Dichotomies. Fine lines and gray areas are tough, especially for someone like myself who desperately wants to, as much as I think I can, always objectively prove my truth. But here lies a challenge. Sexism is surely real as it is ubiquitous, but are there not roles better suited for each gender, respectively? Many black people have been oppressed and/or disadvantaged in our country, but every black person I know has mocked members of their race who overly scapegoat this truth for all of their individual misfortunes. And while it’s true that part of the beauty of comedy, stand-up especially, is in its unapologetic freedom of expression, where does the line unblur between uncensored brilliance and lazy shock effect only temporarily dressed in the cloak of “comedy?”
My mom loves to praise Cosby and Seinfeld for their cleanliness (she’s a mom), but inaccurately paints too broad a stroke over those of us less squeaky, as “needing to curse” to be funny. Here is where I side with the masses… or at least my fellow mass of comics. To be honest I think Pryor and Louie are both superior to the former, and while neither could get a PG-13 rating even if they chopped half their material, they’re obviously too brilliant to “need” any suggested crutch or gimmick. Some comics are just more emotionally charged than others, and cursing logically carries with it a very well known energy – a specificity in character and individualism that if omitted would be inorganic to them; and anything that is inorganic is definitely not funny. Neither Pryor, Chris Rock, or Louie would likely be as funny if they didn’t curse, but it isn’t because they “need” to curse. It’s because they need to be Pryor, Chris Rock, or Louie… and those people curse. Many comics like Carlin, Bruce, etc. were preachers of forward thinking, counter culture philosophy (totally consistent with the existence of any artist). They bore their greatness by unapologetically shitting on the masses and status quo with innovative ideas expressed in humor. Wonderful! But much like what we speculate was an eventual mistranslation [and perversion] by later generations of the original message of the major religions, or how the many talentless bastards of Biggie Smalls’ rap style of exploiting materialism have ruined hip hop with their rhythm-less imitations for years now, I wonder has the modern comedy world inaccurately painted too broad a stroke over some “rule” in defense of something it was not originally in place for? I understand that “times change” and “rules are meant to be broken.” I also understand that cliches often get lazily used as defenses when there is no really sound argument for a particular action. Ha.
We’ve all had the experience of being on stage not getting laughs at material we know is good or smart or just something that consistently kills for intelligent crowds. Cut to a minute later, we throw out a dick joke, or “fuck” and/or “pussy” makes its first appearance and the crowd goes nuts (no pun int.). This is where my mom’s aformentioned perspective is applicable. Invariably we all deduce the same conclusion here: “They’re morons.” Yet none of us would ever accuse Louie or Chris Rock of doing “cheap, dick jokes” because we know there is a line, and although it is near impossible to define, we all frequently intuit is location.
Shock is an acute widespread reduction in effective tissue perfusion that invokes an imbalance of oxygen supply and demand. Why is it funny when someone says something racist or “overly sexual” on stage? Was anything ironic or extraordinary brought to light? Was a hypocrisy exposed? Did the punch surprise us with an analytic absurdity that none of the rest of us ever thought of? Or has the modern audience just learned to cut and paste the conditioned response of laughter in place of what would be offense in any different time or setting? How much longer can this last? How much longer can we think: Yo, I can’t believe she just said that, before everyone on the planet was totally expecting her to say that (because someone else just said basically the same thing 20 minutes ago)? There is a huge difference between the quirky, observational kid in the lunch room, the silly goofball, and the mean, bully. All three of their respective friends laugh incessantly at everything they do and say, but the latter group are usually morons, and their leader has no future in comedy… or does he?
Don’t get me wrong. I love my freedom of speech, especially artistically, and in a vacuum think it’s great that we live in a society where white and black comedians can get on stage on the same show and make fun of each others’ races. it doesn’t offend me or any of my friends, but is it funny? Isn’t the reason our bodies are sent into the relatively convulsive state of laughter a result of being caught off guard and impressed by this wonderfully surprising punch? Well, how many times can the same punch get thrown at the same speed and angle and still catch us off guard? I guess only the dumbest of fighters…
I don’t think I’m a pussy. I absolutely love all the grimiest and grittiest hip hop of all time (please don’t pontificate that it’s the same thing!), and do place Pryor and Louie over Cosby and Jerry on my list. But like Jerry hilariously told the priest on Seinfeld many years ago: “I’m not offended as a Jew. I’m offended as a comedian.”
Besides facebook posts, I also heard in person several comedians do jokes about Paul Walker just days after his tragic death. I don’t know anything about the poor guy. I’d honestly never heard of him. I don’t know if these shots might have been prompted partially by his wealth or fame, good looks, or all three - or maybe these mediocre comedians just thought him to be a hugely inferior talent proportionate to his success, ironically. I don’t know. I just feel it’s as tasteless and insensitive as it is creatively sub-par to make what sounds at best like an R-Rated late night monologue joke about the biggest tragedy in the world: premature death.
“Is there a line?” Yes, I think there is, but it isn’t one artificially drawn to censor free expression as these shitty shock (or part-time shock) comics would love to holler about in a self-fulfilling plea to justify their desperate graspings for material. Instead it should be a natural line that exists as a result of the perfect combination of more widespread empathy and mental discernment of good comedy. And we wouldn’t not make the jokes out of fear of offending someone or getting in trouble, but simply because we’re nicer and smarter. Evolution will be evident when we look back on Comedy Central roasts the way we presently do upon 80’s sitcoms. RIP Paul.
December 5, 2013
I worked the black (“urban”/“chitlin”) comedy circuit almost exclusively, save a few open mics, during my first four years in stand-up. Their bookers were more generous with stage time than were the mainstream clubs’, and being an early 90’s hip hop kid from New York it was a scene that attracted me and an acceptance I coveted. I’m not gonna lie: It was fun and easy and I was quick to succeed on it. During my past four years (after a few in between there) I’ve worked the “alt rooms,” less monogomously but often enough to get the pulse, speak the language, and diagnose their good, bad, and ugly as well.
“Alt rooms” are bar shows set up by comics, mostly white but the lineups and crowds have grown exponentially more diverse in recent years. Their crowds are most often an ethnic mix of 20-30 year old, well educated, super liberal, very pop culture savvy, hipster or quasi-hipster metropolitans, who are as attentive and well-behaved as they are responsive to very dry, understated, or reference-heavy humor; in stark contrast to the black crowds of the hood. While the prototypical chitlin circuit comic is a 35-year old black guy who looks like he took three showers before the show, then a bath in cologne just before putting on the perfect colored sneakers to match his shirt and jeans, the “alt guy” looks like he just fell out of bed and forgot to shave. No, no, he doesn’t look like he chose not to shave. He looks like he forgot to shave. 25 years old, a skinny, pale white frame, nerdy glasses, definitely a plaid button shirt that fits perfectly but hangs off him almost as if by accident, and jeans that fit either hipster tight or are the more innocuous type that he’s worn every day for seven years.
I don’t know if any comic has ever had great success in both the urban and alt comedy circuits, and I am no exception. For while I’ve had plenty of micro-successes in the form of great sets on the latter, I am as of yet to earn my first TV credit via its industry. And aside from the very rare phone call from an old friend with a big pay-day offer, I haven’t worked the black rooms in almost seven years. Except for a few really cool friends I met there I don’t miss it at all.
People think the black rooms are “scarier” or somehow “tougher” than the clubs or “white rooms” (which really usually boast a mix that more accurately reflects the population) but this is sort of a misunderstanding as a result of an errant definition of tough. “Tough,” in my opinion, should imply an intelligent, comedy-savvy crowd that doesn’t laugh at typical, hacky humor, and could maybe be classified as comedy snobs even. This does not describe most urban rooms. When an urban room is “tough” it is usually suggestive of the absolute shittiest cross section of the circuit. The crowd is unruly and inattentive and only responds well to being made fun of or the most explicit jokes about sex and race (typical, hacky humor). A lot of great comedians would bomb here because they are much better “teachers” than they are “babysitters.” There are some great babysitters who will shine in these awful situations, but ask them to explain the first chapter of calculus when a room full of thinkers are actually paying attention and watch them stumble, fumble, and fail. Get it?
Don’t get me wrong: There have been some fantastic black comedy rooms around the city, and when they are good they’re fuckin’ amazing! For over ten years Wil Sylvince and Talent hosted a Sunday night show at the Boston Comedy Club on W. 3rd St. that was sold out with the coolest and most fun black people in New York every single week. The crowd was smart, attentive, and as energetic as that of any of the hood crowds, but savvier with more flexible minds. They were fantastic. It seemed every comedian in the city was there every Sunday night craving and begging for a piece of the stage. Unfortunately that show is long since defunct and none like it have since popped up.
My ultimate gripes with the hood were its inattentive crowds (hearing every word of the joke is key in recognizing good comedy) and one dimensional mind sets. On top of that, instead of having the discernment to recognize actual confidence they often ignorantly and strictly bought into the “confidence uniform:” A guy on stage yelling and screaming and unapologetically cursing and spewing whatever filth, flarn filth that popped into his mind. That meant confident. Anyone with any awareness of ghetto culture can see the consistency between this perception and the social politics of the streets. It is low frequency shit – immature and frankly, incorrect.
When I started writing more original material and stopped shouting so much as a result of my new-comic nervous energy I was having shittier sets in urban rooms. Of course many black individual audience members in the comedy clubs or alt rooms I worked were still receptive, but in the more one dimensional environments of the ghetto rooms with mostly ghetto comics on the show I was suddenly bombing. My growth felt stagnated, and I quickly left without a second thought. In recent years I’ve observed similar frustrations at times in certain alt rooms, but it obviously comes from a different place… or does it?
Over-compensation in perspective is a symptom of immaturity, that lands its thinker equally as far away from Intelligent, just simply on the opposite side of it. People often philosophically define themselves in distance to who they think is wrong instead of actually thinking about what might be right. Many atheists, overly bleeding heart liberals, male feminists, holistic medicine worshippers who wouldn’t go to the hospital with a gun shot wound, etc.
In the times that I’ve had bad sets in alt rooms I’ve felt like I was being judged as a “hood comic.” In spite of years of mainstream acceptance and having established myself in the clubs, for some reason while on stage, looking out at a room full of unamused 25-year old, hipstered-nerd style whites from the midwest who came to the big city to be cultured and progressive, I felt stupid. I knew my material was smart and original but it sounded to my heart like the non-laughers were saying: “No, dummie. Not funny.” Why?
What I came to realize is that a bad alt crowd, via over compensation, suffers from a similar mental one-dimesionality and definition of confidence as does a bad hood crowd. Instead of loud, boisterous aggressiveness, the bad alt room responds only to a dry, understated, unenthused if not apathetic delivery from its comics, where even the slightest symptom of performance is misunderstood and judged as a lack of confidence or inexperience. Faith in appearance replaces capacity for thought and variety in styles suffers. I do love how this is as reflective of the hipster culture that geographically surrounds most alt rooms as does the black rooms’ attitude is to its environment. Also fascinating to see how other aforementioned examples of over-compensation – atheism, liberalism, feminism – are more ubiquitious on the alt circuit than any other.
Again, don’t get me wrong: Great alt rooms are fantastic, as are great hood rooms (though the latter are fewer and further between due mostly to the attention span issue), and I look forward to doing much more alt shows in the near future. This truth alone shows that at my present stage I have a much greater affinity for them than their urban counterpart, but their ironic similarities in mental inflexibility and faith in contrasting uniforms by each group at their worst cannot go unnoticed. There is a place for Sam Kinison and Katt Williams and a place for Mitch Hedburg and Demetri Martin as well; but there are also millions of places in between those poles where most of the greats actually came from. We have to nourish those places.
Can’t we all just get along? Ha…
November 7, 2013
What I’ve come to realize is that often times people aren’t actually as dumb as they sound. When listening to the pontifications of apparent morons one has to consider what personality and psychological issues might be at the root, overpowering the speaker’s actual intellect. A personal bias, a need to sound different and go against the grain (“pretentiousness”), an inordinate amount of emotion attached to an issue that catalyzes an inaccurate exaggeration or blanket statement that refuses to acknowledge exceptions to the rule: There are NO smart Republicans! ALL white people love that shit! ALL independent films are so much better than Hollywood, etc. (that last one might actually be true in regards to the past 5-10 years actually).
Once in a while comes an asshole who feels the need to suggest that Mariano Rivera is only “arguably” the greatest closer of all time. Obviously our first suspicion is that this would come from a Red Sox or Mets fan fueled by the aforementioned power of bias, though I’ve heard others express the same sentiment, deducing that it could only come from the terribly transparent agenda of wanting to sound unique – to offer something different and/or stir things up, as maybe said person has grown frustrated with people being consistently bored with their customarily ordinary and pedestrian opinions.
Mariano has the lowest ERA of any pitcher all time [with 1000 innings or more]. He has the most regular season saves and most post-season saves [by more than double]. My devil’s advocate would argue that the reason for the latter is because he was fortunate enough to be on the Yankees, and thus played in more post season games than anyone else. I’d argue back that a huge part of the reason the Yankees made it to so many playoff games is because of Mariano (see first part: “lowest ERA” and “most regular season saves” all time – duh).
Sure, people like Goose Gossage, Eckersley, and Sutter pitched more innings per game than Mo, but Sutter only did it for 12 years and the other two have only about half as many saves; not to mention the fact that it’s difficult, if not unfair, to compare players from such different eras. Was Mariano more dominant and head and shoulders above his peers in his prime than any one of them were in theirs? Yes. Also, the closer is deified for performing under pressure and Rivera pitched in the highly pressurized media frenzy of the 90’s and 2000’s, where players are much more scrutinized than they were 30 and 40 years ago. He pitched throughout the “steroid era,” when batters boasted much bigger arms and the stats to match; and much more often than not Mo shut ‘em down. He’s the best. And you’re the worst. Go jerk off to the subtle symbolisms and sad endings of some shitty independent film.
Why not take this opportunity to also poke holes in the awfully transparent pretentiousness of those who say they “like Citi Field better than Yankee Stadium.”
I’m not saying you don’t personally feel that way, but to imply that one is somehow “better” than the other is just wrong – if for no other reason simply because this is classic “apples and oranges.” To lazily fail to acknowledge so shows an obvious combination of agenda to go against the grain and excessive emotion propagating inaccurate blanket statements. People who hate the Yankees detest the Yankees! Everyone knows they are the huge corporate monster – the popular choice, the Goliath to the David that is the Mets. For their new stadium they fittingly built a one billion dollar cathedral. The Mets built a more intimate “ballpark,” a la Fenway, no doubt with the very understandable idea of doing something different from their crosstown rivals instead of trying to compete with them, since history has shown that to be obviously impossible. It was a smart move. So for any fan to suggest that one is somehow “better” than the other actually negates what was surely part of the original motive behind building it. You cannot say that some hole in the wall comedy club is “better” than Carolines on Broadway. You can say you prefer the former, which is fine, but this speaks more to your personal taste than the quality of the latter. All this not to mention the fact that, achem… the Yankees didn’t have to fix their stadium after it was “finished.” Haha! I mean, if you look back at track records it would seem hilariously fishy to think that the Mets did something inherently “better” than the Yankees did.
Reader might suggest that mine is the voice of a biased Yankee fan. Ridiculous. Unlike the Jets in football I actually like the Mets and genuinely root for them to improve (how could anyone with a good heart not?). And you won’t hear me defend people like A-Rod, places like Met Life Stadium, or track records like that of the Knicks. I know, we suck. And it sucks. But Mariano Rivera is not “arguably” the best closer of all time to any of the experts, pundits, peers, or journalists, and the numbers don’t suggest such ambivalence either. Give it up, dude.
I’ve learned to be careful of calling people stupid. I want to call them stupid because pretentiousness makes me angry, but I must be careful not to then fall into the trap of making an exaggerated diagnosis based on my own heigtened emotion. They’re not always stupid. Some are just relatively immature. An accusation of “immaturity,” because of the masses’ understanding of it, sounds to imply it as a temporary condition that will inevitably be transcended. Unfortunately this is not necessarily the case. There are tons of immature 89 year olds, and some very mature 19 year olds who know you cannot compare Citi Field to Yankee Stadium.
Intelligent people sometimes “wear the uniform of intelligence” as part of their personality. This doesn’t necessarily make them unintelligent; but probably pretty immature and insecure (redundant). Most of the time it is relatively unintelligent people who wear the uniform of intelligence. These are who we call “pseudo-intellectuals.” Most of the masses do wear the uniform of maturity: Their behavior is reserved if not soulless and miserable; their attire is never shocking, and their profession is a valued one that promises security. This is conformity; not maturity. I believe there can be mature conformists, though they are rare. The only example of pasting an evolutionary quality into one’s personality that is paradoxical is that of confidence. Anyone wearing the uniform of confidence in his/her persona cannot truly be confident. Unfortunately, what I find to be interesting is that only the truly intelligent can consistently identify the difference.
September 27, 2013
Some people believe if you’re not making a living off comedy by the time you’re 30 or when you have ten years of experience under your belt then you should probably quit – that were it going to happen for you, it would have by now/then/whenever. Others feel the only time to quit is when you feel yourself either no longer progressing or no longer loving the craft. Mentally I surely subscribe much more to the latter, though emotionally my stress levels admittedly often reflect the former.
Everyone wants success – even outside the world of show business, in the more straight forward occupational paths of promised financial security and guarantees of position people worry constantly about their futures and present. It seems everyone just wants to relax, and yet most are stuck on capitalism’s brilliantly designed hamster wheel where they are constantly working their asses off ironically in hopes of eventually no longer having to work at all. For a seemingly small minority of the population this works. For the rest it perpetuates a constant struggle colored by fear and moved by adrenalin, and is arguably as responsible as poor diets for most of the world’s diseases and unhappiness.
My favorite comic ever, Louie Ck, smartly makes fun of “white problems,” pointing out that we worry about attaining a certain size apartment or house or making a certain amount payment on our cars and mortgages while others all over the world have no idea whether or not they’re going to starve to death tomorrow. On one hand I agree with him – it’s an obviously intelligent perspective. On the other hand I believe the human experience of suffering is unanimous, and the undying feeling of want, in spite of it not being the same as “need,” transcends color, social class, and geographic situation.
Most of us cannot escape our conditionings. Hacky pseudo-intellectual comedians often pontificate on stage in jest of certain suburban white kids whose anger or depression are a result of their not feeling loved – as if this is an illegitimate reason for misery, especially in contrast to kids from the ghetto whose parents could afford nothing but rice for dinner and hand-me-down jackets. The spectator morons usually laugh at the expense of said examples, easily recognizing the comical point, but the philosophy is actually quite dumb and elementary. It is based on the idea that money and material gain equal happiness and that more subtle feelings of unfulfillment or voids of love are unacceptable explanations for negative feelings.
I’m not so dumb as to be ungrateful for all that I have, nor even to not know deep down that none of my desires for material gain or tangible success really matter in the grand scheme of things. I can intellectualize this concept, and once in a while when the right song is playing or I’m engrossed in one of those special chilling sessions with friends I can feel it. But I also cannot (or at least have not) escape my conditonings. Neither have over 99% of the world’s population, and so I think we have every right, to some degree some of the time, to complain and feel the stress of our “white problems.”
I wish you and Dad didn’t have to work so hard at your age. I wish Dad’s company didn’t completely fuck him over in retirement the way they did (I don’t even know how the main individual who makes a decision like that can live with himself). I wish my success in comedy could pay your mortgage for you, and free you of your worrisome thoughts and unwanted work obligations. I wish I could free Dad from his stressful and unpredictable job as well. I wish I could pay for him to get acupuncture treatments from the best acupuncturists in the world – so they might help his arthritis, loss of vision, and other ailments more than I’ve been able to with my still minimal experience. I haven’t given up of course – not by a very long shot – but I’d hoped and prayed and visualized in my admittedly inconsistent medititation practice that it would have happened for me/us sooner… here… in our home in New York. It so far has not, and at the risk of looking naïve, desperate, and/or impatient, this is why I’ve chosen to “take my talents” to Venice Beach. Ha!
It is so important to me that you know three things. One is that I’ve worked hard. I’ve done just about everything I could in pursuit of my dreams, and never got lazy in spite of long periods of discouragement and rejection. Two is that you did not raise a failure – that I am not one of those self-unaware, talentless, wanna-be artists motivated more by hope or delusion than an intelligently founded belief in self. I’ve been given no reason to not think I won’t succeed; but instead only the opposite. Shitty comedians don’t often land on HBO, MTV, and Showtime, win three comedy competitions, and get constantly praised by their most respected peers for their abilities (which is not at all to suggest any comic who is lacking in the aforementioned should quit…). Aside from the superficial evidence of my bank statements in the latter 75% of my career I’ve been given no reason to quit, slow down, or lose belief in my goals. This brings me to number three:
I don’t want you to fear that I’m screwing up my life by not prioritizing financial security or stability. Mom, I know you are more of a “materialist” than I am. I also know that it is impossible to ask a mother (especially a Jewish Cancer – yikes!) to not worry about her kids, but I hope for the sake of your peace of mind, and mine when I’m around you, that you will make an effort to have faith in my intelligence and common sense. Yes, I am more or less “risking everything” for my dreams in comedy, but you have to understand that this is usually the prerequisite for success. Sure it is often the formula for many enormously disappointing failures as well, but again, I’ve never been given ample reason to think that is my fate.
I know it is difficult for a person of your belief system and conditionings to continue to exercise patience as she watches most of her friends’ kids buy homes and cars and get married and have kids. I’m sure you’ve wondered why you’ve been so forsaken. You did a near impeccable job of loving and raising smart kids who worked hard and got into good schools too. Where’s your mortgage? Where are the damn grandkids?! Ha! I’m sorry. There is a small part of me that wishes I could already have given you more happiness and peace of mind by having those things too. But I always knew that most of the paths that correspond with more promised security could not make me happy, and deep down that it wouldn’t make you happy either. Remember when Dr. Tsao sang The Gambler at my graduation? That’s me, and it is also all my wonderfully brilliant, fascinating, and talented friends (we’re not as small of a minority as you think). I promise you I’ve always known when to hold them and when to fold them; and that the best things come to those who wait.
I guarantee you I’ll never be homeless or starving, and I will never allow you to be either… so long as you minimize your instinct to nag. Ha! I guarantee you I will never allow my mind or gifts to go to waste. And I’ll never forget how much you’ve supported me.
September 22, 2013
This is my final entry for Cottonelle’s wet wipes bloggers campaign, #LetsTalkAboutBums! It is yet another story of an instance in which Cottonelle’s product would have come in quite handy, no pun intended.
I suffer from Gout disease, as well as “A.S.S.” (Aspiring to Succeed in Show business). Both conditions teamed up to be culpable in the only time I ever shit my pants as an adult… so far.
It was the Spring of 2007. I was in the beginning of an intense, year long acting class, and our teacher, Joanna Beckson, was unforgiving of students who did not know their lines. Presently in the 2-3 day, pharmaceutically addressed recovery process of an acute gout attack I chose to spend the day before class at home, resting and memorizing and running lines.
As repetition got as old as the day outside was beautiful I decided to limp my arthritic ass (well, foot to be accurate) outside. I lived about a five block walk from Riverside Park and thought it would be nice to embody the ultimate cliché: the young, white, urban, struggling artist memorizing lines for his acting class on a pretty day in the park. All I was missing was a tall skim latte, a fresh squeezed kale juice, and jeans tight enough for an insecure high school chick. But I was chillin’…
Unfortunately it wasn’t long after I arrived that human physiology shocked my entire being with its impatient demand. I had to shit… bad! I knew I had to get home fast but as an unfortunate result of my genetic disorder I could not. Instead I had to just limp as quickly as possible, dragging my gouty toe, all the while asking more of my sphincter muscle maybe than I ever had before. Multi-tasking!
I was doing okay. I was at approximately 168th St. and Riverside Dr., limping under the underpass of the offramp from the GW Bridge, halfway home. I was terribly uncomfortable from head to toe, if not at least stomach to toe, but could see success was in my near future. The pain and intestinal demands were unforgiving but totally manageable. And that’s when it happened. My bad toe suddenly bumped into an elevated, uneven sidewalk block and anyone who knows anything about Gout knows that it shot terrible pain receptors surging up through my body. Had I not been in such inflammatory pain there is obviously no way this very common hiccup in gait would have disrupted my sphincter’s present responsibility. But I was… and it did.
The pain from my toe’s collision distracted my anus just enough that I lost the battle. Not the entire battle thank God, but more of it than I ever had as an adult prior, and more than I hope to ever again. I’d shit my pants. I felt “it” between my cheeks and a little bit on the posterior medial aspect of my thigh. Sorry. I was disgusted as you are.
They are so fascinating, those moments in adulthood when we revert back to being a child, if not our primate ancestors, where nothing is being intellectualized or pondered over and we are trying only to salvage our physical well-being in the moment. There is that brief moment of panic in my mind: Oh fuck, now what?! What do I do now?! I shit my pants. I fuckin’ shit my pants! What should I do? And then reason sets in: Nothing dickhead. Do the same thing you already were. As a matter of fact, if it was possible, that same plan has become even more important than it already was 30 seconds ago. Get home. The only thing that’s changed is the added extra step of a shower.
I got home and cleaned up; did an immediate laundry wash; though was disappointed to feel not long after, that chafing sensation in my ass, bearing a negative nostalgia from a handful of childhood memories. I had a show to go to that night, but hours later, as I left my crib for it I made it only halfway to the train before I called the show producer and canceled, apologizing that I just wasn’t “feeling good.” Not untrue. After some topical application and a good night’s sleep things were back to normal, but who could help but wonder how the whole situation might have been alleviated by Cottonelle’s new wet wipes? It might have been one extra performance experience under my belt instead of the moist shit that had plagued me on that limp up Riverside.
September 17, 2013
I have no idea how many times I’ve peed in public. It’s got to be in the thousands, no exaggeration, honestly. I’ve peed in tons of pay phones, train stations, parks, nooks, crannies, crevices, and sometimes just out in the open, prioritizing the well-being of my kidneys over my penis-ego or clean criminal record (in adulthood). I say this not to brag or throw it in the face of our world’s wonderful women who are unable to enjoy such a luxury, or avoid a menstrual cycle, ignore their biological clock, all the while living in a society that values mostly male traits; but instead to acknowledge its contrast to the amount of times I’ve defecated in public. Before 2003 the number was zero. Since 2003… phew, let’s see… No, no, just kidding… but it is no longer zero. It’s one. And please believe, it was unavoidable.
In the spring of 2003 I was well into my second year of comedy, working almost exclusively the black comedy circuit. It was easier to get stage time in the hood, and my hip hop style fit well in spite of my racial handicap. On Thursday nights I used to love performing at Jimmy’s Uptown on 131st st. and 7th Ave. Hosted by Capone, “The Gangsta of Comedy,” the crowd was typically very tough but not unfair (some hood crowds were downright unfair, but I had some great sets at Jimmy’s), and on this particular night I’d had a really good set. My boy’s girlfriend was bartending at a bar on 110th and Amsterdam the same night, so I thought it a good idea to perpetuate my set high with a drink at her spot, utilizing the set high to propel me through the mile and half walk.
I was two years off cigarettes at the time and had developed the replacement vice of at least twice daily, 12 oz. Heinekens (is that like saying I became an alcoholic?). Figured I should get one to maximize enjoyment of my evening stroll, though what it apparently did instead was maximize the sudden downbearing of peristalsis somewhere around 119th St. on the east side of Morningside Park.
Again, it was about 11pm on a Thursday. Harlem, 2003. Sure, it wasn’t the danger zone of 1993, but it wasn’t the frenetically gentrified, white-Midwesterners-are-now-more-commonplace-than-crackheads-2013 either. The streets were dark and quiet and I’m pretty sure it had been minutes since I’d walked by anyone. My beer was still unfinished, but I could feel the beast in my stomach growing more powerful by the second. Familiar sensation quickly turned to discomfort which quickly turned to pain. That sharp and achey downbearing pressure of expansion, absolutely demanding its victim’s attention. I tried stopping in my tracks to temper it. I took a deep breath, hoping it would “go back up” or something. Momentary relief was given, but as soon as I started walking again it came back with an avengeance amused by my ignorant, weak attempt. Realizing I could not outsmart or manipulate the monster I tried instead to outrun it, walking faster. The pain just got worse. I was 24 years old and for the first time in my life I was out of options (in this regard).
I looked around me. There was nothing. No restaurants, no stores, no Starbucks (which were a lot less ubiquitious in 2003), and nobody. I was familiar enough with the immediate neighborhood to know that there was probably no accessible bathroom within a five minute walk; and I’d become familiar enough with the present acute situation to know that even five minutes could be a stretch. I looked at the edge of the damp, dark park my path had been hugging and the brown paper bag that was concealing the Heineken in my hand. I swigged the rest of the beer (why not at this point?), split the bag in three pieces, and did what a man sometimes has to do (well, some men I guess). I’ll spare you the details.
Thank God it’s been over 20 years since I’ve worn anything but boxers. There have been few times in life that I’ve experienced an ambivalence in emotion greater than during that walk from “my spot” to the bar. Of course I’d cleaned what I could with the miniature brown bodega bag, but my physical disgust was matched and probably trumped only by the tremendous physical relief I felt… and I really felt it.
Shamelessly I walked the remaining 10 blocks in a subtle horse stance, torn between wanting to get to the bar as quickly as possible but not wanting to chafe my cheek skins together as much as I would had I walked at a quick pace. A delicate balance.
I’ve never been so happy to arrive at a bar. I waved to my friend behind the bar before physically greeting her and B-lined it to the bathroom, where I made myself at home, and was gratefully uninterrupted by any other patrons. To this day, walking out of that bathroom is one of the finest feelings I’ve ever had in my life. Nothing was on my mind. There were no internal questions or struggles or conflicts or troubles. All was clean in my anus and right with the world.
However, being a self-proclaimed cultured New Yorker I am rarely without my backpack. I say this because a New Yorker most likely is traveling without a car, and a cultured one needs something with which to carry his/her books to read and some kind of container to carry water to avoid plastic bottles as much as possible. Also in my bag is always my umbrella, extra pens, and dietary supplements (the urban boyscout if you will). I would have have loved if Cottonelle’s Cleansing Cloths had existed back then, as I surely would have had them in my bag right next to book and umbrella to make the whole experience of my bum in a Harlem park a lot more tolerable.
September 12, 2013
Who are these IDIOTS that are not buying and using Cottonelle wet wipes on their bums?! Do these people derobe in the bathroom, step into the shower, and chafe their skin with dry soap as they attempt to clean their dry bodies of its daily acquired filth? Then pour a palm of shampoo onto a dry scalp? Do they spill tomato sauce, soy sauce, or hot sauce (ethnicity dependant) on their kitchen floor and wipe it up with a dry paper towel? When their cats cough up hair balls (not necessarily calling all cat owners idiots) on the carpet do they just take a napkin in one full swipe to it? Did they get a high school education? Have they suffered some kind of severe brain trauma? I’m quite concerned about these folk - if not of their mental stability and intellectual inferiority, at least their anal cleanliness. Who along the line gave the impression to the masses that plain old toilet paper was ample ammunition for the residual trail left by what is arguably the most disgusting substance in the world as it exits what is probably the smallest orifice on the body? Sick.
I suppose if your diet consists of nothing but bland flavored fiber, steamed vegetables like kale, broccoli, asparagus, and spinach, fruits like berries, pineapple, apple, and avocado (for some amount of fat to boost metabolism), then you experience a pretty darn clean break each time on the bowl. This of course in exchange for a complete lack of indulgence in the more comforting and stimulating foods required by those of us whose psyches are still falling a hair short of spiritual enlightenment and the peace of mind that allows for no vices whatsoever. I surely fall into the majority in this aspect of life, as I adore bacon. Although bacon has been known to get quite lonely when left outside of a plate of fried eggs with hashbrowns, or say, a huge medium-rare cheeseburger with lettuce, chipotle mayo, tomatos, and fried onions… french fries on the side of course to be occasionally wrapped in one of the less crispy strips as a delectable “homemade” “potato pork fajita.” Delicious. Clean breaks are rare after such religious culinary experiences.
The truth is I do try to eat very healthy. I love sweet potatoes and avocado and definitely am able to incorporate fruits and/or vegetables into my diet each day. I eat salmon and sardines, brown rice, black beans, kale and spinach, and I use ghee or coconut oil for cooking. I actually have learned to really enjoy healthy foods and it’s forced me to become a slightly better home chef. But we must have balance. A nice cliché general rule I’ve heard is the “80/20 rule:” 80% of one’s diet should absolutely be health conscious; and while 20% should not necessarily be candy bars and McDonald’s it is okay to designate it for relatively full indulgence: Bacon cheeseburgers, french fries, and wonderful beer. Sausages, rich Mexican food, spicy jerk chicken, flavorful Indian stews, beef pad thai, and sure, the occasional pastrami or corned beef sandwich from Katz’s on Houston St. Maybe some Marlboros, cocaine, crystal meth, and heroin if that’s your thing. Just kidding - that surely falls outside the scope of the 20%.
My observation is that it is only the most enormously disciplined of humans who can even abide by the “80/20 rule,” and so even their bums will require some moisture at least 20% of the time. For the majority of us living closer to “60/40” or probably “20/80,” our bums absolutely need the Cottonelle wet wipes, if not 100% of the time, then damn near close to it. We can be such idiots so much of the time in this society of stupidity. Let’s be smarter in the sh#tter.
September 6, 2013
Did you know that you’re not supposed to move your bowels while sitting on the toilet bowl? Of course you also should not move them while sitting on the couch, squatting in the park, sitting faced indoors on a window sill with an enemy walking the street below, or while skipping down the street. As a matter of fact, when you think about it (and one should probably not think about it too often) nearly all physical positions and locations in life are inappropriate for moving one’s bowels. In a vacuum, the toilet bowl as a location for excretory deposit is fine (a vacuum is not fine – this is simply a figure of speech), but it is the design of the modern bowl and the sitting position it encourages that do not support maximum well-being.
Supposedly our aborigine ancestors, who lived just a tad slightly more in accord with nature than we do (no iphones, processed foods, emails, staying up past sundown pounding ice cream, or online advertising campaign blogs) used to squat to move their bowels and suffered a great deal less intestinal issues, constipation, and hemorrhoids because of it. Granted, their lives free of captialistic stressors and inorganic foods played a role as well, but many doctors will confirm that for optimum movement your feet should be on the seat with thighs against your chest for each purge. It’s not as conducive to newspaper reading or playing on one’s cell phone, though also not as conducive to sh#tty health – no pun intended.
How do I know this?
Besides being a comedian for the past 11 years, which did not contribute to this knowledge at all, I was also a graduate student for four years, studying Traditional Chinese Medicine. This is just one of the many experiences that has given me more information than the majority of the people reading this blog, and subsequently makes me superior. Ha! Did you know that it’s healthier to eat mostly cooked foods instead of raw, especially first thing in the morning and/or during cold weather months? Did you know vegetarianism is most often not beneficial? Did you know excessive exercise can be even more unhealthy than no exercise at all?
I was given many gems of wisdom by my school that poke holes in some of the most ubiquitous ignorances in modern society. Sometimes they are lessons that we can’t imagine being effective or practical, like the former of uncomfortably squatting on our toilet bowls while imminently waiting for a louder landing with a much greater splash more likely to hit cheeks. But others have sort of confirmed something our intuition may already have known and thus put into practice long before we ever applied to Traditional Chinese Medical school. Under this heading is the lesson to never wipe completely dry – that at least one wipe should feature H2O to prevent, at the risk of getting overly graphic, excess feces flakes from residing in crevices we’d prefer to keep clean.
Why am I tell you this?
I was flattered to learn that Cottonelle chose me to be one of the ambassadors of their new campaign: “Be kind to your behind.” They knew me as a comical writer, but had no idea I was also a holistic healer, and hence thrilled to help promote anything as progressively minded as moist paper gliding smoothly up our butts for maximum cleanliness, as opposed to the very short-sighted, rough dryness of plain old paper… which is sooo 1980’s.
Obviously I am not the only genius with the intuitive wisdom of what is necessary in self maintenance, as Cherry Healey explains her discovery as a new mother.
September 4, 2013
Last night I went to the “DJ battle” between two legends, Pete Rock and DJ Premier, and was thoroughly disappointed and even a bit embarrassed to be such a self-proclaimed hip hop lover. I’ve recently and finally broadened my musical horizons beyond rap, becoming amongst that of others, a Phish phan, attending three shows in the past year with my hippy crew. One was okay – it was my first. Another was great, and the other was possibly the best concert I’ve ever been to (my second), single-handedly responsible for turning me into a phan. In addition to brightening my spirit and enhancing my library Phish has provided me with a mind even more discerning of live performance. Granted, this might be unfair – like measuring a comedian up to Louie or a film to The Godfather – but I feel as long as one is aware of said bar it can be used to create a checklist of prerequisites for quality, instead of existing as an unfair necessary standard. I’m all in for Phish. They’re great! I like The White Stripes, and always loved Nirvana, the Chili Peppers, G n’ R, Hendrix, etc., though have always identified exclusively with hip hop. And so my embarrassment the other night came from the mental comparison I couldn’t help but make between “our” shows’ crowds to that of Phish; maybe somewhat like the experience of a Yankee fan at Fenway, realizing its fans might be superior. My disappointment was in the transparently lazy and thoughtless preparation that went into the show’s set list and delivery. Music in the studio is an art, just like is writing comedy or theater, but performance is also an integral and separate artistic part of each art – and one that feels to me all too neglected by most hip hop artists today.
For a two hour show Pete Rock and Premo opened with a full hour of 70’s soul music, featuring joints from Marvin, Michael, the Isley Brothers and the like, and it seemed about 1% of the crowd (four or five middle aged black people, whose enthusiasm was fantastic and unfortunately not infectious enough) was entertained. Too often one of the DJ’s would drop sound for the crowd’s vocal participation only to hear one or two lonely voices in the otherwise quiet group of nearly 500. I understood the intent was to try and get people involved, but speaking as a comedian with 12 years and about 6000 sets under my belt, when it becomes repeatedly apparent that a particular technique isn’t working the intelligent performer abandons it and searches for something else. Maybe considering that the two DJ’s are known for being hip hop legends themselves, they might have thought of playing more… hip hop?
I understand and respect the desire to pay homage to where the music comes from, and that those 70’s songs are probably the reason we have talents as great as Premo and Rock. I am also okay with segueing from the soul music into its offspring of old school hip hop. However, they sure didn’t need to comprise the entire first half of the show, and ended up never even making said suggested segue! Instead of fluidly blending old into new they just abruptly stopped and the next thing w knew we were listening to Biggie and Jay-Z joints from ‘97. Obviously I’m never going to complain about hearing Biggie blasting in a park amongst a huge crowd of people singing the lyrics, and I had as much fun as anyone else during the song, but I couldn’t remove from the back of my mind the observation of the terrible lack of strategy given to the musical presentation.
Why didn’t Michael Jackson blend into Kurtis Blow or Sugar Hill Gang; then into Run DMC and the Beasties; and then G. Rap, Rakim, Kane, and KRS; and then Biggie, Nas, Wu-Tang, and the Boot Camp; and finally Jay-Z, the Beatnuts, maybe even Eminem, DMX, the Lox, 50 Cent, etc? Did nobody suggest the idea of giving a semi-equal amount of attention to each era and playing chronologically through? And if someone actually did suggest it, who was the asshole that refuted the idea as less preferable? Did Premo and Pete even meet up or send each other a text before the show to discuss, or did they just arrive, unpack their laptops, and wing it? It sure felt like the latter…
Lots of talking in between songs, sometimes in excessive introduction of the track, other times deciding and conferring aloud to each other who should go next or what they were going to do next. Small doses of occasional talking to the crowd in an effort to connect and be vulnerably transparent is understandable and even endearing at times (Phish of course does perfectly). Though here it was excessive to the point of unprofessional. I recognize there was no cover charge for the show and could easily be more forgiving by shifting perspective to the show being just a glorified urban night in the park; but my feeling is if you’re going to hit the stage for 500 of who are obviously your loyal fans you might as well bring it and represent decently at least.
It reminded me of the Rakim/Raekwon show I went to six months ago. It was actually a very good show, but both performers were guilty of oversights in performance that could have easily been avoided with the slightest bit of thought: Raekwon talked endlessly in between songs about what he had going on, what he was “trying to build,” what “kinda nigga” he was, and blah, blah, blah, immature blah, excess fat… Rakim thankfully did a lot less of this, realizing that we were there to hear his music and not a diatribe about his present state of mind and affairs, but he still disappointed me greatly at the end of the show with the choice made (or lack of) for Paid In Full.
Obviously as soon as it was time for the lyrics to start the entire crowd started rapping them. In an understandable effort to playfully engage Rakim completely stopped rapping, pointed the mic to the crowd, and allowed us to finish the whole joint. It was fun - it was cool, but he never brought back the beat and did it himself. I mean I love rapping Paid In Full to myself as much as anyone else in the world but if I pay to see Rakim I want to hear that unmistakeable voice over that beat. Leaving the club I just could not help but think, Phish would’ve done it right. They would’ve had us rap it, then brought it back.
In anticipation of last night’s show I expected at best a friendly rendition of the famous DJ battle from “Juice,” where the two would go back and forth taking us on a sort of “one-two,” chronological journey through hip hop history, complete of course with some scratching and mixing, and even occasionally flirting with a healthy vibe of competition. At worst I expected more than 60 of the 120 minutes to feature actual hip hop music, and for there to be some kind of sequential, rhythmic back and forth between the two DJ’s, which was completely absent through the entire set.
As a performer I can empathize with the annoyance it is to deal with a quiet, tired, and even shy crowd. As a “born again Phish head” I can’t help but feel critical of the still more self-conscious, “cool,” posturing present in even the older hip hop crowds in contrast to the joyful abandonment so ubiquitous at hippy rock shows, which makes them that much more phun. Then again, it’s possible had the set list more continuity, energy, and momentum, and we heard Protect Ya Neck or Brooklyn Zoo instead of Iron Mic as the only Wu joint, the crowd would have behaved differently. It’s surely not a 50/50 relationship between performer and crowd but there are numbers for this equation [that are impossible to calculate]. Either way on this occasion neither party was pulling 50. Every time one of the on stage legends insisted on dropping the sound, even on most well known classics, the responsive volume was as embarrassing as that of the front row at the new Yankee Stadium.
I had a good time because I was with a good friend in the park on a summer night listening to old school hip hop around 500 like minds; and while my happiness is admittedly often contingent upon my occupational progress, romantic, and financial success, it is never so upon the quality of my present meal, movie, or concert. I’m not one of those, thank God. As a devout hip hop head whose prime was about 1990-’96 I could never lose an ounce of love for Pete Rock or Premo. That said, if they wish to honor the integrity of the title of “king” they’ve both earned, best advised to put more thought and effort into their too infrequent connections with their unconditional fans for life.
August 28, 2013
Last night I did a shitty little bar show. To be completely accurate it was smaller than “little” and not terribly shitty. The “crowd” numbered about five, approximately doubled by the four comedians sitting in the room. The former part of the group seemed polite and moderately responsive to the relatively new comics on stage before me. I sat exhausted in the back, texting on my brand new iphone, ignoring the mediocre material inanimately drooling from the stage.
Let’s be fair to myself. My default demeanor at shows is usually one of support and positivity; but anyone who knows this grind knows there are some nights when all of your energy and spirit are completely drained and you want only to do the bare minimum to get through your stage time. I couldn’t be bothered to listen or laugh at my peers, and my track record as a good human being is just too long for me to fake otherwise or feel bad about it.
Before I went on, the host, who for all I know might be a wonderfully original genius but bore the appearance of every other wanna-be, pseudo-intellectual alt-comic on the circuit (pants fit suitable for a woman, nerdy plaid shirt, glasses, and facial hair), came up and asked me what I wanted him to say for my intro. I hesitated, looking at the five barely entertained people in the room, and turned back to him. You could say HBO and MTV, I told him. He paused, smiled, with a stupid fucking grin: Any other networks you want me to list? he asked. I was exhausted, my brain jumbled with fatigue. I asked: What? And he repeated the question, this time with his tag line: Maybe UP9, Spike TV…? I smiled, still misunderstanding this 80-pound fuckwad as a nice guy, I elaborated: You could say MTV’s Boiling Points. He grinned an “okay” and walked away. It wasn’t until I got home later that night and had showered off my day that I realized I could take this opportunity to be offended and annoyed.
Sure, I thought: I could have listed more networks if I wanted to and it would have been honest: Showtime, CMT, VH-1, BET… they all would have been true! The reason I often omit the show names is because I feel bad about asking the host to remember too much. In the nine years I’ve been responding to this question this was the first time anyone had responded like him. I suspected I knew where it came from.
What I’ve observed in recent years is a contrived humility and complacency amongst comics in the form of a knee jerk, brush-off of the inquiry for introduction. Doesn’t matter, they tell the host. Say whatever you want. This is stupid and pretentious. Why? The latter because it just is. We’re all proud of what we’ve earned and accomplished. The difficulty of our grind is no secret, especially amongst each other, and so we should have no shame in telling our peers or audiences what we’ve done and been on. Obviously we’re all aware that whether we are given the greatest introduction in the world or the worst, the crowd will form their opinion based on our first 100 seconds of monologue, and even that can be turned around by another 100 seconds nearly 1000 seconds later. Comics’ brushing off of their TV credits to the host is transparently a way of showing modesty and an awareness that it ultimately has no impact on the quality of the upcoming set. Such a misinterpretation of the inquiry is precisely why it’s so stupid.
The intro is not for you or your ego (although I know with some douche bag comics it is). It’s for the crowd. It’s for the show producers. It’s to let their audience know, Hey, you’re at a good show with real professionals who have been recognized by HBO or MTV or whatever. That’s why I never brush it off. That’s why when I looked out at the terribly bored five people in the crowd who were kind enough to stick around through an hour of shitty comedy I responded the way I did. Tell them my credits, I thought. It might not do shit, but it can’t hurt.
Over-compensation is a huge problem with pseudo-intellectual contemporary nerds. That’s why they are so often atheists who boast about eating the least organic of foods and their belief in there being nearly no differences between men and women. The pretentious “hollywood” or “ghetto fabulous” douche bag goes out of his way to get all of his credits mentioned as a stroke to his ego and because he believes it will earn him the respect of the crowd. Of course he is an idiot. But only barely more intelligent and secure than him are the former group of whose entire personalities and perspectives exist as a result of constant self-definition of themselves as being the opposite of him.
I closed my set with a bit I do about how unintelligent it is to commit suicide. It’s a bit I’m very proud of and have received great praise for. Although it sounds otherwise it is not a “dark bit” (part of the reason I’m so proud of it). It got a louder laughter with more momentum than any I’d heard from any comic the whole night, and yet when the host came back on, his first comment was of “how awkward” it had just gotten in the room as a result of my “suicide bit.” Typical. It was quite apparent that it couldn’t have been further from awkward in the room, but the host’s pseudo-intellectual faith in “uniforms,” and inability to think for himself translated my suicide bit as having made the room awkward when it absolutely, positively had the opposite effect. But, how could it?! It’s a suicide bit. He wore the literal uniform of today’s “smart comic,” and the proverbial uniform of the confident guy in how he responded to my television credits. Confirmed diagnosis: This man has to think more for himself.
Of course I could be totally wrong. I know I’ve been wrong before and people (fellow comics specifically) have been wrong about me in misinterpretations of my behavior and words. When I woke up the next morning I had a friend request from him. I accepted. I really wasn’t annoyed anymore (contrary to my tone here), with many more pressing things to worry about. The entire matter is pretty insignificant, but it did bring upthe matter of this interesting, cliché misunderstanding.
I think we should always have the host mention our credits. Although it’s nice to have the awareness to know they don’t define us, for all intents and purposes in the setting of the show, they do define us. And since we appreciate the crowds’ presence and money, why not let them know they’re in a legitimate spot? In our present world of iphones and emails it might just enhance their attention span enough to make the show that much better.
August 27, 2013
Last weekend, after waking up at a friend’s place in Brooklyn, semi-hungover from a night of swimming in Phish songs in the blissful torrential downpour that was this year’s Jones Beach show, I got dropped off at the Clinton/Washington train station on Fulton St.. Starved for food and caffeine I felt ambivalent elation at the spotting of a quality-looking bagel spot right on the corner, Bergen Bagels. Right there on the corner of the train station that was likely Biggie Smalls’ for most of his short life. Right there in the heart of the neighborhood formerly known as “Do or die, Bed Stuy” was an establishment that wouldn’t look remotely out of place in upper-class, suburban New Jersey. I walked in and saw it packed with a clientele that looked like they came from upper-class, suburban New Jersey, if not at least that of any other of the 49 states who do not boast the greatest rapper of all time.
Typical looking and sounding 25-35 year old white girls populated the line in front of and behind me. I overheard them gossip about friends and coworkers (not that black people don’t do this too, but just like we all share in common a general appreciation for music, there are certain tunes that are more race specific than others) just before one tried ordering out of turn before me (it is nearly always the most cliché members of any race that exhibit the worst manners) and then mechanically apologized (one of my greatest pet peeves is the robotic “good manners” of white suburbanites, not dissimilar to how southern hospitality feels so paradoxical to its atrocious racism). I suppose it was naïve of me, if not at least an example of a very specific ignorance, but I couldn’t believe the location of the atmosphere I was in. I’ve lived all over Manhattan since ‘97 and have grown quite numb to gentrification, but every once in a while I still get thrown for a loop.
Minutes later as I sank my teeth into a delicious toasted egg bagel with two eggs and salmon on it, then swished and swirled their perfectly flavored iced coffee around my palette, I reflected. On one hand I was thrilled about not having to eat Crown Fried Chicken and shitty deli coffee for breakfast. On the other hand… Damn…
I guess we can’t have our cake (or bagel with eggs and lox) and eat it too. Is it really impossible? I don’t know anything about politics or economics, nor do I care to; but I can’t help but wonder if it would be possible to simply make a neighborhood safer and attract higher quality businesses without entirely robbing it of the cultural integrity that was undoubtedly at least partially responsible for making it a desirable neighborhood in the first place. Is the present direction of urban climate an inevitable and completely unavoidable one, or are we lazily and mindlessly just robbing Peter to pay Paul the way Giuliani did with education for law enforcement in the 90’s?
I don’t think anyone really wants our streets to go back to how violent they once were. As intimately as my ego is attached to every lyric on Enter the Wu-Tang or Ready to Die, I am now an adult, spiritual thinker and obviously don’t think anyone should ever be physically attacked for any reason, least of all their skin color. Though as I sat in one of Brooklyn’s G train stations at 11pm one recent night, there was a part of me that wished some black dude would come along and punch this white guy in the face who was shamelessly, drunkenly shouting and dancing about in a white sports jacket and no socks. To put bluntly, he was a douche bag – an awful cornball - in my opinion being “too allowed” to get away with it. It bothered me similarly to how it does when a movie like Inception doesn’t get unanimously recognized as one of the most pretentious, unintelligent pieces of shit of the year. Not so many years ago the G train was notorious - “G for Gangsta” - and surely would have permeated a vibe that would have let this guy know, not only was this not the place to jovially prance around, but he’d better find some socks and lose the jacket if he wanted to go unnoticed enough to make it home safely. Have we not lost something when what is known as “street smarts” becomes completely obsolete?
Of course this goes enormously against the bleeding-heart hippie inside of me who believes in free expression for all at all times and in all places, but does it really? Is there not a wonderful dichotomy to hippie philosophy (which arguably crosses over into that of black panther ideology and hip hop culture) that does support freedom and love for all, though unapologetically takes exception to an expansion of presence and power of the “anti-hippies” that ultimately dilute hippy culture and intention? This is to suggest that of course it is right in regards to the Bill of Rights to allow the KKK to march and speak, but is it actually “right?”
I grew up a white suburbanite, though I think it’s as unfair to box me in to such a label as it is to do so a black guy from the hood with a Phd in Science or Business or whatever. I was born in Manhattan and raised 15 miles north of it. My two best friends ever and two most serious girlfriends were all Manhattanites. My friends and I ran weed spots in Harlem from 1994-’97, until Giuliani shut them down. My college crew was made of racially diverse, native New Yorker hip hop kids. From 2002-2006 I worked exclusively New York’s ghetto black comedy circuit and succeeded on it. I hate to be over-simplified or one-dimensionalized. We all do; some of us deserve it even less than others.
I’m sure my wish that the sockless Don Johnson would get knocked out had partially to do with my own immaturity – my own clinging onto of a definition of New York that I’ve adopted as a part of my definition of self. It bothered me not only that he behaved how he did, but that he apparently had no idea or reverance for the history of where he was. The girls in Bergen Bagels couldn’t care less that they were getting breakfast on Biggie’s block (of course I’m stereotyping here – they might know every lyric), and as a devout worshipper of a music born in this same city I was, I resented it. Maybe it is wrong of me to feel this way. I’m not too blind to see the relativity and egocentricity in it, as I’m sure plenty of black Harlemites have felt the same in presumption (accurately) of my ignorance of the history of Harlem culture as I walk fearlessly down 125 in the middle of the night. It just feels sadly like if the late night G train commuters permit such lameness then the “NY” on my hat loses some significance. Nas’ lyrics on Illmatic feel less powerful, maybe like that of Bob Dylan’s to a hippy who watches Woodstock end and a corporate building get constructed in its place. I don’t know. Is this a desperate attachment to ego via nostalgia, or an accurate sensitivity in perception to a change not necessarily for the best?
New York is known for, amongst many other things, our coolness and elitism in thought (whether right or wrong or egocentric or not, it exists). We’re the best and we know the most, simply because most of us have seen the most, simply because of the power in numbers and mathematical laws of probability. The melting pot’s melting pot. Home of Broadway theater, hip hop’s birthplace, the Yankees, one of the few true “Meccas” of fashion, business, comedy, and countless other iconic cultural movements. Reasonably so, we also boast the most tasteful and discerning of minds. So when the sockless Don Johnson prances around so tactlessly in an area once defined by the very antithesis of such behavior, is this not indicative of a growing lack of discernment and/or standards in the culture? Isn’t our city’s coolness intimately intertwined with its savviness in a way that makes it (or once made it) so unique?
David Foster Wallace (whose literary ability is as great only as his first two names) once wrote, I think in E unibus pluram, that there is an inherent intellect in the people we perceive and label to be “cool” that is absent in people we perceive to be “nerdy” and/or “uncool,” suggesting that “nerds” are actually and maybe ironically, lacking in a particular type of intelligence that the “cool people” possess (which are not mutually exclusive forms of intelligence, but still separate and different). Appropriately, and maybe sadly, our recent surge in gentrification has coincided with a “hipster” culture that has equated nerdiness and coolness, and possibly in the process depleted the city’s previously omnipresent IQ in the latter.
In 2009 one of my ex-girlfriends raced to move out of the city after growing fed up with the increased pace of the rat race that’s been perpetuated by the city’s increased influx of competitive, career-driven people in the past decade. She is half black and half white, grew up in Harlem, went to high school in Brooklyn, and has a Bachelors in Psychology, a Masters degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine, and a passion for hip hop, astrology, and exploring the mental pathologies of serial killers. All’s I’m saying is when New York loses someone like that and gains three finance workers from middle America who love ice cream and have never had a non-white friend in their lives, it has lost something. Multiply this example by the many I’m sure there are like it, and slowly but surely you have a different environment.
There is value in culture – value in identity – not one that translates fiscally in the short term, but probably does so in the long term as a result of its energetic value in the short. Take the black and Hispanic people out of New York’s residential streets and does it not lose charm and personality? Obviously a New York void of minorities is hardly right around the corner but it might be a short train ride away. Part of New York’s magnetism is its existence as a microcosm of the country, built on capitalism and drive, though simultaneously boasting of people from all walks of life with all different values. Trust me, I love brunch and good food and physical safety as much as anyone else, but does New York not lose something when suddenly every one of its neighborhoods is Soho? Are we looking forward to a city entirely populated by nothing but 25-45 year old, single, childless, wealthy, white, career-oriented, third generation Americans who grew up outside New York? If anything close to that becomes the case one has to figure it would prompt the completion of a full circle that would decrease the city’s desirability, thus ironically lowering property values.
Like most others the black race seems to have grown and progressed greatly in recent generations. Sure, there are still bad apples as there are in all groups, and sure, Giuliani’s transformation of the city into a police state did a lot towards making it safer. But it’s been my observation that concurrent with the expansion of hip hop culture into international big business and of course our first black president, that most of our nation’s ghettos have become less violent. With obvious exceptions, races have generally grown more accepting of and integrated with each other, and in the process white people have become more comfortable moving into black neighborhoods. We’re not suffering the consequences many of us might have on the G train a generation ago, and in exchange for their growth and acceptance it appears many black people are being repaid with sailing rents to the point of driving them out of their homes and neighborhoods. Pretty uncool.
There is the occasional and understandable expression of backlash from the natives, of which I have heard rarely: An unsolicited insult, a dirty look on the block, some bad manners in the local deli, etc. Nothing unlike what we can be sure minorities went through generations ago upon migrating into what were previously all white neighborhoods. Though I don’t think back then they had the option of purchasing the responsive “NY Don’t <3 U” or “Go <3 Your Own City” t-shirts. I’m proud to say that my great grandma never budged from 187th St. when the neighborhood changed back in the early 80’s (I wish we’d kept the lease!).
The problem of course is that, in a vacuum, nobody is really “wrong” in this equation. As a matter of fact, presently some of my favorite people in the world are white transplant New Yorkers. Cycloid B White Guy or Girl has a passion or desire for success in a field that does not flourish in Cycloid B Midwestern town, and Cycloid B White Guy or Girl is a perfectly innocent, good-hearted, hard-working person, in spite of his/her ignorance and lack of life experience. They want the same thing I do, or most of us do, really: Superficially they want success. Fundamentally they want happiness, and have every right to seek it wherever they so please, just like my parents’ grandparents’ did here many generations ago. It is not their fault that I might come from an ancestry of genetics superior in foresight and intellect, which led to my berthing in New York and not having to move here. Ha!
I do feel it is unfortunate that the interracial cohabitation of neighborhoods hasn’t yet seemed to coincide with the intermingling of races that was (and still is) commonplace in many diverse NYC hoods where families raise kids. Although there is a great deal of residential segregation in NYC there is a nearly equal amount of the opposite as well. One of my greatest pet peeves is to hear a non-native newbie pontificate in diagnosis of our city into a definition that quite obviously pertains to his/her own personal three or five or even nine year experience of it. Yes, New York is very Hispanic. It’s also very non-Hispanic. Yes, it is a huge sports town… with a huge population that couldn’t give a fuck about sports. We have 11,000,000 people! Stop trying to one-dimensionally define and compare us to the glorified suburb you call a “city.” Yes, New York is gay, but there is even more heterosexuality here. And yes, there is a lot of separation of the races, but a huge amount of non-separation as well, and if your experience is more of the former it probably says more about you than it does New York City.
When I traveled around the country working the black comedy circuit one of my favorite things to hear from black comics from out of town was that I was a “New York white guy.” New York white guys ain’t like other white guys, they’d say and laugh. You can’t fuck with a New York white guy. They know what’s up. Obviously this fed many levels of my ego. I didn’t at all take it to mean I was as particularly tough as anyone else or possessed some kind of “street cred” that I do not; instead I felt it spoke to the aforementioned “intellect of cool,” that is often more absent in white people who come from most other cities. I’ve traveled a lot and seen it on both sides. It isn’t inherent of course, but as a result of our exposure and environment it is as undeniable as it is [admittedly] unprovable.
Of course I wouldn’t want for every white person moving into the hood to suddenly start wearing their pants below their wastes and hats more crooked if it isn’t organic to them. If I thought a white person had to embrace hip hop in order to be cool I’d be as ignorant as those who think white people should not identify with hip hop at all. I also recognize that the choice to co-mingle with black neighbors is a two way street that cannot be forced or contrived, and that most white people, no matter where they’re from, exhibit at least some potential for coolness just by moving to the hood in the first place. But presently, from the perspective of the discerning mind with the experience of having been here “the whole time,” we are in a state where “more has created less” – where there is a sort of annoying segregation within this incidental cohabitation that feels worse than the previously partial segregation did – where we have been given many more toys and distractions, delicacies and seasonings, but in the process sacrificed part of what makes us great. An identity diluted is a lack of identity, and when a place’s greatness is defined by said identity it logically risks losing its greatness. Although, if the present situation could somehow gradually transform and reproduce the next generation’s version of the interracial kind of skateboarding, hip hop graffiti crews (no bias here at all) that personified the city in the 1990’s then I think the full circle will have been well worth it.
July 21, 2013
Most sports fans have seen Peyton Manning throw an interception – Michael Jordan miss a free throw – Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, Manny Ramirez, Derek Jeter strike out… yet we know from a lifetime spent incidentally studying sports that one incident or even a series of incidents could never wholly define the caliber of player any one of them are. By contrast, my observation and experience interacting with even the most intelligent of laypeople (by my own standards of course) has shown that most cannot help but be mostly and relatively incapable of such comprehension of context when it comes to a comedian having a poor set. Maybe it has something to do with the factors of “opposition” being obviously much more subtle in performance art than they are during a football game, but I tend to think it has more to do with simple and innocent ignorance. Sports fans are exposed to sports on pretty much a daily basis, and thus in spite of their so-called “expertise” being very non-expert, they do really become experts, at least relative to their own individual, mental capacity for expertise. Get it? By contrast, even the biggest of comedy fans are probably not going to a comedy show on even a weekly basis, and if they go to even close to that many, half of them are probably to see a favorite celebrity headline at a major club, which has an entirely different feel and framing to it than an ordinary “showcase line-up” at local clubs. This is why most of the time even the smartest people really don’t get it. And this is why most of the time most of us get just a bit more nervous when friends come to shows (please don’t let this stop you from coming to one of my shows – it’s not that serious – but please do let it stop you from verbalizing to me that you now feel hesitant about coming to one of my shows): People whose opinions matter to us are about to see one at bat, and then helplessly judge our ability (and subsequently our psychology, since it is very psychologically telling when people pursue a goal that is not meant for them), as if that at bat is how every at bat goes.
A million things could affect a hitter’s single at-bat: It might be late in an 8-1 game in either direction, and there just isn’t a ton of motivation to focus; some injury or quasi-injury may have just started to bother him; he might have terrible things going on in his personal life that day; he may be the greatest hitter ever but just struggles against this one particular pitcher; he may have guessed wrong as to what kind of pitch was coming next; the pitcher may have uncharacteristically over-achieved in his performance, etc. etc. etc. It’s similar in comedy:
The crowd might suck. Maybe they’re stupid or inattentive. Maybe they’re too foreign, too young, too old, or too Midwestern (“foreign” too). Please believe, when you have a set one night that crushes for a room full of 25-50 year old, educated urbanites and the identical set bombs the next night for one of the aforementioned groups, the causative factor is pretty indisputable. Maybe the room sucks. Lots of bar shows and even a few comedy clubs are not physically designed in a way most conducive to stand-up comedy listening and enjoyment. Maybe the host sucks and didn’t get them properly warmed up. Maybe there were too many comedians on the show and the crowd’s exhausted. There are many possible external scenarios that lead to an attenuation in comprehension and thus response to the words coming out of our mouths. Why did the guy before or after us do well? It’s possible his moronic brand of humor was a better fit for the moronic brand of humanity packed into this product of moronic interior architecture design. It is also possible that it’s sometimes our fault too.
It isn’t always a veteran comic’s first priority to go on stage and have the greatest set he possibly can. Don’t get me wrong: We always want to do as good as possible; it just isn’t always the one and only priority. As a matter of fact, on local club and bar shows it is rarely the first priority. Instead and logically, in consideration of how we are being financially compensated, most of us use local shows as “work out rooms,” where we get to work out and try new material, with the goal of broadening our voice and growing as performers. Skateboarders can’t improve if they never fall and neither can we. Hence most of the time you see comics at an inexpensive price you are not seeing his best shit. And most of us are professional and courageous enough to not allow friends’ presence in the room to compromise our bold creative exploration towards development (maybe if it’s a new someone we’re dating), so recognize that you’re not always witnessing a finished product.
I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve heard [really smart] friends come out of a show and remark on how shitty one comic was who I knew was not shitty at all, or how funny some guy was who I’ve never seen or heard of before (which doesn’t mean he sucks necessarily, but that he’s probably brand new and has no clue what he’s doing just yet). I’ve heard friends wrongly interpret comics’ intentions in doing a particular bit; wrongly interpret pensive pauses normally indicative of great comfort as the comic “forgetting his lines;” wrongly judge high energy comics as necessarily nervous and low energy comics as obviously comfortable since “he rested his arm on the mic stand, like the whole time” – which all of us know is a total defense mechanism/bad habit that you never see any of the greats do for more than a few beats on stage, even when their style is low energy.
That said, yes there have also been cases where I’ve gotten too much in my head and allowed my confidence to be compromised, whether because of friends in the room, other factors, or both (I once had a girl come see me for the first time on a show I was taping for industry purposes and had to follow an awesome veteran headliner who had just destroyed (went well, but still)), where I do accept full blame. This is really the only kind of bomb nowadays that pisses me off, as I feel at my experience level I should never feel like I’m back on my heels or insecure at all. It’s terribly frustrating, as few things feel worse than poorly executing your passion and life’s work at a level way below that which you are capable, and do almost every other night. But even then, you still saw only one at-bat.
July 2, 2013
Who decided on the prerequisite of physically connecting genitals and potential for heartbreak for the writing of a love letter? I’ve been in love several times and probably only a third were with some awesome chick I was smashin’… and kissing and hugging and holding and conceding most arguments to. The other times were with people I never thought about fucking at all: my crew of high school friends in the summer after graduation; the four month love affair with my college crew of degenerate delinquents, aptly nicknamed by local strangers: “The Sweathogs” (left George Washington after one semester because D.C. was lame); my NYC crew/the Benetton hip hop crew/the genius crew of my early-20’s, who are probably 50% responsible for my being who I am; and my brother, who lived with me and constantly made me laugh harder than I ever had in my life during the worst years of my life, as we watched between 100-140 Yankees games per year. For years I feared I would never fall in love again, either romantically or “friendship-ally.” I thought I’d peaked in mental and spiritual connection with fellow humans, and that it not only could not get any better, but would only get worse. I’m eternally grateful to report the universe has proven me wrong.
About a month ago the comedy business again kicked me in the dick, and as I was keeled over, tore my heart out and shoved it down my fuckin’ throat (exacerbating my globus hystericus). I was given my first audition for what is not only the world’s biggest comedy festival, but also one of the few well-known for boosting and/or making many comics’ careers. They hold auditions at several venues throughout the city and I was given a spot on what is by far the best. The actual festival is next month - just two months before the unofficial deadline I’d long ago set in my mind for “taking my talents to” Venice Beach if New York didn’t reward them before – two months after completing post-production of my TV pilot that I’m looking to show off to industry [who would be at the festival] – and one month after the good fortune planet, Jupiter, was leaving my astrological sign. Finally, on the day of the audition I was given the opportunity to draw a personal boundary where my spiritual adviser had so advised [and likened to sort of “commanding space” in my career]. The stars seemed as aligned as could be.
As late as halfway through the comic’s spot right before mine I debated over which set to do. The booker had already seen my hypothetical “late night set” and liked it enough to give me this audition. It wouldn’t have been at all inappropriate to do the same for him to see live, but between my own thoughts and advice I’d gotten from good friend, Calise Hawkins, I thought it might be a good idea to go for a bigger splash. Another set I had in mind was slightly more “hit or miss,” but also much more original, and equally powerful when the crowd comes with
I chose to take the risk and do the latter. It paid off. It rocked. It did as well as it ever does or could have, and mid-way through I felt as comfortable and was having as much fun as I do on any great non-audition set (an extraordinary rarity for any comic). At the risk of once again sounding naïve I got off stage, received an enthusiastic hug from the club manager (uninvolved with the festival), and thought: No way I don’t get it… just no way… right? Wrong. A month later I got the email: You won’t be going forward this year. No explanation attached, and no, laypeople, you may not ask for an explanation – it is obviously quite implied, and actually rather unimportant if you think about it.
A year ago this would have sent me into days, if not weeks of embittered depression and resentment, manifesting as greater irritability, poorer sleep, and increased mental rumination over why the people who piss me off piss me off, why everything about them is wrong and everything about me is right, how I am being unfairly victimized by life, and what else I need to externally do to change my luck. Instead I sat quietly upset for about an hour, sobering into yet another realization that: No, this time wouldn’t be the break either. I spoke to fellow comic, Justy Dodge, via text who was uncharacteristically comforting and sympathetic as she characteristically cursed out the industry for me. By the next morning I was able to move on and have the realization that I truly did not give a fuck. Why?
I’ve always wanted success – to self-actualize and achieve – what American, or really any modern person doesn’t? Though I can look back to early in my career when I had a close group of friends that really functioned like family (albeit dysfunctional) when I sort of knew success was inevitable and didn’t worry so much about when it was going to happen. It was around this time that I landed on HBO, MTV, and Showtime in the span of two years. After breaking up with my two best friends [turned alcoholic coke heads] and serious girlfriend within a month of each other I saw my mentality shift and focus narrow into a very magnified obsession with the destination, results, success, etc. It can be hard enough to “enjoy the journey” with a great support system around us, but without a social context to enjoy, feeling void of love in my life, broken-hearted, it became impossible. All I wanted was occupational success. For almost seven years it was the only thing that mattered to me, and that which logically remained most elusive. In a viscous cycle of the chicken and the egg, loneliness bred need, which attracted less success, which created more resent, which bred more loneliness.
In the past two years I’ve fallen in love twice: Once with a woman, with whom the label only lasted one year. But again with a few fellow comics and a group of friends I’ve studied Chinese Medicine with, of whom I see no need to define individually nor draw any line of where in this group my actual love ends and they become acquaintances… I’m past that. I think love is defined by the existence of a mutual worship – an equal but ironically immeasurable amount of excitement by both/all parties for the company and presence of each other. This is familiar. It’s all coming back to me:
You think each other are geniuses and get excited to hear thoughts and ideas, even when they happen to be idiotic products of neuroses that end up giving you the gift of laughter and the opportunity to play teacher [as seamlessly as you played student with them just five minutes prior]. They hear you how you want to be heard, touch you with affection each time you arrive and depart, and see you as an extension of themselves (oneness, God, non-separation, whatever). They effortlessly provide a cushion for your heart to fall back on with their mere existence, regardless of therapeutic talks or sound advice. No one of their actions or human traits are necessary or especially superior to any other. All that matters is them. You express love with love and love with flirtatious insults. It’s all good. There are no insecurities or second thoughts as to whether this person wants to hear from or spend time with you. They do. You do. You both know it as fact, and thus can more comfortably allow the many other uncertainties of life to remain uncertain. It’s really dope.
Don’t get me wrong: It’s not that the old friends I’ve kept aren’t also great. It’s just that I changed and grew a lot, thus was in need of a fresh personal context to match my shift - a context that enables me at times, to appreciate old friends almost as new ones as well.
Knowing I am loved by people whose love I desire and feel the same way about allows me to not give a fuck about money and recognition (okay, not nearly as much of a fuck). For the seven years I was stuck on the hamster wheel of isolation, desire, resentment, and failure I explored what felt like every form of meditation and center of spiritual practice in the city. And while I’m sure each one helped to lead me where I now am, I never felt in the moment like they provided me with the peace of mind I sought to deal with my struggle. I’ve realized that spiritual enlightenment or even a very laid back, “zen” mentality might not be in the cards for me in this incarnation, but surrounded by a context of love, attracted by a persistent open heart and a shift in intention and priorities, I am able to once again not give a fuck about not fitting into the typically defined box someone is looking for in one particular instance. It feels amazing. Thank God!
June 17, 2013
My third show the other night was perfect. My second was great. The first show of the night was tied for worst experience of my life [with about 5-10 others]. Did the same material on every spot.
It was the hottest, most humid day of the year and there was no air conditioning in the club showroom. There were 11 audience members in the 120-seater room, seated spread out from left side to far right, front row to back, and it was designated a clean, “family friendly show.”
They were terrible. God, they were awful. Just as stupid, simple, and unsavvy as the day is long. I looked out over their dumbfounded stares, exhausted by the humidity, desperately waiting for a punch line that could resonate with their pathetic little brains. It wasn’t going to come, and I knew it even better than they did. You can make several choices in this situation, but what I’ve recently learned is that the wisest one is to simply and robotically plough through monologue, performing for the camera that isn’t there. As the worst crowd in the world they’re doomed to get nothing out of the situation, so I might as well. By sticking to the script and ignoring the crowd’s displeasure a comic can actually grow just from the stating or restating of one joke out loud in a way that he thus far hadn’t, and in spite of suffering through 15 minutes of silence to do so, can become ironically better from the experience.
There was a white couple stage-left who silently laughed at nearly everything I said, either the humidity, their own shyness, or a combination of both disallowing volume from their entertainment. A Hispanic couple with their child seated right in front of me couldn’t have responded less to my jokes if they spoke no English at all. A foreign Indian/Pakistani couple in back who… (see Hispanic couple). Two Midwestern white chicks stage-right who… (see Hispanic couple). Finally two Orthodox Jewish dudes either in their late teens or early 20’s, whose arrogance was apparent since even before the show started when one of them approached the club manager and told him to put him on the show – he was “a comic.” Sure, dude…
I’ve seen these kids before. Not them specifically (though the club manager had), but their type. Being a full-time comedian is nothing if not a wonderful anthropological study of people. No profession in the world can expose you to more different individuals with the opportunity to observe behaviors, responses, and mentalities than stand-up comedy. After nearly 5000 times on stage, mostly in New York City, but literally all over the world, I know how the piece of shit Jews look, act, and think, and I know how the awesome Jews look, act, and think. I know how the piece of shit black people, Asians, Hispanics, Canadiens, Californians, and Midwesterners look, act, and think, and I know exactly how their positive counterparts do as well. 9 times out of 10 I can tell which thugs are going to be tons of trouble and which are going to be tons of fun. I can tell which hood rat chicks are going to want to spitefully fuck my whole set and night up and which want to fuck me all night. 9 times out of 10 I know all Australians are going to be awesome no matter what. The Jewish kids at this show looked like your typical, Upper East/West Side, spoiled brats, filled to the brim with a sense of entitlement for their self-perceived intelligence matched maybe only by my own.
About halfway through my bomb [that I was completely at peace with] they started heckling: Sarcastic laughter at my jokes when the half-room of half-wits didn’t laugh. Incomprehensible responses that one of them would yell and the other would laugh at. I felt insulted, angry. I knew exactly who I was dealing with, yet was handcuffed from possessing the tools to deal with them. I had a non-responsive crowd who had already silently decided that I was a bad comedian (nothing more difficult than effectively dealing with a heckler when you’re already bombing, thus void of credibility with the room… which is also why there is nothing more heartless for an audience member to do). I was censored by this “family friendly show,” hence unable to get both the catharsis and possible laughter out of the curses I craved to spew. I asked the kids where they were from, searching for a route to some kind of snap/punch that would get enough of a chuckle to just shut them up. Detroit, one of them sardonically replied. I knew he was lying, but humored him if for nothing else, the sake of killing time. I talked about how I hadn’t realized there was such an Orthodox Jewish population in Detroit. Not surprisingly, no one laughed, but the two kids nearly half my age continued to laugh at me. I wanted to curse! I needed to curse so badly, but couldn’t.
I’ve learned what can be effective when stuck with a heckler is to get literal. If you’re patient and comfortable, getting literal should ultimately lead to the facts of the situation, which are that an asshole is being an asshole, thus quite easy to make fun of. I explained to the kids how I knew that while they think they’re very smart, that they’re not, and promised that when they looked back on themselves in ten years that they would come to agree with my assessment. They responded by calling me a failure – a loser for where I’m at financially in my career. It had been a long time since I’d hit stand-up comedy’s rock bottom: cafeteria insults between stage and crowd.
Nothing strikes more of a nerve for a comedian than being insulted as a stupid loser by a room full of stupid losers who don’t realize it is precisely their existence as stupid losers that has them convinced it is you who is the stupid loser. Heckling to challenge a comic or get attention is relatively understandable pathetic immaturity. But heckling to insult is just mean, and very few of us take kindly to them. I lost it.
I called the kids “dirty, stupid Jews.” “Jewish pieces of crap,” “stupid, little Jew bags,” etc. etc. I never cursed. I never said kike. I wanted to. With all my heart I wanted to, but I respected the rules of the club (maybe they need an anti-Semitism rule also). I told them my mom was Jewish, but that I hated Jews like them. I kept spewing. I probably said Jew, filled to the brim with derogatory hatred about 10-20 times. The Midwestern white chicks left. The Indian couple left too, and shortly thereafter the Hispanic family got up to leave, though not as peacefully.
The father, a beastly dude in a sleeveless shirt, covered in tats, slowly, menacingly approached the stage. He stood about a foot away from me as his wife tried to pull him towards the door. I should beat you down, man, he said to me. Talking about Jews like that. I got a little girl right here. I apologized to him (I really was sorry about going there in front of the little girl, or anyone for that matter), but he didn’t move. I was a little bit scared that he was going to attack, but I remained casually leaning up against the wall with the microphone as if I wasn’t. You can’t be talkin’ like that, he continued. I’m Jewish. This was total bullshit, by the way. I’m aware that there are Hispanic Jews. He… was not one of them, I can almost guarantee. It’s a comedy show, I told him (not exactly sure what I meant by this, but he was real big and I was grasping at anything in the moment). I should slap you, he told me, but I ain’t gonna stoop to your level. I chose not to explain to him that violence is probably actually a level below verbal bigotry in a comedy club. It was probably the right choice as his wife was able to slowly encourage him out of the room.
The Jews stayed (no surprise), as did the white couple, stage left, who were previously the only ones enjoying my jokes. Neo-Nazis? Who knows? The host came to rescue me, and as I left I apologized to the gentiles.
It begs the question: How technically racist was Kramer in his words and actions several years back at the Laugh Factory? Obviously they were inappropriate, and obviously the details of the situation were different. Half of my genetics are Jewish, whereas half of his are not black. I’m confident had I been dealing with someone of a different background I would not have gone there (since it’s happened many times and I haven’t). I’m also confident if I’d had the freedom to curse these kids out that I wouldn’t have felt the need to find such verbal aggression via anti-Semitism. Kramer on the other hand, surely had the freedom to curse as much as he wanted to. He was also in a well air-conditioned, comfortable, beautiful room, which absolutely makes a difference in the physiological responses of both crowd and comic. Finally, were his hecklers even insulting him? If I recall correctly, I think they were just being disruptive in conversation, until of course the end in response to his epithets.
All of that being said, I understood the other night, exactly where he was coming from. There is no greater insult – nothing more aggressive or offensive in modern society than to culturally denigrate someone with derogatory language. And when our feelings are hurt as badly as can be it can be quite difficult to not grasp for such a tool, especially when our attacker is displaying all of the stereotypical behaviors of the most negative example of their group. Maybe those black guys in the balcony of the Laugh Factory that night were as “niggerish” as can be - we’ll probably never know. But I know these Jewish kids were as “kikeish” as can be, because of how they acted during and even before the show, because of the things they said, and because of my own experience and diagnostic abilities. The sarcasm and arrogance in their tone combined with their aggressive behavior and senses of entitlement screamed nothing but dirty, fucking, Jewish pieces of shit, and it wasn’t until right this moment that I realized I’m not at all sorry for one word I said.
June 4, 2013
Comedians are often guilty of making obtuse statements of fact that are actually opinions, where we attempt to objectify the subjective, draw lines where they don’t exist, or make claims of laws that are impossible to prove or disprove. I believe there are 2 KINDS OF PEOPLE in this world – not literally two, but two in regards to perspective of the world and subsequent approach to life. I believe there are subdivisions within the two groups, but that there exist two fundamental groups: Cynics and people of faith.
The people of faith can easily be split down the middle into the mindless followers who likely adopted the same religious beliefs and/or spiritual practices as that of their parents, and the critical thinkers, who discovered, while in search for “something more” out of life (a logical search for any intelligent mind), tons of philosophy and literature that more or less proved that something more does.
I was raised “agnostically Jewish,” which basically means our religious affiliation had more to do with proximal social culture, not at all to do with spiritual devotion. Typically this transformed within me into simple agnosticism, and then of course Atheism in college, where all the smart kids learn to hate religion and realize that God is fake, just like we learned of Santa Claus ten years prior. Not long after college a brilliant girl I fell in love with introduced me to the book, Metu Neter, which was something of “a bible” that denounced organized religion as we know it, but also systematically broke down the cosmology of the universe, discussing God and metaphysics in ways I had never heard before. It didn’t talk about God as some superior being who sat somewhere up high in judgment of all of humanity for swearing or shoplifting or sucking a dick, but instead as an underlying wisdom that pervades all beings, tying us all together, but separating us with the very specific intention of having the human experience. The simultaneously radical but super-logical thought process of the writer was irrefutable in my mind, and I’ve been open ever since. I’ve read books on quantum physics, astrology, Buddhism, reincarnation, spiritual philosophy, and went through a four-year Masters program in Traditional Chinese Medicine, all of which solidified my knowledge that there is much more going on than meets the eye. Although I am a “person of faith,” I cannot consider myself a person of “faith,” as “faith” implies doubt, hope, or room for chance. I consider myself to be a person with information, as a result of courage and open-mindedness. And as I was raised a Jew who became a total cynic, and then transformed into who I am now, I feel I have a clear understanding of the etiology of each group’s perspective.
There are many variations and degrees of Cynic. It is actually appropriately poorly defined, as each individual cynic’s existence is a result of different degrees of ignorance to information and/or openness of thought. Some don’t believe in God, but they “believe in something” (these are the people who are usually just scared of sounding stupid to cynics). Others know for a fact that God does not exist (these people most often came from a pretty strict religious family, not unlike how people with racial fetishes come from a racist one). Some cynics can accept astrology but not reincarnation. Some believe in healing modalities like acupuncture, but think chakra work and shamanism are absurd. The etiologies here are obvious: acupuncture and astrology have become relatively integrated into our own society, and thus said cynics don’t have to stretch their minds too much.
One of cynics’ primary gripes is how one can possibly accept or believe in something that can’t be proven [by science]. Such a critique is ironic, as one could just as easily flip the same question back to them: How can you be so sure something is ineffective/fake when it can’t be dis-proven? Isn’t such an “anti-faith” equally guilty of the same mindlessness you accuse of religious followers (this is actually a wonderful example many spiritual philosophies’ theory on how we resent most in others those traits which are still unresolved within our selves)? And, how can you put all of your faith only in science when “Science” will be the first to tell you that there is so much it has yet to understand? Without any education agnosticism would be the only intelligent choice for cynics, as it logically suspends belief in regards to something they know nothing about, and silently acknowledges how egocentric it would be to assume that in the entire galaxy of stars, planets, milky ways and space, there is nothing beyond detection of the five human senses. Logical.
The fact is that science includes quantum physics, which more or less proves the existence of God, or some underlying force of wisdom in the universe [that you may label however you please]. If you’re a steadfast cynic yet to read at least two or three good books on quantum physics or cosmology then to many of us you sound like a pretentious child who’s still mad that mommy and daddy were so conservatively religious.
It’s funny when people who subscribe to western medicine with the self-definition of Intelligent as a result of a supposed questioning mind. They say: “Hey, those herbs aren’t FDA approved,” or: “If science can’t prove it, how do you know it’s working?” Meanwhile, how much more of a cliché joke do modern drug commercials have to become before these self-proclaimed questioning minds start questioning them and doubting the FDA? If you do any research at all you can read about infinite amounts of corruption and suspicious behavior in the world of contemporary health care; or you can just ask me, as I know someone who works for Big Pharma who told me firsthand that they have no idea what they’re doing in construction of psychotropic medications, and that it is easy to get anything approved by the FDA. Is it not even greater mindless following to not at all question society’s standards and its most powerful groups?
I think I understand why Cynics are cynics: Fear. If you’re over the age of 60 or 40 or even 28, and you suddenly realize that God is real, astrology is relevant, and acupuncture, herbs, and shamans are better ways to heal yourself than with medication it means a) You have to admit you’ve been wrong your whole life (a huge fear in our intellectually obsessed, egomaniacal society, b) You feel like you’ve wasted tons of time (another huge fear in our driven, goal-oriented society), and c) You’ve now opened a huge can of worms: What else is out there? What is inside you? What should you actually be doing with your time and energy instead of striving for the biggest TV and fanciest car? If there’s all this, then there’s so much more. Fuck. I’d rather keep it simple, you know? Job, health plan, house, kids, family vacations, college, retirement, death. You know, just do what my parents did before me, and what the majority of the people around me are doing now. Nice and simple. Mindless. Stupid.
And so in conclusion, there are two kinds of people in this world, though not those previously defined, but instead:
2) Cynics and devout Christians, Muslims, Jews, Atheists, etc.
May 28, 2013