Hashtag Actors Life: An apology
I admit it: I have used this annoying hashtag. Usually ironically. Like if I’ve been unemployed for weeks and the auditions are scarce and I eat too much to fill the void and the rejection and depression and feelings of inadequacy are getting me down and on top of it all I step in dog poo, I might be inclined to snap a pic of myself scraping the poop off my shoe and hashtag it #actorslife. But not a lot of non-actors get the joke. It’s funny because some actors use it to self-aggrandize or to advertise their glamourous (suuuuure) lives.
Another example: I always feel like tweeting: “I’m pregnant! #nohomo” or “Chugged a fifth of Xanax. Bye. #yolo!” The hashtags are what make me laugh in these admittedly dark jokes. I always think better than to actually Tweet them, however. Too many misunderstandings are possible, and Twitter blows for explaining yourself. The number of people who would leap on me for using #nohomo without seeing that I’m lampooning it (I believe a man can show affection for another man without having to also assert his sexuality.) And you wouldn’t believe the unnecessary concern I’d be subject to in the latter joke, when, again, the intent is to lampoon the use of the hashtag. I’d have to assure people repeatedly that I’m totally fine (I am). I just think it’s obvious that we only have one life and you’d better get out and live it, and that it’s generally pointless to draw attention to it; darkly humorous to indicate it in the context of death. I am expressly not advocating suicide, nor would I. And while I would hope that would be obvious, I’ve discovered that in fact is is, apparently, not.
I say all this because I keep coming across people on the internet who seem to hate me and I can’t figure out why. Of course, not everyone should like me, that’s not the point. Seven billion other people on the planet, I know I can’t expect to be loved by all. I’m not a total narcissist.
But still, I can’t help it: One can read thirty comments that say “Peter New is awesome,” or something, and the glow of feeling adored is utterly ruined by one person saying “if Peter New did that, it’s another reason to hate it!” I’ve gotten good at not letting it ruin my whole day (it used to). Now it only ruins a half hour. Forty five minutes on a bad day. I can’t help but think that the reason for this hatred of me is due to some misunderstanding. And the real suck-hard of the thing is that I can never know the truth. It’s a person in the world I have no choice but to write off as lost to me; a colleague I’ll never work with; a friend I’ll never have. And that’s the real shame of it. People are out there judging me for a thing I probably didn’t do, or didn’t do the way they think I did, or have no idea I did, and I’m powerless to change it. We have a word in English for this phenomenon:
I think back to before I was famous (and for the sake of argument: let’s disregard the extreme moderation of my fame for the moment), and I realize that I too have been guilty of tearing down those we see as having ‘made it’.
Once when I worked at the Duthie Books at Robson and Hornby in Vancouver, the very funny actor Michael McKean came browsing. I was star struck. I was a huge fan of Spinal Tap and much of his other work. Now, at the time I was performing a lot of sketch comedy around the city, to some small acclaim, though I had yet to sign an agent. I’d had maybe one professional job. But I also had high hopes for myself. To me, he was in the club. And I wasn’t. I decided, as he was leaving to explore the city on what was likely his day off from some gruelling schedule, that this might be my only chance ever to speak with him. So I chased him out onto the street, caught up with him on the corner, and asked him the only important question I could think of – some version of “How do I make it?” He rolled his eyes and sputtered an impatient answer that amounted to, “stick with it.” I was disappointed. For years I had a story of what a dick he was to me that one time I met him. #yolo
Now, I’ve learned a couple of things since then.
1. Ten seconds with a man is not enough to judge him fairly.
2. On an actor’s day off, in a moment said actor thinks is private, fan interaction can be (not always, I also love it, see #5 below), exhausting.
3. The question that’s interesting to the fan is the same question that’s interesting to a million other fans.
4. The answer really, actually, for real, actually is: stick with it.
5. The onus is on the celebrity to speak genuinely to every fan that talks to them, but that:
6. S/he will always fail with someone.
I’m on the other side of the coin now. I can still learn from those who came before. But I now understand a number of things that I think Michael McKean understands. I get that when you get asked the same question a hundred times a day, keeping the answer fresh is tiring, and yet you need to answer it every time. I understand that there is no club you get in. As actors we are always, constantly hunting for or creating our own work. This doesn’t ever stop. If it stops, you stop. There’s no magical fairyland in which you sail confidently from job to job. You have to work for it. In other words, my guess is that he was ‘sticking with it’ then as much as he was when he began; as much as I had to to get to here, and as much as I still have to to continue to grow. There is no single pathway to success in this field. There are as many paths as there are successful performers. His was his, mine was mine, yours will be yours. And lastly: of the 100 people asking you how to make it, roughly point one of them will actually succeed.
So, Mr. McKean, if you happen to read this- I’m sorry I misunderstood. I’m sorry I took it way too personally. And I’m sorry I called you a dick at parties. I’m glad 90’s house parties didn’t have comments sections. It prevented both anonymity and permanence.
All I can hope is that folks like @bronyasshole626 (the most recent one’s name was something like this, I’m not even kidding), feels the same way about me as I do about my own transgressions in a few more years.