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  • Writer's pictureAndrea Marston

Creative pivot - step 1 - death of an old dream

Why am I quitting improv and sketch and maybe comedy?

Comedy was my world because it was my protector and connector to humans. I am socially anxious and surely neurodivergent I am coming to realize… but honestly I have always known. Connecting with others always felt hard. I have never felt like I have fit in. Fat, not brown or white enough, too poor - being funny was a social lubricant and being useful was my key to any kind of social life.

I thought my need for acceptance from the masses was passion and purpose. So I tried to change everything about myself to fit in until my late twenties. After a collapse in my social life I spent a lot of time alone for a few years. It was not as lonely as it was liberating. Not having people to answer to and just being free to be myself made me realize my own worth and how much I loved myself just as I was and who I was growing into. That revelation of confidence brought me back to the stage after almost a decade away from it.

When I found improv as an adult at first, I approached it differently than I had as a teenager. I approached it with this new version of myself who I loved and who did not really care what people thought of her. I just let myself play and it came through as pure joy. It did not take long to notice that even back then in Calgary’s improv scene there was a definite social hierarchy that was very similar to high school. Back then I was determined to not let that deter me. I would make myself a home amongst the misfits like me and produce my own shows if I had to… and I did. I would not admit it back then but the hierarchy's slow acceptance of me both annoyed me and drew me in as they invited me in their circle. I let myself be drawn in, always promising not to lose myself in those old high school games anymore.

When I got the chance to move to Toronto, I thought yes this is the time to go chase my lifelong dream with the new and improved version of myself. I hopped into this city with enthusiasm and joy the way I had on stage in Calgary. The reception I got was instant and warm and I felt like I had truly found my home in the Toronto comedy community.

But when people want to work in this industry… and we all came here because we do want to… things get competitive and being competitive amongst your community makes for a toxic creative and professional environment.

My love for comedy was tarnished over and over again by so many things this last decade I am not sure where to even start. The predators, the gatekeeping, the cliques and popularity contests, the blatant tokenism, the corrupt institutions, and the realization that I was once again trying to change myself for the acceptance of the masses - it all became too much.

I am done sacrificing myself for the validation of other people just so I can play pretend. There is no need for me to travel across town for 12 minutes of being shushed off stage by 9 other people who think they are all funnier than everyone else only to get paid with a warm beer. It is hard to not feel used when I am only called as a backup for the backup of the same people who play all the shows in the city. It is hard to feel like I have authentic connections when a system has been set up to pit us all against each other for the limited spots of paid comedic work that we are all clawing for. It is hard to know who is a friend and who is an opportunist and energy vampire in comedyland. I hate questioning my worth because of casting by people who think I have nothing of value to say but I can fill a gap for them when necessary where I have to fit the mould of someone else.

After 7 years of trying so hard to be casted and invited to shows and parties and friend groups, I felt depleted. I was trying to be everywhere and do every show so people would remember me and put me in their stuff all while working a full time day job to pay my rent. The pandemic was in some ways a fucking relief. I got Jack, I got a place of my own and I found my way home to myself. I found the love I had for being me and being with me and then I found someone who saw me and loved me just as I am. Now, I feel so protective of this self worth I have found after 41 years of being alive. Doing comedy seems like going back to an old bad relationship. One that started off joyfully but that eventually made me feel less than I was.

I will forever be grateful to comedy for protecting me and connecting me to people when I felt so alone and helpless in my brain. I loved that I made people laugh and that I got to do shows with some of the funniest people I know. I love the gems of friendship that I found in the last decade through comedy.

Alas, comedy much like other trauma responses has run its course once I started healing. I am not sure if this is just a break or if I will be like Elton John and do a thousand retirement tours but as of right now I am not doing comedy shows.

I still consider myself an artist and a storyteller. I want to make art that makes people feel less alone. How I go about doing that in a way that still is authentic and healthy for me is yet to be seen but figuring it out is where I am at right now.

I am sharing this because a lot of people have been asking me about comedy but also to anyone else in the middle of a pivot… I am here with you and we will figure this out.

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