Sunday, August 3, 2014

The "Can I Make a Living Doing What I Love?" Experiment (#1: The First Day)

by Pam Victor

My son is going off to college this month and, hence, my ten-year-long “homeschooling mom” gig is coming to a close. Not coincidentally, there is a rising need to bring some extra cashola into our casa. But instead of getting a regular job like a sensible person, I've set myself the challenge of trying to actually make a living through creative pursuits within the next year. And so I heretofore kick off The Great “Can I Make a Living Doing What I Love?” Experiment. I used the word “heretofore,” so you know it’s, 1.) all official ‘n shit, and 2.) the closest I will get to being (and being paid like) a lawyer.

As luck would have it, I love a lot of things, so I’ll be casting my net wide for this experiment, even though it’s over the narrow “creative pursuits” waters. I’ll be trying to make money through:
  • writing the stuff I enjoy writing (mostly non-fiction, plenty about improvisation)
  • performing comedy (mostly improvisation)
  • producing comedy shows (pretty much all improvisation)
    Performing with Moe McElligott
    in The Happier Valley Comedy Show
  • teaching (some improvisation and some academic skills for young kids, so I can get some traction from that snazzy Masters in Elementary Education degree that’s shoved in my file cabinet between “Kids’ medical forms for camp and stuff” and “Chicago [heart icon, heart icon, heart icon]”)
  • basically anything at all in the whole wide world of improvisation and/or comedy that I can do from my home base in Western Massachusetts

Can it be possible to put some food on my family’s table from work that feeds my soul?

Is that list sinking in to your big brain yet? Yeah, you noticed a little fly in my experimental ointment: Improvisation bringing in money. That’s a joke right there, isn’t it? Nobody, and I mean NOBODY, goes into improvisation to make
Hello, Tina Fey!
money. People go through improvisation to get to money (Hello, Tina Fey!), but never, not ever, 
no way, no how do people go into improvisation to get money. On account of the fact that there is hardly any money in improvisation. Of the hundreds of improvisers I know (I love you all deeply with all my love parts, you sexy bitches!!!), I can think of about twelve who pull a paycheck in some branch of the field – and rarely is that twiggy branch related to actually performing. 

The Ha-Ha's
When I booked my first improv gig about eleven years ago with my group The Ha-Ha's, I asked my teacher what the going rate was for a show. I remember flailing my arms above my head and saying to her something like, “It’s so fun that I would do it for free! Wheee!!!” The polite smile immediately dripped from my teacher’s face in fat waxy strips that slid into her serious neck hole. She told me that performing may be fun now, but improvisation is work, and there would soon come a time when I would want to be paid in money for my work, not just in laughter. It didn’t take long to learn that she was right, of course. If I have a migraine and a show, I take a few Advils and make funny with a migraine. Or if I’m depressed, I make funny when I’m depressed. Or when I am missing my kid’s recital/birthday party/performance. Or when my heart is broken into teeny tiny shards. Or when I want to hide under the covers for the rest of my life because the world is a mean and scary place. I still have to go out and make funny. 

Besides, the argument that “fun” work shouldn’t be well compensated really chafes my hide. And it chafes it hard, y'all. Improvisers may be looking like we’re having fun, but does that mean we shouldn’t get paid for our work just like a plumbing-lovin’ plumber or someone who gets to catch babies for a living or Willard Scott? Improvisers tend to invest way more money and time into their education
Performing with Brian Agosta
(the closest I can get to Willard Scott
and/or a lady holding a scale)
and practice than seems reasonable by any stretch of the imagination, especially given the financial output. If “time and money invested” and “financial compensation” were put on opposing arms of the Grand Scale of Improvisation, we’d have a very, very tippy scale with “time and money invested” smack down and overflowing onto the ground and “financial compensation” up there swinging light and free in the summer breeze like a Brooklyn coconut. 

Improvisation is a job. Writing is a job. Teaching is a job. Producing a show is a pain-in-the-ass job. But comedy and writing and teaching also happen to be the things that put wind in my soul’s sail, make my heart want to keep kerthumping, rev up my juicy lady motor, make me eagerly lean forward and want to learn and explore and experiment and do more every day forever and ever until hopefully even after I die. The crux of my “Can I Make a Living Doing What I Love?” Experiment is to see if it’s possible to do these things that I love from the tips of my toes to that godly space above my head while getting paid just like other hard working people.

I yearn for FICA to tax my ass.

I’ll let you know how it goes…
which has to do with chickens and Socrates.
* * *

Pam Victor is the founding member of The Ha-Ha’s, and she produces The Happier Valley Comedy Show in western Massachusetts. Pam performs a "Geeking Out with: The TALK SHOW," a live version of the written Geeking Out with... interview series, at comedy festivals throughout the land. Pam writes mostly humorous, mostly true essays and reviews of books, movies, and tea on her blog, "My Nephew is a Poodle." Currently, Pam is co-writing "Improvisation at the Speed of Life: The TJ & Dave Book" with TJ Jagodowski and David Pasquesi. If you want to stay abreast of all the geek out action, like the “Geeking Out with…” Facebook page!  (Yes, I said "breast.") And get all her nonsense at 

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