Voice

David Iscoe newsletter, Weekly Update #2

I Guess It’s Already Fucking Friday, folks. I.G.I.A.F.F.. That means it’s time for another update, but it also means time has once again ticked away, and it was a little fast for my taste. When you’re a freelancer, Fridays are nothing to celebrate. Monday is full of possibility, then it’s all downhill from there. It doesn’t really matter how much you get done. Whatever you get done by Friday, you’d rather have had it done by Wednesday and stolen two more days for yourself. But so it goes.

When I wasn’t anxiously watching the sands of my life drain out the top half of that hourglass, I spent a lot of my time this week working on voice acting stuff. One was a record-at-home audition for an animated robot show. The other was a whole bunch of “takes,” comedic mini-rants, for a semi-secret media project. Other than that, I just got tiny bits done of a bunch of other things, too-small slices of a couple of day-jobs, one humor piece that I decided to rewrite before submitting, some slow progress on a non-fiction piece that’s taking me a while to crack, and then just getting sucked into reading about politics (good to stay aware, not good to get in reactive loops), and wasting and funneling off nervous energy while doing a lot of task-switching.

But let’s talk about the voice things. The audition was for a preschool-aimed Transformers cartoon show, looking for non-union voice actors (happy Labor Day). Professionals knock these out in half an hour and get on with their day. But this was my second audition ever, first in seven months, so my inexperience meant everything took longer, from the technical setup to the execution to choosing the takes. And this being a relatively rare opportunity for me, I was thinking too much about whether it would pan out and whether there would be more of these if I didn’t make a decent showing, and that made it hard to concentrate on the work. In poker they tell you never to play with money you can’t lose. You’ll think about the money too much instead of making the right plays, and you’ll lose it. With auditions I still feel like I’m thinking about the money and losing sight of the game.

The other project gave me a whole bunch of chances to try something, which meant I didn’t have to get too pressed about each one and could just execute as best as I could. I can’t talk about it in detail, but I wrote up 18 little comedic audio bits and recorded 17 of them, and there’s some possibility of getting paid. Having a whole lot to do was crucial, because it meant I couldn’t sit in the very uncomfortable home studio and try to perfect all of them, and we’d gotten some direction that that wasn’t ideal anyway. So instead I walked around a not-very-crowded part of Prospect Park and recorded them into my phone microphone, walking while talking and prioritizing energy. I might have sacrificed too much audio quality, or dropped too many “um”s and flubs into the speech, to get paid, but I found a product I liked that I hadn’t thought before then had any marketability at all.

This is close to what you might call “my voice,” and it’s something I don’t have a very firm grasp of in the comedic market. I have a strong, funny, and distinctive voice in a lot of settings - writers rooms, groups of friends I connect with, my brother’s wedding, fun offbeat independent events that my friends and/or I set up, hobby publications that encourage my individuality - but I don’t have a clear sense of how translate that to a broader public that is supposed to like me. I don’t know where I fit in or if I should be there at all, I don’t know if anyone cares what I have to say, I worry that I’m being obnoxious and bothering people, and I think about all these things too much and my voice gets lost in all the reflection.

That’s a disorienting process, because my voice is something I think of as mine, fundamental to who I am, and not something that can be taken away. But of course, it isn’t really mine alone. Having a voice is conditional on being heard, having a group that speaks your language and accepts your basic right to speak, a setting where you get the timing and culture and know how to be obnoxious or petty or vulnerable in a way that doesn’t make people uncomfortable. People find this in a group of friends, a public community, an online community, or sometimes just personnel communion with texts–books, TV, internet comments, plays, anything that opens communication enough for you to feel that it’s expressive of something you’re feeling, from which point you can add your own personal inflection, play with it and create new structures. Your voice is yours as long as you’re in an environment, a “room” where you can use it.

I’ve been in a lot of good rooms, too many to list without adding 3,000 more words to what should have been a straightforward update. But I still shy away from a lot of public places. They seem to be populated by a small number of people who have some greatness I don’t, and a large number of hyper-confident, hyper-extroverted people who are fundamentally boring but just very good at playing to the market. When people tell me that my voice belongs in public, I instinctively think that they’re either (A) mistakenly identifying “talent” because they happen to know me and like me and I’ve somehow tricked them or (B) telling me to perform a hyper-extroverted mode of being that I would find self-alienating and depressing. But really they’re just saying they think it would be worthwhile for me to create more work and find a way to serve it to people who would want it. And really the people out there who seem great probably started out messy and had to work a lot and some of the people who seem like frauds probably have real dynamic voices in closer settings or are trying to survive or build something. Then again, a lot of people truly do suck, but what you gonna do?

So that’s my shit I’m working through, but there’s an obvious corollary to all this, or one that should be obvious but that we still miss a lot. If this shit happens to me, coming from the dominant culture, having a lot of people who look and basically sound like me in shows, and being connected to plenty of resources, and having all kinds of great alt rooms to walk into, that same comedy world can be a full-blown fucking hellscape for people who face real sociological marginalization. On top of all the other shit, there’s a real imbalance of rooms where you get to feel comfortable and heard enough to feel as funny as you do around your friends, get heard and have your nuances picked up on.

Everyone should get a chance to be as funny in public as they are in their comfort zone, but the most vaunted spaces are built to a very specific type of comfort zone, the denizens of whom conflate their own personal language with “funny.” I remember a bit from one of these club comedian white guy types, and I don’t remember who said it, but he was mocking the idea of someone who thinks their friend is really funny and should do comedy. Basically belittling everyday humor in comparison to that dude’s stage humor. But I don’t know, maybe her friend really was funny and would have a chance at professionalizing it in an environment where more audiences and rooms helped create a setting that heard her voice like her friends did. It’s like “haha, silly audience member doesn’t get how shitty we are up here.”

So, you know, if we be less shitty we’ll get more funny shit and a wider range of funny voices. There’s literally millions of people who can tell that type of story better than I am, just you know, it’s a legit and listen to them.

Anyway Im gonna keep at my own stuff. Was gonna write about a whole bunch of stuff: voice vs “brand,” why it’s great to be plugged into a system that takes care of all the marketing, more about literal voice, the way our voices are artificial and sometimes we hear them and try to repeat them and end overperforming something that was natural, but it turns out there are too many ideas and not enough time. I.G.I.A.F.F


UPCOMING SHOW

Assuming nothing comes up and I get all my temp work done on time instead of rushing to finish it Sunday night, I’ll be performing an insidery comedic bit called “Hell’s Kitchen,” something I wrote a couple weeks ago at Sketch Cram, at:

It’s just a sketch/improv open mic I’m going to. This damn thing is late at night and I can’t sleep in like I used to, so it’ll slightly kill me, but I think I want to perform every once in a while, even though I’d rather spend more time writing and getting my life in order, and this is an easy one to start with.


UPCOMING CONTENT

  • There won’t be an “‘I Hate’ Mondays” piece this Monday because I don’t want to wear out that format, but it’ll be back at some point, and there will be another type of Monday feature this next day.

  • Paid subscribers, your first exclusive humor piece is coming out on Tuesday. I’m telling you this in front of everyone so they know you’re special, and also partly to force myself to do it.

  • My new podcast will be coming out the Monday after next. It’s funnier and dumber than my old podcast.