Sunday, December 26, 2010
Monday, December 20, 2010
A few months ago, I performed at a benefit to raise money for a scholarship. It was an incredibly fun show, with its own twists and turns. It was at the Santa Rosa Junior College. The inspiration for this scholarship was a man named Rick Edwards. I met Rick almost fifteen years ago at a gig in Santa Rosa. There was a restaurant that did comedy on Friday and Saturday nights - The Sweetriver. I was the host, and Rick was doing a guest set. I met him right before the show and didn’t exactly know what to expect. He was dressed head-to-toe in motorcycle-gang leather. His boots looked like they were issued by the Klingon high command. His hair was ZZ Top long, and he wore impossibly dark sunglasses. He was, to say the least, intimidating. I asked what he wanted me to say, and he said it didn’t matter, because he had a music cue. When the time came, I said the usual “he tours clubs and colleges” line. From the sound system blared, “Bad to the Bone.” The opening notes sounded more machine gun than guitar, and if you were standing under a speaker you went dizzy. I stood at the mic waiting for Rick. From out of the shadows he slowly walked toward the stage, never looking down or turning his head. His expression was fixed, and if you could have seen his eyes, you would have bet they were glaring. His walk was confident, relaxed and commanding. The crowd was still applauding but now he just stood behind the mic, with the music continuing to play - arms crossed, mouth a straight line, and those dark sunglasses hiding everything but the raw intimidation he was projecting. The music continued. The seconds ticked by and the crowd, mostly 20 something’s, shifted uncomfortably in their seats. The music suddenly stopped and just as it did, Rick took of his sun glasses and in a voice that sounded part Bee Gee’s, part Mickey Mouse and all helium, Rick said, “Hi everyone! It’s great to be here tonight!” The place erupted with laughter. Rick laughed to. It was a brilliant opening. Without a word he established a character and then played against it. He had instant credibility with the crowd.
That was the biggest laugh he got that night.
The rest of his act was about what to do in a prison yard riot, what not to do in a prison shower and how to keep larger more persuasive inmates out of your ass. The 20-something suburbanites sat slackjawed and horrified. Like most comics watching another comic not doing well, I started laughing for the sheer bizarreness of the show. When Rick’s seven minutes were up, I returned to the microphone and said something like, “Stay in school, kids.”
I’d see Rick pop up from time to time, at various gigs around the greater Bay Area. Mostly it was open mics; little road gigs that paid almost nothing. Every time I saw him, he told me how funny I was and asked me how I was doing. The man had served time in prison for possession of drugs and his sad, hound dog like eyes told a story about his past. Rick was never comfortable talking about it at that point in his life. More than anything, Rick gave off a unique feeling of being warm and a little crazy. I was never once afraid, being with Rick. I was just terrified he was going to ask me how his set was, after a show. All the leather and all the posturing was just that, an act. Rick was, for the time I knew him, a sweet, yet troubled soul. Then, he just stopped showing up. I have to admit, I didn’t even notice at first that he wasn’t around. I would ask other comics about him, and no one seemed to know.
Cut to this summer. I get a Facebook friend request from Rick Edwards. The message he sends along with it is overflowing with poorly spelled politeness. I respond and Rick tells me he wants me to perform on a gig at the Junior College he is going to. I say, sure and asked for the date. This starts months of going back and forth, and not getting a response - before getting responses that are strange but friendly. First it will be one date, then a week later, it’s another. On and on this goes, and when I’m starting to get agitated, he just goes silent. He has also told me the amount of money he wants me to perform for, and I write back a terse reply that colleges usually have a lot more money than this for performances. Then he asks for my phone number but doesn’t call. Eventually I get a Facebook message from someone else saying, “Hey, it’s Rick. Could you please call me at this number?” At this point, I am done. No gig could possibly go well with this much drama in the planning stage. Out of the blue, Rick calls me up and I get an explanation about everything; the strangely worded emails with lots of Buddhist well-wishing in them, the long periods of silence and the confusion over dates and money. He tells me, he was in the hospital, in a coma for ten days after coughing up blood. His liver is failing and with it, other organs. He is on so many prescriptions he hardly knows what’s what. In short, his doctors tell him he is dying. Those years I didn’t see Rick are also filled in. He was back in prison for another drug charge. He was addicted to just about everything and when he was released, had that moment of clarity recovering addicts talk about and decided to clean himself up. He started going to recovery meetings, and enrolled at a junior college. It wasn’t easy. Adjusting to life without bars can be difficult. Adjusting to life on life’s terms, even more so. Now, with the doctors telling him of his disease, something else happened to Rick. He wanted to leave behind one good thing. He knew he had made bad choices and polluted the life he had. Before he died, he just wanted to do good. The comedy show would raise money not for Rick, but for a scholarship to help other people in Rick’s situation.
Wow. OK, here is what I will do, Rick. Just nail down the date for me and I refuse to take any money for this.
At one point, Rick tells me his doctor asked him, “Did you ever smoke?”
“Of course!” Rick said.
“You could probably take that back up again if you wanted.”
You know it’s bad when a doctor tells you “Go for it, have a smoke!” It’s not going to be what kills you at this point.
The month before the gig, the date changed yet again. At one point, Rick’s liver was so full of toxins, they leaked into his body, requiring him to go on an all-liquid diet. He couldn’t eat anymore, anyway. I came in to do a cable access TV show, out of Sonoma. It would be the first time seeing Rick in person since hosting that show way back when. His pants kept falling, his eyes wandered around the room, and his mouth didn’t stop talking the entire time he was there. Like some kid with extreme ADD, the medications he was taking at the moment had him flying around; still, there was that underlying sweetness. The plan was for Rick to watch but eventually his off-camera antics couldn’t be ignored and the host asked him to come on. That’s when the show changed. Rick began talking a mile a second, looking in the wrong camera and not holding the mic so we couldn’t hear him. At first it was funny. Then the host started asking him questions. Rick would suddenly pause, and say the most eloquent self-truths - before launching back into riffs that made the rest of the panel uncomfortable. He would be making some gay prison sex joke about the co-host and then say, “I know I’ve made mistakes with my life, and I want to leave behind a good deed. I have 4 to 8 months to live.” Then, he would continue spouting nonsense and 1950’s TV show references. None of us knew exactly what to do. There is no protocol for any of this. A man just told us he would be dead by spring.
The night of the show came, and with it, still more drama. The school wasn’t entirely behind the show. Not because of Rick; they just didn’t want a comic to be dirty. We had to sign contracts. Like that’s going to stop a comic from saying something outrageous. After all, we were all working for free. What were they going to do, keep our checks? The day of the show a staff member called me and reminded me that I had signed a contract not to be blue, then he asked me the strangest question anyone has asked me as a comic, “Do you have any jokes that target a specific protected minority?”
I wasn’t even sure what he said at first. I think I was being asked, in the most PC speak ever, if I was a racist. Yes, as a San Francisco comic who’s appeared on Comedy Central and regularly works every gig there is around here, I’m doing it with racist material. Do you really think I’m going to go up there and do a joke like, “You know who I hate more than women? Blacks!”
The funny thing was, no one bothered to ask the opener this question. She’s self-admittedly dirty. Oh, and we find out in the first few jokes, a bi-sexual too. The guy who called me up came running over to me and gave me the evil eye. I shrugged my shoulders; not only was the crowd laughing, but it wasn’t my job to censor other comics on the show. He looked at me nervously and said, “I have to stop this.”
He disappeared into the sound room and cut her microphone. Welcome to college, 1984 style. Words are dangerous and people’s feelings might get hurt. Hey, I think her jokes were positive; they were celebrating that often-targeted, unprotected minority, bisexuals.
I ended up doing an hour, talking about the phone call (with the administrator in the room), and making my point that comedy should get the same treatment a play or a poet would receive; after all, we were here for Rick, and I don’t think I ever heard him tell a clean joke.
That was that.
Rick and his friends and I stayed in touch via Facebook, and the show went so well Rick wanted to do another one in the spring. There was even news that Rick’s liver had started functioning again.
Cut to Reno, last Sunday. It was the day after their world famous Santa Bar Crawl. 5,000 or so people dress up like Santa and go bar to bar in down town Reno, meeting under the arch at Midnight. It was as debauch-a-riffic as your imagination thinks it was. As I exited the elevator into the lobby of the Silver Legacy, I saw a man wearing Red Santa pants and hat. His boots were black and his beard was still tied on, but he now had a Metallica Tour T-shirt on and was snoring loudly in a chair holding his room key. A family was checking in. Their five year old daughter looked nervously at the incapacitated Santa and asked her mom in a concerned voice, “Will he be alright to still bring presents?”
That’s when my phone buzzed with a text. I looked down. Rick has passed away. Americans tend to describe such emotionally-jarring moments as something out of a movie. I felt this way too. All the lights and conversation that was buzzing around me just went blank for a second, as my chest throbbed from the hammer blow. I didn’t know Rick well, but in every email and conversation, he always asked me first how I was doing. He repeatly told me how proud he was of me, for sticking with comedy and making it onto TV. To all of these things I would always mumble something like ”Thanks, but it was only Comedy Central”, or “Thanks, but it’s no big deal.” It was to Rick. To him, I had achieved every one of the things any comic thinks about when they start. Among everything else, Rick put a lot of my complaints in perspective.
Rick was sweet, crazy, imperfect and charming, off-putting, coarse, loud and beautiful. With the time he had left, he didn’t complain. Instead, he set out to do some good. I was proud to help him in that mission.
Rick Edward's Scholarship Fund
c/o Santa Rosa Junior College
1501 Mendocino Ave
Santa Rosa, CA 95401
Friday, December 17, 2010
Wednesday, December 08, 2010
How bad is the economy right now? Burglars in England have been using Google Earth to locate old churches with lead roofs. Once they find them, they steal the lead in the middle of the night, and sell it to scrap dealers. England has thousands of security cameras, all over the country. I guess they didn't put any on church roofs. Guess they thought God had his eye on those Turns out he didn't; but the congregations of those churches are exposed to heaven a whole lot more now, as a result. I don't know what special brand of grief awaits you in the next life, for stealing a church roof, but when historians look back on this era and ask, “What was the final indication of the economic apocalypse?”, I think they're going to say, “When people started stealing church roofs for scrap metal”. How bad are things? Did I mention, people are stealing church roofs!?!
Then again, my business is doing well. Private gigs, and small corporate events for the holidays, have made a comeback this year. Maybe it's a sign of recovery. I like to think there are no bad gigs; but at the same time, there are easy gigs - and then there’s opening for a Michael Jackson impersonator, in front of 40 cancer doctors, at 3 o’clock on a rainy Saturday afternoon. Everything’s going pretty well, until I ask a nurse, "What’s the strangest thing you've seen, as a nurse?" Without so much as a hint of hesitation, she answers, "A patient who drank his own urine."
Wow. Ok, I now know a few things: 1. It's no longer a PG show (as promised), and, 2. I’m going to make a joke about apple-juice-gone-bad, really soon. I’m going to hate myself for it, but it's going to get a laugh. I do - and they do indeed love it.
It was one of those gigs I went into thinking: “It's only half an hour.” That seems like forever, when the crowd is only mildly laughing at jokes that, usually, kill. It takes awhile for them to buy into the whole show; after all, it’s the middle of the day and we’re in a restaurant. I wasn't supposed to go on ‘till all the food was cleared; but surprise, it was getting late and I figured it was now or never. You don't really feel like an ‘artiste’, as busboys bump into you, clearing dishes; or when your best stuff falls flat. At one point, a man asks me to “quiet down” - because his baby starts to cry. Ugh. I glance at a wall clock and realize, I've still got 20 minutes to go. Still, I know I’ll get paid; and I know things are relatively good.
A few nights earlier I had a gig at an Indian casino, in Middletown. Where? Exactly. All I can tell you is: you cannot make it there from San Francisco in three hours, with traffic, and rain. At some point Red, the feature act (riding in my passenger seat), might have been praying. And I’m pretty sure he’s an atheist. We had about 15 miles to go, and needed to be there in 20 minutes. No problem. Well, that was before the rain picked up; the twisty road narrowed to one lane; the mountain closed in; and there was a complete lack of any reassuring signs that there was civilization close by. Like some character in “The Lord of the Rings”, I barreled up the side of Mt. Helena faster than I should be going - all to get there on time, and bring the good people of this Godforsaken place the gift of my wit. It was pretty clear we were going to be late. I told Red we’d pull the “girlfriend needs the bathroom now” maneuver, when we got to the gig. That's where I pull up, you go running out and find whoever’s in charge, while I park the car.
We’d already called our contact person – and been told “They’re off tonight.” Awesome. Red goes running in; a few minutes later, I come in to find him talking to a confused bar manager, who sends us in the direction of the DJ (who’s sitting at a table with speakers on both sides.) "I'm sorry were late," I tell him. He smiles, barely taking his eyes off the TV and says "We usually wait till the game ends before starting the show." Double awesome. Glad I broke more than a few laws to get here, only to have to wait around an extra half hour before starting the show.
I wonder around the casino, and like most small Indian casinos, it’s clean, but sad - in a way that’s hard to put my finger on. The places reeks of smoke; pale, overweight men, and way-too-skinny girls in tight jeans, wander through slot machines - like zombies in a mall after the apocalypse. Why does every Indian casino play a ‘Best of the 70's’ soundtrack, too? Maybe so the gamblers can fondly remember the last time they were winners? I don't know. A Boston song plays; then Dirty White Boy (Foreigner), The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (Genesis, when Peter Gabriel was still with them), and the most ironic of songs to hear, while you’re betting what’s left of the 401K at the crap table: The Logical Song (Supertramp).
When Red goes on I look at the crowd. Crowd might be overstating it a bit. There are about 20 people scattered haphazardly around a small bar, just off the casino. Their expressions are a mixture of tea party members being asked to balance their own checkbooks, and the kid who gets socks as a Christmas present. Occasionally, they laugh, but it’s nowhere what Red's jokes deserve. Eventually, it’s my turn. I take the stage, and in a few seconds I realize exactly what it’s like to perform at an ADHD Convention. Slot machine bells, calls from people, and conversations enter the place from the casino, like a wave of distraction. They’ve turned the sound off, but the TV's are still on. There’s a loud conversation at the bar between two guys, but when I think about saying something, I just figure, it isn't worth dying here; so I just let it go. I start my act, but it becomes clear almost instantly, that this show is going to a riffing adventure. Most of the audience is made up of off-the-clock employees. It’s great that they bring in comics every Thursday for employees. Ugh!
For the most part people are laughing and it’s going alright. There’s one table of three, where a woman stares at me like she’s just discovered day-old garbage in the crib where she’s left her baby – and I’m the garbage. Like most comics would, of course, I have to talk to her. I ask her name, and she drones out something I can't remember. I ask what she does for a living, and she says, “Nothing”. When I probe a bit more, she says she can't work because she’s disabled. In my head I’m wondering if it’s just her face that’s disabled - but I don't say that. Christ, this is going to be a long show. I tell some jokes that do alright, but nothing like they should, and that’s when I throw out the first ‘emergency dick joke’ - and BOOM! Damn. I wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt, I’d hoped they’d go a little more highbrow; but dick jokes you want? Then dick jokes, you get. That goes pretty well for a little while, but I have an hour to cover. That’s when one of the other employees tells me to ask the security guard about "poncho."
When she says “poncho”, almost everyone laughs. I love it when the crowd starts amusing itself with inside jokes. I ask - and of course, it’s one of those “Why didn't I get this information sooner?” moments. Oh, and a dick joke. Apparently there was a hypnotist here, and during the show he made this security guard guy think he lost his dick. He doesn't say dick, though, he just points to his groin and says, “Poncho”. This confuses me for awhile because I don't understand why this guy wants to take his dick camping. Then I think this happened to him while he was trying to stop a crime at the casino. That would be a pretty amazing thief. Once I figure it all out, I ask the crowd if he got on the Public Address System and asked people if they saw his boy. "Attention players, we're looking for a lost boy about 6 inches...I mean, 4 inches tall when happy..." This destroys with the crowd. I want a shower.
I drive to Corning, a town outside of Redding. I do an hour for a company that is somehow involved with farms; then turn around to make the three hour drive home. I have to be in Walnut Creek the next day, and Santa Cruz that night.
I’m a comic. That means I drive for a living. Telling jokes is just something I have to do before I can sleep. And yet, I love this! I love opening the door to my hotel room and seeing crisp white sheets. I love the fear and excitement of being handed the microphone, and not knowing what’s going to happen. I love the drive home, with the high of either a great show, or composing another good “I survived a gig from hell” story. I love being a comic, even when it seems that telling jokes is the smallest part of what I do. These road gigs and private shows are fun to me again, because no matter what, when I want to feel like an artist, I have my storytelling show.
And most of these other gigs? They aren't bad at all.
Thursday, October 28, 2010
There are nights - and then there are nights.
Comedy, in a small room of mostly-conservative wine drinkers, might not sound like an ideal set-up. The Wild Vine Hideaway Bar, in Danville, is just that; quaint, tiny, and filled with 40-something professionals, seeking the wine-drenched pace of a Norman Rockwell America with wifi. Danville is quiet, dipped in charm and airbrushed with an air of condescension. Basically, it looks like a Thomas Kinkade painting of the place Prozac would go, to retire. I spent some time as a teenager in Danville. Being here feels like stepping back into a life I only recently made peace with.
I've performed there three times now. Every show has been fun, interesting, and a little challenging. The first gig, you can hear as a podcast on my site, standupjoe.com. I didn't record the second gig, but it was fun, with plenty of audience interaction. This last show was by far, one of the more unique evenings in comedy that I’ve witnessed, in a long time. I thought I had seen it all, too.
Young Joey Bragg, 14 years old, fiercely funny, and on fire with his Father's support, like always, is my feature act. I like the kid. He’s wildly talented. I’m also jealous of the support his Dad gives him. He’s with him at every show. I got into standup because I didn't have a lot of family support, or desire to achieve anything in school. His Dad encourages him, drives him to gigs, and tapes him at every show - and is a school teacher! That Dude is everything I thought would have kept me from getting into comedy, and yet, there he is helping his son to be a comic.
Joey goes on stage and starts getting laughs right away. He knows what he’s doing. I can see trouble brewing when his jokes start featuring the words “retard” and “rape”. And, the front table is 7 women, all of whom, I’m guessing, are also mothers. Jokes with “rape” and “retard” in them are a tough sell for any comic, but from the mouth of a 14-year-old boy, I imagine it’s especially troubling for the women up front. It doesn’t help that at least one of them is already pretty drunk. How drunk? She gets up, obviously annoyed at the jokes, and starts toward the bathroom, in back. There’s Joey's dad, camera in hand, recording away. The women stops, and in a stunning display of callousness says to him, "Not Good!"
I’m not a father. I don't know how I’d react if some drunk know-it-all woman swaggered up to me, and told me my child wasn't good at something, while he was doing it. Joey’s Dad says what I think most people would say in that situation: “Fuck you!"
"Excuse me?" the woman asks, incredulously.
"Fuck you!" he repeats.
The women turns, shouts the owner’s name, and instantly, shit is on.
"Did you tell her ‘Fuck you’?" the owner asks.
"Leave! I want you to leave my place right away! You don't tell a patron of mine that!"
Joey’s Dad bolts outside.
Meanwhile, Joey is still on stage, oblivious to the drama with his dad in back. Joey has his hands full with an audience that isn’t buying it. Watching him, I realize that, because he’s young and cute, he gets away with a lot in the clubs. But here, in what feels like someone's living room, doing the most edgy stuff I'd seen him do yet, he struggles with this predominantly-female audience.
The host is trying to get him off stage, too, under the owner’s direction. This is the third time he’s worked here, so I can't imagine the owner is that surprised by his act. Then again, I have to admit to being a little surprised at his choices tonight, myself. The owner asks if I’m OK to perform; as I start up to the stage I think, “Well, at least it will be a mellow little show, now.” The weirdness has passed.
I make some jokes at Joey's expense: "Man that kid is jaded. If I didn't know his age, or how he looked, and I was listening to him over the phone, I would just be like, ‘how long were you in Vietnam, man?’ "
I open on stuff I don't usually open on, Halloween family stuff, but it seems the right way to go. The women up front are laughing, the rest of the house is laughing, and even though I can see a bunch of people outside, still wrangling with each other, I feel like this is going to be another great show here. I start riffing around, and that's when I meet Carol; or rather, that's when I start to deal with Carol.
"Carol, as in Christmas Carol", is how she introduces herself later on in the show.
How do I describe Carol? At one point when another audience member tells her to shut up, she stands up and stares in the general direction of the request. I say, "I think Mount Rushmore just stood up!"
People only laugh if your words paint a true picture, in a way they wouldn't have thought of; or, if it's just the truth.
Is it because Carol has a huge rack? Or that she seems a little like an angry penguin, holding a bolder? I don't know. She’s also loud. Maybe it’s that classic drunk-voice thing, where she thinks she’s being quieter than she actually is; or maybe it’s just that she’s an out-of-control, undiagnosed alcoholic, who’s being incredibly obnoxious, in the middle of a show a lot of other people were trying to enjoy. Any of those descriptions works for me.
At a certain point, or what for Carol was clearly a certain number of glasses, the show becomes about containing her madness. I love talking to the crowd and dealing with hecklers. This is something a little different, though. The crowd completely turns on her, to the point that when I ask the classic question: “Who came here tonight to see me?”, and the place goes nuts, she still keeps going. Actually, she stands up, comes to the stage, and raises her leg to show me that it’s real. I never thought it was fake, but - What? Then, she gives me the finger. Here’s where a flicker of contempt crosses my face. I look in her eyes, and believe I see not just a drunk, but a spiteful person so full of herself that she’s lost all concept of anyone else in the room. I can feel myself wanting to lash out at this disgusting person, but I’ve learned, in comedy, you can’t tear into a drunk, woman heckler like you can with a man. Some social convention is still in place. The crowd won't tolerate a comic being hostile to a woman, no matter how verbally disruptive or abusive the woman is. I've seen whole shows turn because the comic became harsh with a woman heckler. I tolerate her, play with her, firing snappy comeback, after comeback – and, like most drunks, she can't quit. Standing up, approaching the stage, giving me the finger, embarrassing her friends - and still the show goes on, without her being kicked out. This is the difference between a small show in a little place like this, and a club. At a club, she’d be kicked out instantly. They just don't put up with this shit. She remains, for the same reason Joey’s Dad got kicked out; she’s a regular, who goes there a lot, and spends money.
That’s the Danville I remember from my past! I was a bus boy and line cook in a few restaurants there, during the 80's. It seems that the mentality that “image is everything” was born in the day-glow, plastic 80’s. Danville was a town of VIP's, and they never let you forget it. I was the broke kid walking to work, and living with his sister. It sounds like the start of half a dozen teen-angst movies from that era, except I never won the big game, or got the girl. I went home smelling of ribs from Tony Roma's, and stayed up late eating cookie dough, reading science fiction books. When someone asked me recently why I got into stand-up, I thought about it, and explained that I was actually very shy for most of my life. I was the nerd everyone picked on - but I was always listening. Now, when I'm on stage, and blasting the crowd with socially-aware comedy, or searing heckler comebacks, it's really me pointing to them and saying, “Being 14 was hard, but now I’m making you pay for it!” Tonight I’ve seen a comic who’s only 14, blasting away at the crowd’s middle-aged, slightly-drunk psyche, and I wonder, “What is this kid going to be like when he's my age?”
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
As I leave Sacramento, I roll all the windows down in my car. I just did an hour on stage in front of a small-but-fun crowd. I deposit my check at the ATM in the comedy club’s parking lot, before preparing my car for the two-hour trip home. The night is still warm and moonless, with something like the aftertaste of dry leaves. It's a perfect early October evening. I put the iPod ear buds in, turn the volume up to what I can just bear, and hit 80 on the speedometer in no time. The wind fills the car, the music fills my head, and in a matter of seconds… I dissolve.
I feel like a comet, frictionless and fast, streaking through the night at ground level. The music is so loud my vision vibrates. I'm sure this isn't safe. I'm sure I shouldn't be doing this. I don't care. I've done this so many times, returning from the Sacramento Punch Line over the years. The rush of air circulating through my car feels amazing. Exit signs, fast food ads, and stray neon beams all brush past the sides of my head. The sense of having a body disappears when The Who's “Baba O' Riley” starts. I'm just sonic waves now, stretching the air as I pass through it, and into the ether. This is good. This is a sort of cleansing to me. By the time Willco's “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” starts, I’m almost to Davis. I’m making great time. The music’s loud in places, contemplative in others. Sometimes it seems to match the lonely section of road, other times it gives voice to whatever emotion wells up in me, resisting words.
I take a deep breath near the end of U2's “All I Want is You”. You know those breaths you take when you’ve been still for awhile? Almost like you haven't been breathing? This was a deep, long, pull of oxygen. I taste a sweetness on my tongue I always think of as autumn, creeping back into the land. There’s a faint scent of diesel and gas from the traffic buzzing in time around me.
I think about an ex-girlfriend, and the moment I knew I had to stop trying to get back together with her. It was in Walnut Creek, CA. 16, maybe 17 years ago. Perhaps longer. I don't think I was even doing comedy yet. She agreed to meet me. Before I left to see her I played that song by U2. It’s a long ballad that moves from somber, to moody rhythms of intensity, before settling down into an orchestral arrangement that sounds like something from a wistful fairy tale that was written in the 1920's. I don't know. I went to see her and the predictable happened; she wasn't interested in any reunion. She wished me well and I knew she meant it - and for that I was even angrier than I wanted to show.
We had to go back to a parking lot, at a Walgreen’s, so she could get her car. She got out of my car, and into hers. Not quickly, but with resolve. It was clear she wanted to leave. I stood by her open driver’s side window, as her engine spit out that same smell I could get a hint of now.
We had lived together years earlier, for a year-and-a-half, before she went off to school. A school her parents decided to pay for, in a plan to get her away from me. That’s where she cheated on me with another guy. The plan worked better than her parents could have hoped, I guess. We tried to work it out, but there are some things that, once broken, cannot be put right again. Still, I missed her. Messy as it had been, I would contact her every six months or so.
As we stood there talking, she indulging me by listening to yet one more plea, a woman in another car pulled up alongside us.
"Excuse me," she asked, while pointing to the road in front of the store, "can I get to Creek Side Drive from here?"
Cynthia laughed for a second, before her face creased into the look I knew as a prelude to tears. I smiled and shook my head slightly. The woman sat looking at us, a little uncomfortable. She couldn't have known Creek Side Drive was the street we’d lived on, Cynthia and me, when we were together. Our 2-bedroom apartment was one of a few thousand on that street. Cynthia and I both knew the answer. I looked at the women and spoke the only words that made sense, for the three of us, at that moment. "No. You can't get there from here."
Monday, October 04, 2010
The Sorority Gig
There are some phrases that, during a career in stand-up comedy, you hope and pray to someday hear. "Would you headline a show for 130 sorority girls?" is one of them. I can cross that one off the list now. 130 Berkeley sorority sisters descended on Jack London Square for a show I was headlining. I was outside when they arrived. At first I thought a food court had exploded. The unmistakable sound of young girls' voices, raised to an excited pitch, bounced off cement, a tidal wave of noise and that special brand of hair-flip indignation, that only a pack of 20-something girls can get away with. They filed into the room, all wearing the same thing. A t-shirt with the name of their sorority on it, shorts, and Hawaiian-style leis around their necks. Wow. Nothing says "respect me for the strong independent woman my parents sent me to college to become", like using peer pressure to dress 130 girls, all alike, in an outfit that in downtown Oakland could best be described as "bait".
As soon as they entered the room the decibel level rose dramatically, with the sounds most people make riding a roller coaster. It seemed any question that was asked could be answered with a loud "Woooooo!" Then the sorority chant started.
It sounded like some sort of Lord of the Flies boot camp, except instead of a conch shell, it was a cell phone.
I looked around at the faces of the young comics in the rest of the show. It suddenly dawned on them that this wasn't going to be so great. Then, the guy putting it together sat down at the table and said "Conference time, guys. I've never heard this before but instead of the hour and a half show they asked for they, now want just an hour." The only thing worse than realizing a gig might not go so well is finding out right before the show that your time has been cut.
It made sense that they wanted less time. They'd arrived almost an hour and a half late. Pizzas and plates of chicken wings were being brought out as quickly as possible but we didn't want to start the show till they'd eaten. Performing while people eat usually means the comic will eat it too. So, we waited.
Girls started coming up to us. Almost all of them said one of two things. "Do you work here?" and "Who's in charge?"
The first time we heard it the girl was looking for a Red Bull. She marched up to us and asked, "Do you work here?" Before waiting for an answer she started in "It's been a long day. I need a Red Bull."
"We're the comics," one of the comics said. That didn't matter.
The expression on her face yelled, So? "I really need a red bull," she said one more time. I just sighed heavily, and turned away.
This is how it went. Girls kept coming up to us and asking for more pizza, drinks and whatever else they thought we could get them. Each time we answered with, "We're the comics," and each time they just repeated the first question, blinking at us like wounded deer, from well-to-do families.
And so it went.
The show finally started. And within two minutes, more girls came streaming out.
"Who's in charge?" A group of girls stood in front of the comics who were waiting to go on. This time they didn't repeat the question but they looked at us and one of them said "Could you ask the rest of the comics to do more appropriate jokes?"
We all sort of looked in the open door at the comic hosting the show. Alright, a middle-aged man making jokes about weed and jacking off might not have been the best choice for a host. I'm willing to give them that. What felt strange to me was their reaction to it. Sure, it's a little coarse, and the type of humor that gives stand-up a bad name - but aren't you suppose to be 22? Why are you reacting to this like some 50 year old, Christian housewife, resentful at being exposed to something different?
I watched one girl bitch-out the two servers over the quality of the chicken wings. Their faces were a study in restraint while she worked herself up to righteous indignation over snacks. When I finally went on stage, I had a mixture of indifference and anger at them as a group. The room was pitch-dark, but I could see pools of light shinning up from their laps all over the room, as they texted away during the show. Each joke I set up, and every word I mentioned, created a conversation within ear shot of me. It went like this: I would say a word like pigeon. And then I'd hear a girl say "My grandfather kept carrier pigeons!" A girl in another corner of the room would say "That's gross!" Then another one would chime in with "Becky had one stuck in her hair once." Then the first one would answer "That was a bat!" It was distracting in a way I've never felt before. I also felt old, in that way only a disinterested 20 something can make you feel. One set-up line was greeted with a loud sarcastic "Duh!"
Ah yes, "Duh". Another generation's answer, to the lack of answers, for all the problems my generation is leaving them with. "You do realize," I started telling them, "That Duh, is not a solution to any issues, right? Someday if you're the president and an advisor rushes into the oval office to say, "Mrs. President, the Aliens that just landed want to enslave us because they say we are a primitive and dumb life form', you can't respond with Duh!"
As the clock ticked away, and I spent more time with them, I starting to forget the class issues. (Trust me, watching a 22 year old yell at working people about how the wings she showed up 90 minutes late to eat aren't good enough will bring them up). I started to have fun, and then something caused a loud moan of displeasure to ripple through the crowd. I know it got their attention because most of the little pools of light from cell phones disappeared.
That's when I looked at them and told them to "take the stick out of their asses. You're in college now! You came here to be exposed to things. Well, this is it!"
I finished on my big closer and got the hell out of there, not trusting myself to say anything more to them.
They filed out of the room just as they came in, and I felt an odd wistfulness, mixed with class-based resentment. For them, the adventure is just beginning. They have youth, brains, beauty and all the benefits that an education from a school like Berkeley will give them - and yet, they also have closed minds, like middle-aged bankers who think they know everything. They have no problem talking down to people, over things that don't matter at all. They speak and walk as if they expect the world to only present them things they like, and want. I remember an article I read once about political correctness being taught as a subject in Berkeley. The professor in it said, "Everyone deserves to live in a world where their feelings aren't hurt." Maybe, but that world isn't reality. This is where you grow up and learn to think critically, not bitch out the local wage slave over chicken wings and be shocked when a comic says a bad word. Sure, I'm generalizing. I'm sure I only noticed the few of them with these qualities. At least, I hope so.
The Private Gig
I love private gigs. Mostly I love the money. They pay well. The most common thing I hear when I show up is a story about the last time they tried having a comic. People walked out, the comic was too dirty, the F-bomb was dropped liberally, and the board of directors is extremely nervous about trying it again. I've heard all of this at one time or another, at these small private gigs.
My latest adventure with corporate America took place in Selma, CA. Before you make an Alabama joke, I've already heard them all. Almost no one knew that California had a town named Selma. If I hadn't had a gig there, I wouldn't have known, either. After being there for an afternoon, I think the only difference between the two Selmas might be that civil rights hasn't made it to the one in California, yet.
Selma is located in the central valley, about 150 miles north of Los Angeles. You get there by taking highway 99, or what I now think of as I-5's reason to feel good about itself. Highway 99 is "Grapes of Wrath" country. You see rusted-out trucks, almost completely obscured by roof-high weeds. Abandoned hotels line the route like Aztec temples, peeking out of the jungle. Well, more like white trash temples, I guess. Parking lots are cracked where the plants try to reclaim the asphalt. The signs are little more than faded billboards with ghostly letters. I imagine that you'd have to whisper the names if you were to read them out-loud.
I pull up to the gig. It used to be a "Pea Soup Andersen's". You know, the place with the giant windmill? Apparently they also built one here. "Pea Soup" didn't make it, so Holiday Inn took over. There's a small man-made pond, with a sign in front that says, 'Remember, Swans bite'! Inside, I'm greeted by a 12-foot-tall statue of a raisin. This is raisin country, I guess. Those California raisins are all over the place. The statue looks like a huge purple ballsack. There is a small kiosk with a video screen. It has a single red button beneath it, and a dusty sign that reads, "Hear the story about Pea Soup Andersen's and the Honda car lot". Wow, they are starved for entertainment. I push the button but nothing happens. No flicker of static, or peal of music, just an unsatisfying click noise. I see my fingerprint clearly on the button after I press. How long has it been since anyone pushed this?
The gig is for a company that sells crop insurance to farmers. No doubt they are conservative. I am not too worried about that, really. I am smart enough to avoid politics at these shows. That doesn't stop them from bringing it up to me.
First, there is no stage. I am standing between two tables and addressing the group of 50 or so people, who just finished lunch, at round tables. The man sitting about 10 feet away from me makes a crack about San Francisco. Of course he does. I ask him what he means and he responds "You're from San Francisco. I have to keep you on a short leash."
Without thinking I just blurt out "That is the gayest thing I've ever heard!"
The crowd laughs. He makes a face best described as sour.
Here is where the show takes a turn. Well, here is where it could have taken a turn. If we were at a comedy club, I would have made it my mission to climb up his ass, and retool his thinking; but this is a private gig, so I have to behave. Sort of.
I riff out a bit about him taking me for a walk. There are a few faces around him that suggest I have taken this too far, but so what, the majority of the crowd is laughing. Later on I ask him what he has against the city. He says, "It's fine. It's the people that live there that are the problem."
The crowd takes a sharp collective intake of breath. I know better than to press this any farther. He is at the edge of his tolerance scale. When I finish the show, people come up to me and shake my hand. One woman has blue eye shadow, that she has evenly applied around each eye, causing her to look like a punk raccoon. I bite my lip and shake her hand. A few of them say, "You had to pick on the biggest red neck in the room." I remind them he spoke first, and all I did was hang him with his comment.
A day later I get an email from two women who were at the show. They send me a photo of a pickup truck. We think this is that guy's truck. It has bumper stickers that read, "NRA", "Fire Pelosi" and "Obama's last day".
If only I'd been at a comedy club when this guy started up! The thing I'm amazed at with any of the Tea Party people, is the total and almost complete lack of logic. Sure, you can say it's more about fiscal issues, and it's not about racists with guns, and badly-spelled signs. Sure, you can say with a red face that you want to take your country back, and return it to the way it use to run. What I am shocked at, is that none of them seem to realize that the economic mess they're blaming Obama for now, was created when "their side" was running things - the way they want to take them back to. Returning to what fucked us is not a solution. It's social suicide by willful ignorance.
But it isn't in a comedy club, and I'm not going to say that, because no matter what, I win. I get paid, and he will be bitching about this for months to come, in Selma,CA. Score.
The Cool Gig
I was outside the UCB Theater in Hollywood. There was a young couple holding hands. He had a beard, unruly hair beneath a cap, and a simple t-shirt with some ironic saying printed in a retro font. She was from the school of photogenic teens, who knew everything about vampires. Slim and stylish, dressed in torn jeans, they each moved in a way that suggested hours spent in fascination, staring at their favorite stars on red carpets. They had a practiced indifference to them. They were detached from everyone else around them. In other words, they were cool.
Hipsters in every sense of the word, they didn't walk down the street, so much as stroll upon it, like their every step carried some supreme meaning we couldn't hope to divine.
The squint of his eyes, the pout of her lips, the length of their stride - all might as well be one, big, casual shrug of the shoulder, in answer to an unasked question. It was how they lived their lives, I thought. Los Angeles is a dirty city full of beautiful people, and here was a perfect example of its children. They were young, beautiful, and I could rush past them because I was on the show. That pleased me far more than I care to admit.
When I was on stage, I noticed how beautiful all the girls were, and how handsome the guys were. That's what they were, too, guys and girls. It makes sense. It's L.A. How many beautiful people go there to be the next 'whatever'? Here they were.
After the show, I wandered around to the front of the theater. I was tired and distracted, trying to orient myself with the street signs so I could find my hotel. I heard a male voice say, "You were great, Man!"
I turned and there they were, beaming smiles with perfect brilliant teeth. He held her hand, but the other was stretched out for me.
I blinked and she said "I loved the Admiral Akbar joke!"
She said it in that way where her eyes went wide as she lingered on the "o" in looove.
"Thanks," I lamely said. In my head I was thinking, "I was hating you about two hours ago, now you're my biggest fans." God, I can be such a judgmental prick sometimes.
Sunday, October 03, 2010
We're driving home from the Airport. It's late August, a few weeks before the start of school. Heat waves shimmer above the black top in the distance. Huge clouds, that look more like foam on a beach than clouds, appear on the horizon. My Sister Michelle, my brother Pat, Dad, and I, are in the car. He drives slowly home. I am maybe 9, 11 at the most. A lot of my memories of my father are of him sitting behind the wheel of our car. Most of our conversations took place like that. I'd watch the side of his face for a clue to his mood. Smooth and solemn was normal, but crow’s feet spreading across his right cheek were preferred. Today, he's not only smiling, but trying to control his laughter. We're driving back from O’Hare Airport just outside of Chicago. The circumstances of what-for and why, have been lost to memory. More than likely we went to watch planes land. We did a lot of that growing up as a family. We went to Navy Pier in Chicago to see the giant cargo ships. We went to a railroad yard to watch freight trains from a run-down bridge, that we lovingly nick named, "the rickety old bridge". Trust me, this was good entertainment back then. Standing on a bridge held together with little more than warm tar, and a soft blacktop surface, as we watched slow-moving engines shove empty box cars around in the heat, was a perfect day.
We pull up to a stop light. The windows are all rolled down, just like most of the cars around us. That stands out in my memory. You could be at a red light and a complete stranger would be a foot away in the car beside you. They'd turn and smile, or simply just nod. You could hear the radio station they listened to, catch a bit of conversation, or make awkward eye contact - all without glass between the two of you. We tend to think of the world as being a little smaller when we were young. I once went back to my grade school after being in Junior High for just a year. I walked into the gym and was stunned at how small it had become. I think this is different. The scale and pace of life was both smaller, and more open back then. I can't explain it any better than that, either. I fear falling into nostalgia, but I clearly remember a freedom back then that's been traded for iPhones, rolled-up windows, and everyone staring at movies running on little screens. When I imagined the future, I pictured everyone somehow more close, more happy, more perfect. I never saw that all these devices would isolate us in the midst of each others' company.
My sister holds a squirt gun in her lap. It's a square angular thing with the words, "quick fill cap" printed on the side. Super Soakers were still a decade or more away: this model, with a large screw-on cap that could easily be held under a faucet, started the squirt gun arms race that ultimately lead to those, I guess.
We are all struggling to keep straight faces. She raises it slowly to the lip of the window, waiting for the light to turn green. It’s an eternity. A childhood's worth of Christmas morning expectation crammed into a minute. The light turns green; my sister raises the gun slightly above the window, aims at the driver in the right turn lane next to us and pulls the trigger three times before lowering it again. The cars around us move forward, but as we do, we see the driver reach to his neck and then look out the window in bewilderment.
It is supremely funny to all of us in the car.
What makes it more than just funny is my Father being a willing accomplice. At first my sister hides it from Dad. When she gets caught, he does the responsible parent thing of warning her about how someone might crash. 'Course, he says all this with a smile. This was also before road rage stories flooded our urban legends and evening news. This was still completely innocent. At the next light, he points out an open window. When we realize he's giving us permission, a thrill goes through the three of us. Dad is in on it! We promise to only do it at stop lights and not while the car is moving. We pull up to the next light and this time, I'm handed the water pistol. The driver sits shirtless in his wreck of a car, Rush or some 70’s band pounding from the stereo. My Dad can’t do it, so I get in position from the back seat. It will be a tricky shot. I aim just as the light turns green, and try to hit him diagonally through his open back window, from my open window behind my Dad.
“It pulls a little to the left,” my sister advises me. I crouch down. The “target” is air drumming, his head going up and down in time to the music. Again, the wait feels impossibly long. My brother is giggling next to me and my dad is whispering to “…be quiet.”
The light finally flashes green. I aim and squeeze the plastic trigger. The first shot misses.
“To the left!” my sister says, a little loud.
I correct my aim and the next two streams of water hit him behind his right ear and shoulder. Even as we pull away, none of us can help busting up. He goes into a fit, thrashing around to find the source of water. Cars behind him begin to honk. As we pull away, he sees us cracking up. We hear the start of what I can only assume is a "fuck you!" That makes us laugh harder.
For the entire two hour ride this is what we did. Like bank robbers, we perfected our technique. Dad would even slow down to make sure we would hit red lights. He was the getaway driver every time.
When we pull onto the little street we live on, we're disappointed it's over. I didn't know that the moments like this were coming to an end. In a few short years, I wouldn't want to be caught dead with my Father. The ability of fun to stop time, completely, for an afternoon, would happen less and less too. Those massive, billowing clouds that would collect in the corners of the Midwestern summer sky, would lose their fascination for me. Looking at trains, planes and ships would be lame. But for that afternoon, everything felt as if everything was where it should be. It was perfect.
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
Driving to L.A. has always felt like something out of a fairy tale, mixed with some Mad Max, post-apocalypse epic. There is nothing out here. Around the halfway point between San Francisco and Los Angeles, the weeds in the middle strip of the highway grow tall. Dust just sort of lingers, like a dark smudge where the horizon should be. The power lines stretch off into the distance, like soldiers in formation. Rectangles of green and patchwork quilt sections of brown dominate the landscape. To the east is flat, hot land. It rolls right up to that out-of-focus border of pollution, a dirty wall surrounding an impossibly large kingdom. To the west are mountains, that don't look all that tall. Behind me and in front of me, there’s only the road. In some places they’ve repaved it to a reassuring, hard darkness, with fresh asphalt. In most places, though, it’s still a faded ribbon, cracked and pocked.
Every time a sign rolls by telling me how far L.A. still is, I glance at the dashboard clock. It seems like only time, not distance, is passing.
I have to be in L.A. by 8 p.m. Actually, I have to be at the Improv on Melrose Ave. for a show that starts at 8 p.m.; then I have to run off-stage, jump in my car, and get across town to the UCB Theater to do the “Comedy Death Ray” show that starts at 8:30. Oh, and the day started at 7:00 a.m. in San Francisco, where I got up to drive the two hours to Woodland, CA, for a private lunchtime gig. I have to finish THAT gig, and be in my car by 2 p.m. if I expect to make the first gig in LA on time. In other words, everything has to go exactly as planned, with nothing getting in the way to disrupt things. This includes my baggage around LA, any car issues that might pop up, and shows running long, short, or whatever. The thing that upsets all my finely- tuned plans turns out to be something I didn't even know could break. A cigarette lighter. In the car. My GPS/phone, which is plugged into this cigarette lighter, stops working 20 minutes from the first gig in Woodland. Did you know those things can break? It has to be a blown fuse or broken connection - but I thought those things were pretty much unbreakable. This means all the addresses I loaded are unavailable to me. A friend offers to email me Google map directions. The plan: stop at a Kinko's and print them out. We can't find a Kinko's close enough to the 5 to make that work, so it looks like I’m going to be driving with one hand, holding the Blackberry with the other as I navigate around LA. How could that go wrong?
I haven't performed in L.A. in about five years. The last set I had there was a good one. It was at the UCB Theater. Jeff Garlin, from HBO's “Curb Your Enthusiasm”, asked me to do his show there. Hey, I had even gotten back together with my girlfriend. It seemed like things were going my way. Shortly after that, we broke up again, and I decided, “Fuck LA, I’m staying in SF and that's that!” No matter how good the SF comedy scene has been to me, though, the industry is in LA. With my new teeth and rebuilt sense of self, it was time to show my face in LA again. What better way to accomplish this than doing a show at the Improv built around Bay Area comics? Then I got the crazy idea to do what everyone else does, reach out to bigger names for help getting on shows. I've never done that. I guess I was always afraid to do that, for some reason, but it’s how the business works. I texted Greg Proops and boom, just like that, I’m on
‘Comedy Death Ray” at the UCB Theater in Hollywood, baby! The catch is, I also have a private gig that afternoon outside of Sacramento. I decide to try and pull them all off in one day of driving, soul searching, and testing the limits of my inner acceptance. I mean, if you're gonna try you might as well risk a little sanity too, right?
I like the drive to LA on the 5. I think it’s because I know that for those 6 hours I have no other responsibilities. Most of the ride I alternate between phone calls and rolling the windows down to lose myself in that jet engine sound, of wind filling the car up. I suppose it’s a sort of Zen. That seems like a fitting meditation, approaching a city where the car is everything, and everyone comes with expectations that defy any attempts at being realistic. When I’m 100 miles from LA, the Grapevine is yet to come. When I’m 50 miles out, I’m still descending through the San Gabriel Mountains. It’s 7 p.m.; that sooty, filtered light I think of as unique to LA, obscures the sun, spilling the remaining day like butter across my windshield, as I push 85 m.p.h. to make it on time. This is where the excitement of getting there becomes the mild anxiety of reading directions from a cell phone screen. I’m looking at the names of streets and freeway numbers, and I flash on a hundred movies, TV shows and magazine articles, where these names are mentioned in passing. Arriving in LA is always a curious mixture of longing, and nostalgia for that dream of being a star you can only have, before you actually get to LA. The city is dirty. A hot wind, carrying grit and car exhaust, occasionally moves the candy bar wrappers and Big Gulp cups around the streets, but mostly the air is stagnant. The 70's architecture doesn't go well with the palm trees and mega-sized billboards proclaiming the next piece-of-shit sitcom as the ‘show to watch’. My eyes go back and forth from dashboard clock, directions on the Blackberry and, oh yeah, the road. Scary, huh? I ‘m a menace! At one point I’m on Hollywood Blvd. I pass the theater where the Oscars are held. Traffic is slow. Busses, cars and tourists, paying even less attention to the other cars than I am, all seem purposely put in my way to make me late. I’m squinting at street signs, pushing my foot down on the accelerator darting in and out of lanes, all while looking at the damn clock that never tells me what I want to see. I turn off Hollywood Blvd. I know my next turn is Melrose, and when the realization hits me a new set of concerns crowds into my brain. Will I look like I just drove 6 hours across the desert with red, ragged eyes? Will I be able to get lucky not once, but twice, with parking, so I can make both shows? Last, but not least (and I laugh to myself when I realize I am just thinking of this now), what is my set list?
I make the last turn and there it is, the Melrose Improv. I recall the line Obi-Wan says to Luke, in Star Wars, just before they meet Han Solo, "...you will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy..." It's not that bad at all. Walking into The Improv, you bring all your expectations and fears with you. Instead of a metal detector, the doorway somehow magnifies the feeling of “less than”. I’m smiling because I found parking a block up, and tonight there really is no other pressure than having a good time.
I’m up first so I can make the other venue. The host kills, introduces me, and like coming out of a blackout I’m on stage, holding a microphone in a packed, air conditioned room, thick with excitement.
That’s all there is to it. Having a bad set or a good set isn't something I think about much these days. I just do what I do. I look up and notice the light telling me to get off is on. It means I’ve gone too long. I’m not use to short sets but in LA, 15 min. is considered long. I finish up, say goodnight, and all at once I’m back in my car with my Blackberry in hand, cursing the traffic on Melrose and wondering if the left turns and right turns in these directions are actually left and right.
I make it over to the UCB about 10 minutes into the show. The host is on and killing. When I walk into the green room, Janeane Garofalo is talking to someone about smoking in the hall. I look at the list and I’m actually up second, after Natasha Leggero who was a judge on “Last Comic Standing” this year). I’m nervous. The place is packed, and the host is telling a hilarious story about a mushroom trip. When I’m introduced, I walk out into the light and for a split second I think, “I want this to go great!” I’m a little too much in my head, but I do great. I’m not prepared to say I killed - but I do great. I boil down some of my best jokes to just the hits; throw in some riffing because hey, they talked to me; and close on a joke involving Admiral Akbar from Return of the Jedi, that gets an applause break. And just like that I’m done.
Anyone who succeeds in show business, succeeds not only because they’re talented performers, but also just talented talkers. I’m great with crowds. One on one is where I shut down. This time I make myself talk to the other people on the show. I ask advice without saying, “Can I ask your advice about something?” I hang out for awhile, shooting the shit, and then like a wave crashing over my head, all the adrenaline washes out of my body, and a profound exhaustion hits me. Christ I’m tired. I have a shitty hotel room close by, and in five minutes I’m standing in the "lobby" of a $60 a night hotel, listening to the man in the wife beater T-shirt rattle off the rules about visitors, and why the health department won't let him keep donuts out too long in the morning. I’m not a comic or aspiring anything. I’m just a really sleepy guy, whose day started at 7 that morning, in a city 500 miles away, with an impossible list of things that had to happen perfectly, for me to be standing here with a sly grin of accomplishment. I didn't get offers from managers, or stage time from comics who have made it into that next level of possibility; but all I wanted was to feel comfortable on these stages after years avoiding LA. That’s when I think, “It happened.” Everything did work perfectly. Sure, the GPS died, but it worked out. I found parking close to each venue; had great sets; and accomplished the most difficult part of this trip for me - talking to people. When I sleep, I’m not even thinking of the dog barking outside my window, or that the air doesn't work, or why all shitty hotel room bedspreads have the scratchy sensation you don't want to think about for too long, before I fade to black.
Friday, August 27, 2010
While people are worried about a Mosque being built at ground zero, lets take time to worry about some truly big issues. Size G fake boobs to be exact. Heidi Montag, reality TV star from The Hill's has decided to remove her cartoon sized fake breast's almost as soon as she got them put in.
There are legitimate reasons to get implants like an accident or illness and I suppose there is nothing wrong with enhancing your natural assets but lets be honest, size G implants are just airbags that deploy upon self esteem hitting bottom.
She wants to downgrade to something smaller. In her own words she says "... D or double D's."
How out of whack is your sense of proportions when D's or double D's are smaller?
Then again a lot of people recently have their sense of proportions, geography and outrage out of alignment with reality.
Fact number one about the mosque at ground zero, it's a community center with a mosque in it.
Fact number two, it is three blocks from the site of ground zero.
FOX News has made a big deal about where the money is coming from. In classic guilt by association the money comes from a muslim and since muslims were on the planes that crashed into the world trade towers it must be terrorist money and therefore bad. If you follow that logic that means FOX News is evil because the second biggest owner in it is a muslim.
That's a fact. Irony or dirty little secret? You tell me.
In fact, while FOX News continues to scream the question, Where is the money coming from they seem ignorant that a big chunk of the money is coming from the man who is the second biggest shareholder in FOX News. It goes like this; Saudi Prince, Al-Waleed bin Talal owns 7 precent of parent corporation, News Corp. That prince has given money to the American Iman, Abdul Rauf's project to construct a Muslim community center in lower Manhattan. Now that might seem a little removed but three steps away from the owner of FOX News is a lot closer than three blocks from ground zero in Manhattan when you really think about it. Then again, who really thinks anymore when fake tits are also covered as a real news story on the same network?
Among Heidi's complaints about her giant boobs is she can't properly hug her four dogs. Why isn't there a Facebook page raising money to get these poor dogs the affection they need? Come on America! Four animals living in LA eating regularly every day and living in better conditions than maybe 80% of the people on this planet can no longer can get close enough to their mistress to lick her face!
Where is the outrage?
I'm suppose to feel sorry for this woman who explains the problem of having to wear only custom made tops now as "heart breaking?"
Breast cancer is heart breaking. Starving children are heart breaking. People believing a community center three blocks from ground zero is a bigger threat to this country than an economy designed to further the goals of the rich at the expense of the other 90% of us is heart breaking. Someone who needs to pump more silicone into their body than the weather stripping around the windows of an average 70 story building to make up for a personality so uninteresting in any other way is a cry for help but it isn't heart breaking. Then again, maybe it is heart breaking but first we would have to get past those size G personality enhancements to see if it is broken or not.
FOX News implying that the money to build a muslim community center comes from some shadowy source when at least some of that money is coming from the second biggest owner in their own company is hilarious! It is also a perfect example of lying by omission. FOX News knows this! Should we be investigating where they get their money from if we now know that their second biggest investor has also given money to the American Iman who raised funds to build a community center three blocks from ground zero that will also have a mosque in it?
The Pentagon was also struck by a plane on 9/11. To commemorate that tragedy, the Pentagon built a 100 seat chapel maintained by their chaplain office. It is a room available to Jewish, Christian, Hindu and Muslim employees. That's right America! In the command and control center of our military on the very spot where hijackers flew a plane into it on 9/11, Muslims get together during the day and pray!
When you look at both news stories side by side you have to reach the logical conclusion that FOX News has bigger boob's than Heidi Montag's. At least her desperate cry for attention wasn't paid for by shadowy men with ties to the middle east.
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
When I open the booker’s email, the first thing I see is a short paragraph, written all in capital letters. All caps is never a good sign. It says: “This venue has a Confederate flag prominently hanging above the stage. It is not reflective of the management’s mentality. I have booked many diverse shows there. Have fun.”
Usually gigs don't come with a disclaimer, and certainly not a warning about potential race issues.
When I get there, the first thing I do is look up. The Confederate flag is there, but so is a lot more. Hanging in the rafters is a huge American flag. Bellow that is a regular-sized Confederate flag. On the left and right of the Confederate flag are two smaller, black flags, with those ‘naked women silhouettes’ everyone has seen on truckers’ mud flaps. Beneath all that is a disco ball.
Yeah, I said disco ball.
I see a few people looking at me as I stare at this hanging mobile of mixed messages. What strikes me first is the fact that the Confederate flag is new. Unless you're a Civil War reenactment planner, what use do you have for a new one of those? Besides being a symbol of intolerance to a lot of people, it’s also the flag of the losing side, right? I mean, they did lose. The Confederate flag isn't on any of our stamps; black people aren't slaves. The demographic who likes the Confederate flag seems to be the same group that enjoys chanting “We're number one!” at sporting events and political rallies. That’s funny to me because this flag represents number two. It's the flag of the losing side. There are no big displays of silver medals that I know of. We don't usually hold onto, and proudly display, lottery tickets that were one digit off from making us rich.
I guess I can even understand that it’s there more as a prop for a good old boy bar vibe - but the disco ball?
I never would have put those two together.
You have the women on mud flaps flags that are insulting to women; a Confederate flag that is offensive to African-Americans; and then - a disco ball. I guess they have no problem with gay people?
After the show, I got talking to a woman, and asked if she thought the flag was offensive to black people.
"They don't come in here."
Yeah, because there is a symbol of hatred hanging from the ceiling!
When the show does start, I am standing in the loft area looking at the crowd. The opener happens to be a black guy. He goes on stage, the crowd claps, and everything seems OK. The other comic and I notice something is wrong with the lights. It’s a music venue, so they have a bank of lights hanging above the stage with different colored gels in them. Someone set them up to slowly cycle through the various colors to create a mood on stage when a band is playing. This is weird. All you need for comedy is just a spotlight or plain lighting. Instead, we have this odd effect with who’s ever on stage morphing through all the colors of the rainbow. Whoever set the light board up can't change it. We don't know any of this yet, so my first thought is, “Maybe someone keeps playing with the lights because they've never had a black guy on stage before.” Remember, they never come in there.
Being a San Francisco liberal with an over-developed sense of what is, and is not politically correct, I went into the gig prejudging everything about it. Each comic on the show was pleasantly surprised with the quality of the crowd. They were great in fact! But it all got me thinking about the rise of racism in America right now. Like a lot of people, I assumed with the election of Obama the country had turned the corner on many of those issues. Just the opposite happened. Anything that was bubbling beneath the surface boiled up in rage and misspelled protest signs. But then how much have we dealt with those issues, if the Confederate flag can be seen as “just something to help create the atmosphere of a good old boy bar”? I am grateful they didn't pay me in Confederate money. Those bills are too large for the ATM machine.
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Sunday, July 11, 2010
If you dig into the ground eventually you will find a special thin layer that can be found anywhere on the planet. It contains an element rare to Earth but plentiful in meteors and comets. This is a sort of assassins signature. Scientists believe this is proof that a giant meteor struck the Earth 65 million years ago starting the process of extinction for the Dinosaurs. For a layer like this to be found everywhere it means the rock that hit the planet had to be huge. It also means that the debris cloud it caused must of been large enough to settle around the globe. Something that large must of cut the amount of sun shine down to almost nothing for an extended period of time. No sunlight means plant die. The dinosaurs that ate the plants die and the dinosaurs that ate the dinosaurs that ate those plants also die.
We know from the fossil record that Earth was a lush world when the meteor hit. That plant life was covered in dust and then as the Earth remade itself with regular upheavals like lava flows, earthquakes and glacier movements it was pushed even deeper into the ground. For millions of years under enormous pressure it eventually became oil. Every ounce of oil we burn in our cars or turn into plastic started out millions of years ago as food for the dinosaurs. We could not have the society we have built now without the demise of creatures that lived 65 millions years ago without any of this happening.
If you're like me and delight in irony here is irony on the largest scale I've seen yet. Scientist almost universally place the impact site for that meteor in the Gulf of Mexico. In fact, its the reason there is a Gulf of Mexico.
The resource we have gone to war for as a nation and the one thing common to industrialized modern society is now squirting from the site of the meteor that started it all at 65,000 barrels a day.
Bravo, irony! Bravo indeed.
The end of the dinosaurs started here and you have to wonder if ours is too.
How dumb are we? I see adds on Facebook for those cause bracelets Lance Armstrong made popular for cancer research. These are for the Gulf Coast Oil disaster or as the bracelets incorrectly read, stop the spill. Its incorrect because its not a spill. A spill implies it has stopped. The wrist band is made out of plastic. Plastic as in made from oil. You can't wrap oil around your wrist to say you're fighting oil. That would be like dinosaurs wearing stop the meteor bracelets made from meteor. Are we really any smarter than them?