By Marc Weingarten
I can’t tell you how many times and how many ways I’ve been asked the question, “What’s it like being a comic?” I love the question and I never get tired of answering it. Why? Because now I’m a novelist and no one has yet to ask me, “What’s it like being a novelist?”
What I have been asked, however, is to compare the two careers.
You can be a comic without having much of a life experience to draw from. You can have a funny presence, an unusual attitude, a unique vulnerability, and that alone might guarantee you a profession. You don’t even have to make sense, thank you Pauly Shore. It’s about questioning behavior from the point of view of your truth. In the immediacy of that subjective world, if the audience buys it and they decide you’re funny, you’re funny. It’s a luxurious premise; one not available to the Hemingway inside.
Where the comic is the character that drives his act, the characters drive the novelists’ story. For that he needs an experiential foundation the comic doesn’t. The comic can live off a joke like, “I was window-shopping at the mall, when I noticed a sign in a storefront window that said, Going Out Of Business. I thought to myself, ‘Why would anybody want to advertise their inability to earn a living?’ It’s as if the guy’s saying, ‘My prices are high, my merchandise stinks, and I’m stupid. Come on in and browse.’” The novelist needs to explore the character inside the man that would free him to boast about his failure. The trait becomes indigenous to his story. In the irony of the observation, the comic can leave it at the mall…mission accomplished.
Fundamentally, the comic and the fiction writer intersect at the truth. At its core, every joke has a truth, otherwise it won’t generate a laugh. And even though a comic speaks from his personal truth, it’s not necessary to have personally experienced that which is the subject of his joke. So long as it’s within the human experience, it’s fair game. For instance, the comic need not be married to talk about marriage or divorce. He just needs a unique take like, “If I were to get married, I wouldn’t do it for love, I wouldn’t do it for friendship. I’d do it to use the carpool lane.”
Irony noted that fiction is defined as the opposite of truth. Yet, the fiction writer actually speaks – better speak – from an elevated truth that is highly personal without it actually being so. What I discovered in writing Cape Comedy was I recognized all my characters as combinations of people I knew. Or, where the character was so unique and captivating in real life, I based a character on him either to push the story forward or reveal a layer of the culture. In all cases where every character was presented in fiction, he or she was born from the truth of my life.
When I was 7 years old, I had an epiphany. I was supposed to write novels. How fortunate for me I waited. After all, I didn’t have much of a life experience to draw from other than knowing the words to Itsy Bitsy Spider. But I did go on to spend more than 30 years as a comic, comedy writer and owner of one of America’s most prominent comedy clubs. That life allowed me a backstage pass into the minds of some of the most brilliant and unique stars so that one day I could eventually honor that childhood illumination.
I wrote what I knew. I did so because I realized what I knew fascinated people, and gave me a potential marketing advantage accordingly. But being a comic also gave me a voice and an understanding of how to create from that voice. In that regard, it’s the perfect platform from which to write fiction.
At 26, Marc Weingarten became the youngest comedy club owner in America and has worked as a comic for 31 years. His first novel, Cape Comedy, has recently been published and is available for purchase online.