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Otto’s Passing, and Thoughts From the Optimist


My newsfeed essentially blew up this morning with the most disheartening news.  Otto Petersen, of the famed “Otto and George” duo, passed away unexpectedly.  For those of you unfamiliar, watch and behold:

To explain the rest of this post, suffice it to say I’m inarguably pan-optimistic; even the worst day of my life had some pretty good moments to it.  If you’re one of those bitter, cynical people who hears the word “optimism” and goes “ahhh stupid self-help sunshine touchy-feely hippie rainbow dumbass,” kindly stop reading this and go impale yourself, preferably on something infected with herpes.  You probably figured you’d had it coming, anyway.

And now I begin!

That news this morning hit me right in the gut.  Almost inexplicably hard, considering I’ve only met him a handful of times personally, but the impact he has had on me and so many of my friends and mentors could be written about in volumes.

As the day progressed, I kept checking Facebook in some vain hope someone would go “April Fools!  two weeks late lolz” – but the shout-outs, the memorials, the videos, and the photos all kept coming.  It was amazing to see, well exactly how many comedians I’m friends with on Facebook for starters, but also how many people he touched, and how many people are busting out of the woodwork to give back – if only to preserve a memory.  It started to get me thinking a lot about this community I chose to join.

(Now mind you, this is what I call my “optimism MO”…I’m not always good at looking on the bright side of a shitty situation, but I’m an ace at using that situation to focus on something marginally related but positive.)

At first I thought, “Well of course everyone wants to post about Otto NOW…” – but, that’s not necessarily the case.  Yes, we’ll reach out to remember someone who has passed in the community, sometimes whether we know them personally or not (I mean, who really cared if you met George Carlin personally?  All we had to know was, when he died, we lost one of our Grand Patriarchs and it was a day of mourning).

But we also reach out for members who are struggling: think of the number of benefit shows we held nationwide when we heard one of the Aurora shooting victims was a comedian.

We reach out to congratulate our colleagues when they accomplish something big: how many times have you seen people sharing a post to tune in to watch a friend on TV tonight, or congratulating them on making it into a festival or winning a competition?  (NOT ENOUGH TIMES is the answer, but that’s not a fault from lack of sharing)

We reach out to promote ourselves (obviously), but also to promote others.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been tagged in 5 photos in under 2 hours, and all 5 are the same friggin show poster.  And not all the taggers are necessarily people involved with the show, either.

And when that show goes well, we thank everyone who put the show together and everyone who we had the pleasure to work alongside.  Even if that show didn’t go well at all.

I joined a community of supportive, creative, empathetic and truly beautiful people.

In this industry, very few people are slated to “make it big,” and yet, most of us don’t cut each other’s throats to get to the top (yes there are assholes in this business, but there are assholes who work at McDonald’s too.  Where would you rather be?).  We encourage each other, we share leads, we offer criticisms and affirmations and suggestions.  Sometimes we collaborate, and make bigger projects.

In this industry, many of the more seasoned comics are happy to take some future prodigies under their wing – so long as they get that you’re serious and if they think that, good or bad now, you have some potential.  One veteran comic, that I’d seen at a few local open mics, spent over an hour on the phone with me one night (and who the hell am I?), while I hashed out some material I was working on and he imparted his philosophies on joke writing, and how they applied to what I was trying to do.  And I’ll be damned, my writing has changed, gradually but dramatically, for the better, since that night.

In this industry, the worst shit you go through in life can lead you to the best successes you’ll ever achieve.  There is no feeling in the world like getting off the stage and knocking back a beer with one of your comedy buddies, thinking “man, that was some hard work.”  And those ten minutes you’d just spent telling jokes about dicks and toasters and whatever, only accounts for about 2% of that work.

Piggybacking off that last point, in this industry you can drink on the job.

And these are things that most of us seem to get.  Like any artist, we’re here for the craft, and, while we’re all trying to get that spot on “Late Night With Stephen Colbert,” we’ll still work together to make sure that somebody, somewhere, somehow, is laughing at something.  And the empathy and vulnerability we’ve developed along the way, in hopes of developing the perfect schtick or dealing with audience members or “finding our voice” (betcha never heard that term before), has helped us also to better understand, and form an almost immediate bond with, the rest of the members of our comedy family.  And sometimes even call them a family.

Yes, all this thinking was spawned from an untimely death.

I wish it didn’t have to take Otto’s passing for me to drum all this up (I mean, come on God, Justin Bieber is RIGHT THERE), but I had to change my focus to keep my brain from eating itself while intermittently shouting “PUSSAY!” in memorium.  And seeing how this community comes together, in all types of situations, gave me some comfort today in knowing that we are all doing something very right.

Rest in peace, Otto.  And thanks for causing me to slip into this little rabbithole of thought.