Friday, April 04, 2008

Flat Earth

You ever read something that just makes you want to scream? This is a Glen Beck piece for CNN on line. Everything in italics is my answer to his words.

NEW YORK (CNN) -- We all want to live in a world that's clean, healthy and prosperous.

We all want to hand that world off to our children in slightly better shape than we received it. No one, even the supposedly evil oil executive, has any reason to want anything different. But, for some reason, we find ourselves searching for villains. Surely they exist, but the endless quest to create them sometimes overwhelms our better judgment, whether intentional or not.

You want to hope that everyone wants to hand the world off in slightly better condition, but the truth is, a lot of people either don't see the problem or they live in communities that can afford to be free of the problems less prosperous communities have to deal with. Things like Toxic waste dumps, power plants belching smoke and abandoned infrastructure never seem to happen in "rich" communities. What does he think recycling, searching for cleaner fuels and the attempt to get people to moderate their lifestyle of consumption is? It is a direct way to leave the planet in better shape.

Congress has picked "Big Oil" as their enemy of the week. These companies inexplicably put profits above people, ravaging the environment and financially assaulting the poor to put another couple of dollars on their balance sheet. That's the storyline we've all been taught.

Yes, times are tough for many. Sure, oil companies make a lot of cash. But, for that money, they get us to work, get ambulances to the hospital, keep our homes warm, and employ thousands of our friends and neighbors while financing their retirement, paying their health care, and providing energy to millions. Because of capitalism, they have the incentive to do that. I've yet to see what our government does for us with their rather large chunk of each gallon of gas we buy, and I've yet to see them offer to return it or suggest a gas-tax-windfall-tax-tax.

Forget for a second how much of a tool he looks like defending "big Oil" and instead focus on some undisputed facts. Chevron oil earned 40 Billion dollars in their last quarter. That's 40 Billion dollars in 4 months. The quarter before that, it was in the 30 billion dollar range. The quarter before that, in the low 30 billion dollar range. So lets get this completely clear, in a time when families are loosing their home's, the price of gas at the pump is affecting the budgets of those families. Chevron has made more money in the history of any company over any single quarter.
When asked about this windfall by Congress, the general answer by the oil executives was the same; we need this money for the lean times and for research and development. Fact: no oil company in America has built a new refinery in this country for more than 30 years. The infrastructure they use is not only outdated and crumbling, it makes them money to leave it as is. It's a choke point in their distribution of product. Keep the supply low and the price you can charge will be high. That's basic capitalism.
You yet to see what the government does with the taxes they collect? Really? We can start with the most obvious if you like; war in Iraq. A war that a vast majority of people now correctly see is over oil. We cut back the budget at the V.A., but the companies that are directly profiting from these soldiers service don't even have to pay into the V.A.
Then their is roads, bridges and the operation of the biggest transportation system in the world. Wake up!

The other villain of the moment is the global warming "denier." Anyone who disagrees, even in the slightest, must be ridiculed. On "60 Minutes" last weekend, Al Gore said: "They're almost like the ones who still believe that the moon landing was staged in a movie lot in Arizona and those who believe the Earth is flat. That demeans them a little bit, but it's not that far off."

Approximately 6 percent of Americans believe in the fake moon landing theory, although I've always heard there was a conspiratorial consensus that it was staged in Nevada, not Arizona. I'm going to guess quite a bit less than 6 percent believe in a flat Earth, but no one seems to be asking that question in polls anymore, so I can't be sure. So, who are those people Gore was demeaning "a little bit" by these comparisons? There's a good chance it's you. That's because the vast majority of Americans believe something that categorizes them as a flat earther to environmentalists like Gore.

Despite the media's one-sided view (the Business and Media Institute says dissenting voices about global warming are outnumbered on CBS News broadcasts by a 38 to 1 ratio), only 21 percent of Americans say "the release of greenhouse gasses is the most important factor causing global warming" according to a 2007 New York Times/CBS News poll.

The vast majority of Americans believe that Global warming is real. It is a disingenuous argument when he cites the poll question asked. "the release of greenhouse gasses is the most important factor causing global warming." Why? Because poll takers and politicians know that by wording questions just right, they can influence the outcome of a poll. When people have been asked what is the biggest contributor to Global warming, they overwhelmingly say, car exhaust. When the people who gave that answer were then asked if they knew that car exhaust was a greenhouse gas, a little less than half said they knew that. Like a lot of problems we have here, it is one part education and one part freeing yourself from the manipulation of agendas to get a clear picture of what is going on. I think Al Gores example is not ridicule, but using history to paint an accurate picture. People who thought the Earth was flat were on the loosing side of history, knowledge and facts. Just as the people who deny global warming are on the loosing side of scientific proof as well.

The "60 Minutes" piece wasn't just filled with misrepresentations of opinion; it had plenty of Gore-style hypocrisy. He was embroiled in controversy when it was revealed his mansion used 20 times more energy than the average American. His explanation? "Since then" his house has been retrofitted with solar panels. I'm sure Eliot Spitzer hasn't been renting many women since he was caught either. (Although I'm not betting my life on it.)

We then see footage of Gore's parents' farm that will, sometime in the future, be run on wind power. Apparently, the windmill store has been out of stock for the past 20 years.

Perhaps most comically, Gore is seen dragging an entire film crew on a jet to India to give a climate presentation to about 100 people. Gore claimed: "We just don't have any choice. I wish I knew a better way to do it. I constantly ask myself, 'How can I be more effective in getting this message across?' " The most effective thing you can think of is flying halfway across the world to speak with 100 people? Maybe you had other things to do while you were there, but I'd be surprised if there was anything essential that couldn't be accomplished with a telephone and a computer. The people in India will be able to see your fancy graphs on their screens, and you'll cut demand for those evil overseas flights.

Death by a thousand paper cuts. That's part of the strategy here. Don't dispute the message, just smear the messenger. It is true that Bio jet fuel is just now starting to be available. It is true that wind mills could be installed to run Gores family farm that would work pretty well. It is true that his family home is now run on solar, wind and other means. But I think this is an example of a rare sort of politician. The sort that says, "Your right. I could do that." And then does. Using Spritzer in the example is a pointless and poor debate trick.

The entire "60 Minutes" piece felt like a commercial for Gore's upcoming commercials. He's spending $300 million in advertising to convince people of something he claims there is already a consensus on. To put that much money into perspective; it's more than Sen. Barack Obama, Sen. Hillary Clinton, Sen. John Edwards, Sen. John McCain, former Gov. Mike Huckabee and Rep. Ron Paul raised in all of last year combined. Think of it as going green by getting lots of green.

Where is all that money coming from? Gore says he's donating his profits from "An Inconvenient Truth," and his Nobel Peace Prize cash award. Let's be generous and say there's only $290 million left to explain. Apparently, a follow-up question to find the origins of this nine-figure sum would have involved six seconds that "60 Minutes" wasn't willing to commit.

I guess the question is, where do you think the Money is coming from Mr. Beck? with no facts or knowledge of how much money people have donated for this cause, you instead use vague insinuations to imply something darker going on.

What is there to learn from all of this? Whether it's politicians on both sides of the aisle or our vaunted environmental superheroes, the quest for power overwhelms even the slightest instinct of self-examination.

In the end, the timing of the Gore interview airing couldn't have been better. It fell on the same weekend as the first "Earth Hour," when the world supposedly came together to turn our attention to climate change by shutting the lights off for an hour. The imagery of monuments like the Sears Tower in Chicago, Illinois, going dark was plastered over newscasts everywhere.

But those pictures highlighted the global warming movement and the congressional attacks on energy companies in an entirely unintended way.

Behind the darkened Sears Tower was the city of Chicago, with lights shining brightly as far as the eye could see. For one hour the Sears Tower knew what it was like to be Al Gore: A larger than life symbol, blocking our view of reality.

It's a poor metaphor. A blacked out Sears Tower with the rest of the city still lit up bellow does not block reality, it only serves to demonstrate that more education is needed. Maybe 300 million in commercials is a good place to start. To put how little that is into perspective, it took Gore 8 years to raise that money. Chevron, one oil company, made 40 Billion dollars in 4 months. No new refinery has been even considered with that profit. No one at the company is considering lowering the price at the pump so they would only earn 30 billion in the next quarter. No. Instead, it's business as usual. Oil companies fight the clean air requirements they have to put on their factories telling us it will cut into profits and they will be forced to raise the price at the pumps. If every Chevron, today put the most up to date filtering systems on everyone of their refiners, it would cost them about 100 million dollars. I think they can afford that and I know we would all literally breathe easier. Literally. Study after study cites the rise of respiratory illness the closer a person lives to an oil refinery. Profits over people? You tell me, Mr. Beck. Careful tap dancing around these truths. You might fall off the edge of the world.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

...and then I am in Davis,CA at a little place named, City Hall Comedy club. It's really part of a restaurant that has comedy one night a week, but it has become on of the best one nighters around.
I filled in for a last minute cancellation. Seemed only fair. I had to cancel on this Booker last month for Last Comic Standing. No word yet about how much face time I will have. I am told that if any of us appear for more than two minuets, we get a check. You just know a producer is going to be watching people with a stop watch. "One minuet and fifty eight seconds. Klocek gets nothing!"
What makes this gig Blog worthy is it's lack of drama before, during or after the show. You have to love that. Not only that, but a young hot girl in the front row too!
So, every once in awhile everything comes together in your favor. I didn't even mind the drive home. I have traveled that stretch of I80 so many times for gigs, that I firmly believe I could drive it with my eyes closed avoiding every pot hole and telling you where we are with out opening them. "Were passing the Nut Tree. Look out for a large crater in the center lane."
I put my iPod headphones in and blast my way down the asphalt screaming along to hits that haven't graced the radio waves since that girl in the front row was born.
Thanks universe. You did me a solid.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Follow That!

Last night. I performed at Cobb's for a benefit against the Death penalty. I thought it hilarious that when everyone wished us good luck, they said it like this. "Go out there and kil...break a leg!"
Here was the order of the line up.
Sandy Stec, as host and MC for the night.
Aundre the Wonder Woman. She also sits on the board and works with project innocence. They take another look at people convicted and sentenced to death. As we continue to learn, a lot of the people sentenced to death turn out to be innocent of the crime they were convicted of.
Then it was Brian Copeland. A local celebrity who gained fame with his one man show, not a genuine black man.
Paula Poundstone, icon and huge supporter of this cause.
Then, me.
No one wanted to go last, Brian didn't want to follow Paula, who wanted to leave early anyway, so that left me as the headliner. But will get to that.
I use to work Cobb's a lot more. Seems like the only times I am at that club now is when I am auditioning for a soulless TV show, or it's a benefit. The big name acts they book bring their own opening and middles, so us local guys have been cut out of the mix. I don't blame Cobb's for this. It's the trend with comedy clubs everywhere. Anyway, it was nice to be back on that stage again.
I got there a half hour before the show. Sandy was nervous she would mess up the more than three pages of announcements they wanted her to say. She did great.
Benefit or not, the one thing all comics have in common is our ego's. In a week, I went from being first up on the bill, to the headliner. Not because I wanted to, but because I had the least amount of clout to say where I wanted to be in the line up. I will admit that the idea of following an icon like Paula, especially because she is a master riffer, made me more than a little nervous. But a glance at the evenings program left me with something else to be worried about. After Paula, there was an award ceremony I had to follow.
It's not exactly the raffle at a room in Modesto, but it's this crowds equivalent.
Paula, who said she didn't want to close because she had to leave early, ended up doing 35 minuets instead of the allotted 20. I don't really care. I go long all the time too. But I do it when I am last, not when there is an award and another comic after me. They give her the light once, then once more and when people on the board of this event start coming back stage nervously running their hands through their hair, I started to get nervous. Every time we thought she was about to end, she would look at someone in the crowd and ask, "What do you do for a living?"
Not only is she going long, but she is doing what I do. Shit!
finally, she gets off the stage to thunderous applause.
James Cromwell, from 6 feet under, L.A. Confidential and a thousand other movies gets on stage.
James Cromwell!
All I can think when I see him is, "You shot Kevin Spacey in L.A. Confidential!"
This isn't just an award they are presenting to Aundre for all her service, it's a reminder to everyone exactly what this is a benefit for. In a very dramatic, professionally trained voice, Mr. Cromwell reads a long dissertation on the horrors of the death penalty and Aundre's impressive list of accomplishments. The room is utterly silent with respect for her and disgust for the death penalty. A few people wipe tears from their eyes. When Mr. Cromwell finally comes to end and presents this award to her, the room explodes in not only a resounding wave of applause, but they rise to their feet!
While everyone else is smiling broadly, I am back stage shitting!
Great! I have to follow Paula and now an award for fighting evil. Maybe Robin Williams can show up, do 45 and then Jesus can return and pass out more wine!
When Sandy asks the crowd, "Are you ready for your headliner?" I can see programs open in laps around the room. Everyone is thinking the same thought when they see my name following the award presentation, who?
Paula had opened her set by telling the crowd that people on the board had taken her out to a fancy restaurant, Milano's. She was amazed that the owners had worked out a deal with the owner of a driveway across the street from the place. They could park there, and simply walked into the restaurant. In San Francisco, that truly is an amazing thing. She went on about this, appropriately blown away by being able to park in view of their target. That never happens in this town.
When I went up on stage, I told the crowd it had already been an amazing show. I didn't want to be the headliner but I got here late because someone parked in my driveway by Millano's.
Applause break!
There are moments on stage when you take a risk and get instant reward. As soon as they laughed at that, I knew I was OK. I knew I had them. I stuck to jokes, kept the "fucks" to a handful, and did almost no riffing.
Thank God I didn't die up there on the death penalty benefit show. That would of been just too much irony to handle.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Roast This!

They are fun to watch on TV but you have to remember everyone is being paid to be there. They know what they have signed up for and they have some understanding of what's coming.
Throwing a surprise party for your boyfriends 50th Birthday party is a good idea.
Throwing a surprise comedy show where you want him to be roasted and no one else at the party knows this is going to happen; bad.
Bad because this hipster San Francisco set would never be caught dead in a comedy club. It is beneath them. There body language alone displays their contempt for this intrusion on their Saturday night of conversation and wine. Bad because we are the outsiders coming into a group. People tend to rally behind their own when they see strangers making fun of their friend in his own home.
This was also one of those, if it could go wrong, it will go wrong gig's too.
I meet John, who will be opening on this gig. We drive down to the location, a photography studio in a back alley at 9th & Mission. When I say back alley, I mean back alley. The directions for how to get into the place sound like code for spy's exchanging information in the cold war. Go around to the back of the place. Walk down the alley till you find the green door by the chain link fence. Enter this code into the door and you should be let in.
Should be.
We get there early and sit down at the All-star Cafe on the corner. By the way, that doesn't describe anyone in the nearly vacant place. An old man sits by the ATM machine in the corner periodically getting up to press random buttons in some hope of the machine finally saying, what they hell here you go! We look for a clean table to sit at before realizing that here at the All-star, it's more about finding the least dirty table. I like John. He is almost exactly 10 years younger than I am and shares all the frustrations of a single man in stand-up. It always help to share these adventures with someone you like.
On the corner of 9th & Mission is an out of business bed store with mattress still in the window. Outside, homeless sleep on cement. How's that for San Francisco? A quarter inch of glass separates these guys from a bed.
We walk down the tiny alley and are overpowered by the stench of urine. In sleeping bags by a dumpster, two men sleep. John, ever positive, notices newly built condos with terraces. "You never see terraces like that in the city." He says in admiration.
"John, what do they have a view of, the worse that man can do to himself and drug deals?"
They go for a million five by the way.
We find the blue door and enter the code. After several rings, we get a message machine. We try again with the same result. Another guy shows up and does the same thing after I explain we already tried that. He immediately starts calling numbers of people he thinks are already in there. I call the Booker.
He gives me a number of a person he thinks is also in there. I call, get a message and leave a voice mail.
Now what?
We go back to my car parked down the block from the corner and just sit in it. We look like were on a stake-out now. We decide to give them till 7:15, try again and if no answer, fuck it. At this point, I hope no one is answering because of some gas leak.
Now we get another call from who is essentially the Booker's boss.
"Where are you guys?"
"Were right out front the door to the gig."
"OK, I am going to call back this guy, give you his number and he will take you upstairs to the gig."
You build up an energy for a gig. When shit like this starts to happen, you start to loose the desire to even do it. It's blue balling. Well hell, here we go again down crack alley. Sure enough, there is the other guy we saw trying to get in earlier waving his hand from the now open door.
"Are you guys the comics?"
We are taken up the stairs to the third floor where a petite woman and an older gentleman shake our hands, apologize for the communication problem and ask us if we want anything.
"No, were good."
In about 5 minuets, they start to get people to sit down on rented plastic chairs as they hold their wine in plastic glasses. It's a loft. Half work space, half living space. With high beam ceilings and a hard wood floor, it looks exactly like the sort of place every episode of Law & Order starts in. Minus the dead body of course.
But it's early.
There is a bounty of vegetarian party treats. Asparagus has been laid out next to cheese that probably costs more than I am making on this gig in a meticulous kitchen with sleek shinny appliances. The people are aging hipsters and various cool people who hang out at cafes and complain what has happened to the city.
They have money and care about politics and the environment, but homeless guys sleep less than a hundred feet from where they sip drinks complaining about the conservatives lack of compassion.
Plastic rented chairs are hastily set up once the surprise of stand-up comedy has been announced. It doesn't go over very well with half the room. In the back, people stand with the same look on their faces that you see on the student body when the speaker comes to give the commencement speech.
With in five minuets of being there, John is introduced. They have set up a Mic, but sitting on a directors chair next to John sits the Birthday boy. Never a good idea. Not only have we entered a private domain, we have now singled out the nights leader and placed him apart from his friends to be mocked.
How can this go wrong? Here's how.
I am about 15 minuets in. It's going well actually. The Birthday boy, uncomfortable and unsure how to respond, is not being very forthcoming to my questions. It makes it harder on me to come up with stuff on the fly, but I am getting some good laughs and start to relax into this show. That's when a tall guy wearing a turtle neck and the unofficial tweed jacket of a PBS pledge break, walks right up to me. He is about 6'8, so it's not like you don't notice the guy. In my mind I am thinking, This guy is walking toward me. Is this guy walking directly up to me?
He holds a beer in one hand and with his free hand, grabs the Microphone. I smile, but don't let go. He doesn't either. I say, "This is awkward."
In classic lame fashion he says back to me, "Your awkward? I thought you were Joe."
The room has gone silent.
That is never a good sign. These people know this guy and if they are going silent, something truly unexpected is going on.
"I don't like you making fun of my friend." He says in a drunk tone now holding the Mic.
"It's a roast." I attempt to explain. "has anyone explained to you how these work?"
"Are you a professional? Why aren't you funny" He asks.
There is that same electric tension in the room you feel before the first lightening strike in a storm. I truly believe I am about to be hit and none of these uber liberals is saying anything to avert the disaster!
Finally, someone says to the guy, "It's OK. Sit down."
They say it in such a way that leads me to think it's not the first time they have had to explain a situation to their tall drunk ass friend who is dressed and looks like the guy on PBS who use to have that learn to paint show.
I would of been the biggest pussy if I had gotten my ass kicked by a guy in a turtle neck.
He hands the Microphone back to me and walks off. I turn to the crowd and say, "What the fuck!"
I am just angry at this point. Angry that it was such a pain in the ass to get inside this vault of cool, angry that half the room squints at us in disbelief that anyone would find what were saying funny, angry that these people can't even comprehend how incredibly lame they are, angry that I almost got my ass kicked by some idiot who is unclear on what the fuck a roast is, angry that any question I ask is responded to with a defensive trying to be funny reply, angry that these are exactly the sort of people I make fun of all the time when I am at a club.
But I am a professional. I don't loose it and go off on the rant that I want to. Instead, I take a breath and press on for another ten minuets before saying good night and run for the door.
And I mean run. A few people come up and say the usual things after these gigs, "Tough crowd, good job, you handled that well." I just smile and reserve judgement till were back in the pee stained street.
Once we get out of the place I just sigh and check my pocket for the check. Good. I look at it and think to myself, this is why comics charge what they do. Not because they might be so good, but because the crowd might be this bad.
This dude was a photographer. I think about that. No one ever sees his bad shots. He only displays the finished product to the public. Stand-Up comedy is a much more transparent art. The crowd sees it all. The good parts, the awkward parts, the unfunny parts, the stumble over words parts, the drunk guy entering the picture parts; it's all right there in the moment. No take backs or try again with better lighting. It's all laid bare in front of people who don't even want to see it sometimes.
A photo journalist may risk his life in a war zone, but I almost got beat up in a San Francisco loft by a drunk liberal.
It would make a hell of an episode of Law & Order.