Lessons in Humility
I would draw caricatures of all of my teachers. Some of these cartoons were done out of anger, but most of them were harmless. I learned early on how to criticize someone, or at least capture a piece of their personality. Some teachers were already walking caricatures anyway.
There were a handful that I’m still VERY ashamed of. There was the fifth grade Music teacher (or substitute actually) where I used the word “slut” without knowing what it meant. I just knew that it was a “bad word for girls,” that she was a girl, and that I didn’t like her. There was an unintentionally racist cartoon – of a white lady, no less – that still makes me cringe. There was the student teacher who was really nervous, and I captured her sweating, stuttering essence gloriously. In each one of those instances, it only took one other person to see the caricature for me to realize I had made a HUGE mistake.
There were two nasty ones that I still stand by: a mean Economics teacher who I swore I’d turn into a cartoon monster, make a hit TV show with her as one of the characters, and cash in on all the merchandising (Economics, naturally); and my awful high school English teacher who will be the topic of a future personal essay. He was a dick.
The rest were cute(ish), and they would make the rounds with the other kids. During my early-Simpsons phase, there wasn’t anyone I couldn’t render with large eyes, rounded teeth and hideous underbite. I drew the middle school principal. My English teacher thought it was “a hoot,” and took it to his office. She came back with a solemn look on her face and told me that I needed to go to his office immediately.
I was so confused…what happened? But we were laughing about this a few minutes ago..? Then I got angry. He wouldn’t have even SEEN it if SHE hadn’t taken it TO him!
The admin made me wait in the front office like I had punched someone. The principal opened his door slightly and barked, “You Aaron?”
“Yes,” I nodded.
“I’ll be with you in a minute.” Slam.
What the hell was going on?
He finally opened the door to let me into his office. With eyes still burning, he held up the drawing and asked, “And you did this?” I nodded again.
Then a huge smile spread across his face, and he thrust out his hand.
“Well I just wanted to shake your hand and say, ‘Good Job!’”
Seriously, what the hell is going on?
“Of course I’m not sure my dentist would be too happy to see my mouth look like that…”
Then it finally occurred to me: I was being fucked with. By adults. They. Were. All. Fucking. With. Me.
“Ha ha ha,” I nervously laughed. Then I tried to explain the teeth…”It’s a style from that show. You know, the one with the t-shirts you make kids put masking tape over?”
Fast forward to the end of the school year, and the principal is handing out “awards.” As a grade, we got to vote on a number of categories (Most Dramatic, Most Athletic, Most Fashionable, etc). With my art projects, my cartoons, caricatures and comic books, I thought I was poised to win Most Artistic. I felt really good about my chances. I had been tested, learned hard lessons, made tons of people marvel and giggle…I had EARNED this.
“I bet I know who’s winning this,” the principal teased. And since this wasn’t even close to being a dignified ceremony, the students began calling out. Amongst the noise, I heard my name being shouted out from all over the room. As the principal began to speak, I found myself starting to get up out of my seat. I didn’t want to waste anyone’s time taking too long getting to the stage after all. Half-up, he called my friend Cam’s name.
I plunked down. Of course Cam. Cam was a badass. Why didn’t it occur to me that he’d win? Nearly a decade before the movie came out, I almost pulled a Zoolander.
Anyway, I participated in yet another comedy contest last night (I’ve lost count how many there have been by now). Take everything I just wrote about middle school and artwork, and it applies to adulthood and stand-up comedy. It doesn’t sting nearly as much anymore. I just find it funny that, even for a split second, I still feel shocked.