“SO YOU WANT TO TELL YOUR IMMIGRANT FATHER YOU’RE A COMEDIAN”
He left his home country, every place he knew and every person he loved, to give me a better life. He drove me to soccer practices so I could play with the white kids, to Speech & Debate tournaments so I could argue with the white kids, and to my freshman dorm at Duke so I could, you guessed it, listen to white kids use the phrase “vis-à-vis” in lectures to sound smart and “queer” at parties to sound interesting. Then, after 4 years of studying international relations, doing diplomacy work in Jordan, Lebanon and Israel, and getting named 1 of Business Insider’s 18 incredibly impressive students at Duke University, I have the nerve to look him in the eye and say: “Hey Dad, thanks for sacrificing your entire life so I can succeed, I’m gonna’ go be a comedian now.”
And girl, just like that I became a sad, lil’ gay, brown boy-Mulan bringin’ all shades of dishonor to my family.
So, I didn’t tell him. I showed him. And here’s how I did that.
Dedicate one summer to comedy in Chicago, LA or NY.
If you’re reading this and you’re a rich white lady, it’ll be just like Eat, Pray, Love! And if you’re not, just pray that you can eat, love. Spend 6-8 months softly researching TV networks and theaters for internships that interest you, even if you don’t qualify to apply or if they don’t even have one, find an email to kindly email anyway! Just don’t try to be funny, and avoid that fake college kid resume voice. If you keep the email short, cool, genuine, let them know who you are and what you can do for them for free, they may very well hit you up. Some schools’ artistic internship programs, like the Duke in Chicago Arts Entrepreneurship program, will let you apply from any school. And then research grants through your university, local arts organizations, your church, etc., to help pay the way. Immerse yourself in that city’s comedy scene: do I feel at home here? Do I feel like my tribe is here? Do the 9 to 5 job opportunities and standard of living feel accessible to me? Are there specific professional creative paths in any of these buildings that attract me? We can’t convince anyone that this unconventional path is right for us until we’ve convinced ourselves that it’s clear and viable for us.
Find deadlines to force yourself to write throughout the year.
Surely, you’re already on your school’s white improv team. And by now, you’re low key ignoring their invite to the shared Google Doc, “Bodak Jello Parody.” Sign off and go write your original material! Now! If that’s sketch, stand-up, music, satirical articles, Youtube videos, whatever, do it. If you think you can do this as a career, prove it, write. You’re going to produce a lot of garbage, but also, you’re not. Don’t worry about Youtube views or Facebook likes, just focus on getting good because good content generators are the ones who get hired. The biggest tip that helps me, besides my boyfriend’s, is that I need to find institutions that will force deadlines on me. So find on-campus sketch shows, comedy publications, or start an open mic that no one will go to. Writing and producing material always sucks, no matter how much you love comedy, but the process of developing your own archive of original work will help you find your unique POV and get your reps in so you can get good at generating content. It does the most important thing, giving you confidence that this is what you want to do and how you want to do it, and also the pettiest thing, preventing anyone from even questioning it.
Above all, choosing an unconventional path doesn’t mean you have to choose it right now.
When it comes to comedy, or any of the arts, you are never wasting time by living a life outside of the arts. All of that time will only serve to make a more dynamic, 3-dimensional, life-filled POV that will give you ideas no one else could possibly have. Imagine if Fa Mulan was super chill and let our girl enlist in the army right out of school. She would have never learned how to use her fan to steal Shan Yu’s sword, she would have never met her lil’ dragon friend who willingly tied himself to a firework to blow that Hun’s ass, and she would have never saved China.
My dad hates Disney movies.
– Rence Nemeh, Comedian & Duke University Alum
GET TO KNOW RENCE:
First and Last Name: Rence Nemeh
Current Job/Occupation: Cast Member of The Second City House Company
Other ventures/”Side Hustles”: Video editing, Drag
Hometown: Scottsdale, AZ
What’s the best advice you ever received as a student or young professional?:
“When applying for a job, don’t tell them how passionate you are about their work, aka what they can provide for you. Tell them what unique skills and services you offer their team as a candidate, aka what you can provide for them.