"Into The Abyss"
a non-comedic podcast with comedians
"Into the Abyss" is a podcast exploring struggle with the world of comedy. I interview comedians and try and get them to speak frankly about the uncertainty in their future and in the comedy industry.(click to hide/show the conceptual history of this podcast)
I first wanted to make this explicitly a podcast about quitting, in which half of the guests interviewed had quit comedy (each episode would pair one quitter and one person who had continued). The goal was to de-mystify quitting — something that is the eventual fate of most comedians, but that is rarely talked about by active players — in the way some people try to de-mystify death. Unlike death, quitting comedy is not an end for a person, and in fact can be a life-affirming decision. Quitting can mean choosing something closer to you over an industry, scene, or profession that was always just a totem for what you really wanted.
At the same time, quitting can be a sad decision — and I wanted to explore those forces, internal and external, that drove people to quit. I especially wanted to see what drove talented, hard-working people to quit, and sort of reveal the structural forces in comedy that can often weigh on people's fates more heavily than their own actions.
I don't know if any podcast could really do that, and I doubt whether I'm a good enough storyteller to even approach it, especially without experience in the form. But that's what I wanted.
I couldn't find enough people who had quit. So I moved on to a new approach—talking to people currently in the game to speak honestly about what stood between them and where they wanted to be.
Part of the goal here was to balance the narrative. We hear all the time from talented, hard-working successful people (and other successful people) about their success. It becomes easy to match people's struggles to points in the arcs of those successful people—but of course, just because the beginning of the arc resembles theirs doesn't mean the end will. Most people don't end up in extraordinary places—even if they are talented, and even if they work hard.
I wanted to decouple the idea of success from the idea of a compelling legitimate story, and from our respect for that story's subject. So I thought I might be able to do that by interviewing people before they knew whether or not they'd be successful. The hope is that by legitimizing voices (as story subjects) by their part in the journey, not the destination, we give legitimacy to the core action and experience of the form, not the result.
But really, I'm just talking to people without any interviewing skills, with some vague organizing principle in mind. So my goals don't really determine the form of the actual art. Like anything else, it's all dependent on what actually happens.
Justin Grace is a writer, improviser, stand-up comedian, and character performer. I met Justin some time around 2007, at Columbia University, where we collaborated on some live shows in various formats.
He's had an exciting life, with all kinds of funny stories, but we don't talk about those. We talk mainly about his difficulties holding down jobs, expressing vulnerability in a confidence-based industry, fitting into hierarchical systems, giving himself credit, and coming from a poor background into a rich kids' world (though he's quick to acknowledge lots of people have it much worse).
I'm not much for resumes, but people in the various comedy communities in New York might know him from "Super Buffet," a monthly character showcase he co-hosts.
Glo Tavarez is an improviser, and actor, and a writer. She's been part of the all-woman talk show "The Female Gaze," has been in all kinds of improv shows, and recently become a Story Pirate — part of a troupe of actors who perform stories by and for kids and encourage them to be writers.
I first met Glo through Trumane Alston, who, soon after we met, recruited both of us and five other people to form the improv team that eventually would become Freight. We didn't get along at first—we're polar opposite personality types, and had clashing views on the improv community—but eventually became friends, and this podcast was a lot of fun.
Glo has done a lot of hilarious work, but talks mainly about what gets in the way of it, and how even well-intentioned liberals can keep fucking up her world.
She also used her musical improvisation skill to create the first ever "Into the Abyss" theme song.
Maritza Montañez is a comedian, starting with improv comedy and branching out into more scripted performance and standup. She hosts the long-running, locally popular show "Kaleidoscope" and performs improv with a bunch of teams.
She also works on political activism—the Obama campaign, labor rights, civil rights, financial coaching—and sometimes feels guilty when she prioritizes personal and creative goals over political duty. But sometimes it's what she needs to do.
This was the longest episode to date, it takes awhile to get to the comedy, and we never get to the quitting. But we talk about balancing personal life and causes, managing short hours, finding meaning in comedy, the sick human desire for approval, confronting power structures, managing incomplete privilege, and trying to smash it all and escape through comedy.