I have been a stand-up comedian for the last twenty-three years. I have appeared on close to 100 TV shows including The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and David Letterman. I have also performed my act in front of a live audience thousands and thousands of times. I have traveled from Cape Cod to Kuwait.
Since the day I decided to become a stand-up comedian until ten years ago, I never looked back. I never thought I wanted to do anything else with my life except to travel and make people laugh. Being a comedian is truly a great profession; when stand-up comedy is done right, there are few things in this life that can match it.
But then everything changed.
I got married in 1990 and for a while, my wife traveled with me. So my life was still pretty much the same thing except now I had someone to chase around the hotel room. Then when we had our first son, and they both traveled with me so now I had two people to chase around the hotel room. Two years later, we had our second boy and soon after, a third. Very rarely does anyone travel with me anymore.
Now, though, alone was much different. At times it was even painful.
So once again, I found I was going on my trips alone. Now, though, alone was much different. At times it was even painful. When I was single and going away, all it entailed was to over-water the plants and put a hold on my mail. As a family man, whenever I walked out the door to catch my jet, I had to kiss three different people and tell them I loved them and would miss them. I don't ever remember kissing my plant and telling it, "I love you." My mailman, though, I've come close to kissing a few times but only when he had a big check for me.
For a while I would bring photos of my kids with me, but I found when I looked at them, I would sometimes begin to cry. Eventually I completely gave up looking at all pictures of my family.
I am very lucky in the sense that my wife is a very strong and independent woman. She is not the type that when you call up from the road, one of the kids tells you she is inside taking a bath with the toaster. I also appreciate the fact that she never made me feel guilty for being away. We always had an understanding that the road was my job and at times, I would have to be on it. And if I chose to be on the road for the next fifty years, I believe she would have supported me.
But many afternoons I would find myself in a strange town walking around during the day thinking, "Yeah this is nice. The shows are going gangbuster and I'm getting my applause, but somehow it doesn't seem as worth while to me as it used to." When I called home, I remember many times how I would try to get the baby to say "Dada" or to tell me that he loved me. When I talked to my wife, I would try to find out what was going on and somehow try to get my messages without making her feel like my secretary.
I once read that when you go away and you have a little baby, you should put a picture of yourself where the baby can see it. So I took one of my eight-by-tens and put it on his changing table. I think one time when my wife wasn't looking, the baby ate a corner of my head. It was all so pitiful and painful.
I think one time when my wife wasn't looking, the baby ate a corner of my head.
With my rabbi teaching me Torah and how to ask the big questions, it became harder and harder to travel and feel good about it.
Yes, I was making money and yes, I was appreciated. But was it worth it? I asked myself: "Is this what you want, Mark? How much money do they have to pay you to make it worth not seeing your family? Is this how you want to be remembered -- as the dad that was never home?" All my answer's were no, no, no, no.
All I could think of was why have a family and not be there.
I learned this painful lesson from my own dad. My father never traveled, but he worked six days a week, twelve hours a day. I hardly got to spend time with him. And now that he is gone, how much more precious that time together might have been.
This is one of the hardest things I have ever had to do in my life. I so much love performing my stand-up, but most of what goes with it does not fit into the life I have chosen to live. Family, friends, community, etc. You can't be part of everything. Few comics ever say on their death bed, "I wish I played Cleveland a few more times."
So now I still do shows but not as much. I am home writing more and spending more time with my family and friends. The family and friends I chose to have.
I don't always feel I've done the right thing. But hardly ever do I feel I've done the wrong thing.
Many days I miss the road. But rarely if ever, when I'm talking to my wife or playing ball with the kids do I think, "Gee, I wish I were in Vegas eating room service by myself."