In the last week, I’ve told this story to about 3 different friends which makes me think it bears repeating. Also, I love being able to tell any story that involves an anecdote about my dear friend, Knoxie.
When I first moved to LA there was another Boston comic out here. Actually, there were many. It was the end of the comedy boom and the streets were no longer paved with high six-figure development deals for anyone with a tight 8-minute set if in fact they ever were. Perhaps it was all just a story that got told so often people believed in it like Jesus or Silver Linings Playbook being a good movie. In any event, being a Boston comic in LA was a difficult adjustment for many. Boston was one of the few places in the country where you could be a relative unknown but work every night of the week and make a pretty decent living. There was a culture shock to coming to LA, where you had to beg for random sets at gas station bathrooms, make no money doing it and still remain a relative unknown. Some comics stayed. Some eventually went back.
So this one comic moves back and we’re talking to our friend Knoxie, who never left, and we ask how the guy’s doing. And Knoxie answers with his usual honesty, “The first six months or so were great. He was working all the time, making money. Then he realized he was on the skunk tour like the rest of us.”
What Knox was referring to was the downside to working an hour a night, to working every night, to making money. Chasing the bookers down for your money. Chasing the bookers down for work. Driving 3 hours to a gig in some random New England town for the night. Getting short money to play the best club in town. Doing a hell gig in some place that has no business hosting a comedy night.
Over the years in our house “being on the skunk tour” has become synonymous with all the things you don’t like about your job. It’s shorthand for when someone gets an alleged dream job and then finds it’s rife with all the bullshit you had at your last 5 jobs. But it’s not a pretentious, inside baseball way for us to complain. It’s actually a way for us to remind ourselves that it’s OK.
In life, there is no magic job where suddenly everything is expense accounts and hand jobs. I mean in Japan, probably, but you get my point. If you’re lucky, you’ve been able to chase a career that was your “dream job” and if you’re really lucky you landed somewhere near the bullseye. And sure, you probably thought, you’ll have to work hard, but it won’t ever suck. It’s my dream job! Here’s the truth: sometimes every job sucks, even in the bullseye. But here’s the other truth: it still can be your dream job. A dream job with no problems, with no challenges, with no disappointments or struggles is not a job, even with the word “dream” in front of it. Getting paid to do something that never makes you unhappy is not a job, it’s a fantasy, a story that got told so often people believed in it, like the French being rude or dogs being smarter than cats.
So when we or a friend of ours gets down about something work related, we remind them and ourselves that we’re all on the skunk tour. Not because life sucks, but because life is actually pretty amazing, but it’s never perfect.