Holy crap if you think about it you’ll understand immediately that is amazing wordplay because this post is about makeup and even though it has nothing to do with relationships or the termination of them you have to at least admire that “makeup” shit I did up there. I feel strangely refreshed.

I was summoned upstate to aid in the production of my nephew’s fifth birthday party. Most of the friends I made post-high school don’t know this about me but as a young man I was a bit of an artist. (read: faggot) I drew and painted and did little else when I had some free time alone. In grade school, classmates would beg me – absolutely beg me – to draw Garfield and Odie, and I would oblige. I could draw just about anything, except girls. I could never draw girls. Isn’t that odd? I drew Sinead O’Connor once, but there was a time when she could be mistaken for a boy. (read: faggot)

Now, the only people who remember my passion for art are my own immediate family. As such, they’re always trying to get me to push my boundaries as an artist. In this case, they asked me to travel to Albany and do face-paintings. Mais, Oui.

I’ve never painted faces before and when I arrived I found the tools provided for me to be, in a word, UNACCEPTABLE. For one thing, there was no yellow makeup and, besides being the color of friendship and valor, yellow is also the color of Spongebob Squarepants. And without yellow, these kids would be without Spongebob. Face painters have been hobbled for less.

My brushes were crude. I specifically requested a range of brushes, all different gauges, including a very expensive ($5,000.00) single-hair paintbrush for the application of finer details, such as the veins in the feathers of a chorus of seraphim I had hoped to paint on one of the youngster’s cheeks. Instead, I was provided with a couple of Revlon eyeshadow applicators and a piece of sponge. I made do. (read: I kicked over a bridge table and punched a hole in my nephew’s birthday cake…for art!)

I must confess I wasn’t really familiar with children’s most beloved comptemporary characters. The Ziggys, the Snuffy Smiths, the Dagwoods, the Shoe’s, etc. So, instead, I just went with my instincts. I painted each child up like an expensive (read: $200 francs) French courtesan. I streaked fiery color across their lids, applied beauty marks by the dozen and, truthfully, these kids looked sexy. Much too sexy to be eating pizza and sitting in filth, anyway.

Sadly, around mid-party the skies opened up and it began to rain. With the makeup streaking down the party-goers faces in thick wet tendrils, the kids all looked like someone just broke up with them. It was really quite beautiful, and I didn’t mind that I wasn’t able to paint my seraphim. Perhaps for my nephew’s sixth birthday, when he’s old enough to appreciate chiaroscuro.


Here’s one for the books. Last week I received a strange envelope in the mail. The return address was written in blocky letters with ballpoint pen, and indicated the post had originated from “WHOEVER” at “12345 WHATEVER PLACE.” (or something equally, adorably cryptic.) There was only one other clue to the source of this envelope – a postal stamp marked, quite generically, “Westchester.”

As I examined the envelope, I noticed it was lumpy. It clearly contained not a letter but a “something else.” Now, this is the part where a sane person would grow curious and excited, possibly wondering if a small gift was contained within. I long to be that sane person someday. Instead, I handled the package – scrutinizing the placement of girly stickers on the rear of the envelope – and was quickly overwhelmed by a heavy sense of dread. “Someone hates me,” I assured myself. “Someone hates me and has decided to anonymously mail me something horrible, possibly lethal, in order to exact some kind of revenge, the origin of which will likely remain a murky puzzle to me until perhaps the last deadly moment of bloody poetic justice, when I cry, ‘But of course!’ and then clutch my throat while the life is squeezed, burned, melted, or poisoned out of my body.”

I opened the envelope with shaky hands. Inside was another envelope, covered in more stickers. “Oh, this guy’s good,” I thought. “So much subterfuge.” Then, for just a moment, reason took hold. Maybe it’s not a sack of anthrax, I thought. Look at all these cute stickers! Maybe it’s just something that will sicken me – a baby’s finger, a dead mouse, a sour patch kid dipped in feces – so that I will finally understand how I’ve sickened the world around me.

I felt a little relieved as I tore into the second envelope. (And don’t think the possibility that two envelopes were used to disguise the package from postal x-ray scanners was not lost on me.) Inside was a small parcel, double and triple-wrapped in leopard print tissue paper. I’m dead, I thought. Totally dead. I almost left it alone, and I actually (sincerely) considered opening the package under cold, running water. Then I let go of all my paranoia and, like a Sioux warrior or one of those dudes in Point Break, I told myself perhaps today is a good day to die. I swallowed hard and peeled back the paper to reveal a yellow terrycloth wristband with a kick-ass spider embroidered on it. This was my death threat? This unsolicited random act of kindness was the gift horse I punched square in the mouth? I couldn’t believe how much self-loathing I had to summon in order to take a sticker-adorned envelope with a wristband inside and spin it as an act of murderous revenge. And then imagine how dumb I felt when, days later, I forwarded the discarded envelope and its contents to the CIA, with a “cc” to the Department of Homeland Security. Better safe than sorry, I say.


I recently started volunteering for a nonprofit arts organization benefiting inner-city kids, which has been great fun. So far, my responsibilities have been very limited. I basically sat around with a couple of people, drew pictures, and then colored them in with magic markers. It was refreshing to discover I could make a difference in some kids’ lives simply by drawing a picture of a group of cartoon rats being poisoned, and then spending the next several minutes hogging a Sea Foam Green marker until another one of the volunteers claimed. “There’s no such thing as private property. Those are God’s markers.” Touché. I was left with no choice but to capitulate to the irrefutable logic of her argument, and issued my formal surrender by throwing the Sea Foam Green marker into a toilet and screaming, “God says, ‘fetch!’”

I like that the spirit of volunteerism can be awakened with the quiet solitude of coloring. And I like that kids might shoot less drugs into their eye sockets and penises because of this nonprofit group. But at its most selfish level, I’m probably just volunteering because it makes me feel very good. Of course, urinating for a very long time after swimming in the ocean also makes me feel very good, but it’s a different kind of good. More diluted, I guess, because there are usually no disadvantaged inner-city kids around to witness it. Usually.

Of course, since my single evening of helping out (more will follow, I’m sure, providing there are more fun things to draw), I’ve been doing that awful thing where I’ve been telling absolutely everyone – including, as of this sentence, you – about my work with this nonprofit arts group. Part of it is designed to incite a similar sense of responsibility in my peers but, just barely beneath that brittle crust of civic-mindedness, is the rich, earthy loam of my own self-righteousness, crawling with worms and bugs.

I’m even finding very unsubtle ways to work it into conversations, when I know it’s perfectly wrong and shallow (and obvious) to do so. I sincerely can’t help myself. Someone will be talking to me about anything – relationships, stress, a movie they just saw – and I’ll let it slip out against my better judgment. “Oh, you saw Chronicles of Riddick last night? Man, I’d love to see that next Tuesday night, but I’m volunteering at the blah blah blee bloo.” (I should also point out that I use the word “volunteering” a lot to describe my involvement with this group, when I could just as easily say, “I’m drawing a picture of ham, and then coloring it so it looks more ham-like.” It’s sort of like when someone says, “I’m a writer,” instead of simply stating the truth: “I have a blog and sometimes I link to a conservative news story and comment on it with a twelve-word equivalent of a sarcastic eye-roll.”)

Do people generally experience this lack of control? Behaving poorly despite total self-awareness? I always assume when others brag about something or telegraph a sense of great self-satisfaction, that this must be occurring purely on a subconscious level, rather than manifesting from an acknowledged but uncontrollable compulsion. Conveniently, this assumption has allowed me to feel better about myself, since I get to observe and dissect a character flaw to which the other person seems completely oblivious.

But I think I’ve been mistaken all along because, more often than not, I’m perfectly conscious of my self-righteousness, my mendacity, my hubris-disguised-as-self-deprecation; I just can’t seem to repress the urge to express them. In fact, just the other day I was talking to my friend, The Guy From The White Stripes, about this very same subject. He laughed his smoky laugh, told me not to analyze my life so much, and pressed a CD of some new White Stripes demos into my hand. Then I wiped some fresh soapsuds from the tip of his nose, and we returned to our task at hand: washing a leper’s disgusting feet.


Guess how long pretending a chihuahua wrapped in a black towel is really an old, grief-stricken Sicilian widow can seem very funny? Now multiply that by 20, because that’s how long I laughed myself retarded doing it.

I hope you had a nice fourth of July. LIVING IN AMERICA! Am I right?

[small Italian, widowed dog courtesy of Miss Kambri Crews.]


Today I received an email with the following subject line: “You want rock hard abs and better defined muscle.” I was 100% positive it was just a junk mail advertisement for nothing I would ever throw money at in a million years. However, I opened it anyway because I was thinking, “I do want rock hard abs and better defined muscle.”

I guess by opening it I was just trying to say, “yeah, you got me.”

p.s. While I was struggling with ideas for tomorrow night’s HOW TO KICK PEOPLE (I hope to see you there) I wrote this joke: “I was home-schooled, and I think being taught alone, at home, made it easier to concentrate on my education. In fact, I graduated salutatorian.” sigh. (what’s the emoticon for “swallowing strychnine”?)


I imagine nearly everyone – and by “everyone” I mean everyone under the age of 40 – has a favorite moment from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. That Chaz Kaufman penned post-millennial statement of romance or anxiety that resonates perfectly, and very personally, like a tuning fork on your spine. Here’s mine: Joel Barrish is seated alone in a diner, on a bleak winter’s Valentine’s day, and a strange at another table raises her coffee mug to him in a friendly salute. In voiceover we hear Joel ask himself, “Why do I fall in love with every woman I see that shows me the least bit of attention?”

I share this affliction, embarrassingly. The simplest gesture can send me into paroxysms of aw-shucks love – an upward flit of lady eyeballs in passing; momentarily glancing up at me from a book she’s reading that I’ve read before – or a book I’ve pretended I’ve read before to help pad my online dating profile – with her toes pointed toward each other; a smile from a waitress that’s no different than the smile she reserves for every paying customer with a boner in his dirty, filthy pants. And, not surprisingly, as quickly as I fall in love, an equally trivial event can upset my perfect heartspin and send me plummeting out of love, ten times faster and three hundred times harder than I fell in.

Recently, I found myself stuck waiting for a connecting flight at Dallas International Airport. (brag) I had already finished reading Don’t Do Us Like That: The Unauthorized Biography of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers so, with little else to occupy my attention, I decided to fall in love with a woman at my departure gate. It was easy. She was seated across from me, several rows away. Her cute bangs and round, smooth shoulders were all the bait I required. Then I noticed she was drinking an iced coffee beverage from Timothy’s Coffee and since I was also drinking an iced coffee beverage from Timothy’s Coffee I knew it was meant to be i.e. we were totally going to “do it” i.e. penis-vagina i.e. my penis inside her vagina and then outside it again, briefly, before going back inside it again i.e. she was about to get very disappointed very quickly.

I spent the next several minutes alternating between pretending to write in my moleskine notebook and taking long, pronounced sips from my iced coffee beverage while staring at the latest object of my unparalleled love. I hoped, just once, Miss Dallas Bangsworth (she needed a name) would look up from her iced coffee beverage at the same time and our eyes would lock, and marry.

The courtship was very satisfying and I slowly let my fantasies take over, making do with what little information I possessed. There I was, rubbing moisturizer into Dallas’ shoulders. There we were, ordering iced coffee beverages at the exact same time, and laughing at both our overlapping dialogue and the perfect dovetailing of our desires. Here we were, at the coffee service station, knocking the plastic stirrers and Sugar in the Raw to the floor with a great crash, and making furious love on a bed of refined sugar and cooled-over decaf espresso spill.

I had just made it to the requisite section of my fantasy in which I disappoint Dallas by choosing to check my email while she is naked in my shower, when her flight was called. Until this point, my viewing area of the woman I planned to marry was extremely limited. Because Dallas was seated so far from me, I could only see her tank-topped torso, bare neck and head; the rest was hidden behind rows of plastic chairs and obese Texans. As she stood, and I was afforded my first completely unobstructed view, my concrete fantasy instantly disintegrated, where it rested at the bottom of my broken heart like sediment from a cup of French press. While Dallas was unadorned and perfectly lovable from the waist up, her lower portions committed a series of affronts so horrible they felt like an act of betrayal in our beautiful relationship. Drab Old Navy cargo pants cinched with a braided rainbow belt in the style of “appropriated Navajo.” (no doubt purchased at “Shop Therapy” or its kin.) Grateful Dead dancing bears embroidered into the face of her rolling carry-on luggage. Performance sandals over woolen socks. And, amazingly – as if she knew exactly how to hurt me – a straw cowboy hat hanging from her luggage handle.

I felt as if I’d been kicked in the stomach. Controlled by nothing by the moment, I stood up, letting my moleskine drop to the floor. With caffeinated tears streaming down my face in twin ribbons, I screamed to her across the terminal: “You really fucked me, Dallas. You reallllly fucked me here!!” I took a long drag on the straw in my iced coffee beverage, and nearly choked on its contents.

Now, this may sound extremely unfair so let me qualify it a bit. By no means do I have a tremendous problem with women who choose to present themselves this way. In fact, I’m sure many men would find those additional accessories acceptable, even desirable. Men like Stephen Stills and these guys. For me, the love in/love out cycle was determined exclusively by expectations and the feeling of being cheated out of those expectations. For instance, if this scenario took place on the Burning Man playa – for instance, if I were banished there for bad behavior in a previous life – and I saw this same woman, head to toe, her visage blurred through the kerosene vapors of twirling, flaming devil sticks, I might have fallen in love with her, woolen socks and sandals and all. Then, if she put down her devil sticks for a second to photograph an art car with her $400 cell phone camera, I would have fallen out of love with her just like that. Context matters.

If these very visual examples strikes you as uniquely and unfairly male, here is an equivalent scenario created just for the ladies. Imagine sitting at a bar. Somewhere along the bar is a young man with messy hair and an expertly held bottle of inexpensive-yet-not-pretentiously-working-class beer, which he occasionally raises to his lips with absolutely no self-consciousness, when he is not distracted by the copy of Love in a Time of Cholera, which he’s reading under bar light. His jeans are just dark enough, and beaten-in without the benefit of stonewashing or chemical rinsing. And his boots are NOT Doc Martens. Every now and again, his long fingers drum against the bar, beating out the rhythm of a song that lives exclusively in his own head. What’s that? He just took out a pen and underlined a passage in his book! You love him.

Suddenly and wordlessly, he communicates with the bartender, indicating that he would like quarters for the jukebox. As the bartender smacks down four quarters in front of him, he slides them gracefully from the bar to his palm, and gives the bartender a quick nod and a smile. He has one dimple! And the single dimple is darkened by the tiny bit of stubble that falls in light patches on the unessential areas of his face. He swings around on his barstool, and ambles over to the jukebox. Standing, you realize he’s taller than he appeared from his seated position. He seems to have unfolded like a paper throwing star. The light from the jukebox warms and softens his features, and you decide to walk past him now, to glance at his jukebox selection and perhaps to let the heat from his body mingle with yours. As you pass behind him – he smells exactly like your father’s old Army jacket – you see him punch in the last digits of his selection: “3702.” Your legs are so weak you feel someone might have to carry you back to your bar stool. That’s when you hear it. The bar, which just a moment ago was a quarter filled with the low volume loose groupings of small talk, suddenly swells. The song – Nickelback’s
“How You Remind Me.” You look at your man. His eyes are closed and he is nodding reverently.

You hate him.

[p.s. for more on instant love – the kind before the fall – go buy a mini-zine from jami.]


While lying in Prospect Park, praying a flying frisbee would not land at my feet and force me into the embarrassing position of having to toss it to its original owner, I saw a guy jog across the long meadow. He was shirtless and jabbed at the air vigorously as he traveled. I watched him go and thought to myself, I could never learn to box if it required me to jog around punching at the air. I would simply never relax enough to be that person. This meant an entire form of physical fitness was now off-limits to me. It was a disappointing conclusion, and as I reached it I began making a mental list of other activities I could probably never handle due to the potential risk of feeling some measure of public humiliation. These included, but were not limited to: Tai’Chi, trampolines, Red Rover, Guiness Book of World’s Records-sized Simon Says, Moonie wedding, pie eating contest, Twizzler eating contest, cup-stacking race, and the weird outdoor Pac-Man thing that, really, no one should be doing anyway.

In terms of self-consciousness, on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the kind of person to dance on the bar at Hogs and Heiffers while the bartenders spray club soda on you, and 10 being someone in a complete state of living rigor mortis where only your eyes dart around occasionally to judge other people, I would say I rate about a 7. This is an average rating. I have moments that rise above and dip below this figure depending on circumstance. For instance, when I’m onstage my self-consciousness rating drops to about a 3 or 4. When I’m reading, it’s at about 5. And when I’m standing next to someone cute who I wish I could french, it spikes to about 9.3.

I used to be better. I think, as a child, my self-consciousness rating was 1-2. I didn’t care about much of anything, and that includes hygiene. I would take my glass eye out for a nickel, and remove my wooden leg for a Little Debbie Swiss Roll. In third grade, I would write and stage sketches in front of my entire class, totally unsolicited. And once, as a birthday present for an English teacher, I dressed up as Debbie Boone and burst into her classroom unannounced, singing “You Light Up My Life” because I knew it to be her favorite song. (i was 9 years old, i think. whenever i remember doing that, i’m so mortified that my current self-consciousness rating jumps a point or two retroactively.)

Obviously, through adolescence, I could not maintain that kind of care-free attitude. I was preoccupied with trying to stop perspiring uncontrollably, and by age 15 I completely lost track of what to do with my hands. I couldn’t even recall what I’d been doing with them for the previous 15 years. I just knew they were suddenly a plague on my conscience, hanging there from my shoulders like heavy cuts of meat, accumulating clammy sweat. Occasionally, I would swing one of them upward to open my gym locker, by twisting my shoulder forward. However, for the most part my hands remained stuffed in my pockets. Here they would stand watch and, as the situation required, be employed to wipe sweat on my pocket linings or reposition my penis when it became stuck at an uncomfortable angle during an inappropriately and inexplicably erect state.

I think you’re supposed to become less self-conscious after your teenage years, but I made the mistake of moving to New York City, where acute self-consciousness is rewarded with gallery openings, $2 Rheingolds, articles about you in the New York Times Style section, and snit-inflected backlash to those articles on and other outside-looking-in weblogs. In a city where everyone’s and no one’s eyes are on you at all times, I began to wage a long battle with my own sense of comfort in public, and I’ve never stopped losing it.

My therapist sometimes asks me, “Todd, what provides you with great joy? Totally unbridled pleasure?” If I were to answer her honestly, I’d say that being around comedians often makes me really happy. I enjoy a strong perspective. (i guess this is different than a strong opinion, which is something i only enjoy if there’s a joke at the end of it.) But I know that’s not the answer my therapist is seeking. She wants me to offer up something less intellectually pleasing, like rolling in a somersault down a grassy hill or one of those other “ha ha I’m still a kid let’s read Harry Potter books and smell Play-Doh” kinds of activities.

Whenever I try to remember the last time I experienced that kind of joy, my mind has to stretch back several years, when I was visiting a friend after her particularly difficult break-up. It was August, and very hot outside. I remember her sprawled across her couch, with the lights dimmed. Her depression had dried up her appetite and she looked like a refugee: her cheeks were hollowed-out, and her limbs, which were occupying very little real estate inside a tank top and cotton skirt, seemed too brittle to touch. I was nearly afraid of her, and seeing her like that reminded that love can do amazing things to your body. I tried my best to make her laugh and, when it started working, I insisted we leave her apartment so I could buy her some food.

We walked across East 9th Street and, as we did, I could see some of her energy return. As we crossed the Avenue B block, some kids had cracked open a fire hydrant and, using a plastic bowl, diverted its water into a thick arc stretching across the street. The street was crowded with children slapping their frog-feet against the wet asphalt. As we continued toward the hydrant we had two choices. We could cut left to the sidewalk and avoid the stream, or we could proceed directly through it. It was New York Hot and we were experiencing a high point in our friendship at the moment, so I grabbed her hand and we ran directly into the hydrant fountain. It felt excellent, especially since it jolted some life back into my friend’s corpse, and I think we both screamed a little because the water was so cold.

Just as we did, and my self-consciousness rating bottomed out, a hip-looking guy on a mountain bike cruised by us and yelled, “Wheeee!!” And I promise, you’ve never heard the word “whee” invoked with such angry sarcasm. It completely shut down my joy and replaced it with shame. Shame for acting so foolish in public, and shame because I wished I had a cool bike. And maybe that guy had some beers with friends later that night and told them, “Holy shit, I saw these two losers running through a fucking sprinkler. It was awesome. I can’t wait to write about it in my zine, TAKE THAT YOU FUCKERS.” And maybe if I thought about that a little more I’d realize how totally sad it is for him.

Unfortunately, rather than make me glad for living my stupid life instead of commenting others, It made me an audience to myself and a part of me has been watching, and disapproving just slightly, ever since. And that’s why I’m speechless when my therapist asks me, “Todd, what makes you really happy? I mean really, really giddy?” And that’s why I don’t box. And that’s why I’m worried that you’re reading this right now, cracking a Rheingold, and giving your Powerbook screen the finger.


[this is the best. after dumping 300,000 words to describe a ten-minute stand-up routine, i never checked to make sure the link worked. it didn’t. it does now.]

I am going to do something I promised myself I’d never do. I’m posting an unedited stand-up comedy set. It was taped during my April 2nd performance at “Sweet Paprika,” a weekly comedy show in the West Village. Of course, if I’m going to stick my neck out like this, I reserve the right to annotate the audio recording to my satisfaction. So first, here is the set (warning: it’s almost 10 minutes long, and 9.1MB. patience is therefore required.):

April 2nd, 2004: Live at Sweet Paprika

Because the show was in the heart of Manhattan’s West Village, it’s not my typical audience. I am more accustomed to performing further downtown, in front of semi-drunk 20-somethings in cute t-shirts. While the West Village used to be very bohemian, and nurtured comics like Woody Allen and Lenny Bruce, the neighborhood is now the home of Senor Suavé’s $5 Godzilla-Rita drink specials and countless bars featuring the Chicago style blues of Ken Morgensen’s Blues Satellite. The West Village is lousy with tourists, and this show gets quite a few of them. The audience at last Friday night’s show was predominately people who make their weekend plans by TimeOut magazine, gawkers off the street, performers and their closest loved ones, and on this particular evening, a cadre of reformed alcoholics. (long story.)

I used to get very nervous at shows like this, fearing that there was no way I could relate to this kind of audience. However, I’ve sort of grown to like them. Tourists can be very fickle, but they can also be very generous. As much as I love doing the more alternative rooms – I’m usually much more at ease there, because a kind of shuffling ineptitude is actually considered a positive attribute – the scenester audiences do sometimes suffer from the “appreciative nod” or the “I-am-taking-that-joke-in-stride” indifferent gaze or, worse still, the “this material needs work” extended middle finger. They’re less likely to cut loose, unless you’ve sprinkled them in ecstasy.

You can’t hear the beginning, because I started taping late, but the host introduced me and listed a couple of credits that would mean nothing to the audience because, frankly, my credits really do mean nothing to a comedy audience. I wasn’t paying attention so I had to dash from the back of the room, where all the comics were hanging out, drinking, and grousing about tepid audience response throughout the evening, and through the crowd to reach the stage. I think my first words are, “running to the stage,” and then I make a small joke about this. I think the audience is laughing here because someone farted very loud.

Ahh, yes. The “Jew” material. This is traditionally reserved for comics who have run out of things to say, and are stretching for time. Please note that I use it right up at the top – my A-list material! Lately, I’ve decided it’s a good idea to acknowledge onstage how Jewish I look. It makes the audience comfortable and keeps them from wondering why they hate me before I’ve even spoken a word.

Honestly, sometimes I’m worried about wearing my glasses onstage because then all bets are off in the “Is He A Jew” betting pool. Without the glasses, audiences can look at my dark, curly hair, olive skin and beard and may be fooled into thinking I’m Greek, or perhaps my great-great-grandmother was raped by Moors. But with the glasses, there is very little left to the imagination. (It should also be noted that starting the set off by directing attention to some of my very obvious physical attributes is a great way to establish a rapport with the audience without the burden of acknowledging them as human beings. It’s a nice piece of “crowd work” for comics who are working with that extra touch of dangerous self-absorption. delicious!)

Right on the heels of the “LOOKY-LOOKY I’M ALL JEWED UP” comes the time-tested “Judgmental New Yorker” bit. Please note how, already deep into the laboriously long setup, I test the audience’s patience even further by coughing into the microphone. Here’s an insider secret: I didn’t need to cough. I was just playing to their sympathies by trying to convince them I had tuberculosis. Life-threatening illnesses = warmer audience response. Several minutes further in the set, I spit some lung blood into a cocktail napkin. I learned this comedy trick from Alan King, who used to fake it when he was eating in onstage; now he does it for real all the time.

The audience adores my new “gaylord/jackass” tag! Of course they do. (OK, full disclosure: the audience did not actually laugh at this tag so, in order to win them back, I executed a perfect Chinese split. HUGE response. Even the Chinese lady liked it.)

OK, I confess this entire stretch of material about the Mars Rover was made up while I was waiting to go onstage, and was based on an idea I had a couple months ago but never committed to writing down for stand-up. (or anything else.) I am not bragging, but merely qualifying the high “um” to “material” ratio, which was slightly higher than the rest of my set. I have been making an effort to avoid anything remotely topical, particularly when the topic is as old as the Mars Rover’s discovery of water on the planet’s surface. However, I think there’s a rule that says when a comic treads there earlier in the show, it creates a wrinkle in time that transports us all back to whenever that outdated topic was relevant. From then on in, it’s fair game. I only wish he’d mentioned Lorena Bobbitt, because I HAVE A DOOZY ON THAT ONE!!! Ah, but I would have needed my banjo. (Another sure way to tell that I’ve made this joke up on the spot is that I found an extra tag for the first part of the joke well into telling the second part of the joke, and I slipped it right in, anyway. I save myself some work by leaving a sense of professionalism to the professionals.)

“My parents are not Amish”??? That really paid off. At this point, a family of Lancaster Amish left the room, disgusted. They didn’t even finish making their tapers.

This section should be included in a stand-up comedy textbook, under the chapter, “STICK TO YOUR NOTES.” Please notice how long it took me to spontaneously come up with “Bryan Adams” vs. how much it paid off. The math is not in my favor.

Yes, that faint rusting sound is me taking a stage fall. Is there anything I won’t do for a cheap laugh? (You can’t tell from this audio recording, but I also performed the entire set by placing the mic stand in front of a clown face painted on my naked ass.) I had to undergo total spinal reconstructive surgery because of that joke, and it was worth it for the smattering of giggles.

Incidentally, the reformed alcoholics did not enjoy watching me fall down onstage. A little close to home, perhaps.

This is the first time I say “grab a pole.” Can you count how many more times I say it in the next several seconds? Yes, three. Did I write the joke that way? No. However, when you spend very little time rehearsing your material, you find magical moments like that right onstage, in front of a paying audience.

The astronaut tag does not work, though I still stand by it. I just said it wrong. Please note that I follow this depressing moment of silence – this is the first moment in the set that I am sure the audience has revealed me as the phony I truly am – by coughing again. DESPERATE! At this point, a table full of nurse practitioners leaves the room, but not before one of them throws a half-full glass of plasma at me.

This joke has been to
ld twice, and has received the same uncomfortable silence twice. Should I cut it from the act, or pretend it’s still just a fluke? You guess what happens next.

Truthfully, this might be one of those jokes (like many of the ones I’ve told recently) that appeals to an audience of one. It might be improved with better language and setup, but I doubt it. I don’t know. There’s something funny to me about accusing my ancestors of deliberately fleeing from Ireland to Poland during World War II, to encourage Nazi persecution. In fact, there’s something so funny about it that, even after letting you listen to it bomb onstage, I still went to the trouble to write it in this space, praying you would find something good in it so’s I don’t have to take it behind the shed and shoot it in the face.

Also, were I a more experienced comic, I would have a “bomb line” prepared for this occasion. A bomb line is something funny you say to save face when a joke dies in front of an audience. When faced with indifferent silence, my friend, Christian, often says, “Let us pray,” which often immediately wins back favor with the audience. One of my favorite bomb lines of recent memory, however, came from my friend, Chris. I saw him tell a joke that received a response one might politely call “confused and silent.” He took a beat, looked out over the audience, and said, “Thanks for your notes on the new stuff.”

I think my bomb line would be, “Don’t hit!” And then I would shield my face with my arms.

Perhaps the sour taste left by that joke lingered into the following joke, about my sister’s early suicide attempt. I have evidence that this joke has been favorably received in the past, though during this set I would describe its audience response as somewhere between “tepid” and “lynch mob.” If I were a bigger failure, I would have chastised the audience at this point by saying, “fuck you, that joke always kills.” But I have not known that level of personal failure…yet. YET.

Did I just mention the weather? If you stopped listening right now, I would not blame you. If you continue listening, you might hate yourself enough for me to love you.

The gentleman was not writing, “this guy fucking blows” on his pad of paper. He was writing, “business idea: discount brothel for irregular pussy.” And then he drew a picture of a Mexican riding a bicycle.

The extra-loud laughter is coming from the giant mouth of an overweight black man who is a total stranger to me. I am huge with morbidly obese minorities. (wait till you hear him when I use the word “cock”.)

This is notable only for the fact that I turned off the tape recorder just as the crowd was applauding me. My therapist would have a lot to say about that action, as it relates to my self-esteem issues.

When I walked back to my drink, I thought I’d had a pretty lame set, and I said as much. I was told I was wrong, but listening to it on tape it’s only “eh.” I was consciously trying to do less perverse stuff, because I feel like I use creepy material as a crutch. (my web site just clucked its teeth and said, “mmm-hmmm. You’re telling me, sister!”) But it’s funny: when I do the perverse stuff in front of an audience of my peers, I feel like I’m pandering to them, and when I don’t do that material in front of a more mainstream audience, I feel like I’m pandering again.

OK. The set-ups were a bit sloppy, and I wish I were quicker when a couple jokes received a cold (but deservedly cold) response. And, as I just mentioned, it would have been nice to incorporate some of the creepier material. However, certain things worked well, and I was pleased with how nicely the Mars Rover material was received. Not the best night, not the worst. I give it Two and a Half Erect Penises. Zing.


I finally discovered how to prevent myself from writing in a vacuum. The secret is more simple than I’d ever imagined. As soon as I finish a story, or an anything, just the very first moment that I read it back and think, “Yes, I’m OK with this,” I have to mail it out and hope someone will publish it/produce it/make love to it. I cannot even allow time for the ink to dry because that small window is exactly enough time for self-doubt to creep in. It’s an interesting process, and here’s how it works.

[Time represents actual time elapsed since my first reading.]

3 minutes: “This is the best thing I’ve written in a very long time. And, once again, its tone and content are totally incongruous with the book I’ve been trying, and failing, to write. No worries. I will write this off as distraction with a very happy ending.”
2 hours: “I need to find that list of publications I’ve been meaning to submit stories to. It was aggregated by someone – a friend? and ex-girlfriend? – who clearly believes in me more than I believe in myself. I swear it was in an email somewhere. Please don’t tell me I deleted it.”
3 hours: “Fuck it. I’m sending this to ‘This American Life.’ Perfect. Now where’s my microcassette recorder?”
3 hours, 7 minutes: “I swear I had a microcassette recorder. I have a clear mental picture of it sitting in this drawer, right beneath those illegal firecrackers I bought on the Indian reservation. Oh well…I can still send it out to magazines.”
24 hours: “OK. Before I send this out, I should read through it one more time, just to make sure it’s as perfect as I remembered.”
24 hours, 15 minutes: “I have made a terrible mistake. I am about to embarrass myself. This needs to be edited, heavily.”
One week: “Seriously, I should edit that piece. Right after I finish this boss level. Focus, Todd: strafe, strafe, missile. Strafe, strafe missile.”
12 days: “Cool. Now this story is nearly twice its original length. Looks more ambitious. Fuck Hemingway.”
13 days: “Holy shit, how did this story become so bloated? It’s like a canvas that’s six inches thick with paint. I have ruined my perfect story!!”
6 months: “Hmmm…There’s a new literary magazine. Maybe that old story I wrote a few months ago would make sense for submission.”
6 months, 1 hour: “DID A RETARDED EIGHT YEAR-OLD SNEAK INTO MY APARTMENT, BOOT UP MY LAPTOP, AND WRITE THE WORLD’S SHITTIEST STORY????? How could I have possibly thought this was appropriate for publication? And what kind of title is, ‘The Things We Said, and the River That Passed Through?’ I might as well have named it ‘The Whole Ten Yards.’ I am a phony. If I send this turd out, everyone will know I’m a phony. THIS MUST NEVER BE SEEN BY ANOTHER SOUL.”
14 months: “Crap. I’ve got a reading tomorrow night. Time to dust off ‘The Things We Said, and the River That Passed Through.’ They asked me to read something funny so I’ll just change the title to, ‘All Wet.’ Perfect.”

If I can just figure out a way to preserve that “3 minute” feeling long enough to stuff a few envelopes, I may actually legitimize myself as a writer. That is, of course, until everyone discovers what a tremendous phony I am.


Last night I told a joke for the first and last time. For one thing, the topic is sort of timely – it’s about the new HBO cowboy drama, “Deadwood” – and I try not to write jokes about current events because there are other people who are much better suited for that, and much better at it. The other reason I will never tell the joke again is that it is possibly one of the dumbest jokes I’ve ever written in my entire life. But you’re lucky, because now it will live shamefully FOREVER on this site.

The show “Deadwood” could be just as easily named “The High Falutin’ Adventures of the Cursing Cowboys.” Every other word of dialogue on this show is “titfucker”, “cock-gobbler”, and “pussy-grabber” – and that’s just the horses talking. (pause for deafening silence, followed by the rustle of arms folding across chests and the faint hum of indignation.)

The concept is really interesting. The creators have taken a real, historical Old West town and populated it with just about every legendary cowboy figure ever created, whether they were residents of that town or not. In the first episode alone, we get to meet Wild Bill Hickock, Charlie Utter, Calamity Jane, Doc Holliday, The Lone Ranger, Ricochet Rabbit, and Waffle-O Bill. (wait patiently as 70% of audience exits theater. drink nervously from volvic water bottle, and continue…)

It seems the show’s creators have taken a lot of liberties with both history and the public perception of some of its more colorful characters. I just cannot believe how much they all swear, women and men alike. For instance, I am not a scholar of Old West history, but I’m almost positive that the Lone Ranger never actually said, “Heigh-ho, Jizzbag!” (grimace apologetically after uttering that last line. sensing a disapproving, almost hostile silence, think quick on your feet. after 17 years of tough road work, you know there’s one sure way to win back a distracted crowd. realizing this, you take a step back and execute a perfect chinese split. the crowd erupts in applause and carries you out of the theater on their shoulders, not even bothering to wait for your “retarded meteorologist” bit.)

[I will admit something here that I wish I had admitted last night after telling this horrible joke. I know it’s bad but as I was writing it I kept thinking, “it’s pretty amazing that as a grown adult man I can write down the words “heigh-ho, Jizzbag,” and then, less than two hours later, present them to a live audience as my “art”. It just seemed like such an amazing privilege. This is probably why I need to quit performing comedy right this very minute.]

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