Joan

I’ve spent the last couple of weeks watching the show Louie with Louis C.K. I think it’s really great, one of the best written shows I’ve seen in a while. (It’s a pretty grown-up show, so if you’re a kid, don’t dial the stuff up on Netflix until you talk to your parents.)

Louie is about a comedian named Louis C. K. who’s divorced and raising two daughters. In one episode, entitled simply “Joan,” he goes to a casino in Atlantic City, where he bombs and immediately quits his weekend engagement. He wanders into the main room at the same casino and sees Joan Rivers, who’s headlining. He enjoys her act and ends up meeting her for drinks.

Now, I’ve never been a fan of Joan Rivers but the scene that follows is really smart and, dare I say, sensitive. Joan gets what’s going on with Louie and gives him some hard-won advice. I don’t know if her part was scripted by Louis C K (who writes the show), and I don’t want to know, because it felt authentic — savvy, professional, and philosophical. Don’t quit your job; be grateful you have it. Don’t complain about your boss (what are you, crazy?) Remember the names of people you work with–they’re people. Learn to live with the ups and downs. Good advice for anyone in any profession, capped off by this:

“What we do is not a job. It sounds so stupid. What we do is a calling, my dear.”

I was struck by how well she knew herself, where she stood in the business, and how long it might last. She was a much better person for this part than Bill Cosby, or somebody like that — someone universally loved and phenomenally successful, who’s tales of hardship would be vague memories and concerns about their future unconvincing. So, suddenly I liked and respected Joan Rivers.

Her advice applies equally well to writing (why else would I blog about a cable sitcom?) It’s easy to be disappointed by how a book fares, discouraged or frustrated with the whole process. I won’t ever tell anyone not to be discouraged or frustrated. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that you can’t tell people how to feel. You can’t even tell yourself how to feel. If something stings, it’s going to sting. It doesn’t help to feel guilty on top of being discouraged or frustrated. Give yourself license to be human.

But you can be professional, and you can pay attention and remember people’s names. I’ll try to remember that.