Aisha Tyler's Aha! Moment
Only weeks after I'd gotten married, I was asked to join a group of stand-up comedians on a national tour. I couldn't say no to such a great opportunity, so I quit my job as a marketing executive, kissed my new husband goodbye, and embarked on a four-month odyssey across the country, performing at colleges in 30 states.
What I believed would be a spectacular work experience swiftly revealed itself to be a series of thankless performances in such splashy venues as cafeterias and dormitory lobbies. No lights, no stage. Sometimes no microphone. The kids would heckle us, and more than once they hurled food. We made almost no money, and on nights when we didn't have a gig, we slept in the car, using our coats as blankets. To top it off, I was traveling with two male comedians I barely knew in a van that smelled overwhelmingly of sweat socks. I was miserable.
My anguish reached its peak in a crappy motel room in rural Pennsylvania. Seated on a rickety bed, halfway through a nutritious dinner of Cheetos, missing my husband and my life, I thought: This is too hard! You have a home, a job, a guy who loves you, and you're walking away from it all to live on Twinkies and yell jokes at unappreciative coeds? Why? Would it hurt to give up right now?
As I sat there sniffling into my cheese curls, I remembered how my husband believed in me, so much so that he sent me off into the wide world with the words "This is your dream. Go for it." I thought about disappointing him. I thought about disappointing myself. After so much hard work, would I give up just because the road had gotten a little rocky, the van a little stinky?
I considered my idols—Richard Pryor, Lenny Bruce, Whoopi Goldberg—all of whom had overcome much more than a few surly audiences. I mean, Richard Pryor set himself on fire, and he was still able to find something funny to say about it. The worst I had experienced was a couple of slices of flying pizza.
I wiped my nose and stopped feeling sorry for myself. That night I got back onstage and did what I love to do. And it felt great. An energetic fistfight in the audience during my performance couldn't dampen my determination. I was in it for the long haul.
Nothing really worth having is easy to get. The hard-fought battles, the goals won with sacrifice, are the ones that matter. I had to give up so much to do those awful college shows. But what I gained—the knowledge that I could do anything I set my mind to—was greater. What I learned in that shabby hotel room with the moldy shower curtain and the iron burns on the carpet was that I had what it took to go all the way: pure, unadulterated bullheadedness.
As my career progresses, the hotel rooms, clubs, and audiences get better. But I'm still just as bullheaded. I wouldn't have it any other way.