16 May 2017, University of Minnesota, USA
Oh my goodness. Oh my goodness. Hello. I completed my degree here in creative writing in 1993 and, I hope the following words reflect that education. I am honoured to be here. Thank you for listening.
Let me begin by talking about the elephant in the room at a liberal arts graduation ceremony. That is - money.
As a Minnesotan I am ashamed to admit that I love money.
I love a fair exchange of goods and services.
I love to buy things.
I love to get paid.
Also, perhaps, unlike most people of Norwegian heritage, I love full disclosure. I love open book accounting. What better way to combine these passions than by telling you the story of how I got paid to be speaking to you today.
Let us begin at the beginning. I will read a section of the email sent to me by the University, inviting me here. I'm paraphrasing for time, there are a lot more outrageous compliments. "We feel that as a graduate of the University of Minnesota, Maria is the perfect person to speak at the commencement. Clearly her path has taken her on to great success." This is my emphasis. "Normally, the college does not pay for commencement speakers. As you can imagine, being a state-funded institution, we have to be careful regarding the use of our resources."
Well, I thought to myself, "But I am a self-funded institution who needs to be careful regarding the use of my resources." Was my alma mater low-balling me?
I'm not a sitting governor. The football coach isn't living check to check.
My husband and I, we have two elderly, overweight dogs who need eye medication three times a day. Was the University of Minnesota College of Liberal Arts suggesting that I couldn't get paid for the exact job that I paid them to teach me how to get paid to do? That's what I meant.
Well, of course not.
This was just Goldy Gopher giving me a final exam. This is a very important one, a post-graduate course in the art of salary negotiation. I hope I passed. I went to my business advisor, Mr. Elliot Kashian. He is an Armenian-American business man living in West Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He's an aluminium siding salesman and a 79-year-old father of my dear friend, Jackie. I told him my story, he said one of the best pieces of advice I've ever gotten, which is ... You need to know this if you're gonna be a liberal arts major. "Never say no without a number."
I went back to the U, I counter-offered with $20,000. The University went dark. Two weeks response, nice waiting game, and came back with $10,000. Elliot Kashian wanted me to split the difference at $15,000 but I'm still from Duluth and filled with shame. I stand before you for the amount of $10,000. After taxes and commissions that's $5,000, it's the difference between gross and nett.
Also important to know, gross is the disgusting amount of money that you will never receive. Nett is the little bag that you get to take home, your sweet little roll. I am gonna get paid in cash with a gun on the table afterwards.
At this point you may say to yourself, "God, her voice is irritating. How can I avoid becoming this crass, money-grubbing comedian from Duluth with a visible tremor after being on several psychiatric medications?" Well, here is a list of very specific "don't's." I just want to let you know my salary for today will affect you directly later on the speech.
These are things ... if you don't want to become what you see before you, don't do these things.
Don't screw it up. Don't mess it up. Don't waste one minute. Don't with your Bachelor's from a fine college work only in pizza for five years. Don't busk for change on the streets of downtown Los Angeles playing a musical instrument poorly. Don't send your first tax return to the IRS with scrawling letters "Sorry! Smiley face. Don't get it." Don't do a touring Star Trek show of the southern states of this great nation where you have to say things like, "Greetings. I am Major [Lelanka 00:06:57] of the planet Bajor." "Get the F away from me!" "All right."
Don't date a Vulcan on said Star Trek show and get an STD. One of the most popular STDs you can get actually, I assume 50% of you have it. Afterwards, don't go to Planned Parenthood with that STD in Hollywood where the doctor says, "How did you let it get so bad?" You go to the Planned Parenthood in Hollywood, California and the doctor says, "How did you let it get so bad?" All right. Don't join five different 12-step support groups, none of which are AA, so people have to guess. "Hey, what is there besides AA?" Don't move to Adelaide, Australia for a year in hopes of marrying a clown, who is also bisexual and a meth addict.
By the way, these are all things I have done, if I haven't made that clear. Don't do your own bookkeeping in Quicken and QuickBooks and get audited by the IRS five times. Turns out they owed me $25. Kablam! I may be eccentric but I save my receipts in a bucket.
Don't move into cockroach-infested apartment where the landlord accepts sex for rent and then not have the money for rent. Wink. No, I was fine. I moved on to a friend's couch. Don't get fired by Warner Brothers, Nickelodeon, Super Crown Bookstore, Mark Ridley's Comedy Castle, the Tempe, Arizona Improv, a writing job for Martin Short, the TV show Hot in Cleveland with Betty White, and more to come. Don't leave jobs suddenly in tears: Harrah's Improv in Las Vegas, an hour before showtime in Chicago, or a TV commercial shoot for Target because you are overwhelmed and unable to talk. This is actually pretty difficult, at least it was for me. Don't try to kill yourself either actively or passively. Do stay alive, even for spite. If anyone is thinking of suicide don't do it. It's not the season for it. Late fall. I'm just telling you the statistics. In other words, don't F it up. Or if you're like me, do.
Keep trying. The cracks are where the light gets in. That which has been our greatest sorrow has been our deepest delight. Or the historic chant from the movie Meatballs in 1980 starring Bill Murray, "It just doesn't matter. It just doesn't matter. It just doesn't matter."
Now, back to money. Does anybody here have a debt to Sallie Mae? Oh my gosh, that's so exciting. To receive an invoice is to know that you are alive. Is anybody in the theatre arts programme that has a debt to Sallie Mae? You in the front row? Here, madame, how about you come up? Young lady, young lady. Good hustle, good hustle. Thank you so much. Come on up here if you can. Do you know, by the way, how much you are in debt for student loans? Not clear? Good to know. Good to know. My husband had debt for $17,000 in 1992 and now we just paid it for $53,000 this past year. What I'm giving to you is a check for $5,000 written to Sallie Mae. It has the address. I could've given you more, madame ... What is your name, I'm so sorry?
Maria Bamford: Elise. I could've given you more but I did not negotiate for myself a higher salary. Good to know. Good to know. Thank you so much. Congratulations. Have a great day. Thank you so much.
Elise: Thank you so much. Thank you.
Maria Bamford: Enjoy.