A month ago my wife called me really excited about something she had found online while at work. It was hard to hear her initially as I was practicing graduation songs with my kindergartners, but I heard key words that created instant interest on my end: Inspiring, Commencement and Denzel. A few minutes later my blackberry buzzed on my hip, and when I glanced at the screen the subject line read Denzel/ Watch Video. I eagerly tapped the message and the body of the email simply said Denzel’s UPENN Commencement Speech: “Nothing In Life Is Worthwhile Unless You Take Risks” followed by a hyperlink. Knowing nothing further, I now felt the very same excitement that my wife had called me with just moments before.
I was dying to sit down and engulf myself in what was on the other side of that link, but I had 30 kindergartners staring back at me from their learning boxes on the alphabet carpet, and they weren’t having any part of that. “You don’t mess with a mob of toddlers sitting crisscross applesauce, you just don’t do it”– not if you are fond of living. So just like that I had to defer my anticipation for at least another hour until the school day officially wrapped, “DAMNIT”. My focus was nonexistent as I repeatedly attempted to open the link on my Blackberry Torch, or what I now refer to as my Blackberry “Buffering”. It’s an amazing device for my day-to-day use of placing calls and emailing, but throw a little video in the mix and it turns into a Gay pride Extravaganza on my screen. That rainbow pinwheel just starts twirling around without a care in the world- “Its FABULOUUUS”!
I wanted to shoot home immediately following school to get a little bit of that Comcast High Speed Internet in my life (yeah, we’re doing really well, don’t hate), but my hectic schedule is like that toddler mob, and wasn’t having any part of that either. A gang of errands, a half tank of gas and a full 9 hours after receiving the message, it was now 11pm and I was finally sitting in front of the computer with my wife ready to see what was what. It was serious too; we had a nice meal and were washed and ready to be tucked in after the viewing.
We pushed play, and let me say this, “it was well worth the wait”. I have long been a Denzel Washington fan for his unbridled work ethic, charismatic presence and ability to transform everything he touches into something uniquely his own. Being an artist myself, a standup comedian who acts every night onstage, I study greatness in all forms whether it pertains directly to comedy or not. I have a deep appreciation for that elite group of people who refuse to settle for mediocrity, who refuse to settle for good. It’s either All or Nothing, leave it all where you stand or don’t standup at all.
The career path that I have chosen or shall I say that chose me, is one that is in no way for the faint of heart. The only way to thrive in standup is to be fearless. The second you second-guess yourself is the second you lose your edge. It’s unlike any other art form and in my opinion it is the purest of them all. It’s just you, your thoughts and a microphone. Unless your Gallagher or something, in that case fresh produce may be involved. There is no way to practice other than in front of a live audience, you can’t work it out behind closed doors at home and perfect it, it’s literally trial by fire. NO instruments, NO background singers, NO Nothing. If you don’t crush, you can’t blame it on your horn section like James Brown. “Hey mf, who hit the B flat”. My business is surrounded by failure, its rooted in failure and if you want to make some noise in this business, you better become well acquainted with it. I was just talking to one of my very closest friends in comedy, or in general for that matter about this the other night. She and I were just swapping stories about what comedy takes you through and all of the hits you’ve gotta absorb in order to progress. “It kicks you far more than it kisses you”. Shout out to the hilarious Erin Jackson, www.erinjackson.net.
My wife sees what I go through firsthand, and when she saw this Denzel video it was a message she knew would do me, and those around me a lot of good. His message was to not fall back, but to Fall Forward. He said that he has never understood the concept of “having something to fall back on”. “If I fall, I don’t want to fall back on anything except my faith. I want to Fall Forward, at least this way I’ll see what I’m going to hit”.
He goes on to say that Reggie Jackson struck out more than any other player in baseball history, but you don’t hear about the strikeouts because people only remember the home-runs- Fall Forward. Thomas Edison conducted 1000 failed experiments that you never heard of because the 1001st was the light bulb- Fall Forward. Every failed experiment is one step closer to success. You may have the talent to succeed, but do you have the guts to fail?
What a great question to ask yourself. Do you? It’s easy to sit high and pretty when all goes to plan, but what
happens when it does not. What are you made of? It’s like Dr. King said “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy”. What are you measuring up to be? I can’t answer that question for you, but I can for myself- GREAT. People always ask me who do you want to be like? Who do you want to be the next of? I don’t want to be the next anything, the next Pryor, Rock, Cosby or Chappelle. I want to be the first Jason Weems. This is what we should all want for ourselves. You were made YOU for a reason; EMBRACE IT. Be the genuine article GOD created you to be and let that be your praise. As my wife and I count down the days until our first child Shawn Christopher is born, these are the lessons we are preparing to teach him. Not just by words, but by example. Live your life like it’s your last, because it is. Love hard, don’t look back, take risks and smile while you’re doing it all. We’re all going to Fall, believe that, so like Denzel said “Fall Forward”.
“To get things you’ve never had, you’ve got to do something you’ve never done.”- Pauletta Washington