In April of 2007, You Learned:
IT HAS RISEN.
Tremble is fully operational again, all the way down to the archives. I owe a huge amount of thanks to Jay Allen, who volunteered a lot of time and patience in helping me get the newly-migrated site up and running again with Movable Type. It is comforting to know, in an Internet full of danger and predatory behavior, there exists a real American hero willing to share his considerable skills to help a technology ape like myself.
I've been receiving all sorts of advice from friends, regarding my stand-up show at Virginia Tech tomorrow. People have asked whether I think I'll even address the shootings that happened on campus a couple of weeks ago (yes, only because I think it would be really weird not to), whether I booked the show before or after the tragedy (before; honestly, if they were trying to find an entertainer specifically to help them heal after the horrible events that happened there, I don't think I'd be on their A-list. I would be somewhere between a staged reading of "Richard McBeef" and a live performance by Cody Marshall, "America's Old West Six-Shootin' Sharpshooter Hypnotist."), and why VT hasn't canceled the show. (I don't know.)
One very popular topic of conversation, especially among other comedians, has been the offer of advice on what *not* to say onstage, during the show. A lot of the jokey advice has been some variation on telling the audience "I'm killing"/"I'm dying"/"I'm bombing" during the show. And when I say "a lot of the jokey advice" I mean, "nearly all of it."
But so far the best advice was given to me last night at a party by a guy who was A) high and B) clearly in the throes of ADD. He told me (and I'm paraphrasing) that college students really think scrotums are funny, so I should paint my balls to look like the Seung Cho, and then pull them out of my fly in the middle of the performance and talk to them (my balls), as if I'm having an animated conversation with the person who killed many people on their campus, possibly some of them friends of people in the audience. He seemed to think this would be an excellent way to break the tension in the room.
I love that advice for many reasons. First, it's a refreshing alternative to a lot of other advice I've been given. It's also batshit crazy. And, if offered sincerely (which it kind of was), it is possibly the greatest miscalculation imaginable in the world of entertainment. A miscalculation on the order of Hudson Hawk or the Emeril Lagasse sitcom. (Never Forget!) Even if I had painted my balls to look like a more comforting figure in these students' lives--Nelson Mandela or Dane Cook--it would still be a huge error of judgment. But painting them as Cho is just worlds beyond ordinary; it is another tragedy in itself. Then there are the logistics of shaving my scrotum, then painting my scrotum to resemble Seung Cho, and concealing my scrotum inside my pants until I have warmed up the room sufficiently to reveal them, and making sure the makeup didn't smear while in my pants, or upon removal. Would I have to wear very large, baggy pants to insure my balls would have enough clearance to insure a pristine rendering of Cho when I took them out? All of these things would have to be considered in order for the audience to receive the full, unhindered impact of my crowd-pleasing scrotal ventriloquism.
In fact, even discussing this advice here hypothetically, and purely second-hand, seems insane and wrong to me. That's how ridiculous the advice was. I guess what I'm trying to say is, where can I purchase some waterproof, smudge-free makeup? Come on, Internet. I need another hero.
SONGS PLAYED AT MY COUSIN'S BAR-MITZVAH LAST WEEKEND.
"Believe It Or Not" (theme song from Greatest American Hero) - Joey Scarbury
"The Boys Are Back In Town" - Thin Lizzy (thanks, Chris. I'd originally attributed that song to Bachmann Turner Overdrive, because I often confuse the song with "Takin' Care of Business," another BTO song. I'm glad it was corrected because I expect Thin Lizzy Googles itself a lot, and would have been hurt by the mistaken attribution. I really do mean that, too. )
"Glory Days" - Bruce Springsteen (played during a video montage featuring my cousin's little league team)
"Old Time Rock'n'Roll" - Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band
"Cotton Eyed Joe" - Rednex remix (black people can learn how to do the secret white person dance here)
"You Got Another Thing Coming" - Judas Priest
"Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" - Cyndi Lauper
"99 Luftballons" - Nena (in its original German!)
"Margaritaville" - Jimmy Buffett
During the entire party, there was only one song played that was written in the lifetime of my cousin and his friends. (most of whom spent the entire bar-mitzvah playing touch football on the dance floor with an oversized, inflatable football.) And that song was "Cupid's Chokehold," by MySpace favorites The Gym Class Heroes -- a re-imagineering of Supertramp's "Breakfast in America."
As we were getting ready to leave, my 4 year-old nephew was dancing around the dance floor, strumming an inflatable guitar and wearing a plastic fedora, glow in the dark raver necklace, and a pair of knock-off Ray-Bans with neon orange stems. He looked like the prize table on the midway of the world's lousiest county fair. The only thing he was missing was a framed "Jack Daniels" mirror, still crusted with cocaine, tucked underneath his tiny little arm.
I HATE BEING THAT GUY.
Do you know much about Movable Type? If so, can you help me save/recover my website? You see, a funny thing happened. I finally snapped, and walked out on my old webhost. Our love was very Ike-Tina, and you can check my neck for fingerprints if you don't believe me.
But it turns out that moving your site to a new host comes with all sorts of ridiculous baggage. Baggage I am severely mishandling. And, as a result, my archives are crapped out with very little chance of being straightened.
If you know much about MT, and site directories and stuff, and would be willing to volunteer a little poking around time, I would be very grateful. And tremble would be, too. Call me.
COMEDY IS NOT FUNNY.
What has two thumbs and is incredibly tired of hearing my stand-up comedy? This guy, who is pointing to his own chest with two thumbs, and using his third, supernumerary one to give the movie Soul Plane a single thumbs-up.
Last Thursday night I had an audition for a comedy festival, and spent the earlier part of the week assembling my 6-7 minute set and trying it out at various rooms around Manhattan. Rearranging the order into something reasonably organic, trimming the fat, adding and deleting jokes and beats, removing any local references to NYC-based hobos, etc. Even though auditioning makes me tremendously nervous and obsessive, I like that it forces my ADDled brain (see how I did that?) to hyperfocus. I've never gone through this process without improving both my writing and performance and, even if I don't book a festival or TV show as a result of my audition, I still do get something out of the experience. (Something other than an unrealistic sense of entitlement and embittered hatred for my more successful peers.)
Here's what I don't like: "working it out" in front of unsuspecting audiences. While I know it's necessary and ultimately makes me a better comic, it can still be a dismal, self-abusive process in so many ways. First, it requires reaching out to friends for favors I may be in no position to repay. (i.e. spots on stand-up shows they book.) It also means asking to be shoe-horned into last-minute spots on comedy shows where I know I might (and in all likelihood will) make a mess of the place, rushing through seven minutes of older material as I struggle to remember new segues and the correct set order. (This becomes especially difficult since set order is pretty fluid, changing from night as I make adjustments and try new things.) I worry about hurting the show, and I worry about hurting my own confidence during this crucial period of experimentation.
After learning about my audition I had my first warm up set on a show that coincidentally included one of my favorite comics on the lineup, one of my favorite comics hosting, and bookers from two separate comedy clubs in the audience. And I completely turded it up. Like, spent seven minutes working precariously arranging a great big, quiet Jenga turd pile. It was one of those lackluster sets where you don't want to even stand next to any of the other comics after the show, because it makes it that much more uncomfortable for audience members who want to heap praise on that person's performance but are afraid to make eye contact with you. I tried my best to keep my eyes to the floor, too, just to spare people the potential awkwardness of saying something they don't mean.
It can also be depressing to hash out older, long-traveled jokes. It's not because I dislike telling them. (mostly) But, because I'm not really a touring comic I tend to hit the same rooms a lot in NYC. Even when I perform at different rooms, they seem to attract the same audiences. I don't mean the same types of audiences, although I guess I do mean that as well, but the exact same audiences, literally. There are people who attend three or four or more comedy shows below 34th Street every single week, week after week. On one hand, it's comforting to know there are people who are that fanatical (patient?) about comedy, but it also means I'm sure to burn through my material more quickly in front of these repeat audiences. I can feel it, too, when I'm performing. There's a very specific, almost palpable kind of silence that follows certain jokes the audience has clearly already heard once or twice. The silence is rarefied, and very different from the kind following a joke that simply isn't working, or never will. It's kind of indignant, actually. When I'm onstage, already insecure and borderline apologetic about having to do a "showcase" set in front of a room full of people who want to hear something new, new, new, the audience's very loaded silent reception just confirms and amplifies all of those neuroses. It isn't their fault, of course; but it really is a special thing.
Obviously, telling jokes you've been performing for several years just isn't naturally invigorating, either. (I want to talk about how fame can speed this process, too, although since I'm not even remotely famous for what I do, it has no place here and I guess I'll just include it at as a post-script.*) I suspect even the most exciting, spontaneous moments become a little stale, or rote, upon constant repetition. There's that scene in the movie, Big, where Tom Hank's character is in FAO Schwarz, jumping about on a giant floor piano alongside his boss, the big-hearted CEO of a large toy company, played by Robert Loggia. That moment is incredibly memorable, and is a sort of fun centerpiece for the film.
Now, imagine if that really happened and follow it through logically within the "reality" of the film. Afterwards, Loggia promotes Hanks and brings him around the office, telling all their co-workers about all the fun they'd just had at FAO. He might even demonstrate their floor piano dance on his office's carpeted floor for a few of the shareholders. The next week, Hanks would receive a call from Loggia's assistant, requesting that he meet his boss at FAO Schwarz during his lunch hour, to repeat their dance again. This time, word has gotten out and a few other employees at the toy company show up at FAO Schwarz to watch. Additionally, the employees at FAO Schwarz are hip to this, too, so they assemble a crowd. People are snapping digital photographs and video on their cell phones, then blogging about it and posting the shaky, grainy videos on YouTube. Suddenly, the act has a new, thin layer of self-consciousness.
This happens again the following week. More employees, more crowds. By now Hanks feels a little weird about it. The returns are sort of diminishing. His performance isn't as inspired, and people can tell. Now they're not blogging as much or, when they are, some backlash creeps in. People are posting comments like, "I don't know why everyone thinks these guys are the next Glenn Gould. I saw them at FAO on the floor piano and it was 'meh'." Hanks finds one of these comments while Googling himself, and it makes him feel a little embarrassed. Pretty soon, Hanks is showing up at FAO Schwarz only because it's been demanded of him by his superior, and he wants to retain his jobâ€”a job with greater responsibility since his promotion and one he fears he is in jeopardy of losing because he is constantly being torn away from office, at a moment's notice, to have another stupid playdate with his boss. The joy and the spontaneity have been leeched from the experience, making the performance of "Heart and Soul" a somewhat professional duty, ironically devoid of either heart or soul.
Sometimes that's what it feels like to tell my joke about ejaculating gold coins night after night, just to get it ready for an audition.
But then you do the audition and, if you can manage to shake off the crippling crisis of self-confidence you've acquired over the course of your many warm-up sets, maybe you can remember that you didn't start performing stand-up because you needed the money. You started because, unlike many other time-consuming obligations in your life, this was sincerely fun. I had fun at my audition. It wasn't the best set of my life, and I have no idea if what I did was remotely relevant for this comedy festival, but the audience laughed a lot and I enjoyed telling a new room full of strangers some of the jokes I've been working hard on writing and improving over the last several years. And it was all over in seven minutes and thirty seconds, because I went a little long.
* When I hear about comics who have achieved an almost rock and roll level of popularity that audiences just shout requests for certain jokes, or scream the punchlines in unison, right along with the comics, I'm sure it feels cool for the performer and I guess I'm supposed to be a bit dazzled but really, it just depresses me. That kind of reaction honestly sounds like death to me. If an audience ever loudly requested a joke from me, I think I would become far too self-conscious to tell it. And if you do tell it, what is the likely result? Deep, crazy laughter? Probably not. More like thunderous applause and, really, I can't imagine performing for applause over laughter. Does that sound crazy? I guess I've always taken applause to mean, "we like who you are!" and that laughter means, "we like what you're doing." I hope my friends like who I am (and regularly applaud me) and that audiences like what I do. That seems like a pretty reasonable division to me.
"Shopping List for Easter Sunday Mandingo Party"
- swedish meatballs (IKEA?)
- condoms, large
- plastic tarps
- 3 cs. soda - coke, dc, grape
- alcohol - gin, scotch, chardonnay (check wikipedia - find out what mandingos drink)
- chips, pretzels, Jolly Ranchers
- penis pasta for penis pasta salad
- Glade® odor neutralizing spray ("Tropical Mist"???)
- mini DV cassettes
- cocoa butter
- Ashford & Simpson CD
- pith helmets
I CAN'T CONTAIN MYSELF.
This is Grindhouse: Aw--
This is me: Shiiiiit!!!
This is Wild Hogs: Yippie Kai---
This is me: what the–?
This is Jon Heder: Remember when Hollywood was all, "Hey, Jon Heder is pretty funny as Napoleon Dynamite. Its success must have everything to do with him!" And then Hollywood was all, "More like Jon HEAT-er, because HEDER'S GOT HEEEET. Line 'em up. Blam!—Just Like Heaven! Blam!—The Benchwarmers!" "Blam!—School of freakin' Scoundrels!" and "Blam! How come no one is coming to see any of these films? Can't you see they all have that magically focus-tested combination of Jon Heder + Blam? What more do we need to do, y'all? American teenaged boys ages 14-23, you are dicks."
Me: "Yeah, buddy. I do. What happened? I mean, I remember when I first saw the trailers for Blades of Glory you had a lot of screen time. Then, as the movie got closer to its release date, after the first couple rounds of test screenings you were––"
JH: "NOWHERE TO BE SEEN! I know!! That totally sucked a piss lozenge. I'm totally missing from the new TV spots. My name isn't even in it! Plus, my old college roommate was doing missionary work in NYC and he was on the subway platform and saw a huge poster for the movie. And it was just a big picture of Will Ferrell, alone! In a movie about the first-ever male figure skating pair. PAIR! That's two males! I mean, come on! My outfit was just as funny, y'all. Stupid idiots!!"
Me: Ha! "Stupid idiots." Awesome. That is classic Napoleon Dynamite. Don't worry about a thing, Heder. You still got it.
JH: Heh. You think?
Me: Nope. Sorry.
VAMPIRE SQUID FROM HELL.
I cannot stop repeating that phrase, out loud or in my head. Vampire Squid From Hell! I just started watching some of the Discovery Channel's "Planet Earth" series (in Discovery HD Theaterbrag) and I had many slackjawed moments where I found myself shouting out the kinds of things one typically shouts when watching Discovery stoned. Things like "holy shit no way" and "that totally looks like outer space and those are space monsters, dude" and "shh...did you hear that? I think someone's trying to break in to my apartment. Hold on let me pause this so we can sit here in 2 minutes of pure silience."
I taped several episodes and it was hard to know which one to watch first. There were obvious pros and cons to all. For instance:
- Deep Ocean - High probability of freakout vis a vis strange and wonderful creatures, with low probability of cute things with pretty, big eyes.
- Rare Desert Creatures - Almost guaranteed to see something furry pop out of a hole in the sand and then do something adorable before being eaten by a hawk or rattlesnake; limited color palette, and probably a lot of blinking lizards doing jackshit.
- Rare Mountain Creatures - I don't even know what mountain creatures are common—goats? cougars? mud rats?—so it's hard to care which ones are rare.
- Penguins & Polar Bears - What am I, a baby? Sure, they're cute but they're also a little trendy, to be frank, and I'm not sure I could take all that sweet without a little bit of savory. (i.e. a polar bear attacking a penguin, which I suspect was not on the filmmakers' agenda)
Decided to go with "Deep Ocean" because A) squids, B) sharks, C) squid fighting sharks? Also, seeing very deep ocean creatures is like a real-life version of the creature cantina from Star Wars, and it's the closest I'll ever come to seeing two prehistoric creatures making love.
After watching a bit I have to confess something: while I'm deeply saddened about the growing number of endangered species in the world (Orangutans, you're on notice!) I wouldn't mind putting a few sea creatures on the extinction list.* (I'm talking to you, 12-inch long prehistoric sea lice!) There's a LOT of ocean, and I just think there are certain (rarely seen) things in it we would not miss so much.
I actually wish there were a barter system, where we could get the fringe fingered lizard off the critically endangered list in exchange for the vomiting turdfish or something. Our deep oceans are loaded with some hideous and lonely sea creatures. Seeing them hanging out, barely moving to conserve energy, without another friendly creature in sight was depressing, but somewhat understandable. They're like the ocean's version of J-Date Long-Timers. Also, monk fish. Are you kidding me? I've eaten that? Seeing a monk fish messing around on the ocean floor, totally sedentary, and occasionally whipping its filament around to attract smaller fish gave me a very uneasy feeling—especially when considering how much I'd previously enjoyed having that in my belly. Imagine eating a whole chicken and, at the very end, discovering a used condom in its cavity. That's how I felt after seeing the monk fish uglying up the screen. Yes, I just totally stuck it to the monk fish.
There, however, is one creature to which I must tip my hat. Vampire squid from hell, you are a hail-fellow-well-met and I wish we could have spent a bit more time together. When I was watching Planet Earth I honestly thought the narrator appended the "FROM HELL!!!!" part for dramatic effect. An odd choice, I thought, but effective. Turns out this is actually a direct translation of the creature's true scientific genus and species: vampyroteuthis infernalis. Fantastic. Here is a picture of a vampire squid from hell enjoying a typical morning of acting creepy:
The best part about this squid, outside of its name, is its glow-in-the-dark tentacle tips and "eyes." (I put that in quotes, not for ironic effect, but because those aren't really it's eyes; they're eye decoys so predators will be tempted to attack a more harmless part of its body.) Since Vinnie Vamparino lives so deep undersea, where it's basically pitch black darkness, it would do no good to emit a cloud of black ink in order to fake out predators. So, instead, Fifi LaVamp illuminates the tips of its tentacles with phosphorescence and then waves them around wildly, creating what marine biologists call "The Razzle Dazzle Effect." It has the same effect a swinging glowstick has on kids who are all crazy on ecstasy—it makes predators confused and horny. What an excellent design.
*For the record, I love all (most) animals and would never really wish for the extinction of any of them. Especially this one.