It’s amazing how something obvious can take you by complete surprise.
When the Foo Fighters arrived in 1995, I was as stunned as anyone. Here was the drummer from Nirvana fronting a band. Not only was he fronting it, he played all the instruments on the debut album, having written every song. And those songs were pretty fucking awesome.
Jaws were agape; minds were blown.
I didn’t give much thought to Dave Grohl’s backstory; most people assumed he watched Cobain write great songs and learned how to write himself.
Which is only partially true.
Nirvana was his university, but his life before that was a 24/7 path to success. Watching the TV series Sonic Highways, a discovery was made: Dave Grohl wasn’t just a drummer. Since childhood, he had been playing guitar and composing. Dave described owning two cassette players; he would hit record on one, and play guitar. He would then rewind the tape, and hit play while simultaneously hitting record on the other. Dave would then sing along to the guitar, creating a two-track recording.
Basically, Dave Grohl has been writing songs his whole life.
While on tour with Nirvana, he would sit in his hotel and work out the melodies and ideas bouncing around his brain. At tour’s end, he would go to a friend’s studio and record those songs, building up an inventory. By the time Nirvana was no more, a backlog of over 40 songs existed. Dave Grohl was constantly putting in his Malcolm Gladwell 10,000 hours.
As a comedian, I look at success stories like that with crossed fingers, hope, and resolve.
My “career” in stand up comedy began when I was in the neighborhood of six years old, at Interlochen summer camp in the mitten-shaped state of Michigan. For the talent show, I donned a paper bag and did a set as The Unknown Comic. He was someone I had seen on Laugh In and The Gong Show. I was too shy to show my face, and didn’t yet understand the concept of thievery—I probably thought taking his shtick was OK because I was a kid. In my defense, I did perform original material, making fun of the counselors, and camp food. I did well, too, because I was talking about things the other campers could relate to.
From that moment forward, I was interested in comedy. I spent my time listening to George Carlin albums and seeing Richard Pryor stand-up movies. In school, I was a gifted class clown, with smartass remarks rolling off my tongue with ease. Years later, when I started down the path as a professional stand up, I went to the local comedy club every week to watch every person gracing the stage. I went to as many open microphones as possible, and comedy was nothing short of an obsession.
To this day, I hope I’m always learning. I watch every comic I work with. Sometimes I learn, sometimes I judge. It is what it is. But I’m always putting in the effort, always trying to refine and better my act. I’m putting in the hours, and working toward originality and funny.
If—or when, if I’m trying to be positive—I get an opportunity, I want to be able to take hold and not let go. Just like Dave Grohl did.
Do I think I’ll achieve his kind of greatness? I don’t want to answer in the negative, but I’m not cocky enough to answer in the positive.
But either way, I think I’m on the right path.
And I think that’s important.
You can read his weekly scribblings on his website.