Diana Dinerman: 'Detour is a show about coming home to yourself'
- The List
- 4 August 2019
This article is from 2019
Historian turned comedy writer discusses how she found herself in one of the fakest cities in the world before making a show about it
Diana Dinerman's talks about what happens after you throw away the grand life plan and follow the detours. She talks about her own quest that took her from dancer to historian to comedy writer, and how she found herself – her real self – in one of the fakest cities in the world (LA), and extending this into a captivating balance of head and heart – she discusses universal and relatable truths to tell an infectious and inspirational tale about drawing your own map.
Have you ever made plans for your life, then realized you grew out of the person you were when you made them? That's Detour.
When I decided to get a PhD in American History, my life changed in ways I couldn't predict. In the middle of writing my dissertation, I quit and became a comedian. When I came to LA, I was on research leave and trying to finish my PhD. I was crawling through the city, trying to interview research subjects before they died. My research was going downhill quickly. I was experiencing a slow drift from the plans I made to be a history professor and no amount of self-will or structure seemed to help. After some soul searching and lots of guided meditations, I decided to write about something other than history. At the very least, I thought it would help my state of mind. Writers are like boxers: we box our way out of the corner.
I started writing about my own life instead of dead people's. The things I wrote were sad and funny. That's comedy! I realised that I had spent so much time writing about other people that I had become invisible. When I heard my own writing voice, I knew I had to change my career completely. I left the University. I became a stand-up comedian. I started acting again. I wrote essays and stories and I performed them. It was like welcoming someone back who had been on a long vacation. I grew up as a performing artist, studied theatre in college, but got frustrated with the lack of control and scarcity in my twenties and quit. I was looking for security and stability and thought I could find it in another industry. I was wrong. You can't feel safe when your soul is unquenched. It's the connection to your own soul that keeps you grounded and secure. No person, place, or thing can do that for you.
Everyone has a set of unsolvables in their life - problems with no easy answer. The push and pull between security and freedom was my primary unsolvable. I couldn't figure out how to make art, make money, and feel comfortable. I looked for stability externally – a life of teaching and research seemed like it would give me what I wanted. It didn't. I wanted security, but what I needed was connection. Once I got connected to myself through writing and performing, I felt more secure. It was an inside job all along. Detour is a show about the inside job.
People go to Los Angeles thinking they know who they are and what they want, but the constant reinvention in that city has a penetrating quality. I absorbed that need for change and reinvention. In LA, time disappears. History is forgotten. There is only NOW. Change is fast and growth is uneven. I made myself anew in Los Angeles and I rediscovered parts of me that I'd lost touch with.
Los Angeles is a city where people don't care what you do, they care who you are. When who you are is under construction, there's a lot of fumbling around in the dark. And, in Hollywood, everyone has a famous friend whose life is terrible. You learn quickly that the outsides of people have been groomed, but the insides are full of weeds. It keeps things in perspective. In that sense, LA is very real. Los Angeles is the best city for hitting bottom. It's built for bottoming out. There's no better place to get lost and found. There's something magical and treacherous about Los Angeles, which is why so many people are compelled by it.
I don't know a single person who hasn't had the Detour experience, which is: someone who figured out that she made a wrong turn and can't do it over, so she has to carve out a new path from old mistakes. What I thought was a wrong turn ended up being a stepping stone. Detours can pay off.
This show isn't just about changing your career; it's about changing the way you think. It's a manifesto on redirecting your life. In the end, DETOUR is a show about coming home to yourself.
Detour: A Show About Changing your Mind, Underbelly Bristo Square, until 25 Aug (not 13), 2.35pm, £11 (£10).