to speak in the ways composers painters and actors cannot; with only words as tools. I see it as a way to make sense of our tragedies, frustrations and to lift us from our sadness and release us from its bondage; comedy reminds us all that in the end we put far too much emphasis on the trials of this life. It is, for lack of a better word, my religion.

Each day and subsequent year that I was away from it, I realized more and more how much I missed it. And now that I’m here again, I feel at home. To be among creative, funny people, with all their neuroses and foibles, is an experience I don’t think I will ever give up again. These people, who often work for very little money, if any, think nothing of putting their egos on the line every night they are onstage. They are remarkably courageous, giving folks, both to their audiences and to their peers.

Comedians know how special the job that they do is. We see it every time we stand on stage and look at you, the audience. To make someone laugh, sometimes to tears of joy, is prayer of the highest magnitude, in my opinion. There is no sin to forgive in this church (unless you steal material!), only love. There is no guilt either. To laugh is the closest one ever gets to God in this mortal life.

It isn’t all about the applause and laughter, although that is a large part of it. It’s also about the connection that a room full of strangers can make with one another. It’s this cosmic marriage that unites everyone in the room, including the comic. It is when we drop our pretenses, acknowledge our weaknesses and for a moment, laugh at them and thus ourselves, without fear of social chastisement. It is a form of love. And as a transgendered person living in a world that often reviles us, I have found in comedy, friends old and new who have welcomed me back, who have helped me find work and who, like Nick and several others, have helped me to realize that I was the one who imposed exile upon myself, not the business. And while the strangeness of my new persona might have knocked several of my older comic friends off their gyros, it hasn’t taken long for them to see that I am still the same person I always was. As they say, funny is funny.

So tomorrow, regardless of the outcome of the show, it is already a success for me. In my few short months back in the business, bricks have fallen from my wall in a way that would rival Joshua at Jericho. I have hopes for the success of this show, but no expectations because to have them would put limits on me. The people with whom I am working with are wildly talented and that is reward enough. It is a joy to watch them create and to love what they do. How this all turns out is not important. What is important is the realization that it has indeed, “started”.

That’s it. I’m done bitching. Everybody hug, everybody eat! Abbondanza!

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