Four Not-So-Easy Rules of Dealing with Rejection
By Kristen Bartlett
I’ve always thought of myself as being an old pro at rejection. I realized early on that a girl who looks and sings like I do has to write parts for herself. I’ve been writing ever since.
When I got involved with the Upright Citizens Brigade I fell hard for its community of weirdos. I’ve spent the past several years taking classes, making friends, and also shamelessly wanting to fit in. Despite knowing how competitive it is, getting a writer’s spot on a Maude or Beta [sketch] team seemed like the next logical step. I wanted it badly. I spent the fall eating/drinking/sleeping my packets, writing and revising myself into a panic attack. Then, the week of Christmas, I found out I didn’t get either of them.
It wasn’t a shock. Very talented people earn a limited number of spots, and I still have miles to go as a writer. Still, it hurt. When I got the news, I was wrapping presents in front of Keeping Up With the Kardashians. And then I started to cry. I was crying on the couch, and Kendall Jenner was crying onscreen because she’d failed her driver’s test. We were a mess. In the morning, I woke up with some fight back. I’d just have to work harder, do my own things, try again. If we plan to produce funny, fresh work and to grow as comedians, we are all going to suffer a great deal of rejection.
I spoke with a few supremely talented ladies who are absolutely kicking ass right now: Caitlin Bitzegaio (née Tegart), Julie Klausner, and Lennon Parham. With their advice, I’ve compiled the “Four Not-So-Easy Rules of Dealing with Rejection”. If these women have learned to handle the cruel sting of hearing “no,” then so can I.
1. “It’s okay to feel like shit.”
Caitlin Bitzegaio– “It’s okay to feel bad. It proves that you care. I still feel it. I’m much better at rationalizing now. The period of feeling bad is much shorter, but immediately, it still stings.
Julie Klausner– “There are staff writing jobs that I didn’t get, and I remember crying hysterically. After taking a staff job [“Big Gay Sketch Show”], there was a writer’s strike, and I remember being devastated that there were no TV jobs around during that time. When I was kicked off a Harold team at UCB, I flipped my shit. I was so upset.”
Caitlin Bitzegaio– “I’ve put up Spanks [at UCB] that didn’t get a run. I just did a one-woman show that ended up getting rejected, because it wasn’t quite there. I actually agree with that, even though, when I first got the email, I felt like, “Ugh, I put myself out there. I put myself out there, so I should get it.”
2. “Remember that the path to success isn’t linear.”
Julie Klausner– “Everybody wants there to be a linear path to success, and the truth is, especially when it comes to women in comedy, there are so many circuitous, unique paths. You can’t say, ‘What you do is: you join an improv group in college, and then you join the Groundlings or take classes at UCB, and then you’re put on a team, and then you’re scouted for SNL.’ I don’t think things work like that anymore. We’re in a time now where we have the ability to create our own work. It’s easier to produce your own things. In a lot of cases, I think people are bemoaning something they wanted to have been easy and linear. And the harder answer is, you’re just going to have to work harder for it. But you’re going to learn more from that process, and you’ll be a creator. That’s where the real opportunities are, and if you have to be kicked in the ass in order to get there, it’s all part of the path.”
3. “Recognize that good will come from this.”
Caitlin Bitzegaio– “Some people are able to get big gigs right away, and we’re all jealous of them, whether we want to be or not. That said, I feel like I’ve learned more about the comedy world in some ways than people who’ve had rock star success out of the gate. After a while, it becomes about the people who are dedicated and the people who become really good. I didn’t get hired for a sketch show a few years ago that I thought I had a good shot at. It did make me work harder. There’s an old proverb: “If there’s no wind, row.” And I had to row pretty hard after that. I wonder what my work would look like if I had gotten it. It wouldn’t be as good.”
Julie Klausner– “I remember being devastated that there were no TV jobs after the strike. But that was what got me to work on “I Don’t Care About Your Band.” If I’d been working full-time on a show then, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to write my book, which was something that is all me, that I put out there in a very singular way. I wouldn’t have the body of work that I have now or be thought of as a creator, as someone with her own voice.”
4. “Work harder, dream bigger.”
Lennon Parham– “Part of the process is the “no.” It’s not always a bad thing. Often, you will find that you didn’t want exactly what you think you wanted, but that what you wanted was something that, at the time, you didn’t even know existed. Five years ago, I didn’t think creating a TV show was in my future. My dreams were smaller, but I was actively chasing them and making decisions to get closer to them. When others see that you are excited and focused and going somewhere, they take notice and new doors open.”
Julie Klausner– “I’ve been turned down for staff writing jobs, and it motivated me–not just to look for other staff writing jobs–but to make my own show. What’s better than that? There’s nothing better than that! Use your rejection to rise like a phoenix from the ashes. Say, “I’ll show them. I’ll do my own thing.” And then when you actually do it? You’ll have to write a thank you note later. That’s the biggest “fuck you” of all. Every rejection I get fuels my motivation and gets me to do the work, because I want to prove people wrong.”
It’s with this advice that I approach my goal to become a better writer and to produce more of my own material. Time is too precious for any of us to wait for someone else to open a door and give us permission to pursue our dreams.
Seriously. Even Kendall Jenner went back and got her driver’s license.
Kristen Bartlett is television editor and comedy writer. She studies at the Upright Citizens Brigade, performs with her improv team Admiral Goodbar, and writes sketch with Soft in the Middle. Visit her blog and follow her on Twitter.