Where There's A Wil There's A Way To LA
Friday, May 27, 2011
When I first started telling people I wanted to move to America to start my career again from the bottom it’s fair to say the response was mixed.
I was immediately bombarded with questions like: “Are you crazy?”; “Who did you tweet about now?”; and “Is this some sort of elaborate Paul Hogan-style tax dodge?” and they were just from my manager.
My friends were a little more supportive- their main concern seemed to be if they could still use my pool while I was away- apart from one mate who decided to go all Dr Phil and sit me down and suggest I was making a massive mistake and was clearly suffering a mid-life crisis.
Yep, that’s what he said, a mid-life crisis.
Now I guess this should have upset me more than it did, but to be honest I was a little flattered he thought my clapped out body had another 36 years left in it, and as I was basking in the warm glow of this thought he hit me with the big question: “Why?”
Why did I want to start again? Why did I want to leave Australia? Why did I want to risk everything I had worked so hard for on what was most likely a pipe-dream? And finally, why do birds suddenly appear, every time you are near?
I had to admit they were all good questions, with the possible exception of the last one which I was pretty sure was just a lyric he had stolen from Close To You by The Carpenters.
Why did I want to start again? After all, hadn’t I just spent the best part of the last 15 years working my arse off to finally claw my way to the middle?
And there was no doubt things were going well. People were even starting to recognize me in the street, although most of the time when they did they shouted: “Hey, aren’t you that bloke from Spicks and Specks?” Racists.
Why would I want to give everything I had slaved for up, just to start again at the bottom rung?
Wasn’t this the point of my career I where I was meant to be driving around in a fur Hummer drinking French champagne and snorting lines of caviar off the hired help? (Sorry, I get most of my information about the rich and famous from watching Cribs on MTV).
Well if I was completely honest with myself it was the challenge. You see in between various sackings, I’d been lucky enough to be working as a professional comedian in Australia for almost 15 years, and I had been grateful for every moment.
But it is also true that no matter how much you love doing something, if you do it day in, day out for 15 years, it becomes your job.
You could get paid to make sweet passionate sweaty love to Scarlett Johansson from 9-5 every day, and there would still come a point where one say you would look at your watch and think: “What time is smoko?”
I had started to suspect I was losing a little of my passion when I found myself pretending to be sick so I could call my boss and get a day off. Now this might not seem that strange to most people, but I am self-employed.
That said, I found my mate’s next question much more difficult to answer: Why did I want to leave Australia? The truth is I didn’t. I just wanted an open relationship.
I still wanted to see my home country regularly, but wanted the freedom to experiment with some other countries as well, and hopefully in the process pick up a few new tricks that would spice up my relationship with Australia too.
And finally the big one: Why did I want to risk everything?
Funnily enough, this was the easiest of the three. I just wanted to know. You see I have always lived by the attitude that you will always regret the things you didn’t do, more than the things you did. (Unless the things you did left you with a rash you can’t get rid of.)
For me it wasn’t about success or failure, it was about having a crack. Just like every athlete wants to go to the Olympics, if you work in showbiz at some stage you want to have a crack at Hollywood.
That’s not to say I didn’t have fears- after all for every inspiring story behind an Olympic gold medal there’s the story of the swimmer who has never seen a 50-metre pool, wears floaties, and nearly drowns in their first heat.
And certainly not every experience I had performing overseas had gone brilliantly. In fact I had done a show in England the year before- admittedly during the Ashes series- where I was booed before I even got to the stage.
(If you want to know what that feels like imagine you are in the bedroom and when you take off your pants the other person starts laughing… it’s hard to win them back from that point.)
But in my experiences American crowds had been very supportive. In fact if you had to sum them up, American audiences tend to have the attitude of “Yes you can!”, Australian audiences are a bit more “Bet you can’t!”, while UK audiences are definitely “Screw you for trying!”
All that said, I suspect the easiest part of starting over is making the decision to do it. The much harder part is, well, doing it. Especially if like me, you are quite crap at being a regular human being.
To say I’m not very practical would be an understatement. In my hands paying a phone bill online becomes more complex than unlocking the Da Vinci Code, so the idea of packing up my entire life presented some immediate challenges.
Who would look after my house while I was gone? Who would pay my bills? Who would feed the cats? Was it too late to teach the cats how to pay my bills online?
(At this point I took a moment to appreciate the sensible decision to have kittens instead of kids. It’s much harder to get a mate to feed your children while you leave the country, and if you lock your kids inside with a tin of tuna, a bowl of water, and a tray of litter suddenly the authorities get involved.)
Clearly the first thing I needed to do was get some “people”. I was moving to LA, everyone in LA had “people”. Homeless guys had their own people. How could I get my people to call their people if I didn’t have any people?
I was reliably assured at the very least I needed an attorney, a manager and an agent. When I asked what each of them did, I was told the agent holds one leg, while the manager holds the other, and they shake the money out of your pockets. The attorney collects whatever is left at the end.
The attorney would also give me advice on getting a Visa so I could work. I was told I had to apply for an 01 Visa which is described as being for “aliens of extraordinary ability”.
Aliens of extraordinary ability?
I could see how I might qualify for that if I were ET, or one of the cool pod-people from Cocoon, but I tell dick jokes for cash, what was my extraordinary ability? Somehow I didn’t think my ability to always choose a perfectly ripe avocado was going to get me across the line.
The process was long and expensive and as things seemed to become more and more complex, I started to have doubts. Serious doubts.
Maybe my mate was right, after all. I mean I hadn’t even left the country and already it seemed too hard. Maybe I should just go back to my comfortable life.
But then I remembered what my Dad used to say to me when I was young “you’re adopted and nobody likes you!” Oh no, hang on, not that one, the other thing, he said: “If it was easy, everybody would do it.”
And suddenly I felt ashamed at how piss-weak I was being. After all, it wasn’t as if I were moving to Pandora to start a new life among the giant flying Smurfs. I wasn’t even moving to a third-world country.
Hell I was moving to Hollywood, not appearing on Man vs Wild. I was pretty sure there I wasn’t going to end up at the bar at the Chateau Marmont doing urine shots with Bear Grylls. All I needed was a plan.
There is no doubt packing up your life and starting afresh in another country can be overwhelming. In fact, I’m convinced they should offer you some sort of starter pack at Customs.
Actually better still, someone could meet all new immigrants at the airport and for a small fee greet you: “Welcome to America, here is your phone, car, house keys, bank account, details on where it is appropriate to tip… oh and of course your gun!”
(We could offer the same service in Australia, except that instead of a gun, at the end we could just smile and hand them a Vegemite sandwich.)
In the future I am sure all this will be covered by a “So-You-Have-Just-Moved-To-A-New-Country” App you can download for $2.99, but until that day arrives I had to sort some basic stuff myself.
Luckily I had managed to find somewhere to stay before leaving Australia, so the next thing I needed was to be able to get around. I decided to hire a car.
Now I confess I had planned to spend some time on the plane learning the local road rules so I didn’t have an accident, but I got distracted watching Inception, and so did the next best thing and got the complete car insurance instead.
Luckily driving on the other side of the road wasn’t quite as difficult as I thought (although the extra concentration did mean I made a few spelling mistakes while I was updating my Twitter) but I did have slightly more trouble with all the controls being on the other side of the car.
Put it this way, I wish it rained more regularly in LA, because every time I turn a corner I am still putting my windshield wipers on.
Next I knew I needed to be contactable so I definitely needed a phone.
Luckily watching The Wire had taught me that cheap cell phones were pretty easy to come by. The hardest thing for me was going to be learning the new number.
You might think I am joking, but I have lived in the same house for five years and don’t know what my landline number is, so unless I got lucky and got the phone number 4815162342 (the numbers from Lost) I was going to spend a few weeks with it written in pen on my hand.
Last, but definitely not least, I had to work out any local customs that might get me into trouble, like tipping.
In some ways this was the hardest one, especially as I am the sort of person who will overcompensate in situations where I am not sure what the etiquette is.
I am sure there are guys handing out towels in bathrooms who are now adding an extra wing onto their house based on my outrageous tips.
After a few weeks I tended to work out that in restaurants you tip 15-20%, 15% for taxi drivers and hairdressers and a buck or two for drinks at bars. Sadly I am still not sure what the correct etiquette is if you are putting a note in a dancer’s g-string. Are you meant to put another couple of notes as tip?
Oh, and I should point out, I did learn the hard way you are not meant to tip the people when you come through customs… they call that a bribe.
I guess the hardest thing about starting again in a new place is silencing your own doubts. (I used to think I was my own worst critic until one night I stupidly googled my own name and realised I didn’t even make the top ten.)
But I would also be lying if I didn’t admit there are times when I come home to an empty apartment after another rejection and wonder if I have made a horrible mistake, wasted all my money, and will eventually end up on the street with a cardboard sign that says: “Will Tell Jokes For Food!”
And yes, I confess, sometimes I do wake up sweaty in the middle of the night, after having a dream that I am appearing on Season 16 of Dancing With The Stars and getting beaten by Hotdogs from Big Brother and the Brand Power Lady.
But I guess if that does happen, I can always just start over again.