It’s spring 2020. I’m under the cover of soft bed covers listening to my sweet escape. Between my earbuds, I’m pouting at lost opportunities but mostly avoiding news from an unstable world instead of writing the first draft of this article.
Today’s podcast features the self-admittedly yet unashamed, short, fat comedian named Bobby Lee along with his beautiful girlfriend Khalyla. As per usual, the show “Tiger Belly” teems with hilarious but politically incorrect non-sequiturs that most of us would probably lose our jobs for saying.
Their guest is former UFC middleweight champion Michael Bisping, a tall man with a glass eye who is much more physically imposing than the pudgy, nude, fireside, self-portrait that Bobby Lee has on the wall behind him.
Through the group’s collective banter, what initially seems like contradicting personas begin to share humor coupled with wit. I cut the show off early, curious to explore the innate talent mixed with fearless risk taking from MMA fighters and comedians.
My meandering through podcast land reminds me that comedians like Joey Diaz did not start their careers on a Netflix screen. He, like most young comics, spent years on the road playing at the odd bar or dingy comedy club. Through thick clouds of weed, Joey Diaz details the apathy young comedians face,
“Comedy 101 is when you go on stage in front of 15 comics that paid a dollar for a drink to do comedy…That’s fuck’n brutality.“
Wow. I hop out from the bed to behind my desk for a quick read. Journeymen MMA fighters have the opposite of a cakewalk. Their lives reveal unpredictable competition schedules, bruises, broken bones plus sprains, grueling training grinds, minimal pay with low recognition for bouts. “Even in the top promotions, there in a large majority of athletes that must work another job to pay their bills”, says UFC Veteran Brian Ebersole.
Both professions are engaged in a pursuit where very few can “make it” to the point of performing for audiences around the world, let alone earn a comfortable living. Even from the pinnacle of their domains, two prominent Canadians explain how they feel while operating so perilously close to crashing instead of cruising.
My childhood hero, Georges St-Pierre, describes his terror in repeatedly facing hungry challengers during his run as World Champion:
“There’s always the fear of being humiliated, losing, the fear that I have done all this crazy sacrifice for nothing. This is crazy, this is almost unbearable.”
Likewise, some of the best comedy is controversial or dangerous. “You can still bomb. I don’t think you’re ever above bombing as a comic”, said Russel Peters.
So I lean forward, hoping that the pros, with their potential of being booed off stage or knocked unconscious in front of thousands, have some sort of cheat code or life hack to cope.
John Oliver shares his philosophy on stage fright, “Stand-up comedy seems like a terrifying thing. Objectively. Before anyone has done it, it seems like one of the most frightening things you could conceive, and there’s just no shortcut – you just have to do it. “
As an outspoken showman, combiner of fighting styles, dancer but also a lover of anime, the “StyleBender”, Israel Adesanya bewildered many during his ascent into MMA. He was challenged by his opponents yet even more fiercely by his critics for being unusual or not up to “the hype”. Despite this, he would fly across the cage with his personal, fine-tuned flair to finish his opponents in stunning fashion–over and over again. Today Adesanya is the UFC middleweight champion but also widely regarded as a generational talent and personality.
“the same iconic image can be expressed on these streets in two countries by two artists. The time and effort it takes, this will never not be appreciated.” says Adesanya. Beyond being remarkable for the critics he proves wrong, Adesanya showcases a blueprint for the unique form of creative expression that can be crafted in the face of heavy opposition and years of work put in to “figure it out”.
I loop back to the Tiger Belly to hear Bobby Lee cackling at Michael Bisping. I’m still smiling at how ridiculous they are yet I’m also admiring the fact that Lee has been practicing stand-up comedy since 1994 and that Bisping’s career as a martial artist stretches nearly 15 years. They were considered outcasts long before becoming masters of their respective crafts. Yet, Lee and Bisping are both still improving one piece of work at a time.
Earbuds out on my table, I’ve got my fingers tapping away at this piece. I can’t help but admire how fighters and comedians exemplify, through their repetitive facing of obstacles, that people are continual works in progress. I don’t want perfection. But since life isn’t going to be easy anytime soon, I know now to look to these unconventional role models: first for entertainment but then to acknowledge that obstacles precede growth, that sometimes I should embrace the butterflies to just step up, so that by continually facing heat, I can forge something that is uniquely my own.