There is a turmoil inside of me that acts like a combustion engine. The way I think powers the engine, but my damaged mind churns and rumbles like a retired police cruiser left struggling in idle.
My brain has never worked properly. Maybe it’s a serotonin imbalance or a history of emotional abuse, but my brain does not run smoothly. It has a tendency towards depression, anxiety, rumination, self loathing, obsessive thoughts, doubt, fear of abandonment, realism, pragmatism, and anger. These attributes cause me to hate myself, push those I love away out of fear, contemplate suicide, and create a taxonomy of the ways in which I am flawed. My combustion engine fights against sludge and broken parts, and for a long time I was nowhere close to passing an emissions test. This car was simply not safe to take out on the road because the fumes were too toxic, and the slightest bump could cause a complete breakdown.
I have found that, while not everyone who has a mind like this becomes a comedian, most comedians have similar mental struggles. We do not choose comedy; comedy is a necessary release for our well-being, the exhaust from our engine. My negative ruminating thoughts would suffocate me if I could not find the humor to help me release the toxic smoke. In comedy we find a space to deal with our damaged selves and through laughter we find acceptance.
The art of stand up comedy acts as the muffler. The engine produces exhaust and without a muffler, the exhaust escapes in loud noxious bursts of smoke as the engine struggles along. The muffler of stand up comedy hones the release and makes it presentable. Yes, I can get a laugh by shouting about how much I hate myself, but people like me a lot more when I lead them through a crafted story in which the conclusion reveals that I am the worst. Comedy teaches comedians that it is ok to have exhaust; you just need to use some tact as you let it out.
I have an engine (thought process), which produces exhaust (tumultuous and comedic thoughts), which gets let out through a muffler (stand up comedy). This process only works in one direction; if my stand up comedy gets really good, it does not necessarily have any effect on my mental health. If I buy a new muffler, it does not improve a poorly running engine. The only way for me to fix my psychological problems is to put work into it, time under the hood.
Over the years I spent, countless hours tinkering in the garage. Through therapy and natural maturation, my engine started to run smoothly and produces a less toxic exhaust. I learned to accept myself and even love myself on occasion. I finally passed my first emissions test. Yes my exhaust is still toxic, but it does not reach the threshold experts consider dangerous. However, just because the car is running, does not mean I should stop working on the engine. Mental health is a lifelong pursuit, and I am inching closer to health and stability.
One thing scares me. What happens if I get there? What happens if I can improve my mental health enough that stand up comedy is no longer a necessity to my survival? What happens if I can upgrade my engine to a 100% electric car with no exhaust? With no exhaust, do I need a muffler still? Even scarier, could I even use a muffler if I tried? If I find true mental health, can I even be a comedian any more? Where would the jokes come from?
Luckily for all of you, while in theory it is fun to imagine that one day my engine could become 100% electric, the reality is that my engine needs gas. Maybe I am not a good enough mechanical engineer, or maybe no one can turn an old fashioned beat up combustion engine into an electric car, but chances are, I am stuck with the engine that I have.
The goal now is to keep the engine fine-tuned and humming. The engine still churns and the self loathing exhaust steadily floats out, but now my car is allowed on the road. I am not stuck in the garage focusing on the engine, exhaust, and muffler. I get to take the car out to explore more than just the inner working of a combustion engine. I can take a road trip to ‘What-The-Deal-With-Mountain.’ Now whatever issues I want to address on stage, if my engine can get me there, the muffler will be close behind.
I close the hood of my car and turn the key. The engine is purring like a cat in a sunbeam. I have passed my emissions test and the car is road ready. A road trip awaits me. Inevitably there will be spark plug issues and blown gaskets, but wherever my engine breaks down, no one is more suited to get this car back on the road better than me. I have spent 26 years learning how this engine works. I had to hammer out some dents, and replace some faulty parts, but now it is running. For the first time in my life, I feel confident enough in my engine to shift into drive.
My name is Murphy Row, and I am a comedian. I cannot wait to see where this car can take me.
And please, remember to check your oil.