So Good They Can’t Ignore You

“Be so good they can’t ignore you.”–Steve Martin

“It takes 20 years to make an overnight success.” –Eddie Cantor

Is it just coincidence that two famous quotes above were both said by (American) comedians?

  • Both performed hundreds, if not thousands, of live shows before people across the US knew their names.
  • Both have crossed into multiple new media platforms in their lifetimes. Cantor was born in New York City in the 1890s; he paid his dues in vaudeville and film before moving into Broadway, radio, and television. He composed music and songs, at least two are standards or still referenced in pop culture 70 years later (Makin’ Whoopee, Merrily We Roll Along). Martin was born in California in the 1940s; he paid his dues in comedy clubs and produced comedy LPs before branching into television, writing, directing, and acting in movies, writing novels, and yes, creating a twitter account with 4 million followers. His banjo albums have won Grammys and he’s touring the country with Edie Brickell right now.
  • Both have (in Cantor’s case, had) other talents beyond standup (see previous bullet).

I think in today’s marketplace, you can be very good at what you do and yet it’s easy to be overlooked or feel ignored for awhile.** There’s a lot of options pleading for people’s attention, and there’s even more people seeking attention for themselves. And with so many options, it can be complicated figuring out the right venue to get the attention of your potential fan base.

I think it’s easy to read Martin’s quote and think, Hey if I have talent but I haven’t been discovered yet, maybe I should just quit already. Or, I like something but don’t have an immediate knack for it, so I shouldn’t bother with improving, it’s wiser to just give up. 

But I don’t think that’s what he was saying. I think what Martin meant was that a comedian (or any performer) needed to be good, but they had to be committed, and be persistent to getting your message out. There’s a lot of repetitive performance among different audiences and gaging the reaction. By being persistent, a comedian (for example) gets even better at being funny:a razor sharp wit and excellent comic timing aren’t developed telling one brilliant joke that one time in a bar.

Today’s online technology may make delivery quicker at getting a comedian’s message out than say, a traveling tent show in Cantor’s era. But unlike Cantor’s era, the audience isn’t paying undivided attention even if they paid to be there. Things got easier in some ways, but got harder in others.

I don’t have scientific statistics, but I suspect the rate at which things “catch on” among millions of people today, at once, is about the same speed it was in Cantor’s lifetime. Even then, there’s no such thing as 100% “the universe knows your name” fame.

Over time, the kind of legwork a comedian or other performer has to do to get their message out changes, but I don’t think the necessity for, and the persistence of all that legwork will ever change.

It may not take 20 years, but the commitment to be willing to put in 20 years is a necessity. Getting a big break is always worth it, but I think it takes a lot of personal and professional breakthroughs and practice to get there.

If you would like assistance getting your message out there, you can contact me here on the blog, on twitter at currying_favor, or via email, kathleenwcurry@gmail.com.

Paradigm Shift: Art versus Computers and Software

I published my first book last week, after putting in four months of work and lots of chronic overthinking. It’s version one. Full disclosure: it may never be done, it might be phased out over the next five years. I am okay with both of those possible outcomes.

I can’t claim I would have been okay with that years ago. I am still adjusting to it now.

Coming from an art background, it was hard to let go last Tuesday, admit I was at a stopping place. ‘Was it perfect enough, or pretty darn close? I suspect old school (20th century and prior) artists, writers, creators all struggle with letting their work out into the big, bad world. Each one wants to be original. Each one wants to have thought of everything. Each one fears getting dismissed as sloppy, or reeking “amateur”. The presumption is, when you’ve stopped work, it’s finished, right?It’s ready for release into the marketplace. With artwork, literature, sculpture–if you bought a piece, the original artist doesn’t come to your house and enhance their artwork’s features every three to six months after that. You might pay to have a piece repaired or restored by a professional, but that’s to bring back lost quality, not add features or functionality. To boot, restoration is a one-time visit, not a recurring one.

But then there’s the world of computers, video games and software. Each one really changed how we operate and think about everything that came before, including art, books, and film.

In computer software and hardware, the work is created and recreated. It’s always in progress until it’s ended entirely. Its business operates on a “let’s set goals, meet those goals, reach milestones, release product version, await feedback about bugs and requested changes, use those to set new goals, then repeat process” path. Buyers are expected to provide feedback, not just buy and go away happy.

This presented me with a paradigm shift, and a lot of food for thought when producing my first e-book:

• Why print something on paper when restaurants change hours, websites, menus, etc. all the time?

• Why not make it easier to access a restaurant’s website by linking to it so a potential diner can scope out the place for his or herself?

• Why not have a collective grid of what days the restaurants are open so people don’t drive miles to find out a restaurant (they wanted to try) was not open that day? or that time of day?

• Why not, if a critical mass of changes does arise, create a new version and upload it to the internet in a matter of hours, and notify users of the update?

• Why not use twitter, email and a blog to accept comments and commentary, which can be channeled into the next version? And the next version can be announced on those same platforms so users know you, the author, are listening?

This is a really different way of thinking about creating books, art, music–basically any creative material, than the one I had growing up. Yes, as a student, my peers and teacher would critique my work, but that was different. Once the assignment was due, the collaboration was over.

This book would not, and could not, have happened without my husband. It would be impossible to list all the things, technological and otherwise, I still would not know a darn thing about if it we hadn’t met in 2003, become friends, and then much more. If only I could return the favor. [If you are reading this, I love you with all my heart. Thanks sweetie.]

FOOTNOTE: I looked up the word ‘upgrade’ because I was curious how old it was. According to Dictionary.com‘s listing, that word dates back to the 1870s. Prior to computers, though, it referred to moving up a hill or incline, and being promoted in the military or another organization.

‘Got an Interview? ‘Bring It!

You don’t have to be a cheerleader, but if you want to be remembered, I think “bring it on”, or “bring it” is the best strategy.

I don’t think I understood this early on when I was an interviewee, or a potential job candidate. Playing it safe seemed wise. Clichés were prudent. But since I didn’t get those jobs, I have to assume those strategies backfired, and people forgot they talked to me. I wore a safe dark-colored suit, listened a lot, and said correct, brief, forgettable things. Yes I wanted a job. Did I want their job? If I’d convincingly seemed that zealous, I would have got the offer, now wouldn’t I?

Fast forward 1.5 years. I’ve interviewed a lot of people for stories about themselves and their businesses. I am not hiring anybody, but I am giving someone full spotlight for 30 minutes and hoping they give me something I can’t stop talking about. That energy comes across in the story, and readers really want to come check that business out and meet the person behind it.

And yet, too often I get is ineffective job interview style experiences. I ask a question, I get a safe, heard it 5-10 times before, safe response.  If one more person tells me “everything happens for a reason”, I am hoping I have a airplane barf bag handy. Don’t state the obvious and think it’s being original or profound; you have to know deep down it’s neither of those things. This experience has been karmic, I get to see what I was like on the opposite side of the desk and it was “meh”. But I didn’t write this post for my benefit, but to urge people who got an interview to take the risk to be real. 

There’s a physics to interviewing, and energy crosses that desk and continues to exist after the interview is over, definitely for the interviewer, but sometimes also for the interviewee. The be bold, be yourself, be a passionate positive approach means delivering that energy. In short (albeit slang) ” ‘Bring it!”

Bring your stories. Bring engaging storytelling style. Bring energy. Bring enthusiasm. Bring a sense of readiness.