10 years and what kept me going…

People always wonder why a person would start doing stand up but they never ask why they keep doing stand up.  Plenty of people start doing stand up every year and stop.  I never really thought of quitting stand up since I first tried it and I think I know why.

I grew up in South Texas.  Like SOUTH Texas.  People think San Antonio is South Texas but its more like Northern South Texas.  I grew up in the most Southern area of Texas.  “We didn’t cross the border, the border was built behind us” South.  I was close enough to the border to have a Mexican family doctor.  Family is big in South Texas and there’s lots of big families.

I love South Texas.  Lots of big towns and small cities.  Side note/rant, I love South Texas so much, I hate when traveling comics make fun of it.  They would tell me “it’s full of dumb people that don’t get ‘smart’ jokes.  You better do all your drinking and cocaine jokes.”  Those comics didn’t know I was from there.  Here’s what I honestly think of those types of statements.  When an unexperienced comic sees a room full of people that don’t look like them (this is more than just ethnicity, I’m talking race, gender, age, class so on), they immediately start to distrust their already mediocre material.  So instead of saying, “Wow, I should write jokes I believe in”, they say “Oh these people will never get my jokes.  It’s just going to go over their heads.  I better do my ‘fuckin & drinkin’ jokes.”  Funny thing is even their ‘smart’ jokes are just ‘fuckin’ & drinkin’ jokes’ with a Holocaust or Back to the Future reference.  Then after they belittle the audience, they say, “Hopefully they buy merch.”  So you don’t give them enough credit to understand your “jokes”, but you sure will take their credit card.  In the case of South Texas, they see a bunch of Mexicans.  All types of Mexicans.  Even, dare I say, Mexicans with more money and a better education than those judgmental comedians.  That can be frightening for “comedians” who aren’t used to seeing an ethnicity not acting like their stereotype.  Why is this such an upsetting thing to me?  Because it’s those same comedians that will come up to me and say ignorant shit like, “I wish I was latino so I could get a holding deal.”  Yeah… that’s the only factor holding you back.  Here’s a quick piece of advice to those types of comics, funny is funny and Back To The Future wasn’t just released in only the cities you recognize.  While I’m at it, stop writing Back To The Future references.  We get it!  You’re a cool nerd who saw lots of movies as a kid.  Just stop!  Back to my story.

I’ve had plenty of jobs.  My first job was telemarketing.  I was great at coming to training for two weeks and sucked on the phones.  Then I went to work at Cinemark Theaters, which went from being Movies 10 to Movies 17.  That was my high school job mainly.  It was fun.  I worked with lots of friends, some of who figured out a way to make extra cash by reselling returned popcorn bags and pocketing the money.  I didn’t do it but that’s how we all got fired.  I actually quit before they could fire me because I was tipped off by a projectionist.  I accidentally got one more job working at a Baskin Robbins and then moved to Dallas.  (I did move back for a bit but no need to get into that.)  (By the way, I love parentheses.)

Not sure where I learned how to fill out a job application, it may have been high school or from a friend, but I was taught that under POSITION you wrote ANY and under PAY you wrote MINIMUM.  Yup.  I was taught that would raise your chances at getting hired.  Why?  Because that’s what everyone was writing on their job applications in South Texas.  I remember freaking out when I saw my brother from another mother, Chris Kiraly, write $10 an hour on his first application ever.  AND HE GOT HIRED!  He grew up and was living in Dallas at the time so they must have been taught a better lesson.

Here’s my point.  I grew up in an area where you were encouraged to start at the lowest rung and just work.  Call me an idiot but that’s what I lived by.  Work hard, work long, work extra and don’t complain.

I did just that.  I worked hard at every job I had.  I found joy in doing all the meticulous tasks.  At Movies 17, we had to count all the pickles that were on display and in all the open containers each night.  These containers held up to 250 pickles and if someone accidentally opened one, we’d have to count that one too.  We had to count all the hotdogs on display and in every open box.  We had to count all the bags, cups etc… we had to count everything every night before going home.  After counting all the inventory, we had to scoop out all the mustard and ketchup from the containers it was in.  That smelled so great.  There was more but I’ll stop before I have flashbacks.  And we did this all for MINIMUM wage, I think less than $5 an hour.  Trust me, I get it, it’s just a high school job.  But something worse was being ingrained into my head.

Work hard, work long, work extra and don’t complain.  It’s better to have any job than no job.  I don’t think I ever got a raise at Movies 17 but I witnessed it.  My buddy got an extra 10 cents an hour after 2 years.

When I lived in Dallas, I took my expertise in movie theaters to the AMC Theaters in Mesquite, TX.  AMC 30!!  30 screens!!!  I didn’t even know there was that many movies.  In South Texas, we only got movies that were on wide release.  I applied like I always did: ANY position – MINIMUM pay.  To my surprise the starting pay was at $6.25 an hour.  What!!   And on my first day, I learned we had to count only the loose bags, candy and cups that were near our register.  No counting of pickles, hot dogs.  No scooping of mustard or ketchup.  Just basic clean up and inventory.  “You’re kidding me!  These people don’t know how easy this job really is!”

I worked pretty damn hard compared to most of my co-workers.  I learned every job they’d let me learn.  Concession stand, usher, box office worker, guest services.  There was one day where I worked 3 out of 4 of those positions in one shift.  I’d sell the tickets, answer the phones, run over and clean the theaters and get back in time to sell the next shows.  I got promoted to supervisor.  I was told my weakness was not letting others do the work.  All the people on my shift loved me for that.  Then I moved to another location and helped open the theater up.  I was still a supervisor at the time but they let me become a trainer alongside my old co-workers, who were now operations coordinators (fancy way of saying “non-salary assistant managers”).  I was happy to see my buddies get promoted even if it was above me.  I just knew if I kept working hard, a promotion would come.

I kept training everyone for the next few years while also working regular shifts.  In that time, my GM, Lee, promoted me to operations coordinator.  Lee was one of the most supportive GMs I’ve ever worked with.  He was a family man, always smiling and really made the whole work environment feel like a welcoming place.  I started a company newsletter where they let me organize funny articles and recognition for employees.  I even snuck in a comic strip drawn by a friend/employee, Zeke.  I dove into more areas of the theater business and was placed under the HR umbrella, mostly because I was great at training.  Little by little, I got more raises.

I was great at my job because that’s what you were supposed to be: Great at the job.  Then Lee got promoted to District Manager and moved.  He deserved it.  He was great.  So we were getting a new GM, Tim.  He started at the age of 16 at the original AMC and got promoted to GM before the age of 30.  I think he was 27 at the time.  Tim was not Lee.  In fact, he was the exact opposite of Lee and I think he did that on purpose.  I think he wanted to put his mark on the company and he knew he was following a great happy GM.  Some business people think happy is weak.  Tim was not happy.  He was a complete tip to the balls dick.  Now, looking back, of course he was!  He was in the movie theater business since he was 16.  He really just tore everyone up.  He was not a family man.  He was single, lonely and grumpy.

Tim made work miserable.  Along with that, he took the humor out of my employee newsletter.  It had become just a bunch of announcements of new rules.  I did get another raise, finally to the last possible amount they could pay a non-salary employee.  I was also getting AMC certified in all the positions.  There was an upper manager that always schedule himself with me so he could sit in the office and do nothing all throughout his shift.  I enjoyed that because I just knew it meant I was reliable.

Weird thing was, I saw friends that advanced after me get promoted to a salary management position and moved to other locations.  Still, I was happy for them because I knew I wasn’t too far away.  Then I saw people I trained get promoted to a salary management position.  Then I saw upper management get promoted and replaced with new management.  I started to question why I was getting passed by.  “I’m sure during evaluation time I’ll get an answer.”  And I did.

Tim set up his team with one on one evaluation meetings.  No one really got any great notes.  People were not happy.  I was still kind of positive when I sat down with him but I knew he had notes.  So here’s what Tim said of me.  “Nick, you work hard in all the areas you’re supposed to work hard in.  Unfortunately, you are not going that extra mile that you used to go.  I’m disappointed that you haven’t kept up with the newsletter..” Now before I go on, I want to point out that there was no newsletter before I ever started it.  It wasn’t a company thing.  I would come in on my off time and do it.  “And that’s just not sitting well with me.  Now, you can’t get anymore raises unless I promote you but I will have to let you know that I’m not going to promote you.  I don’t see that happening soon or in the future.  So step it up.  You know… keep up with your own projects.  Like the newsletter.  And we’ll see.”

That was the pretty devastating.  I was not going to be promoted because I didn’t have time to keep working on something I wasn’t getting paid for.  Something I created myself.  First time I realized that a person could work hard in every area of a job and still be denied a promotion.  I felt like a moron.  Tim didn’t stop there.  He made the manager that I worked with the most “retire” and just kept shaking everything up.  It was about that time that I decided to quit.

The movie theater business is a lot like comedy in the sense that holidays are the busy season.  It’s expected to work on Thanksgiving, Christmas, 4th of July and any holiday that families get together for.  I missed plenty of those for my job then and for comedy now.  Also, I found out that some of those co-workers that got promoted were the Tim’s drinking buddies.  At times, it’s like that in comedy too.

I don’t remember where I heard this but I was told that the reason Tim didn’t want to promote me was because he would have to send me to another location and he couldn’t afford to lose his hardest worker.  He didn’t mind promoting his “not so hard” workers but I was way too experienced for him to just give up.  A couple of years later, I also learned that Tim revealed not promoting me was one of his biggest mistakes since it did lead to me quitting.  But Tim taught me something very important.  I knew I could quit.  Yeah, I quit other jobs… but that was Baskin Robbins.  This was the first time, though, I made the decision with no job set up.  It forced me to make a great resume, sign up for career fairs and just try even if I had nothing to offer.  How can someone go from asking for minimum wage to actually asking for a salary with his best job experience being 4 years at a movie theater.

Thanks to Tim I learned that no matter how hard you work at a company, that company really has no loyalty to you, so you better pick a job you really love and will let you grow.  I learned what it was like to be completely under appreciated and how not to hate myself for it.  It wasn’t all my fault.  Sometimes the people that make the decisions are in a bad place, possibly lonely, maybe jealous etc… but their opportunity is just not your opportunity.  They might not be the right door to open in the end.  I mean, lets say he did promote me.  I might still be working at AMC.

So I learned how to quit.  You might be asking yourself, “Well, is that a good lesson?”  Yes because it helped when I had to make the leap to trying to be a full time comedian.

My last real job was as an office manager.  Made schedules, printed paperwork, talked to employees, reported wages blah blah blah.  The advantage to working this job was the company employed mostly comedians.  And I started to get on the road more while at this job. 

A headliner wanted to take me on the road and gave me an ultimatum, “Either you come on the road with me, or I’ll just quit offering you help.”  I asked the owner for an early weekend so I could appease this headliner and take the one gig.  The owner sat me down because he felt like he had tons of inside knowledge into comedy and said, “Nick, it takes time to become a comedian.  Yes, you can take this gig and rush out there and hopefully it works out.  Or you can play it safe and wait.  Maybe 10 years from now everything comes into place and then you can officially get on the road full time.  “So can I have tomorrow off?”  “No.”  So I called in an extra employee for the day I needed off and took the gig.  That was my last day working a regular job.

I told the headliner that I no longer had a job.  He sat me down and said, “Here’s the thing.  Stand up takes time and it might be years before this pays off.”  I replied, “I already put more than 5 years into crappy jobs, why not put years into something I love.”

Now I could go on and talk more about the times I had to quit a bad situation but then I’ll be talking shit about actual comedians (mostly just one, the rest have always been pretty good to me).  So instead I’ll just say this.  I have been told NO a lot in comedy.  I have been doubted and will continue to be told NO more.  But every YES is worth all those NO’s  That one YES really makes up for the hundreds of NOs.  Also, there are a lot of Tims in comedy.  The Tims think they know everything thats best for comedy.  Tims have their favorites, mostly drinking buddies.  But as long as you work hard, you’ll get to where you need to be.  Somewhere you hopefully love and have built yourself.   Somewhere you can deliver the NOs and then you get to be someone’s Tim… or Lee if you want to be a good person.  Ha ha.

And here’s is my list of jobs I worked before and during my comedy years.

Telemarketer, door to door sales, Cinemark, Baskin Robbins, AMC Mesquite, True Value Hardware – Manager, Pluckers – Chef & Delivery Driver, waiter, AMC Arlington, Taco Cabana – Manager, Temp Agency Resume Reviewer, Apartment Leasing Agent, Defensive Driving Instructor, Office Manager, Website Upkeep, Video Editor, Stand Up Coach and other odd jobs.

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