I’ve always felt that failure is the most important part of the creative process. The only way to get better at anything is to get it wrong, figure out what didn’t work, and then go and try it again. If you never fail you can never improve. And if you never fail, you’re probably not creating anything worth anyone’s time.
When I look back at my failures performing a joke or writing something that sucked, I don’t feel any of the embarrassment of rejection. Somebody telling me what I did sucked or not laughing at a joke I told was just a moment in time between my failure and me figuring out how to improve. It’s all apart of growing and getting stronger. To borrow a metaphor from Louis C.K., it’s about folding the steel onto itself over and over again until it becomes a samurai sword.
I was watching Rocky Balboa yesterday. It was surprisingly good and very affecting. We see Rocky as a tired old man who still has anger to get out of himself, who still wants to be better than he is. He’s failed and he wants to atone for it. After everything he’s done, he still feels like he didn’t end up too far from where he started. He’s got portions of his soul that he wants to get out and express, to cleanse. Just his method of getting out his soul is punching, which is really as good as any other. And I was sitting on the couch thinking, Am I really identifying this much with the sixth Rocky movie?
That movie has caused me to look outside just my failures as a writer or a comedian and how those have made me better for experiencing them, but how my failures as a person have shaped me creatively more than anything else I’ve ever done has. Most people who get into creative fields are drawn to it from some pain they experienced. Usually pain delivered by peers or parents, their environment, the way they were born — something that happened to them. Any pain that was inflicted on me, I’ve let go of. No bully never said anything about me that I hadn’t thought about myself already. That stuff doesn’t bother me. What I still carry around is how I have failed. Pain I inflicted on others. Moments of weakness. Doing nothing instead of doing the right thing. Not stupid regrets like, “Oh, I should have kissed some stupid idiot when I was sixteen.” Regrets like, “I intentionally made somebody else feel like a piece of shit.” Real failures as a person rather than being a victim.
They feel very present to me. I remember them vividly all the time. And they still feel like fresh wounds. I can move past how some stupid girl treated me, but I can’t move past my own failures. Maybe because I know I’m still that guy that I’ve been trying not to be, that I feel like I’ve moved past. And to write and to do stand-up always feel like a way to transcend that feeling. Like Rocky, I want to punch people until that stuff is no longer in the basement. But with jokes.