“This is the one,” I mouthed to my director Matt as the A train rumbled toward us.
It was about to embark on its express commute from 59th to 125th, giving me a good six minutes to deliver a speech that I wrote a full year prior. That I had agreed to perform this live on a train full of complete strangers had been searing my innards with anxiety for an entire week. As I stepped into the middle of the subway car, Matt and producer Rebecca quietly behind me with the inconspicuous monopod and camera pointed in my direction, I considered—for the hundredth time that week —abandoning ship and washing my hands of this silly idea forever. I’m not one for big, public gestures. Panhandling for a date on the A train wasn’t my idea of a fun time, and because I had performed my solo show, Classic Singles: Ballads of Loneliness to sold out crowds in 2014 and 2015 (back when I was a lonesome and hopeless 33 year old), I felt a bit like I was dipping my naked body into the brown, tepid water of a year-old bath.
It may have taken a year, but my comedy and writing had provided the catharsis I needed to get past those feelings of crippling loneliness. But alas there I was, keeping my balance by holding onto the pole amidst the indifferent subway riders, preparing to jump into the dirty old water. Mustering courage despite sweaty palms, I thought of my college professor John Schmor saying, “Relax your jaw and take in your audience.” I began, “Good evening, ladies and gentleman! I am not homeless, out of work, or suffering from a life-altering illness! I am on this train, looking for the man of my dreams!”
Thousands of people have now seen this because Matt Antonucci and Rebecca Robles, creator/producers of WESTY films made it look amazing and also because they understand the marketing behind a video like this; how to fulfill my artistic vision while still delivering a palatable product for our insatiable Minotaur: The Internet.
Surprisingly, this clickbait actually captured the true nature of what I’m now coining a “performance experiment,” because it was a performance. The words I spoke on the train were originally written for the stage, inspired one year ago by a need to explore my depressing lack of companionship and to chase away the blues. It worked, and when WESTY films asked me about producing some web content, I thought, "why not just blast my shit in front of the entire city of New York!"
My comedy can be described as both self-deprecating and goofy, but always honest; I’m known to post tweets about eating pork tacos alone in bed at 2am. I’m dark and thoughtful like Janeane Garofalo but possess the nurturing timbre and ass-size of Melissa McCarthy. I’m used to playing the underdog, so it came as a major surprise when train riders watching me deliver my panhandle for love appeared delighted, tickled even. They were happily trapped somewhere between a free comedy show and a genuine request for quality hookups. When I pitched this idea to WESTY, the last thing I expected to happen was for people to actually give me numbers of roommates or friends.
One woman handed me a twitter handle and when I looked it up, I found out that it belongs to a comedian in the same community where I perform! People—complete strangers—supported me! They wanted me to win. They called out wonderful compliments about my beauty and bravery. They assured me that I would find him, wherever he may be. It was as if my mother, the ultimate cheerleader, had planted 4 to 5 stand-ins on each train I panhandled...and it felt amazing. It felt warm and cuddly. It felt rewarding. And I don’t understand how I got there.
Over one week later and the youtube link has no “thumbs down” or “dislikes, which is Internet speak for “People like this.” Cosmo picked it up and helped spring it forward along with a few other lifestyle blogs. Most of the comments are actually questions: “Have you found a date yet?” “Was that real?” “Did it work?” Viewers are eager for an ending – preferably a happy ending to this story. Perhaps they’re drawn in by Matt’s inclusion of the piano underscore in the last half of the video?
I’ve spent the past few days thinking about how to transition the comments from “You go girl!” to “Wow. That’s a brave performance.” Because even though I was speaking lines inspired by my own experience, that’s what it was: a performance. I’m a seasoned comedy writer and performer. I mean to entertain and I don’t actually feel lonely anymore. I am in fact blissfully single right now, preparing to transition away from teaching full time and into an LA comedian’s existence, determined to dig a path for myself with my with my wit and creative know-how. Bravery is the most powerful weapon in my arsenal right now. And to a hungry Internet audience, that’s enticing but not quite enough.They want the ending; the cherry on top of the heaping whipped cream. They want the next episode where a gorgeous, single New York dude takes my fat ass out and spins me around the city in a dream date that trumps all rom-com montages.
But that’s not going to happen to me. That’s not realistic. In my world, I take brave, artistic steps and I usually take them alone. I take myself out on the town. Every night! I love being in my own company, I revel in the occasional depression of hope because it makes me human, and I continue to exercise stimulating art projects because I am in love with that part of me. So, I don’t actually need a date. But thank you for loving my art.
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Jana Schmieding is a public school teacher, comedy writer and performer in New York City. She co-writes, produces and directs material for popular shows such as Jana & Lauren Presents and 20/400 Sketch Comedy while writing solo material for live and digital projects. You can catch her with an early 90’s hair-style in Season 3 of Broad City. Follow her on Twitter @janaunplgd.