Ok so, I must admit that I’m feeling some kinda way about the Geoffrey Owens story. I’m not going to re-write history and pretend I wasn’t a fan of “The Cosby Show.” You know I was. Back in the day, that was Black Thursday.
I may not have known the actor’s name but I damn sure knew that on the show his name was Elvin. He was married to Claire and Cliff‘s oldest daughter, Sandra. They met at Princeton. They had twins (Nelson and Winnie). And they were trying to make a go of it with The Wilderness Store. (I didn’t Google any of that. That’s living in real time, son.)
And so I made the mistake that most fans do. In my head, that’s where Geoffrey still is. (Hell, shouldn’t the twins be getting ready to go off to or graduate from Hillman?)
But as a fellow artist, I know better. People see you on TV one time and they think you’re balling for life. You’re not. You put in the work with no guarantees. I’m not sure how many of us really understand that when we enter show business. We think talent and hard work is all it takes.
I bet Mr. Owens thought being on “The Cosby Show” was his big break. And it was. But a big break doesn’t mean you will work consistently for your entire career. The industry is unstable, unfair, and largely indifferent to your dreams and desires. (I won’t even get into the underlying racism, sexism, and ageism. Just know that it’s there and actively running in the background/foreground.)
The only thing more vulnerable than being an actor is being a stand-up comedian. We don’t even have a union. We are completely on our own. And so the hustle is real; Real tenuous. I still identify Stand-Up as my primary gig but it’s gotten A LOT HARDER. Without an agent or a manager to advocate for me not only are there some doors I’ll never get through, but some I’ll never even know exist. (For Harry Potter fans, it’s the Room of Requirement that never shows itself.)
And so yes, I have had to… how shall I say… re-purpose my skills because I like to go to nice places, wear cute clothes, and have pretty things like health insurance. So like a good daughter of West Indian descent I have many jobs. I don’t discuss it all because of the very job-shaming blow that Geoffrey was dealt. I was once recognized on a “corporate training gig" and I was horrified. I didn’t think: “I’m here doing an honest day’s work; helping people learn skills they need in a fun and engaging way.” I thought, “If I’m here, it means I've failed at pursuing my dream.”
Even well-meaning people don’t make the connection that if they don’t go to work every day they don’t get paid; AND NEITHER DO I.
They can’t understand why I’m not on more shows. All the TV shows, all the time. In some ways, this speaks to the level of confidence they have in me and my talent. But it also adds to the shame and embarrassment of not having risen to the level of their imagined expectations. Because, quiet as it’s kept, I still want to be there too and I’m stunned that I’m not. Their disappointment and bewilderment are matched only by my own.
And they are full of suggestions that I’ve never thought of:
“You should be on the Tonight Show.” Well, yes.
“You should talk to Oprah.” Sure. I’ll give her a call.
“Tyler Perry would love you.” Maybe. Maybe not. Love is a funny thing. The heart wants what the heart wants.
“Why do you still drive a Honda?” Because it’s a good car that gets good gas mileage.
On the plus side, it’s nice to know that if push comes to shove, Trader Joe’s is hiring.
I’ve come close to quitting many times. You have no idea the energy it takes to get up off the mat after being knocked down in a business that is 90% rejection. Sometimes you gotta let that count go to eight or nine before you drag yourself back up. It’s exhausting but persistence is the name of the game.
And honestly, I’m in too deep to turn back. Now it’s ride or die. But I guess it always has been.
To paraphrase Maya Angelou, “And Still I Grind.”