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The saying goes that if you want things to change, you have to change things. I’d been long overdue for a massive change, and I recently made it: I uprooted my life in Los Angeles — where I’d lived for 14 years — to move to Birmingham, Ala.
I moved to L.A. after I graduated from college to pursue a career in entertainment. My first apartment was a pre-war building off Sunset Boulevard, right in the middle of Hollywood. A very hopeful 22-year-old, I used to smoke cigarettes and drink red wine on the fire escape, stare at the moon and dream about my future.
Los Angeles is a comforting enclave for artists and adventure-seekers. The entire city emanates the sense that something exciting could happen or is happening at any given moment. Being on studio lots or at movie premieres makes you feel part of something bigger than yourself.
My first job was as a page at CBS, ushering for “The Price is Right” and “The Late Late Show.” High-fiving Bob Barker really felt like I’d arrived. I went on to work at a production company and a talent agency, but my main focus was always stand-up comedy.
Despite a lot of victories in my career — securing some short-lived writing gigs, working professionally in comedy clubs across the country, acquiring a college agent and doing a military tour in the Middle East — I could never gain the traction necessary to make a full-time living in comedy for an extended period of time.
With almost every creative pursuit in L.A., when you’re still trying to establish yourself in a meaningful, financially sustainable way, you always feel like you could be doing more, and that’s what really starts to eat away at you. When is it ever enough? There is a significant chance you will toil away at your craft for years and still struggle, juggling the thing you really want to do with the side jobs you have to do in order to pay your bills. I constantly had to ask myself if I was willing to live with that chance.
My last few years in L.A., I was growing more and more disenchanted with stand-up and the daily grind of living in such an expensive, traffic-drenched city. I wanted to live somewhere where life felt easier. That’s hard to admit — the unspoken pact among every creative person trying to succeed in Los Angeles is never, ever give up, and most people view leaving L.A. as “giving up.” Personally, I was starting to feel fine about giving up. I came to terms with wanting a more comfortable lifestyle, and I wasn’t any closer to affording that in L.A. Going through a painful break up felt like an even bigger sign that I needed a fresh start somewhere new.
A friend sent me a job posting for a company based in Birmingham that creates sketches for YouTube and Facebook. They were looking for a comedy writer/producer. I sent them a web series I made and a link to my stand-up. When I got the job offer, the decision to leave L.A. felt monumental and also like a no-brainer at the same time. Basically, the best opportunity I’d been offered in comedy in years was right back in my home state (four hours north of where I grew up), and after I’d mostly “given up.”
I am so incredibly grateful I experienced life on the West Coast. If you’re drawn to constant stimulation, L.A. is a total playground. You can hike in the mountains on Saturday and swim in the ocean on Sunday. You can eat any type of cuisine imaginable — and have multiple restaurants of said cuisine to choose from. There are endless opportunities for activity, entertainment and self-improvement. I love that everyone in L.A. seems to be continuously working on themselves, and they’re not afraid to talk about it. I was raised in a pretty homogeneous, upper-middle-class community in southern Alabama. Los Angeles opened my eyes to a much wider perspective. It’s also where I essentially became an adult, developed lifelong friendships and established a value system that feels authentic to me.
Enduring the ups and downs of a creative life (and life in general) in Los Angeles really does toughen one’s skin. Successes in the entertainment business are often fleeting, and ultimately I learned that it’s more important to find joy in the work than to constantly seek validation from the results. Regardless of which cities or jobs my future holds, I feel like I have a sense of fearlessness and fortitude that keeps me open-minded and grounded in what’s happening in the present moment. And I have Los Angeles to thank for that.
Carbon Beach is one of the lesser-known gems of Malibu, probably because the public access entrance is blink-and-you-might-miss-it, hidden between multi-million-dollar homes along the Pacific Coast Highway. I spent so many days at this beach swimming and sunning with friends. The most memorable such instance was my 32nd birthday, when the water felt like we were on a Caribbean vacation. I’ll miss the summer weekdays when my best friend and I would escape to Carbon around 5 p.m., to talk on the beach and play in the water until sunset.
CorePower Yoga is a national chain, but the one in Hollywood was literally down the block from my apartment, and it felt kind of like my church starting in 2013. It was such a sacred space and the location for many of my life epiphanies, good and bad. I’ll never forget the views from Studio 1 — the Hollywood Hills and the tops of giant palm trees.
The first time I saw stand-up was an all-female show at the Hollywood Improv in 2006. That night, I knew stand-up was what I wanted to do in comedy. The pictures of famous comedians all over the walls inspired me, and the bar was a special place in my early years of stand-up.
Temescal Canyon is a popular hike in the Pacific Palisades. It’s challenging, but the panoramic views of Santa Monica Bay are worth the steep climb. I’d go there often with close friends in L.A. as well as visitors from out of town, and then get smoothie bowls in Brentwood as a post-hike reward. It doesn’t get much more California than that.
I worked on Main Street in Santa Monica for five years at a booking agency for comedians. The office was in this cool loft space amid tons of bars, restaurants and novelty stores. Main Street is where Santa Monica bleeds into Venice, so it very much feels like a beach town in the middle of a huge metropolis, and I spent many lunch breaks walking down to the Venice boardwalk to get some exercise and people watch.
This 24-hour diner on Beverly Boulevard is always a safe bet, whether you want a milkshake or a protein scramble. Because it is so centrally located, I met friends here often. I almost always saw someone else I knew (personally, or because they were on TV), so it has a small-town familiarity that I found comforting.
Wildcraft is an Italian restaurant in Culver City. It became the official birthday or celebratory occasion spot for one of my closest groups of friends in L.A. The burrata pie and squid ink pasta are just a couple of the incredible dishes we love here. They always let us bring in our own cake for dessert, too, and didn’t seem to care that we stayed until the waiters were sweeping under the tables, trying to shut the place down.
Here’s another one of those L.A. escapes that makes you feel like you aren’t in a city, even if only for an hour. I had a fellow comedian hiking buddy I always met here, as well as some fun dates at the observatory over the years. The views from Griffith’s peaks are pretty breathtaking; it definitely feels like quintessential L.A., which isn’t a bad thing.