Here’s what it says:
Do what you can where you are. The movie opens with Jimmy “B. Rabbit” Smith (Eminem) competing in a freestyle rap battle in a dingy Detroit club. He wants to be a hip-hop emcee, and anyone can compete, so that’s where he goes. There’s no sense that music industry people go anywhere near the place, but that’s something to worry about later. For now, get on stage. Learn your stuff. Get good enough to hit that first ceiling.
There will be setbacks. Rabbit chokes in the battle. He leaves the stage not having rapped a word, booed and laughed at. Not every set is going to go well. Some will be absolute disasters. It might be hard to imagine a young Richard Pryor or Robin Williams or Ellen Degeneres bombing in a comedy club, but they did. If you think a great author can do no wrong, try reading Salman Rushdie’s first novel, or Yann Martel’s, or Kurt Vonnegut’s. Everyone bombs, especially when they’re learning. But you have to start somewhere. Despite his humiliation, Rabbit comes back and competes again.
Get to Work. Your life won’t come to a halt as you try to make it. One scene shows Rabbit riding the bus to his job at an auto plant, holding a pad of paper, pen in hand. The pad’s covered in his writing – lyrics, we’re left to assume. If you’ve only got enough time to snatch a few minutes here and there to work on your art, then a few minutes will have to do. Better that than waiting till you’ve got the time, the perfect work room, the energy, the inspiration, the grant. You can wait for those things forever. And even if you get them, there will always be more reasons why you can’t start yet. Get over these delaying tactics. Get to work. Find a way.
Focus on the present, not the future. In one scene, one of Rabbit’s friends talks about the record deals they need to sign (no record company is courting any of them). Another one talks about putting the profits from their records into savings bonds so they can build their own studio. Another says they need to get “fat bitches and fine rides”. Rabbit berates them all: “Man shut the fuck up. All of us never do shit about nuttin’ and we’re still broke as fuck and living at home with our moms.” Dreaming about the future won’t help you get to that future. Facing up to the imperfect present can give you the kick in the ass to do something about it.
Be ready for a long, slow climb. Rabbit wins the battle at the movie’s finale, but there aren’t any agents or record execs in the audience who slip him a business card and tell him to call them in the morning. We grow up with the Cinderella story of success in our minds. Someone drops into your life, and poof, you never have to worry about anything ever again. But what do you do if that doesn’t happen? Rabbit leaves the club, grabs his change of clothes, and heads back to the auto plant to work a graveyard shift. In a previous scene someone asked him what he’s trying to earn all this overtime for. His answer: studio time. That’s the formula. Work hard. Save up. Do what you can. Persist. You still might not make it. But your odds are a lot better than if you stay at home, waiting for a fairy godmother to notice you.
This is a guest post from TJ Dawe, a successful Vancouver based writer/performer/director who’s toured solo shows at more than eighty comedy and theatre festivals in the last decade and a bit. He’s got six published plays, a humour book, and his directing credits include The One Man Star Wars Trilogy, which played Off-Broadway in New York for five months. He also blogs, tweets, podcasts, and has stuff on youtube.