Last night was TV Book Club. The show was a blast, and I’m very sorry to anyone who couldn’t get in except for those of you who refused to make a reservation in advance, thinking if nothing cooler was happening that night they could just waltz in at the last minute, Ray-Bans casually perched on their heads. You’re living in a dream world!
I think sometimes the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater gets dismissed as having a cult mentality and I suppose if you walk by the theater often enough to see those long lines snaking down the block, filled with young folks reading George Miller graphic novels and waiting to get in to the next show, you could arrive at that conclusion. But I will say this: I heart them. The people who run the theater are incredibly professional, and equally nice, and they seem to have a built-in audience of people who are enthusiastic about seeing new things. Maybe this sounds like a big round of ass-kissing, but it’s honestly not. After performing in lots of different venues of varying degrees of competent management/technical amenities/performer friendliness, UCB is like a breath of fresh, basement air. It’s a magical combination of grungy comfort (to make you feel like you’re still a happy scumbag bohemian) and skilled management. I guess what I’m trying to say is, you should go see “Zombie President” or whatever improv group is performing there these days that doesn’t have a name I just made up.
For me, personally, the show was kind of meaningful. I have been laying low these days, and not performing much. I think I burned out a bit on stand-up and, though I still really do enjoy performing (insecure narcissist!) I think I need to do it on slightly different terms now to be happy.
And as I kind of sort out those terms, I’ve been shying away from booking a lot of shows because I know the process of figuring things out often involves a high frequency of uneven or even miserable sets, and I do worry about going from being (I think) a pretty reliable performer to something like the last couple of years of Lenny Bruce’s life, minus the brief flashes of genius.
As such, as host of last night’s show, it was the first time in a while I’ve felt that exposed onstage and it was a strange evening for me. At first, I honestly struggled. The stage felt kind of foreign to me. I wasn’t sure how to open the conversation between myself and the audience. I returned to my old habit of constantly fiddling with the mic stand like a crazy person, and the piece I read–well, I’ve done better.
But, as the night progressed, I felt more and more comfortable with my place on the stage. It was like some kind of performance-memory was returning. More importantly, the line between being a performer and being myself gradually blurred, which is the absolute best thing that can happen onstage. When that happens, you always know what to say next, because it’s no longer a script in your head. I allowed things to happen more spontaneously, and did things onstage I had no intention of doing when I was preparing for the show. (I also didn’t bother telling a joke I’d written earlier that day because it honestly just felt too calculated. I’ll share it with you, though: “My fiancée, Lisa, and I discussed whether or not she would take my name in marriage but she felt ‘Lisa Levin’ just sounded horrible. So she’s decided she’ll still remain ‘Lisa Hitler.’ I understand. It’s a family name.”)
There’s an old Alan Arkin film called SIMON. I find most people haven’t seen it, though it’s by the co-writer of Woody Allen’s SLEEPER, and has a similar sci-fi goofiness to it. Also, like SLEEPER, the last 30 minutes are not worth watching. Anyway, at a crucial point in the film a bunch of think tank scientists put Alan Arkin’s character, Simon (a self-important but incompetent professor at Brandeis or Vassar or somewhere), in a sensory deprivation tank for so long that his entire sense of self is erased. When he emerges, in a full wetsuit, he slowly pantomimes the entire evolution of mankind–as a way of sort of restoring himself to the present. It is an awesome bit of physical acting, where Arkin acts out the discovery of language and dance, while the scientists observe and remark–”the jazz age! oh! now he’s discovered shame!!” Last night, that’s kind of how I felt onstage, though on a much smaller scale. And really, I probably only made it to Early Man. Still evolving.
This is a piece I wrote for last night’s show, but only read the first part. You can read it all. I don’t care.
PRIOR WORK EXPERIENCE: INSULT COMIC
Chapter One: At the Bank
Pleased to meet you, Mr. Diaz. I understand you’re interested in applying for a business loan.
Now, before I process this application, Mr. Diaz, I wonder if there are any other loans I can help you with today. For instance, maybe I could loan you a paper sack, to place over your head! Seriously, your face is killing me. Who’s your co-signer on this loan? Dr. Jeckyll? What happened to you? When you were created, did God take a sick day? Thank you!
Mr. Diaz, you look like a six-month-old jack-o-lantern carved by a retarded child with juvenile arthritis. No offense, but you look like someone stuffed 10 pounds of Swedish Meatballs into ribbed condom.
And would it kill you to smile? Hey, Mr. Congeniality–you’re here for a bank loan, not dialysis. In all seriousness, why the sour puss? No offense, but the situation in Darfur looks more hopeful than your expression right now. Would it cheer you up if you just signed the loan application now? Here, let me put the pen in your claw. Thank you! What’s that? My manager? Sure thing, Mr. Diaz–I’ll get him. Just don’t steal my hubcaps while I’m gone. What? I get nothing on that? Not even a chuckle? Mr. Diaz, really, there’s no need to get up. I’ll get the manager. Do you want me to bring you back anything? Cup of coffee, or a bucket of chum, perhaps? I’m kidding, you beautiful hideous man, you!
Chapter Two: At the drive-thru
Welcome to Wendy’s, how’s everyone doing tonight? Anyone from out of town? No? OKâ€¦may I take your order? Greatâ€¦beautifulâ€¦Biggie fries–whoa, slow down. That’s quite an order. Who’s in that car with you? The Cleveland Browns? Thank you, come again!
What’s that, ma’am? You’re alone? Are you kidding me? What are you, part mountain lion? Do you want me to throw a fork in the bag, or did you bring your own shovel? All kidding aside, is all this food for you, or are you eating for twoâ€¦the Army AND the Marines!…Oh Ma’am, I’m very sorry to hear about your miscarriage. I haven’t had a microphone in front of me for a while, and I’m a little rusty. Sometimes I put my foot in my mouth. I’m sure you’ve done that before–the only difference is I don’t sprinkle salt on mine first. Bingo. You gotta admit, you leaned into that one, Shamu.
Ma’am, is it really necessary to speak with my manager right now? Listen, I really need this gig. Can’t we just work this out between us? Hey, how about I throw in a free quarter pounder? At Wendy’s we call it a Dave’s Deluxe. You probably call it “a light snack.” I couldn’t resist! My manager will be right with you. You’ve been a lovely audience.
Chapter Three: At Home
I know it’s been a few weeks but everything is “must know PowerPoint” this and “three years experience” that. I just need another break. Speaking of breaks, maybe our baby might like to take a break from crapping her diaper every once in a while. You know I love you, sweetie–you mean the world to me–but how about mixing it up a bit? Pampers aren’t free, you know? With you, I don’t know whether to hire a nanny or a zoo keeper. How about pacing yourself a bit? I think you’ve hit your quota for the month. Oh, now she’s crying. Where are you taking her? And why are your bags packed? If you’re le
aving me, I hope you’re not planning on taking the car. I don’t mean to say you’re a lousy driver, but I’m afraid you’ll die of starvation trying to back out of the driveway. YOU SLAMMED THE DOOR ON MY PUNCHLINE!! Way to pull focus. This crowd stinks.
Chapter Four: in the Bathroom Mirror
You make me sick, you miserable failure. You weak, pathetic little man. I ought to punch in your awful smirking face right now…yeah…I still got it.