Who? That Guy? He Aiiiiin’t Shit

competition in comedy streven pressfield

I finally got down to reading The War of Art by Steven Pressfield and again, another life changer. Ever look at your co-worker (in my case, fellow comedian), and say,

“Eh yo, FUCK that dude. He aiiiin’t sheeeit.”

But he is. He is the shit. He’s doing well, and worst of all, you resent him for it.

No, just me? Yo, fuck you, Diary. Anyways, I used to feel a healthy bout of envy whenever I saw someone doing better than I was, especially if they started when I did or gasp! after I did. Luckily, Pressfield explains why I felt that way, why it was perfectly natural to feel that way, and most importantly, how to break out.

Pressfield on how competition is a silent killer for the artist:

In the animal kingdom, individuals define themselves in one of two ways – by their rank within a hierarchy (a hen in a pecking order, a wolf in a pack) or by their connection to a territory (a home base, a hunting ground, a turf).

This is how individuals – humans as well as animals – achieve psychological security. They know where they stand. The world makes sense…

High school is the ultimate hierarchy. And it works; in a pond that small, the hierarchical orientation succeeds. The cheerleader knows where she fits, as does the dweeb in the Chess Club. Each has found a niche. The system works.

There’s a problem…When the numbers get too big, the thing breaks down. New York City is too big to function as a hierarchy. So is IBM. The individual in multitudes this vast feels overwhelmed, anonymous. He is submerged in the mass. He’s lost…

…Our brains can’t file that many faces. We thrash around, flashing our badges of status (Hey, how do you like my Lincoln Navigator?) and wondering why nobody gives a shit…

For the artist to define himself hierarchically is fatal. In the hierarchy, the artist looks up and looks down. The one place he can’t look is that place he must: within.

The artist can’t do his work hierarchically. He must work territorially.

…[Our territories] are psychological. Stevie Wonder’s territory is the piano. Arnold’s is the gym. When Gates pulls into the parking lot at MSFT, he’s on his territory. When I sit down to write, I’m on mine.

…If Arnold were the last man on earth, he’d still go to the gym. Stevie Wonder would still pound the piano. The sustenance they get comes from the act itself, not from the impression it makes on others.

…When the hack sits down to work, he doesn’t ask himself what’s in his own heart. He asks what the market is looking for. In other words, the hack writes hierarchically.

…I was starving as a screenwriter when the idea for The Legend of Bagger Vance came to me…[My agent and I] knew that first novels take forever and sell for nothing…But the Muse had me. I had to do it. To my amazement, the book succeeded critically and commercially better than anything I’d ever done, and others have been lucky, too. Why? My best guess is this: I trusted what I wanted, not what I thought would work. I did what I myself thought was interesting, and left its reception to the gods.

The artist can’t do his work hierarchically. He has to work territorially.

Nuff said.


About Michael Jagdeo

My name's Michael Jagdeo, and I refuse to write about myself in the third person. I'm a Comedian from Toronto, Ontario, Canada. In addition to honing my stand-up comedy act, I maintain this blog and write the weekly comedy article for blogTO.com.
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