I have balanced a full-time day job and nightly work on creative endeavors (standup, storytelling, sketch comedy) since I left Hamilton and it’s a lot, but I’ve always been someone who has a lot of plates spinning and gets more done when I’m busy than when I’m free. On the Hill, I was in The Hamiltones, Yodapez, Alpha Theta Chi, and I wrote for The Spectator —I’ve always loved to be busy, collaborating with lots of people, doing lots of things.
New York City’s comedy scene is so bustling that it gives you wonderful opportunities to create, collaborate, and perform. I do something creative almost every night, whether it’s performing on a standup show or watching a friend’s show or working on a writing project. Some people insist that you simply cannot have a full-time, professional job AND be an artist by night, but those people are probably from family money and don’t NEED to work a full-time job. Each person is unique and finds what works for him/her, but for ME, having a full-time job and thus, insurance, 401K, paychecks showing up at regular intervals, actually helps me to be creative because I’m not asking my art to pay for my life. I feel calm and stable about my finances, so I can be creative. I have a very hard time being creative and creating when I’m freaking out about how I will pay rent.
I was an English major and have worked in publishing since I left the Hill (with a short dabble in the legal world which was not for me) and, unfortunately, publishing is an industry with notoriously low salaries (especially entry-level), but if you bounce around from publishing house to publishing house, you can climb that ladder over time. I’m very proud to be using my degree and I’m glad to have a strong publishing resume, as well as a solid stable of acting/comedy work.
As far as advice for any Hamilton grad who is thinking about getting into comedy, I’d say go for it and find the arrangement that works for you. Perhaps that means going back to your hometown and seeking out comedy there, then later on moving to a larger market. Or maybe that is signing up for improv or sketch classes because you know that you do best in a structured environment. Or maybe it’s just diving into joke writing and open mics because you want to work alone and thus standup appeals to you more than team-based comedy. Or maybe it’s spending a few years in the improv world, then realizing that standup comedy is a better fit for you (which is how I did it).
Also, don’t feel like you need to move to NYC immediately for comedy or publishing. That first year out of school is a rough one and it can be helpful if you can do it in a smaller market. I started doing standup when I lived in Boston and I cut my teeth in the comedy clubs there which was a blessing because I was TERRIBLE back then (ha). I’m glad that when I moved to New York City, I was already comfortable onstage, I had learned some good lessons and worked some rookie premises out of my material. The same goes with publishing—a few cities have publishing opportunities, so don’t be afraid to start in a smaller city, work a few of those jobs, then move to a larger market once your resume is pretty strong.
And finally, I think that people are mystified by comedy works and I get that—there’s no one, clear pathway. It’s not like a lot of industries where you take certain classes and get these certifications, then the level opens up to you. With comedy, it’s a strange mix of hard work, ideas, luck, and who you know. And none of those are bad things! “Who you know” can be as simple as a fellow Hamilton alum who now runs a standup show that you want to get booked on, or maybe it’s a fellow comedian who you did a festival with years back and now she is working at a network and thinks of you for a great opportunity. Part of moving forward in comedy is putting in years of work and good sets and dependability. You never know when an old friend that you met at a crummy open mic might be in a position to recommend you to his agent.
Hamilton has a long history of connecting students with alumni and parents whose advice, expertise, and resources help talented young people achieve success for themselves and in their communities.
But you can only control your own work, output, and creativity. So focus on creating—whatever you like to create! I love watching “The Bachelor” so years ago I started writing snarky, silly recaps of the show on my personal blog. My blog caught a book editor’s eye at HarperCollins and I got a book deal out of it. I have long been obsessed with the New York Times Sunday Styles section (specifically, “Vows”) and mocking the wedding industrial complex, so I started @NYTVows because I wanted a new project. It has gotten me mentioned in the REAL New York Times, plus it has opened many other doors for me as far as agents and performance opportunities. Just create what you want to create and perhaps more will come from that and even if it doesn’t, you’re still creating things you love. Oh, and don’t be ashamed to have a day job. You can sleep when you’re dead!
Selena Coppock '02 is a Managing Editor at a test preparation company by day and a standup comedian, storyteller, and book author by night. She recently released her debut standup album, SEEN BETTER DAYS, and is the creator of the popular New York Times Wedding Section parody account found on Twitter and Instagram, @NYTVows.