In August of 2006, You Learned:
HOW TO BREAK THE FOURTH WALL.
I realize I haven't been spending a great deal of effort writing on this site over the last couple of months. I'm afraid life has gotten in the way. If you're feeling frustrated, checking the site and seeing only a crusty rant about the upcoming Teen Choice Awards, I apologize.
When I start updating the site again, pretty soon I expect, I'll send out a message to my mailing list. If you're on that list, perfect. If not, look over there, to the left. That little box for your email? That will sign you right up. It's going to be awesome, particularly because I rarely communicate with my mailing list.
In the meantime, I still perform stand-up comedy and do other things. You can see my schedule on MySpace or at my other site, ToddLevin.com.
HOW TO CHANGE YOUR REPUTATION.
When I was a kid I refused to read CRACKED magazine, for the same reason I refused to wear "Ocean Atlantic" clothing; it seemed like a pale imitation of something better.
But CRACKED just re-launched this month, after a several-year hiatus, and now it's more of a 'comedy lifestyle' magazine, with interviews and features wedged between original humor pieces by folks like Michael Ian-Black and Neal Pollack.
I have a piece in the premiere issue as well. The editor I've been working with, Jack, has been really nice and seems to appreciate a lot of interesting humor. (For instance, he spends more time reading McSweeney's than Cringe Humor.) I hope he gets his way, and more of that stuff makes its way into the magazine. I remember when we first started talking about me potentially contributing to CRACKED I think I probably came across as a bit of a diva/asshole. The truth is, I was a little worried about what the magazine's sensibility would be like.
The web site is still finding its feet, and if I'm going to be completely honest I have to say I find the writing in it sort of inconsistent and even the best stuff still feels too "male" right now, but I was really happy when I saw a sampling of pages from the print magazine. There's some very funny stuff in there, and I really appreciate that the editors of CRACKED are supplementing their original pieces with articles about more famous comedy figures. Personally, I would be really happy to read an article that was sort of slavishly devoted to comedy.
I don't know if that's the direction CRACKED is headed, but I'm hopeful. If you want to pick up a copy, see their web site for retail locations.
[Addendum: I haven't seen my finished, edited piece in the magazine yet, so I reserve the right to totally change my opinion if they've made the editorial decision to sprinkle the article with swears and references to "teabagging" and "fingerbanging." I've already been through that once before, with The Paris Review, and I won't tolerate it again. THIS IS MY CULTURE!]
HOW TO RUN FOR YOUR LIFE.
Tonight I am going to walk into my gym in my work clothes, and no gym bag to speak of. After they scan my bar code, without speaking or acknowledging staff in any way, I will walk directly to the first free treadmill. I will wait if I have to; I often do.
I will step on the treadmill, in my leather-soled loafers. I will stare at its console, and finally choose my workout program. Then I will loosen my tie, grip the metal heart rate handles, and walk out the first 45 seconds or so.
As the treadmill accelerates to a decent clip — 6.3mph — I will begin to run in my full business casual attire, my tie flapping and twisting until its underside is flat against my chest at a funny angle. But I won't run like an athlete. I am going to pretend I'm running for my life, like someone is chasing me with a kitchen knife. I will scream, "Oh my God! Oh my God he's coming!!!" And occasionally look back over my shoulder, my mouth forming a great, drooling rictus of fear.
"Oh please no please no God no please!!" I'll plead, my GAP undershirt and J. Crew broadcloath oxford soaked through, front and back. My tractionless shoes will slip and stutter on the treadmill, their laces jumping around in a punk rock fit. I will stretch my arms out, forward, and cry, "I'm coming oh God please be home please no God I'm coming!!!" I will claw at my face, and scream like an animal. "WAAAAAAUUUUUUUGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHLLLLLURRRRRRRGGGGGG!!!!!" is what I'll probably say. My skin will be on fire right now, and the gym's roaming trainers will be huddled around my treadmill, asking me if I'm OK while they try to figure out how to remove me from the treadmill without killing me or injuring themselves. I will address, only them to say, "LOOK OUT ARE YOU CRAZY??? HE ONLY COMES OUT TO FEED ONCE EVERY 15 YEARS!!! YOUR MUSCLES CAN'T STOP HIM!!!"
At the twenty-five minute mark, I will begin my cooldown period. I will regain my composure, occasionally checking pulse points at my neck and wrist. I will be bathed in sweat. Even my skull will be sweating, and perspiration will wick off the KMS molding paste in my hair. When my workout ends, at the thirty minute mark, I will calmly step off the treadmill. I will have the entire gym's attention. I will bend over, catch my breath, then finally stand up straight and announce to the gym members and staff, "That's the last time I choose the JEEPERS CREEPERS CARDIO program."
HOW TO FIND ANOTHER PUSHOVER.
I walked into a conference room at my ad agency this afternoon, and John Roderick of The Long Winters was tuning up his guitar, ready to begin a short acoustic set. "You're just in time," he told me as heads turned to see who had just burst into the room, slightly out of breath from running the length of the ad agency.
It is not uncommon for ad agencies to host musicians--these days, anyway. Haven't you heard? Selling out is now called "recontextualization." Honestly, it's a very tricky thing. While I have great admiration for artists who refuse any commercial affiliation with their music, I also understand what a financially hopeless struggle being a musician can be. And if a hard-working band's survival hinges on one of their tracks playing as a Volkswagon Jetta corners a country road, I can live with that, especially knowing how much harder it is for the band to live with it.
So here's what happens: the artist arrives in hopes of drumming up some interest in licensing his music for an advertisement. (sigh) The advertisers, most of whom have never heard of this artist, get a free lunch and the much-coveted feeling of being exposed to something "cool" and "edgy." It's a necessary evil, I guess, and a nearly even exchange.
But it was a real crisis of heart against mind when I discovered that today this agency would be hosting John Roderick. I really love The Long Winters, so naturally I was excited to see a free, intimate show, and possibly say hello to Roderick afterwards. But this venue and the circumstances surrounding it flew in the face of all my expectations and desires. It was like seeing a sign that says "FREE CANDY," then noticing an arrow on the sign pointing down to an unopened bag of gummi worms floating in a toilet. They're still gummi wormsï¿½delicious gummi wormsï¿½and they're going to taste the way they always taste, but the presentation leaves something to be desired.
When John suggested playing an all-request set I didn't realize at first that he was making a joke. He didn't expect anyone to know his music and, apart from two or three of us, they didn't. But they were polite, and he was charming (I've gone on record saying The Long Winters have some of the best onstage banter I've ever heard, right alongside Guided By Voices, Robyn Hitchcock, and Big Black), introducing the song "It'll be a Breeze," by saying, "this song is about what it feels like to be in a coma. I think it'd be great for Twizzlers*." And I was able to request, and hear, "Cinnamon." It's unlikely I'd have that same honor at one of their concerts.
Sure, part of me felt like my request was a direct order, from the boss to the eager-to-please employee, but at some point you have to get over yourself, I guess. John was just trying to make a livingï¿½which can sting a bit sometimesï¿½just as I am trying to make a living, and today we had to do that together, on opposite ends of the same conference room. I find myself complaining sometimes (well, a lot) about how I have to pay rent through means that are not ideal, but that is surely a perspective blackout on my part. When I think about how many truly difficult and potentially demoralizing jobs people endure every day, like selling batteries on a subway car, or selling sandwiches at a Subway restaurant, it's a bit easier to find comfort, knowing I have (and have made) choices. And today I got to hear "Cinnamon," by request.
*Brand name changed to protect the anonymity of this ad agency.
HOW TO REDLIGHT A PROJECT.
I have a new piece of writing up at The Morning News today. It's called "Mel Gibson's Project Redlight" and I suppose you can guess what it's about.