Thursday, September 20, 2012

Radio Land

Somewhere in Nebraska I turned on my car radio. 

Static, farm reports, sports, local talk or some FOX News affiliate. Those were my choices. I went with the local talk show only to find out it was a religious station. The topic dealt with the way the media portrayed the ongoing abuse scandal in the Catholic church. What the guy was saying was a little difficult to hear. He was complaining that there was a case involving a pedophile, found to have abused more than 40 boys over three decades, but the media wasn't interested in covering that because it didn't make the Catholic church look bad, so they ignored it. Wow. If your whole argument boils down to: "Look, other people do it too," you've lost whatever moral high ground you thought you once had. Molesting a child is bad. Period. But when its done by someone who is supposed to be an example of higher morals its going to attract attention. That and the church authorities hiding, covering it up and treating it like any multinational corporation would treat a scandal doesn't help either.

I ended up turning it off after only a few minutes. Who thinks this way? Who thinks that proclaiming over the air that other people also commit horrible disgusting destructions of souls is the way to rally people to your defense? What kind of minor league moron believes this is the way to deal with a problem eating away at the church like a cancer? It wouldn't be the last time I heard such things on the radio.

In two months, I traveled the heart land of America: the upper Midwest is comprised by states like Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Missouri. If I wasn't performing comedy in them, I was driving across them. It doesn't matter how much music you have on your iPod; at a certain point the best way to stay awake or be free of the voices in your head while crunching the miles is to switch on the old dashboard radio and listen to what people who live here listen to everyday. 

Somewhere in the middle of Kansas I found another local talk show. Apparently, the Iranians had beat the Americans in a soccer match. The female host was trying to explain to the male host that this was a big deal because soccer is huge all over the planet. His response, "…so what. Let the rag heads have one." That's just really bad racism. I don't mean bad in the sense that racism is bad, and it is, its bad because Iranians are muslim and people who wear turbans, as I am assuming he is referring to when he says "rag head," are Sikhs. They are from India. His racism was off by an entire continent. 
I ended up become an avid listener to right wing talk radio while driving out there. Fascinated, disgusted, amazed and stunned could also be adjectives to describe how I felt listening to what I found out there too. I'm not talking about Hannity, Rush and the usual loudmouths with a studio full of verbal gasoline, I'm talking about the regional, lesser-known guys who have to be even more spiteful and hate-filled to capture an audience. What I can tell you is that by far the most scary thing about these shows weren't the hosts. The callers had almost universally the same demeanor. When talking about Obama they could barely contain a hatred they would spit out in long, overly-stressed vowels and at times even the hosts had to tell them to take a breath. 

There is a lot of rage out there. A lot.

The last gig I had before turning my car westward and home was in Dayton, OH. The news will tell you that Ohio is a "battleground" state this election year. From the looks of most of Ohio the battle has been going on for a long time and most of the people are living among the rubble. I lost track of how many towns I drove through where almost everything on the main street was shut down. "For sale," "Closed," and "For lease" signs were plentiful. The front of buildings were crumbling and unpainted. More often that not the only place that was open was the bar. In the window of the bar would be a giant brand new Romney for President sign. Each time I wanted to stop my car and walk into the bar and ask people if they really thought a guy like Romney, who wanted Detroit not to be bailed out and made his fortune by closing down factories in little towns just like this, would care if they went under? But each time I also thought: "I don't want my ass kicked." 

To promote my appearance at the club in Dayton, OH friends pulled strings and got me on Bob & Tom. Bob & Tom is a radio show that is broadcast out of Indianapolis, IN. It goes national and is the preferred morning radio show to people who are blue collar. I'm not trying to be insulting with that. Its how they describe themselves as well. The morning I was on required me to wake up at 5:00 a.m., and drive for two hours to get to the studio where I would be sitting in with them for two hours. That's incredible. These guys have made many comics' careers by giving them this kind of exposure. Before I was ushered into the studio the place was abuzz because redneck comedian Jeff Foxworthy had called in. Apparently, he was on the cover of Turkey Nation. It's not a magazine about the nation of Turkey, as I first thought, but a magazine dedicated to the sport of turkey hunting. Delightful. The producer explained to me that Bob will go to me from time to time, but that I should feel free to chime in with comments. Being on this show is a tremendous opportunity. You are being heard by millions of people. Somewhere in the second hour, when I had only done two minutes of jokes and I was listening to them debate the different merits of turkey shooting compared to squirrel shooting, it dawned on me; I don't want these fans. Maybe it was me. Maybe it started weird. When Bob asked me where I was from, I told him San Francisco, right by the beach. His response back to me, thats by the ocean? OK - you don't have to know that San Francisco has a long colorful history as a port city. You don't have to know that the map of America has San Francisco on the west coast. You don't have to know that but it seems a little strange not to know that. Then he asked me whether the now-dead actor, Sherman Hemsley was gay. Not that I know of, I told him. Why did he want to know? Apparently his body was being kept on ice until his estate could be figured out. The estate was left to his partner. Ah, I got it now. Because the term "partner" can only be used to politely describe a gay mans "friend," he must have been gay. Not only is San Francisco famous for its bay, but the term partner is often used in legal documents like a will, and not just used to describe boyfriends of homosexuals. I didn't say any of that, but in my head I was already thinking that I was far, far from home. That's when the whole turkey and squirrel shooting thing got started. This lead to stories about bears. This lead Bob to playing some recorded bits of other comedians who had been there talking about bears. So there I am, having driven two hours to be on the radio at 7:00 a.m., having done a total of three of my jokes, while I now listened to recordings of other comics. For a brief moment I seriously thought about just excusing myself. Clearly they didn't want me here. They ignored me while I was on the air. Any comment I tossed in was talked over with the usual back and forth from the usual crew with the usual inside jokes. When the two hours were up Bob said to me this "If I was Jewish, and I'm not, but if I was, I could do those jokes and it would be OK. Just like if I was gay I could say those jokes and it would be fine but since I'm not I can't do those jokes." I'm not sure exactly what prompted him to give me this lecture. All I can think of is that before I went on, the producer asked me for a list of jokes Bob could go to me with. In his haste some of my jokes were abbreviated down to "Gay Stuff." Frankly, I don't know why I would take comedy lessons from someone who spent almost the entire two hours ignoring me and talking about shooting small animals, but there you go. What it tells me is that their view of stand-up is incredibly limited. If you think something can only be made fun of to get laughs then your world is small. As I drove away from the studio I thought, that's it. I have to find a way off the road. I can't deal with this mentality out here.