On Ramon Rivas II, and Fame

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Ramon Rivas II is in town doing a show at the fringe.

We had him over for brunch on Saturday, and when he walked in, it was like being in Cleveland again.  We ate pancakes and potatoes and sausage and hearty foods, and talked about the midwest, and Los Angeles, and how we met, and people we knew in common, and eighty thousand other things.  Old friends are always gorgeous, and it is amazing to think that someone I’ve known for years is being paid to travel around the world now doing comedy; that people put him on television, and put him up in hotels, and he gets to fly on planes and people pay for it, and he’s just this kid that I ate Mexican food with a few years ago; he hasn’t changed, really, but now he’s getting recognition for all his hard work.

His show is about a lot of things, but the main thrust of it is that people are changing, relationships are changing, and he’s trying to remake himself, to figure out what he is about and what he wants to be about in his relationships, if not his life.  I’d read about the show before he came over, and with him being, well, kind of famous now, and having a Comedy Central show, and doing gigs all over the world, and me being off social media, I had an unrelated, but kind of related, thought:

Throughout history, people had to recognize that they were…well, not all that important, in the grand scheme of things.  While they may have wished for worldwide fame, glory, infamy and immortality, almost everyone had to face the reality of near-total obscurity.  People in the past had to focus on a small horizon rather than reaching others around the world; their experience was limited to a very small geographic area, and very few people.

But today, in the west, there is social media, and social media celebrities, and those social media celebrities are not all that different than us, just more famous around the world, and everyone can get light-touch positive feedback on everything we do from people we don’t know and will never meet or see.  That possibility of international fame and influence, however slight it actually is, creates a need for activity, for action, for busyness, all in the search for social proof and support.  We seem to feel the need to be constantly doing things, constantly craving attention, and we’re uncomfortable when we don’t get it.

And in thinking about social media, I wondered: the constant need for the support of strangers that we experience in social media…is that what it’s like to be famous?  And, if so, is there a pressure that results from feeling that need for light-touch feedback – and is that the overwhelming psychosis of our time?  Is that affecting how we see ourselves, how we act, how we are?  Is part of the problem with social media that we end up feeling a bit famous, and is that dopamine hit with each like the sort of thing that famous people feel all the time – and claim to hate, but of course really love?  Is it what they both crave and flee, and is that what makes them act apparently irrationally; is it what we see when they act in a seemingly entitled way, or a psychotic way, and we watch them from afar, perhaps not liking it, but giving them the attention that is like a Like – and is that making everyone now, today, a bit…crazy?

At brunch, I talked to Ramon about this, and he seemed to be thinking along the same lines.  And while we were talking, I realized: What’s great about Ramon is that he is so completely focused on working hard.  Comedy, for him, is a calling, a career; he’s not just doing it for a few years to have fun and meet girls.  He was late to brunch because he was able to pick up a few minutes at someone else’s set to perform a few jokes, and he left early to go hand out fliers for his own show at 10 p.m.; he did his show after a ten-hour workday, and then went to another venue to perform again at midnight.  I think that if he didn’t absolutely have to sleep, he would be working 24 hours a day to get stage time, to write and try out new jokes, to hustle.  And that’s not just for the Fringe – he does this every single day.  The fame and recognition he’s getting isn’t about the soft touch support; that support is just a tool to help him get better, work harder, to reach more people, to push the envelope more.  It’s not part of the psychosis of fame; fame is a tool that keeps getting refined.

And that’s why he’s going to succeed.

Anyway, it was great to see Ramon, and to know that someone I know is sort of famous now, and to see him in action on stage again, and to laugh with (at) him, and to be inspired.

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