The Bitter Agony of Watching Friends Succeed

Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.

So says actress, screenwriter and metal bikini wearing Carrie Fisher, and I’m right with her (despite the inevitable chaffing).

Looking back over 2012, trying to find some lessons to carry over into 2013, one that comes to mind is this: do not resent anyone’s success.

Easier written down than done. Let’s get to cases.

Easy to identify. I had a conversation with an open mic comic who was apoplectic with rage about Michael McIntyre. It was like pressing the nuclear button, and the anger defied all reason: the open mic comic had not, evidently, been booked into the O2, only for the offer to be brutally withdrawn when the wily McIntyre cruelly snatched it from their fingers. If you find your heart racing and your vision tunnelling over the likes of Michael McIntyre, step back, ask yourself if they are your direct competitor and if the answer is ‘No, I’m lucky to get my petrol expenses for out of town gigs,’ paint your anger onto a balloon and watch it waft over a rainbow. Your energy is being wasted. If you are that exercised, get on the phone and score yourself a gig, and you will be one gig closer to selling out the O2 yourself. If McIntyre is your direct competitor, hello, are you looking for a support act?

A friend and I were up for the same job. We are both similarly friendly onstage presences, and if her material is stronger, I’m more comfortable with going off-script. Crucially, we are at the same price point, and finding we were both in line for the same gig, agreed with each other to stick to our guns with money so we wouldn’t undercut one another. She got the job.

Well, that’s the way it falls sometimes. Before I set up the FaceBook Hate Page under a pseudonym, I paused to consider that as an agent I’d seen this decision made hundreds of times: it’s not a science. It’s not personal. It could be any reason from ‘All the other acts are men so they wanted a woman,’ to ‘We are Trekkies and therefore didn’t find your Star Wars bit funny.’ A coin may have been flipped, a pin stabbed into a page of names, who knows? I called my friend to congratulate her, and to borrow a fiver now I know she’s good for it. With a bit of luck, at the event she will either tell them I’m brilliant and they should book me next time, or find out why they didn’t want me for this one. So I hope either a booking or a valuable bit of information will be forthcoming – neither of which I’d get if I sent the text message ‘YOU HAVE TAKEN THE BREAD FROM MY MOUTH YOU DUPLICITOUS COW’. Take your loss like a grown up and ask: how can I get 10% of something rather than settle for 100% of nothing?

I was genuinely taken aback last year when I found myself on the flip side of the equation and met someone who resented my success, modest as it is. Talk about dropping your standards. But at least they had the good grace to express their resentment to my face for which I am grateful.

First, they were dismayed by one of my corporate gigs, spluttering that they wanted to see a bit of the action.

Second, they were furious that I’d done some writing for the BBC.

Last, they were beside themselves that I’d spoken at a business conference. What did I know about business?

Let us tackle this bit by bit:

First, I earned that. I got on the phone and made connections and before the event wrote a page of company-specific jokes and briefed myself with industry gossip. There are lots of corporates out there, and you have to network, schmooze and sell yourself, and I have put in more than my fair share of that.

Second, I’ve been freelancing for BBC radio since 1999. It is not Wonka’s Chocolate Factory as soon as you get in the door. My home contains no furniture, only rudimentary perching places hewn from the unpublished, unfilmed and unbroadcast scripts and books and magazine articles I’ve written over the years. I helped someone write two series of a very popular radio sitcom, accepting a fancy meal in lieu of payment. If I’d taken the money, my friend wouldn’t have been able to pay the restaurant bill (let alone his rent). When you have filled as many hard drives as me with blah, you may – I say may – have some cause for complaint.

Finally, the speech came about from a conference organiser reading an article by me much like this one and deciding she wanted me to expand on the themes I had explored. The audience wanted something that was fun, different, and yet still useful. We got in touch, talked, and I sold myself. I didn’t do anyone else down – indeed, I discussed some of the excellent speakers I know well – but I have bills to pay and didn’t think there was much to be gained by false modesty. We haggled, we agreed, and I did the homework necessary to do a good job.

None of this, by the way, scratched the teflon glazed anger directed at me, so I excused myself and joined a cooler-headed crowd, feeling lucky to leave the venue in full working order.

What, then, are the big lessons?
1. When someone resents success, it reflects more upon them than the successful person.
2. If you push someone else down to get above them you won’t get very far.
3. If you consciously help someone up, there’s a good chance they will pull you up too.
4. It is possible to big yourself up without belittling others.

One can, after all, wish someone happiness without dividing your own personal supply. And on that note, have a great 2013.

Ian is a stand up comic (‘Fearless’ – Guy Browning), broadcast writer (5* – Heat), and speaker coach (‘Recommended’ – FT). He is available for corporates (‘Whipped the crowd into a great mood: recommended!’ – Ernst & Young).



4 thoughts on “The Bitter Agony of Watching Friends Succeed

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s