WHAT I LOVE ABOUT COMEDY, PART NEXT

Here is exactly what I think people picture when I tell them I perform stand-up comedy:

You don’t need words or video to know that audience member is going to be jerking that steering wheel/dog frisbee very hard, very often and very hilariously in order to suddenly avoid imaginary things in the imaginary road, as announced by that Dress Barn sales associate holding the microphone. (“Look out! It’s Lorena Bobbitt and she’s holding a pair of hedge clippers!!”)

I HAVE COME TO A CONCLUSION ON THIS MATTER

I think, of all the Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi is my hands-down favorite. Yes, definitely Abu Dhabi, with Fujairah a close second.

On a related note, get some fire under your ass, Umm al-Quwain! This isn’t pee-wee baseball here.

MY BLOODY EARDRUMS (BLAM!)

my bloody valentine - roseland, nyc - 9.22.08

Attended/survived my first My Bloody Valentine concert on Monday night. I remember, more than ten years ago, my friend Chris told me about seeing this band on their final tour. (at Tramps, I think. I miss that venue.) He said the show’s finale was what seemed like a full 45 minutes of sonic thunder and feedback so punishing it caused a gradual audience exodus until, at the very last screech of guitar feedback, the previously packed venue was about about 1/10th full.

The show at Roseland on Monday night was amazing. It was beautiful and brutal. I can’t think of another show I’ve attended where the music was so present it really just occupied all of your peripheral senses. It was impossible to avoid. When the band played their final song, “You Made Me Realise” [correction: stephanie. i am an old man!] the controlled noise was so loud and dense and everlasting–maybe 15-20 minutes in all–I honestly thought I was going to throw up a couple of times. I have tried to describe this to friends without giving them the impression it was a bad experience–it was anything but–and it’s really difficult. The best thing I can liken it to is this: it was like the sonic equivalent of the opening of the Ark of the Covenant at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark; you had to try your very hardest to not listen closely to the music, because doing so would make your bowels liquefy and your brain burst from your skull like JiffyPop. I knew we were in for something intense, based on Chris’ story, various articles I’ve read about the bands recent live shows, and the fact that as the last song began all of the sound booth technicians donned those industrial headphones you sometimes see air traffic controllers or NASCAR pit crews wearing.

When the lights came up, I looked around and saw nothing but quiet, dazed expressions. Exiting the venue, I honestly had a hard time walking–during the finale, I could feel the notes whipping through my clothes and shaking my eyeballs around inside their sockets. It was more like a Six Flags ride than a concert. People were giggling in that way you do after traveling through 14 corkscrews forwards and backwards.

The best part, though, was about 14 minutes into the finale, I looked over (I had my eyes closed most of the time, because the light show was so disorienting—great for MBV’s epileptic fans) and saw some dude texting on his Blackberry. Yes, even a sensory experience that overwhelming cannot compete with the raw power of narcissism. Consider yourself blogged, Blackberry guy!

[Addendum: not surprisingly, people have been posting excerpts from the concert’s final conflict on YouTube. Here are just a few minutes. Ideally, these should be experienced with your eyelids propped open, like A Clockwork Orange.]

BIG-BOY CLOTHES

Spending my days in Midtown has made me extremely self-conscious about
the way I dress. For instance, today I was excited about the cool
autumn weather and my first instinct was to grab a hooded sweatshirt
out of hibernation, and climb into it. Then I remembered that in
Midtown, all the men wear big-boy clothes. And guys in hooded
sweatshirts are usually wheeling a cart full of Café Metro deli
platters along the sidewalk.

I know how to dress. Unfortunately, that knowledge has not been
augmented or advanced since my sophomore year in high school when I
settled on jeans, untucked button-down shirts over concert t-shirts,
and this year’s model of sneakers. And, apart from subtle seasonal
variations–for warmer weather, button-down shirt layer is removed;
for cooler weather, button-down shirt is exchanged for (or, in arctic
emergencies, supplemented with) a loose-fitting sweater–this has
remained my basic template for almost thirty years.

I’ve retained other sartorial tics for even longer than that. My
sneaker fetish began in fifth grade, when the latest sneaker was the
only essential element of any boy’s back to school wardrobe. I was a
regular Pascal Blaise in the suave (tearful, desperate) negotiations
with my parents that resulted in the purchase of Nike Legends for my
first day of sixth grade. They were $55 at the Army-Navy store
downtown–more than my parents had ever paid for a pair of sneakers,
and probably more than my father had ever paid for a business suit or
prescription eyeglasses. Until recently, I still tied my shoes using
the remedial “bunny ears” method despite knowing better. Even now, I
usually save the one-loop shoe-tying method for shoes stores, public
locker rooms, and any other occasion where I need to impress people.
And I still slip plastic sandwich bags in my rain boots so my socks
don’t fly off, and I can only wear a jacket if I first place it on the
floor and then dive into it. Some people might call these behaviors
“functionally retarded,” but I like to think of them as stubbornly
nostalgic.

By now I’m so far behind the curve of proper adult fashion that every
potential clothing purchase requires a complete assessment of my
wardrobe. Often, I just won’t bother because the ramifications of,
say, a pair of plaid wool pants would be far too great on my current
clothing situation. I would have to buy new belts, shoes, shirts,
sweater vests (?) — in order to convince people that I am not just
some hobo who stole the pants off a proper English gentleman.

It’s gotten so bad that, like a sad sack with scratch-off residue
lodged beneath his fingernails, desperately hoping to wish away his
low-key tragedy of a life in Lotto investments, I sometimes harbor
this fantasy that a bunch of homosexuals will break into my apartment
(not as sexy as it sounds), then dramatically toss the contents of my
dresser out the window, throw me into their Ford Escape (a proud
sponsor of the reality show in my head), and re-build my wardrobe and
home furnishings from scratch. That seems like a very millennial kind
of longing. Only in the last ten years or so has it become
conceivable, and even probable, that at some point in your life a
bunch of colorful characters will kick in your door and solve your
problems reality TV-style. I don’t mind rushing around, or having my
friends “confess” that I dress like a narc who’s gone undercover in a
Midwest high school. I would let someone take a pair of scissors to my
Batman t-shirt or bulky sweaters or dozens of nearly identical cowboy
shirts. They can destroy them before my eyes, and replace them with
suits and ties and monogrammed undershirts and trench coats for
wet and cold weather. I don’t care–they can burn everything I own, as
long as they stay away from my purple Nike Dunks. That’s my favorite
pair.

THE ONE THAT (THANKFULLY) GOT AWAY

Sometimes, when my co-authors (is that too fancy a title?) and I start writing one of those RADAR lists, we quickly discover we’ve written ourselves into a corner. You just never know. Occasionally, a list idea will seem very fertile and then, by item fifteen, you realize you’ve made a horrible mistake. To my recollection, only once did that result in RADAR completely scrapping our list, with us starting over fresh and scrambling to complete a new list before deadline. That failed list was “100 DVDs Still In Our Netflix Queue.”

I have to take credit for this. I think it might have been my idea in the first place, and I was very confident we could come up with 100 great fake movie titles. Unfortunately, 100 great fake movie titles doesn’t make for a particularly compelling list. There’s no ballast, nothing to keep the list from drifting in several directions at once. For instance, it wasn’t always easy to tell what genre each title belonged in, and that missing information made the jokes more puzzling than funny. And some of the jokes were just parodies of a format which, again, would have made no sense out of context. (Kind of like if you stumbled on a copy of The Onion having never read a newspaper in your life.) Also, when you come down to it, it really was just a list of 100 fake movie titles and, seriously, who cares?

However, looking back on the list I guess my work wasn’t completely wasted. I am comforted in knowing it can be treated as a well I will occasionally return to when I am in need of a funny movie title.* I never saw the other writers’ entries, though I wish I had, but here were a few from my list I really liked (organized by genre, because they have to be):

COMEDY
Let’s Grab Some Tits!
The Black In-Laws
Snoop Dogg’s House of Scrizzles (booooo!)
National Lampoon Presents Fingerin’

HORROR/SUSPENSE
White Blacula
Kill Me Once, Shame On You
The Axe Effect
Nude Creatures 2: The Fuckening
University of Slashachusetts (Amherst Campus)

ROMANTIC COMEDIES
Time for Something
Some Such Thing
Now That’s More Like It!
I Object…to Love
You Have the Right to Remain Married

INDEPENDENT DRAMA
Whatevs.
Hannah Drinks a Latte
Even Shy People Eventually Do It

FOREIGN
Rape is No Big Deal
The Garden of Hitler
Café Au Lait: An Interracial Love Story

ACTION & ADVENTURE
Double Penetration, But Not That Kind
The Man Who Came Bullets
Dragonpuncher 3: The Battle for Karate Castle

FAMILY
Fribble McWillikers and the Huge-Mazing, Splend-tastic New-riffic McDonald’s Breakfast Sandwich
Battery-Operated Toy Truck: The Motion Picture
Pudding Camp!
The Dizzy Wizard Who is Also an Allegory for Christ
The Enchanted Cupboard Full of Things that Sound Like Robin Williams and Rosie O’Donnell

SPECIAL INTEREST
Hip-Hop Hospital II: O.G.-GYN
SNL: The Terry Sweeney Years
Best of Fear Factor: The All-Rhino Dick Edition
Learn to Rap Like a Local Weatherman
The Garbage People of Ngabu
The Unbelievable Story of EMF
Oh, Great: Penguins Again

*I have a similar file on my computer dedicated solely to “character names.” Sometimes these are real names I’ve heard, sometimes they’re just weird combinations of words that sound like they could be a person’s name. For instance, I was working on a freelance job recently and the subject of cruise ships came up. Someone in the meeting was talking about the specifics of cruise ship construction, and mentioned all of the various “hull coatings.” That sounded like the perfect name for a tough, no-nonsense badlands sheriff. Someone who might be played by Tommy Lee Jones or Beau Bridges. I actually ended up using it recently in something I’d been working on for a while, replacing a character’s original name–Sheriff Glenn Treetrap–with the even heftier Sheriff Hull Coatings. I wonder if many writers keep files like this, just filled with made-up names of people, books, films, or towns. I do hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s episode of my long-running web text series, MY INCREDIBLE ARTISTIC PROCESS.

MAVRICKS

Rather than continue to make myself angry wondering how so many people are willing to (enthusiastically, passionately) ignore reality…rather than hurt the property value on this website by writing one thousand vitriolic and inexpertly informed words on the subject…rather than cynically pray that someone with a possibly loving family and a somewhat significant civic responsibility is discovered to have aborted a child from an extra-marital affair, or that the former mayor of my city gets Cloverfielded…I think today I’ll just post some very childish images:

OK. That’ll do, pig.

DICK GREGORY

As I sit here, stuffing my foodhole two-handed with a smoked fish and cream cheese sandwich on a whole wheat everything bagel–or, as I like to call this sandwich, “The Filthy Jew”–I’m thinking about how things strike me as less funny now that I’ve taken an interest in politics. And when I say “taken an interest in politics” I mean it in the way most do, but will not admit. As I read various news sources, trying desperately to study the current world affairs in which I am so embarrassingly behind, I nonetheless insist on force-feeding my fontanelle-soft political opinions down the mind-throats of anyone within earshot. And when I say “my political opinions,” I mean the opinions of the latest liberal (or suddenly jaded-conservative) columnist I’ve read, making sure to focus on at least one solid and surprising fact. (Or at least conflate that fact with another.) After all, I am nothing without my (other people’s) strong opinions and I insert them into casual communication as often and as awkwardly as possible, like a Mirriam-Webster Word of the Day. My naivete in political matters is so dense it can be ascertained by a blind and deaf person, using only haptic clues.

Even though I feel better about being more informed these days, I also worry about the comedic consequences. I think as one begins to look at the world analytically instead of observationally, certain changes take place. For instance, you start referring to yourself as “one.” Also, you tend to treat things as more serious, more dire, and less like something you can just laugh at or shrug off. Your opinion gets upgraded to a message. For comedians, this transformation can often have one of three different but equally detrimental effects on their act:

  1. Ugly Condescension (“What’s the matter, sheeple? Are these jokes just a little too REAL for you? YOU’RE ALL LIVING IN THE WAL-MART PARKING LOT OF A FAST FOOD FANTASY WORLD!!!”)
  2. Toothless Political Satire (“Whenever I hear Dick Cheney it’s like hearing Darth Vader’s voice. It’s like, ‘Karl Rove…I am your father. I’ll be baaaaaack.’ Am I right? THE GUY IS EVIL AND ALSO GEORGE BUSH IS NOT VERY SMART AND PROBABLY READ THE 9/11 REPORT WITH A RICHIE RICH COMIC BOOK HIDDEN INSIDE. MAYBE THEY SHOULD HAVE LOOKED FOR THOSE W-M-D’s IN RUMSFELD’S A-S-S. BINGO!”)
  3. Ragtime (“Give my regards to Beltway, remember me in Deficit Spending Square!”)

A few comics have been able to keep their cool and remain deeply political, using satire (Jon Stewart), keen observation (Chris Rock), or just by carefully avoiding performing their act in front of anyone who might disagree with their point of view. (David Cross) Alternately, a political comedian can go even further, by carefully constructing a platform for his or her comedy that immediately informs audiences of exactly what they’re going to get. This can be communicated in a number of ways. For example:

  • Call your televised comedy special, “Bush’d!”, “The First Lady of Comedy”, “Ant: Paint the White House Pink!”, “Stand-Up Commie”, “Comedy for Hope”, or “Mind of Mencia”
  • Ask High Times magazine and Tom’s of Maine to sponsor your comedy tour
  • For the cover of your comedy album, choose one of the following photos: you, naked with an American flag draped around you; you, lighting up a huge joint that’s rolled in paper printed with the American flag; you, waking up in bed next to an Ann Coulter impersonator, sharing a post-coital cigarette (American flag sheets? Think about it!); you, as a giant,squatting over the hole in the Pentagon building with your pants around your ankles to take a poo, while reading the latest issue of Mother Jones magazine (For optimum effect, the cover of Mother Jones magazine should feature a photograph of you, holding an American flag dildo. Although you will be tempted to be photographed with the American flag dildo in your mouth and/or butt, resist this temptation because Wal-Mart will get mad and make you release a second version of the album with a plain and boring cover. Although…think of hours of highly-charged political comedy you’ll be able to mine from that fascist act! Up to you, really.)
  • In the liner notes of your comedy album, thank The Chicago Eight and “conservative weasels like Bill O’Retard and Rush Lame-bore,” for filling you with the outrage that energizes you in your “continued comedic struggle against the forces of humorlessness.” Alternately, in the liner notes of your comedy album, thank “liberal hippies” and “political correctness nazis” for filling you with the outrage that energizes you in your continued comedic struggle to reflect the national subconscious by telling jokes about how gay sex is gross and how Jews love pennies.

But yeah, I’ll probably just end up writing a ragtime song. That’s the part that really burns me up.

100 SIGNS YOUR COLLEGE IS NOT PRESTIGIOUS

This month’s RADAR features the latest “RADAR 100″ list–Signs Your College Is Not Prestigious. I’m really happy with the way this one turned out. The full list is available online and, if you purchase the magazine, it also appears as a full-sized, pull-out poster suitable for dorm rooms. I think this might be my first “poster” writing credit.

I wanted to include some items from my list that didn’t make the cut but, honestly, this time around the editors actually picked most of my favorite ones. (And a few others I didn’t remember writing but in fact had.) Still, there were a few that slipped through the cracks, like:

  • Term papers graded on Hustler’s “five penis” ratings system
  • Graduation robes have “GOLDEN-PALACE.COM” printed on the back
  • The essay question on your enrollment application was, “What would you do for a Klondike bar?”
  • Your alumni newsletter has a “casual encounters” section
  • The alma mater has a twelve-minute guitar solo
  • Hanging in the dean’s office is an oil painting of Mahatma Ghandi beating off into a sweatsock
  • Hanging in the dean’s office is a oil painting of Benjamin Franklin using a glory hole
  • Campus shooter accidentally left his gun on safety
  • Figure drawing classes have a clearly posted “no touching” policy
  • Every diploma has a piece of gum inside
  • Your Semiotics professor insists on being called “Big Worm”
  • You were enrolled on a Halfbright grant

(And, though RADAR used “Your school mascot is a tiger in a wheelchair,” I had also included a few alternate mascots I kind of liked: “An eagle wearing a safety helmet” and “Calvin taking a whizz on the Harvard crest”)

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