Big Fish. Small Pond.

Before he graduated to full-time homemaker, my dad used to coach high school basketball. And despite my inability to succeed at any sport (much less basketball), there were definitely a few sports metaphors my brother and I heard frequently.

One that he always liked to bring up was, “is it better to be the star player on the JV team or the 12th player who rarely left the bench on the varsity team?” And that metaphor is just another way of asking, “is it better to be a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a big pond?” For the record, I’d say bigger is better since you’re less likely to get eaten, but the JV/varsity thing still stumps me.

The reason this metaphor is so ubiquitous is because you never stop running into it. Is it better to be the lead accountant at a start up with low pay and crappy benefits or the associate accountant in the basement of a huge corporation with more money and better healthcare? Or, something you might be more familiar with – is it better to be an improviser in St. Louis, where you’re more likely to get stage time and acclaim or would you rather be just another comedian in Chicago, but with a better chance of making is professionally? Ronnie Brake, I’m looking at you.

Ronnie Brake

In Portland this past weekend, my girlfriend and I were asking her friend about the comedy scene there. While he isn’t an active participant, he mentioned that as the city keeps growing in popularity, stage time is hard to come by and it’s tough to stand out or make your mark.

I started thinking about our own comedy scene – the upcoming Harold auditions that will probably result in the formation of a new team, the improv shows that will be starting up on Wednesdays at The Book House in Maplewood, my own birthday show at Melt on June 19th, and everything else STL improvisers have created, from Stupid Brain to Improvicus Ex Satanicus, to STL Up Late.

Brandon Rice
Photo Credit: Brandon Rice

Yes, the STL scene is growing, and growing fast. When I started Level 1, my class was the first to split in half (as every Level 1 has been since). There are more people wanting to perform than there is stage time. Our little pond is getting bigger. Us fish are getting smaller.

But right now, our pond is still a pond, not a lake or an ocean. No one would talk to their out of town friends about how competitive our scene is. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

You can’t finish classes and be guaranteed a spot on a team anymore, but that means we have to get creative by producing our own shows, finding new venues for comedy, forming relationships with each other and supporting the shit out of everything we collectively do. I’d say that’s a net positive.

Would I rather be the star point guard of the JV team or the ending guard (end of the bench, guarding the water) on the varsity team? Neither, because basketball is stupid and I suck at it. But right now, there isn’t anywhere I’d rather be doing comedy than in St. Louis. Our pond isn’t too big or too small. It’s just right. 

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