On Being A Good Hang
The comedian Pete Holmes made a TV show called “Crashing.” It’s based on his early days as a stand-up comedian, when he didn’t have any money and couch surfed around New York City as he tried to break into the business.
In one episode, he is hired by another comedian to drive him to an out-of-town gig and be the opening act. He’s thrilled for the opportunity, and most of the jokes revolve around the fact that Pete—fresh out of bible college in the world of the show—doesn’t really fit in with stand-up comics on the road. He doesn’t do drugs or have one-night stands and he’s even uncomfortable drinking alcohol.
His hesitation to drink isn’t readily accepted by those other, better established comedians he is performing with. When he passes on a beer backstage, a fellow comedian tells Pete, “Part of being the opener is being a good hang.”
With that, Pete took the beer and drank.
That hits home. I’ve really been there, I thought when I watched that scene. This is probably true in all kinds of professions given our cultural obsession with drinking and the institution of happy hour as the way to socialize with colleagues, but I can’t help think it’s especially true among food writers and others who operate in or on the periphery of the restaurant industry.
In my line of work, every networking event has a liquor sponsor, every conference starts with a booze-soaked reception, every dinner has a wine pairing (recommended if not part of the deal).
Twice, I had job interviews during which my interviewer was drinking alcohol and so I, too, drank. How could I possibly expect to get the job if I didn’t demonstrate right from the outset that I was good hang?
Another feeling washed over me as that scene unfolded on my flatscreen: relief. I am not an early career opening act in need of a network, allies, opportunities, support. I’m 40 years old. I’ve been at this a long time. I finally have those things.
For years, I felt it was essential to my success that I be a good hang (read: always up for drinks). Now I feel free to say outrageous things like, “Would a breakfast meeting work for you?” and “Actually, I’m not drinking alcohol anymore” or "seltzer and lime for me" when colleagues want to network with me at the bar.
Looking back I wonder if it were ever really true that I had to be a good hang and that being a good hang requires drinking alcohol. Maybe this is just another way the marketers have brainwashed us into believing booze is not negotiable. Could I have made my way forward, could I have made friends, would I have gotten those job offers, without it? I will never know.
If I would have lost any influence with my fellow drinkers, surely I would have made up for that with the extra energy, focus, drive, and clarity that comes from taking alcohol out of my life. Perhaps I would have connected with more like-minded colleagues earlier in my career. I see now something that was invisible to me before: We nondrinkers are quietly everywhere.
Most of us are still good hangs, better hangs, than before.