A Salty Tale (or How I Learned to Spice Up My Career)

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In the current economy, it takes a lot of effort to keep a small business afloat. I was funny but being a comedian wasn’t paying the bills, so I tried calling myself a humorist. But after years of winging it with unsteady work, I hired a marketing consultant to help me define my business. When I got the bill, I realized I had been a fool calling myself a humorist. I should have called myself a humour consultant — that’s where the really big bucks are.

Marketing consultants, just like bankers, have their own secret language. My consultant and I met at a restaurant. Over a plate of fries I tried to explain to him what I did for a living: I was a writer, actor, motivational speaker and improviser, and apparently I was funny.

Funny. That was one f-word the man didn’t like. I said it again: “I’m funny.”

He didn’t crack a smile. He just picked up the saltshaker off the table and said, “Yes, sure, but what is your salt?”

I thought he was joking but he is a consultant; humour is not in his mission statement. He said it again. “This is a saltshaker, and you have to ask yourself, what is your salt?”

“My salt?”

“Yes, you can put the salt in a crystal saltshaker or a packet like at McDonald’s, but it’s still your salt.”

“It certainly is.”

“So what is your salt? Deb, what is your salt?”

“I didn’t know I had salt.”

“You do. What is it?”

This line of conversation was depressing me, especially when he started yelling, as if that would make me understand. Here I was, 53 years old, and I didn’t know what my salt was. In fact, I didn’t even know if I was salt. Maybe I was more like pepper? Or nutmeg? Or worse, what if I was cream of tartar, which a lot of people have in their spice rack and never use?

As an entertainer, I just did the next thing that paid. I never knew if I was between work or washed up. One time I was cast in a film as a nurse, but I was so hungover they made me a terminal patient. Because I was funny, in between real gigs I would work for side companies that hire actors to perform corporate skits. This included jobs like dressing up as fruits and vegetables and singing for a lot of cash. It was insane. One time we were hired to do a skit about empowering women, and the speaker before us did a talk on something she called “Undress For Success.” This woman got all teary-eyed, telling us about the day she discovered her inner stripper. The only inner stripper I have wears polyester nightgowns and smells like Bengay.

Apparently, it wasn’t enough she had found her own inner stripper; the women in the audience had to find theirs, too. My comrades and I sat back and watched in horror as a bunch of middle-aged ladies got up on stage and tried their hand at pole dancing. Trust me when I tell you, the only people who should be sliding down a pole are firemen.

“I hired a marketing consultant to help me define my business…”

Another time I was hired to work in a murder mystery, where a bunch of performers act out a fictional crime. When we got to the gig, we were met by the event planner. Event planners are like real estate agents on crack. She had this murder mystery planned down to the last detail: the costumes, the weapon, the victim, and she’d even colour-coded napkins for each team along with their fingerprint-dusting kits.

However, there was one thing she didn’t count on happening. On location, all of the staff had been alerted that a murder mystery was going on — everyone but the dishwasher, who happened to have just immigrated to Canada that month. The poor man came out of the kitchen and into the dining room with two trays of freshly washed glasses, just as one of the actors pulled out a prop gun and shot a fellow actor. When she fell down clutching her chest, the dishwasher’s tray of dishes went flying as he ran around the room, terrified.

This event planner ran behind him trying to explain: “See, this is just a game here in Canada. Because we don’t have a war going on in this country, we hire people to pretend to be murdered. Isn’t that fun? Don’t you love us so far?”

When we tried to point out how funny it was, she just didn’t see the humour in the situation. Some people take themselves way too seriously. Like the time I was hired by a huge pharmaceutical company for a campaign to advertise a new drug for treating yeast infections. I was cast as the woman with the yeast infection.

You might think I would be humiliated at the idea of playing such a part. I was, but only for about 10 minutes. Especially after I discovered what the rest of the deal included: a seven-day, all-expenses-paid cruise to the Caribbean, without my husband and kids. I guess my artistic integrity can be bought. The best part was the boss who wouldn’t let us use the words “scratch” or “itch” in the skits because they offended him. Maybe you shouldn’t be in the yeast infection business if those two words offend you. Anyway, it took the form of a mini-musical play called “Beauty and the Yeast: Tale as old as time…”

“What if I was cream of tartar, which a lot of people have in their spice rack and never use?”

My point is I didn’t know if I have my salt or how I tried to stay viable. So, I took a poll and asked my friends what they thought my salt was. They totally misunderstood the question and thought it was time to do a character evaluation. One told me I should get a real job, another tried to sell me disability insurance, and another wanted me to return the blue blouse I had borrowed from her in high school.

Finally, Sandra, who is one of my oldest friends and doesn’t suffer consultants gladly, laid it on the line.

“Oh, for crying out loud, you’re a Kimmett.”

“What’s a Kimmett?”

“It’s witty and wise.”

It is? I thought it was old and gassy. So that’s when I decided how I made a living was fine. And I thought it was okay just to keep my company name: Kimmett.

When I went to visit my mother I told her I just spent three thousand dollars to find out I was a Kimmett. To which she said, “Ha ha, very funny.”

I replied, “Yes, let’s hope so.”

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