Thursday, January 28, 2010

Cynicism vs. Conan O'Brien's Optimism

 "All I ask is one thing, and I’m asking this particularly of young people: please don’t be cynical. I hate cynicism, for the record, it’s my least favorite quality and it doesn’t lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen."

so CoCo ended his Tonight Show reign, grabbed his guitar and joined Will Ferral, ZZ Top, Beck, Ben Harper, and the Tonight Show band for a heart felt rendition of "Free bird" --complete with cowbell.

anyone who watches tv knows the story: Jay Leno's 10pm show got terrible ratings, bringing down ratings for local news and giving a bad lead-in to Conan's Tonight Show. instead of just pulling the plug on Leno, they decided to move his -terribly unfunny- show to 11:35pm, where Leno had once ruled the ratings. the "Tonight Show" would then move to 12:05am of the next day.  Conan, a long time veteran of comedy and television, refused to "aid in the destruction" of a 60 year institution he loved. so he was forced to leave.

Michael Ian Black wrote a wonderfully in depth reflection on why so many of us became invested in the whole mess. and while his main point is that we should be just as emotionally invested and outraged about the truly important things, he says people cared because Conan became a stand in for all "the aggrieved, the injured, the wrongly terminated."  he says:

"We see Conan as a victim because we feel as though, like us, he wasn’t given a fair shot. If a guy like that, a guy who has everything, can be downsized and demoted, what hope do the rest of us have?"

and yet on his final day, in fact his final chance--due to his release contract-- that he will be able to say something negative about nbc, he acted with grace and humility, begging all of us not to lose our dreams.

am i a cynic?  i was about to type "no".  and then i remembered the bees that follow me. 

i admit i often have a sardonic sense of humor. that sometimes i can't control the snarkiness.

puhlease. i can be an evil and morose monkey.

you have hard days, hard weeks. you have an extra glass of wine and make unwise decisions.  you watch your talents lay unused while you exhaust under yet another day job. it is hard not to be a cynic, especially in the art world. waiting for the next gig.

would it be easier if, like Conan, i had been employed and paid from the moment i left college? undoubtedly. but we don't all have that luxury. if you have to struggle to hold on to optimism, does the struggle itself diminish that optimism?

can you be happy by clenching happiness in the palm of your hand?

i heard Dan Sullivan, the illustrious director, give a great note once to a misguided actor. (Mr Sullivan is always giving great notes) said actor was having a terrible time with a scene from Hedda Gabbler--to his credit, not an easy play. stuck, the actor was stubbornly refusing to hear what he was being told, arguing with even the "it is cold outside, that should affect you." the actor didn't want to "fake" being cold. finally, with only the barest hint of disdain, Dan said to him "Act like it is."

Act like it is.  fake it till you make it. this has been one of my greatest tools in life, on stage.

in acting, you know (or decide) what your intentions are. when things aren't clicking, you keep going through the motions, fulfilling all the aspects of the moment that you can--however superficial, and sometimes you fall into the truth.

this isn't a bad tactic for life either. smile until you are happy. try it. but you have to make your smile have all the aspects of a real smile, not a plastered grimace. or try it with a laugh. go on. fake a laugh, a good full one.  the physical act of breath leaving the body through the gut, with force and voice. it can engage actual positive feelings. for realsies.

now i am not about to claim that i am always happy, or for god's sake that i always look happy. i know the truth is far from that. but i also know that we make our own reality, our own little Matrixes.

so that brings us back to optimism vs. pessimism. where does a made-up smile fall in that spectrum?

meandering thought of the day, as i prepare for another audition for a precast role.


  1. I continue to be so proud of you. Love, Dad

  2. Keep following your muse.
    Always be honing and be ready.
    Intention is not dreaming or's the determination to do.
    Here's to how spectacular you are.

  3. First of all--Conan is really smart and so is his humor...and sucks and so do most day jobs. God love the people who are able to have amazing fulfillment in their day jobs (and not break the law). Keep on writing.!

  4. ohhh. i'm with Coco also. but i think arguing in person about life will be much more entertaining.



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