It was one of those cold winter days in Chicago with no sun, which make you question your decision to live here. I sat in a booth in the front window of the S and G diner facing Lincoln Avenue so I could watch the cars sputter around in the dirty, slushy street.
I had ordered breakfast for lunch — a couple of poached eggs with hash browns and a berry medley from the revolving glass dessert case in the front of the restaurant. As I was reading a copy of the Sun-Times, I heard the words “Second City” and “Del” from the table across from me. So naturally I began to eavesdrop.
It was young guy in his 20s with a scraggly beard and a red and black check flannel shirt. Across the table sat a man in in his 80s. He was short and built like a brick, with dyed blond hair and a mustache and energy like he was shot out of cannon. Even though he’d order a patty melt, he seemed wise.
The young improviser was complaining to the wise old man that he had done a Harold a couple of nights before and did a scene (I couldn’t quite make out what exactly he did), and he was very upset that some people in the audience groaned. He said when he left that night, some people sitting at the bar who had been watching the show gave him shit for his choice on stage. Then he was going on and on about how people don’t understand his kind of comedy.
That’s when the wise old man cut him off. As he ate his patty melt, he shared an important piece of advice: “Remember,” he said, “a third of people will love what you do, a third will hate what you do, and a third won’t care.”
The young improviser said “shit,” as if the old man had hit him on the head with a two-by-four.
There was a long pause. I did not think the young improviser was going to recover. Really, I thought he was going to have seizure.
“Is that true even when I write a sketch?” the improviser finally said.
“Yep,” the wise old man said smiling.
“What about when I do stand-up?”
“Yep,” the old man said again and laughed really hard and long. I started to get uncomfortable. “Especially your stand-up.”
Then the wise old man said, “You’re like my daughter. You artists are all alike. You all want to be liked by everyone. And when you get what you think is criticism your world falls apart. Do you know why?”
I wish the young improviser would not have been so eager, but he said to the wise old man, “No, why?”
“You want to be liked by everyone.”
This annoyed the young improviser, which was fun to watch. “You just said that!”
“I am repeating it, because apparently you did not hear it the first time I said it,” he replied.
It was clear he was not finished with his thought. The wise old man took a sip from his decaf and continued to stare looking towards me, like he knew I was listening and he was saying it for my benefit as well.
“You can’t control how people react to your art,” he said. “That is impossible. Remember no matter how big or popular you become in any field, a third will love you, a third will hate you and a third won’t care.”
“That’s depressing,” said the young improviser.
“It is if you focus on the two-thirds that hate you and don’t care, which apparently you enjoy doing,” the wise old man said to the young improviser.
So if you’re like me, my wish for you (and me) in 2019 is to stop wanting everyone to like you. Instead, keep putting yourself out there as much as possible, and only focus on the third of people who will love what you do.