On Being First
by Joe Torres
In social media, there’s a fairly old (by social media standards) trend, called first. It’s when someone makes the first comment or signals the first like on a post on any of the various social media networks. I’m sure there’s some anthropological need – man’s desire to conquer, to explore – to be first. And it brings to mind something that, for a stand-up comic, is a very touchy subject. However, I have noticed as a writer, this is less so. It’s this same idea of being first.
In stand-up comedy, you never want to be seen as the hack who steals jokes. Stand-up comics strive and work very hard to come up with fresh material that no one has ever heard of before. It’s a difficult and time/energy-consuming endeavor. Who thought up something first is a difficult question to answer: “Did I write that joke?? Did I copy that from someone else??” Surely I’m not the first and only person to find humor in the idea of the struggle of a man who wants to be frugal on a first date but is also conflicted with the idea of wearing a Harkins t-shirt to get a free bag of popcorn on said first date for fear of seeming frugal. Maybe I am, or maybe … gads … I am the ONLY one who finds humor in it, which is almost worse.
It’s almost paralyzing during the creative process and it’s a terrible rabbit hole to go down. “Did I write that joke or did I copy Richard Pryor?” Comics often face the accusation of not being first. I have witnessed it first-hand. And it’s often by another comic who cites a very obscure comedian’s appearance at some unknown venue. There’s a fine line between influence and theft. And as a stand-up comic, you have to tiptoe along that line often. On the one side is the promise of laughing crowds; on the other, the potential of shunning by your peers.
I broach the topic now in my blog post as a writer because I have noticed that the line writers use in relation to being first is much broader. Often when you discuss book topics, you will hear a writer say something like, “Oh, it’s sort of like Bridges of Madison County meets Percy Jackson,” and not feel even slightly abashed at the statement. (Wow, if you can cram those together seamlessly, I won’t be upset with you for using the idea. Good luck!) In fact, and in my not so very humble opinion, an incredibly brilliant marketing genius once told me that that’s probably the best way to pitch your written work. “It gives people an idea of what to expect in terms they can relate to and gets them to love your book immediately without you having to tell them the whole story.” And for that, Laura, I’ll be forever grateful.
As a writer, I enjoy the fact that writers do appreciate the idea of inspiration. Truly great works may not have 100 percent original subject matter, as long as the treatment of the subject matter is all your own. So whether you’re writing the next great organic vegetable scone recipe book or Star Trek fan fiction, just be you and you’ll always be first.
Joe Torres writes sci-fi adventure with heart. He is currently working on his first novel, Force of Nature. Joe lives in Gilbert, Ariz., with his wife and either the most amazing child on the planet or a demon from the depths of hell, depending on which side of nap time you find yourself.