In November of 2005, You Learned:
HOW TO KICK PEOPLE IS A DAMN LIAR.
Won't you come out for tonight's How to Kick People? This show is gonna be a barnstormer. The show is all about lying and truthing, and we've got a lineup of guests that makes me swell with pride. Looky:
HOW TO KICK PEOPLE IS A DAMN LIAR
with Bob Powers & Todd Levin
Wednesday, November 30th, at 7:30
featuring the talents of:
- Areas of My Expertise author, JOHN HODGMAN
- former editor-in-chief of and longtime contributor to The Onion, Carol Kolb
- actress/comedian seen on VH-1, MTV, and in US Weekly, Susie Felber
PLUS, music from ANDY FRIEDMAN & THE OTHER FAILURES
AND DOUBLE-PLUS: the audience is invited to join the hosts and performers of H2KP onstage to participate in the confessional, honest drinking game "I NEVER." We will be getting drunk. And reading. This is pretty good.
For venue details and other information, visit the H2KP web site.
HOW TO BRING IT ALL HOME.
Regarding yesterday's post, I decided to follow The Cat Formerly Known As Coleman around my apartment with a camera, and managed to snap this totally candid photograph of her. (NOTE: this image has in no way been tampered with digitally or otherwise. this is how my cat appears on camera at all times now.)
In other news, I haven't packed anything else.
HOW TO MOVE IT, MOVE IT.
With a lease signed on a new apartment last week, and a move-in date scheduled for later this week, things have every right to move extremely fast. So why have I only packed 15 soft-cover books? A very inexpensive psychologist might suggest that I am suffering from a kind of pre-partem depression, where the thought of uprooting myself is crippling. It's not true, though. I want to leave. I look forward to new walls and windows, to a new view, and an extra flight of stairs. But, as I look around my current apartment, and try to imagine an orderly packing procedure, I just lock up. I've reached for dishes and newspaper wrapping, then thought better of it. I've considered moving all of my CDs and DVDs and VCDs and DDDs and CVCDVDs out of their jewel cases and into neat, anonymous binders, but that strikes me as sort of insane and impossible. (For instance, if I consolidate like this, what happens to the beautiful hand-drawn map that came with the Criterion Rushmore DVD? Does it get flushed? And what happens to those cute and decorative, hand-screenprinted cardboard sleeves on some of my CDs? Only a cold android could see fit to pack those away, sparing only the plastic digitally-encoded music disc inside? And how am I supposed to distinguish Dirty Debutantes 15 from Dirty Debutantes 37 without consulting the box for mnemonic triggers?)
So, instead, my apartment is a crowded mess of flattened boxes from a neighborhood liquor store, packing tape, and Diesel jeans with unfortunate denim rinses that need to be donated to Goodwill post-haste, draped across the backs of chairs. (Does anyone want to buy a chair?) And, in the middle of all of it, one empty book shelf, looking very much like a tooth that's been knocked out of my apartment's face.
So instead of focusing on the practical, I've turned my attentions elsewhere. To prepare for my move and its attendant changes, I've renamed one of my cats. From this day forward, Choo Choo Coleman, who is hefty and awkward and unaware of her tremendous dimensions, will be known as "Lavender." That might sound ridiculous to you, but I promise it gets funnier every time I invoke her name. Here are a few examples:
"Your ass is blocking the television set, Lavender."
"Oh my God, did you just take a smelly shit, Lavender?"
"Lavender has breathing difficulties directly related to her obesity."
And, although I haven't told her yet, I've also renamed my girlfriend, whom I will be living with in our new place. Sorry, Lollipop Necklace!
HOW TO PROMOTE YOUR FACE.
My episode of Comedy Central's Premium Blend premieres on Friday, December 2nd, at 11:30pm, ensuring it will only be seen by shut-ins, house arrest prisoners, and the infirmed. AND MAYBE YOU.
Lately, I find I've been trolling Comedy Central's site quite a bit, like a former one-night stand who just won't let it go. (I've also been following the latest season of PB, both to see my friends' appearances and to try to figure out how the producers have edited down our 7 minute sets into 3-4 minutes.) Yesterday, when I clicked on Comedy Central's PB page, I noticed they'd already posted the "cast" picture from my episode, along with some clips from the show. It's kind of cool to see it up there.
I have two thoughts about all of this. First, it's pretty amazing to see the photographs of me on the site. I don't mean to see, "It's so amazing to see me, as always, for I am AMAZING." I am just totally taken aback by how utterly gleeful I appear in these photographs. I think I have a naturally frowny face, honestly. I sort of default to that Eeyore expression, and I usually don't feel terribly comfortable putting on a giant, silly smiley-face for photographers. So I think maybe I was just giddy on the day of the taping, and don't remember it at all; this is entirely possible. I've also considered that these photographs might have been snapped just as the PCP was taking hold.
Also, in the clip they've included, there was a full joke between my opening and the German graffiti story that has been excised. Now, with these two jokes back to back, one might (understandly) have the impression I'm a very, very Jewey comic. In fact, yesterday I was interviewed about PB by a reporter for a local paper, and she spent the first ten minutes of our phone call asking me questions about my Judaism. I finally had to make her promise me that we'd stop talking about Jewey stuff, because I was afraid the article would come out with a headline like, "JEW SO CRAZY! LOCAL HASID EXTERMINATES FROWNS WITH HIS HA-HA-HOLOCAUST OF LAUGHTER ON COMEDY CENTRAL." Actually, that would be a pretty good headline.
HOW TO LINK WITH CONVICTION.
I'm sort of reluctant to say a lot about this site, so I'll try to choose my words carefully. Since this link was first passed to me, I've visited it nearly every single day. I've made other people watch the videos while I searched their expressions for signs of the special kind of joy I experience whenever I click around the site.
I think I find this site so fascinating because it's rare to see such a fully-formed character online, or anywhere. Obviously, I don't agree with most of his opinions – in fact, I probably don't agree with any of them (apart from the stuff about Chinamen) – but I like how completely on-message he remains throughout. He's monolithic in a tank top. (Which, coincidentally, is my favorite Pavement song.)
I sometimes hear his voice in my head, and sometimes it makes its way out of my mouth, as I scream, "THE BIG MAN IS ALWAYS HAPPY TO SEE YA!!!!" to my cats, or into a bowl of Life cereal. I can't help myself. When a personality is this strong, it won't keep to itself.
His greatest gift, though, is the ability to come across so totally angry and reactionary and vulgar but, by the time he signs off – if you make it that far – you kind of love him. It's amazing what you can get away with if you've got a big, explosive laugh.
Personal favorites, from the "videos" page:
- The Price of Sex
- Moon Lots
- Anger in Me (if anyone can determine the source of his anger, i'd be very grateful for an answer.)
- The Mask (directed by ken russell)
- Steak Challenge
- Rap (a very good example of The Big Man's questionable teleprompter technique, and a very bad example of rap.)
- Old Time Names (here, The Big Man enjoys a joke at the expense of the world's eggplant population.)
- Sidekicks 2 (The Big Man is flanked by his staff.)
HOW TO EXPERIENCE A TRIVIAL PINCH OF RELIEF.
I did a show on Tuesday night. In the beginning, things were going really well. Surprisingly well, actually, given the fact that it was an obviously stoic audience that night. Then I did two very new and very involved jokes, back to back, and could feel the audience fading away from me. (One of the new jokes is about how my new therapist is in Chinatown, and all of the stupid things that come with this e.g. her office is filled with cheap Chinatown knock-offs of real psychology textbooks like The Interpretation of Dreams, by Sigmund Floyd. AND OTHER GREAT, HILARIOUS STUFF.)
After the set, I was talking to a friend and was in mid-complaint, when someone in the audience approached me. He said something like, "I just wanted you to know that I loved that one joke about 'facing Mecca' [while having sex in the back of a cab]. I might have been the one who was laughing at it, but I thought it was amazing."
I thought that was nice, and it wouldn't have bothered me that he was the only one laughing at the joke – but I was performing it in front of 50,000 people. Good night.
HOW TO BRAVELY EMBRACE THE WONDERS OF TECHNOLOGY.
My family has secrets but none as dark as this: my parents are completely under the spell of The Walt Disney Company. Disney World is their sole vacation destination, and they travel there 2-3 times annually, to walk hand-in-hand along the man-made lagoon, meander through the animatronic botanical gardens, eat Rainforest Chicken Pineapple® Salads in Edible Jungle Taco Bowls, shop for ceramic figurines, or hold each other tightly on amusement park rides designed to make you feel exactly like you're in the movie, THE EMPEROR'S NEW GROOVE.
Their relationship with The Walt Disney Company runs unfathomably deep. In addition to their quarterly pilgrimages, they've bought into an elaborate Disney timeshare pyramid scheme (warning: turn your speaker volume down, unless you wish to be totally enchanted) that has allowed them to "own a piece of the magic" in exchange for "a piece of your retirement fund." Though it's all been explained to by each of my parents, and occasionally by both of them in Stepford-esque unison, I'm still a little fuzzy on the details of their financial arrangement with Disney. All I know is there is some exchange of time/money spent and magical points that are only considered legal tender within the Disney empire, and that their commitment extends for a considerable period of time, well beyond both of their anticipated deaths. My mother has reminded me, more than once, that their relationship with Disney will extend out at least 30 years from now, "so all of my children and grandchildren can enjoy it as much as we do."
There was a time when I would have considered this a malicious gesture – my parents insuring their children would bear the burden of an utterly stupid legacy. I used to fight them over their abusive, destructive relationship with Disney ("Mom, what's that you're hiding behind your back? Is that a Beauty and the Beast singing hairbrush? Did you pay your mortgage this month???") I would beg them to consider alternative vacation spots, and receive their stories about Christmas Parades in October and "character breakfasts" with disinterested sarcasm or prolix tirades against the corporation and its "commoditization of infantile sentimentality." Yes, I thought very highly of myself.
I stopped fighting, though, and for a pretty simple reason: Disney makes my parents happy. Really, almost inexplicably happy. And with each subsequent visit, Disney's repititious charms have not faded on my parents at all. I love my parents very much and, like it or not, I decided their crazy affection for Disney is going to have to squeeze its way into my definition of familial love.
And it doesn't take much effort to love my folks when I get to look at photos like the one I received today. They're currently vacationing at one of the Disney resorts in Orlando (resort: orlando = country club: alcatraz), for the second time this year. This is an important trip for my parents, for it's Soap Opera week throughout the Magic Kingdom. This is an event they've attended for at least the last three or four years in a row, at my mother's insistence. I'm not sure exactly what happens during Soap Opera week but, judging from my parents photos, some very tan actors sit behind tables in hotel lobbies and occasionally provide autographs for or pose next to ecstatic and stiff-looking moms. Soap Opera Week is kind of like ComiCon for middle-aged women with swollen ankles. My mom has very thin ankles, but she has learned to accept the things that make her different.
During this trip, just like last year's, my parents found their way into some kind of KODAK-sponsored digital photo kiosk, where tourists can have their photos taken on vacation, and immediately send the photo (and a greeting) off to a loved one, in the form of a very unattractive e-card.
There are two particularly noteworthy things about this year's photograph from my parents. First, the image they sent provides absolutely no sense of place. Sure, based on their word alone, I understand they're hanging out in the Florida sunshine but you'd never know it from this image. It looks like they were forced to pose inside an office supplies closet at the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Second, although this image of my parents compares favorably with last year's (in which both of my parents looked utterly bewildered), I think it's pretty evident they still haven't exactly gotten the hang of how this photo booth works – details like where the camera lens is located, the importance of closing the curtain behind them, the fundamentals of appearing natural, etc. And for all the things in this photo that I find funny, and to which they've never even given a single thought, I love them that much more. Say hi to my folks.
HOW TO REVIEW THE REVIEWERS, PART I.
Product Reviewed: "Git-R-Done (Hardcover)" - by Larry The Cable Guy
Reviewer: Travis L. Galliher (Bel Air, Maryland)
[source review available online.]
Galliher at his craziest!, 11/9/2005
In his review of Larry The Cable Guy's literary debut, GIT-R-DONE, Travis Galliher dispenses with subtleties and carefully-measured words by offering this opening gambit: "Never in my life have I read a book as funny and entertaing as this one." This statement, and all of the legitimacy it presents to readers curious to digest the remainder of the review, would have benefitted from a bit of editing. Galliher could have made his point more succinctly, simply by stating, "Never in my life have I read a book." Upon visiting the library trailer that is no doubt hitched to Galliher's double-wide home, what other less funny and entertaining titles would one find crowding the shelves of his particle-board "book hutch?" T.J. Hooker: The Novelization? Nightcrawlers: A Life? Chicken Soup for the Backyard Wrestling Soul?
But Travis does not stop there, and why should he? As further evidence of the merits of GIT-R-DONE, Galliher confesses he was "written up" at work for laughing too hard while reading this book. Where does Galliher work, I wonder, that laughing loudly would be seen as an act of insubordination? My first instinct would be that Galliher works at a library but that's insane because presumes there would be a library, somewhere, that stocks Larry the Cable Guy's GIT-R-DONE. A more likely scenario is that Galliher was not written up for laughing too loud, but because reading not allowed on the killing floor. OSHA regulations require that you keep both hands free to swing your stun hammer.
Galliher's prose style is assured – he makes his points quickly and neatly – but his narrative quickly disintegrates into blunt repetition. It's as if Galliher keeps discovering new, more colorful ways to express his admiration for the literature of Larry the Cable Guy – first describing it as "the finest book" he's ever read, and later comparing it to the New Testament as essential reading, then suggesting Larry the Cable Guy is "Presidential" – but lacks the discipline to pare away his initial findings. What we're left with is a confusing message. Is GIT-R-DONE a work of humor? Is it a religious text? Or is GIT-R-DONE a polemic filled with ideas that won't be understood by people who are (in Galliher's words) "easily offended by politics, racial comments (in a non-rascist form), or plain ole' humor?"
Or, more to the point, is GIT-R-DONE just another piece of shit smooshed between two hard covers, and flecked with kernels of dried-up stand up comedy that most people who will own this book have already invested at least $50 to $200 to hear live, over and over and over again? The answer to that question is moot, probably, because the more important question is, what does Travis L. Galliher have against reading? And the answer: SHUT THE FUCK UP AND GIT OUT FROM MY ROCK GARDEN AFORE I SHOOT YER ASS DEAD WHAT IS WITHIN MY LEGAL CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS!
If there is any question that Galliher is an unreliable narrator, look no further than his earlier review, for the latest Martina McBride album, which he bestows with five stars (just like GIT-R-DONE) and calls, "a wonderful surprise" and, unsolicited, offers, "if she ever makes a Hip-Hop album, I'll be the first in line to buy it." Galliher has published a total of two reviews, and both have been awarded an untempered FIVE STARS. He has proven, if nothing else, he is a passionate man who chews SKOAL Bandits and appreciates laughing his (vestigial?) tail off. Unfortunately, he has proven nothing else.
ADDENDUM, 12/2/05: Mr. Galliher contacted me, to clear up a few of my jackass misconceptions about his background and hobbies. I am printing his email in its entirety, out of fairness and because I really think Travis Galliher is a good sport. (In fact, I give him **** 1/2. That's half a star less than he's going to give the sequel to GIT-R-DONE!, GIT-R-DONE TWO: KEEP GITTIN'-R-TILL-SHE'S-GOT!)
I just wanted to correct you on a couple things regarding my review of Larry the Cable Guy's book "Git-R-Done", first, I chew Skoal LONG CUT, apple blend to be exact, my "double wide" never had wheels, and in fact, I have read several books regarding Stock Car racing, the American Civil War, and firefighting techniques. As far as your assuption of my employment status, I am currently a dispatcher for one of the busiest and well respected police departments in the nation. Just wanted to clarify some things you wrote in your column. Thanks for choosing my review and I enjoyed your review of it. Keep up the good work!
HOW TO QUESTION YOUR EXISTENCE (AGAIN).
Last week, another comic was generous enough to bring me out for a very rare, out-of-town stand-up set, at a very popular comedy club in Long Island. (I'm withholding the name, because I don't blame the club for what happened next.) I'd never been to the club before, as a performer or a member of the audience. In fact, my only knowledge of it was informed by the documentary, COMEDIAN. There's a scene in the film, when Jerry Seinfeld is well into making his stand-up comeback, and he steps offstage at a club, angry about the fact that several people were talking loudly during his set, and remarks to his manager (kind of unforgettably), "I mean, how big do you have to be [to get them to listen]? It was like monkeys throwing their shit in there." That's the Long Island Club.
The best thing I can say about my set at LIC – which is a gigantic space, and seats about 300 drunk people – is that I remained relatively poised throughout my set. That means this stuff is coming a little easier to me, gradually, which is a nice thing to discover. However, my time onstage was largely miserable. The people who were with me stayed with me, but I could see other people tuning out as I went along. Literally see them tuning out, one by one, like I was moving along a switchboard, turning out all the stage lights.
At one point onstage, I suggested that perhaps, on my best day, I could beat up one small, skinny woman in the front row. It was one of those things I nervously added to the end of a joke, just because I felt it would be a good idea to involve the audience a bit in my misery. It's a statement that does not beg a response, but it got one.
The skinny woman disagreed, loudly, and I joked along with her, admitting she was probably right. Then she continued, very loudly, to detail all of the ways she was positive she could beat me up. And every time I tried to laugh along with her and move on, she would add things like, "I'm really serious. I could take you. I'm strong." It was one of those amazing teetering moments that occasionally occurs onstage, where it could easily tip one way or the other, away from or directly into disaster.
By chance more than talent, I managed to avert complete disaster in that moment, but I spent the rest of my time onstage creeping hand-over-hand along the precipice. When it was all over I felt winded, like I'd been running a treadmill with a gun pointed to my temple.
(I couldn't hear her set from the green room, but during the next comic's set a fire alarm was tripped and, understandably, upstaged her for a few minutes. That's a considerably more challenging distraction than being threatened by a featherweight "MR F" drunk in the front row.)
A few of the other comics who performed that night complained about the audience being largely thick-headed or inbred – possibly as a means of consulation – but I try to avoid casting an audience in a negative light when I feel unsatisfied with a set. It's much more satisfying to turn it all inward. I did, however, leave that night thinking about a few things I've heard from other comics, who criticize "alternative" comics who perform within the safe confines of like-minded audiences. (Even Woody Allen did this, building his stand-up career in coffee houses and cabaret bars. If you ever listen to his "Stand-Up Comic" album, which is one of my favorite comedy albums of all time, you'll hear that it's an incredibly small, smart and approving audience. He did not record it at The Laughing Gas Chamber in Passaic, New Jersey.) And in interviews with Chris Rock (a huge Woody Allen fan, by the way), he often evangelizes about the importance of being able to make any audience laugh, and talks about his confidence in being able to do so.
I would love to be funny to all but, honestly, I don't know if I am. It's a weird thing to realize, and I kind of struggle with it sometimes. I've done really well in front of comedy club audiences, and I had a great time in front of a TV audience who had never seen me before, but get me out of large cities like New York City, and I don't know. Maybe I'm not going to be Bruce Springsteen or The Rolling Stones; maybe I'm going to be Man or Astroman, or Jandek. What would happen if you put those artists in front of a Madison Square Garden audience? I have a CD that collects sets from Devo's earliest live shows, and on one of the shows they've been booked by a radio station, as a practical joke, to open up for Sun Ra. The audience thinks they're going to get a Bad Company cover band but, instead, out comes DEVO. On the album, you can hear the audience of hippies losing their shit with anger during DEVO's purposefull relentless version of "Jocko Homo"; the recording even picks up people in the crowd threatening to beat the shit out of the band. DEVO should not open for Sun Ra, period. And sometimes I wonder if I should be following a comedian who tells the following joke: "I was relieving myself in a public restroom and the attendant walked in and hung a sign that said, "WET FLOOR" – so I did!"
This experience reminds me of something Adam Goldberg's character, Mike, says in the movie, Dazed and Confused. (I'm going to paraphrase, even if it's lazy to do so.) He's explaining why he has decided he no longer wants to pursue being an ACLU lawyer after he graduates high school, and he relates a revelatory experience he had at a DMV or some other depressing public place. He tells his friends, as he was looking around the room, he realized these were the kinds of people he would end up defending if he were a lawyer. "And I realized," he says, "I don't like those people." I'm still trying to figure out whether or not I like these people, I guess. I mean, if there are audiences filled with stupid people, as so many comics claim there are, why would you want to perform for idiots? Is there some insanely narcissistic belief that our set of jokes about masturbating and online dating and crazy chain restaurants will be enlightening for these people? That they need it?
(Bonus: I closed my set at Long Island Club with a joke I haven't told in a while. I love the joke, and it can get either a great response or a confused and disturbed one. Guess which one it got at LIC? You can hear a clip of me telling the final punchline, without context, and that skinny drunk woman in the front row reacting to it, right here.)
HOW TO START SAVING.
Have you ever been so broke that you've tried to pay for groceries with your bus pass? Is that practice frowned upon?
HOW TO GET UNCOMFORTABLY CLOSE TO YOURSELF.
It's not unusual for me to see my doppelganger around the city. There are really only three or four different "types" of young, urban Jewish male styles to choose from, and I strongly represent Type 2: HBSS (Hirsute Bespectacled Slope Shouldered). I see myself reflected at concerts, in arthouse theaters, and at upscale sneaker shops all over the place. Friends take some pleasure in telling me how they almost embraced another HBSS, mistaking them for me. Recently, someone sent me a photograph from Last Night's Party, of a man hugging a girl, and the resemblance between the bearded hugger and me was so great that I went through a several-minute process of trying to remember how I knew the girl in the photo.
Today, I sat down on the train and noticed some uncanny similarities between myself and the stranger seated next to me. In this instance the likeness was not physical, but something more conscious and, therefore, more troubling. He was wearing a suit jacket and t-shirt with jeans, which is usually my work attire. He crossed his legs in the same manner. We were both wearing nearly identical NIKE ID Dunks, with only slight differences in wear and tear and color choice. He was reading a book I'd just finished a couple months ago, and I was reading a book that kept grabbing his peripheral attention. And I'm sure the white earbuds plugged into his skull were connected to something on my own iPod "Purchased Music" playlist. (I was wearing SONY's ear-stuffer headphones, connected to my own concealed iPod. I usually tell people I've swapped out the white headphones for these black ones as a safeguard against jackers, but the truth is I just felt the iAsshole factor was getting too high around NYC and I had hoped my nondescript headphones would be like a free pass, without compromising my own boojie value system.)
This guy had my number, and it bugged me so much. It's like hanging out with a bunch of bloggers, and seeing everyone whip out their NOKIA 6670s at the same time. Or attending a Wolf Parade concert with 1,500 guys in matching Terry Richardson specs. Or showing up at the Hobo's Ball, and discovering someone else has the same Helmut Lang crushed velvet bindlestiff as yours. I felt easy; like I was nothing more than a stack of carefully-chosen magazines and mail-order catalogs, left on a subway car. I know I don't have the time, money, or ambition to totally tailor myself as an individual, with regards to cultural accessories, but there's something off-putting about finding out your particular recipe is easy to replicate. You hope there are a few complex, mysterious notes – like a tarragon cookie. Instead, I felt like someone just bit into me and announced, "Rice Krispies, marshmallow, butter. No problem."
I started to dip into a kind of existential tailspin until I glanced over at my style-twin and noticed he was wearing sunglasses. On the subway. And I consoled myself in the knowledge that he was actually a variation on my type: The Todd Levin Tremendous Asshole 3000 model. I don't need sunglasses to appear self-conscious – that's what my web site is for.