Barry Smith: Irrelativity
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO, Colorado
[Barry is on tour, performing his comedy shows across the United States and Canada all summer long. Today’s dispatch comes from Winnipeg.]
I was pretty much a straight-A student in school. I tell you this not to brag, just to give you some insight into my personality. You remember that kid who was quick to raise his hand when the teacher asked who’d like to come to the board and solve the math problem, diagram a sentence or clean erasers just for the fun of it? That was me. And yes, at some point you just start to expect the wedgies.
Now, I never managed to parlay this skill for academic sucking up into any sort of college education, something that I pretend to be proud of, but am probably a bit insecure about. This is evident in my constant attempts at overcompensation ” mostly involving peppering my conversation with fancy words like “parlay,” which I’m not even sure how to use properly.
For the most part, grades were in my control. If I studied and prepared, I could do well on tests. And I usually studied and prepared. There was no real randomness to it ” you either get the math/history/grammar question right or you don’t. Sure, there’s the possibility to show some work in the margin for extra credit, but for the most part there was a formula ” do the work, get a good grade.
Well, now I’m on the road, standing on stage almost every night telling people hilarious and poignant tales of my misspent youth. I’ve worked hard to put this show together, the writing, the pictures, the laser-like comedic precision of my delivery, the carefully rehearsed hand gestures, the whole bit. But this isn’t math, so work and precision and preparation may not get you an A on this test. The people grading your tests are these people called critics, and sometimes math is not their favorite subject.
In Toronto I just killed ” amazing reviews, loads of people turning out to see my show, shouts and cheers and laughter ” so I thought for sure that my next stop on the tour, Winnipeg, would be a repeat of Toronto.
And, well … it wasn’t. My three main reviews ” the ones that the tens of thousands of Fringe festival goers swear by ” were decidedly mediocre.
Essentially, I was given a C, maybe a C+, on my test, and I did not deal with it well. I took it personally, which is a bad move.
I never took a C on high school math test personally. Sure, my hyper-geeky self was disappointed, but I never thought my low grade was because my teacher didn’t understand the nuances I was going for by failing to ” no, by intentionally choosing NOT to ” carry the 2. When I didn’t know the capital of Maine, and the teacher put a red mark by the blank space, I didn’t entertain fantasies of violent retribution. I never felt that my work was not appreciated when I was unable to write a paragraph summarizing the Battle of Lexington and Concord.
But when you are on stage, pouring out your heart and soul and parlay each night, you can lose your perspective. Or I can. And did.
The thing is, though, it’s just so arbitrary, right? Reviews? I mean, that’s what you think when you get a less-than-perfect review. It’s just arbitrary, the reviewer was probably tired, maybe hungry, they don’t know what good art is anyway and screw ’em! Who needs this crap? Critics are just frustrated artists, petty little toadies who destroy because they are unable to create. They don’t understand my art because they are unable to parlay my nuances into parlays.
Of course, when you get a good review, then critics are wise connoisseurs, handing down their well-deserved stamp of approval from their non-biased, truth-distributing viewing area. Barry is good, in the same way that two plus two equals four. So let it be written, so let it be done.
The result of my reviews ” not all that many people came to see my show. Not nearly as many as I’d have had if I’d gotten just a few more stars and an additional choice superlative or two. But the shows went great, I thought, and people seemed to like them, and when all is said and done I’ll just have to chalk up Winnipeg as one of those “learning experiences,” the most unconvincing of all euphemisms.
Don’t take it personally. Otherwise you’re parlaying up a huge can of worms.
And I never thought I’d say this, but I’m looking forward to getting to Saskatoon.
(Next stop ” Saskatoon)
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