Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category


ct-gary-shandling-cause-of-death-20161227

Today is I believe the 532nd day since the passing of comic Garry Shandling at age 66. It’s been roughly a year and a half and typing that last sentence still deeply effects me. To be truly saddened by the death of celebrities I’ve never met and or even seen perform in person is an extreme rarity for someone such as myself.

After I killed for my 2 1/2 nerve-wracking, exhilarating minute debut at the Goonies comedy club Thursday night open mic in Rochester, MN oh so many February’s ago, I unceremoniously ended my set with an apology. I  half-mumbled “That’s all I got” and then just literally ran off the stage, out the stage door, down the stairs, out the front door before finally stumbling into a snow-covered alley. Struggling for breath in the winter air, I felt simultaneously both high and sick. I was hooked and I knew I would be chasing that high forever.

I’ve learned a lot since then. For starters, don’t swallow a whole week’s worth of Bupropion and Adderall all at once and then chase it down with Jack and Cokes. Especially if it’s right before you hit the stage. (Apparently you should listen to your shrink when they warn you to actually read the medicine bottle labels and don’t try to “make up” for days you forget to take your crazy pills.) But a lot of what I learned early on about joke writing and character creation can be credited directed to the late great Mr. Shandling.

Like any self-respecting English minor nerd, I worked at the public library and Barnes & Noble. (Cheateau Theatre, R.I.P.) Like all my previous obsessions (journalism, drumming, Abraham Lincoln, etc.) I resolved to immediately learn everything I could on the subject. I checked out every book I could on stand-up and back-ordered everything else. 75% of them represented time wasted from my life I can regretfully never get back. Like everybody else, you realize the only real way to get any better at stand up is stage time. However, five titles* genuinely helped me out early on: Lenny Bruce’s “How To Talk Dirty and Influence People,” Bill Maher’s “True Story,” Jay Sankey’s “Zen and the Art of Stand Up Comedy,” Steve Martin’s “Born Standing Up” and Garry’s “Confessions Of A Late Night Talk Show Host.” (Runner Up: Richard Belzer‘s “How To Be A Stand Up Comic”)

untitled

A fake late-90’S bio written in his Larry Sanders alter-ego with the help of ghost-writer David Rensin, it’s literary significance initially appears to be somewhere on the level of “Wayne’s World: Extreme Close Up.” However, like Garry’s hair, first impressions can sometimes be deceiving.

Before, I was just a comedy groupie. The writing in these five coffee-stained paperbacks helped me decipher the secret unwritten code of comedy clubs:

  • Always shake the host’s hand immediately after they introduce you and again before you exit.
  • Pull the mic out and move the microphone stand away after your initial opening line, wait for the 1 minute warning light and then move the stand back to the center of the room and put the mic back in before telling your last 30 second bit.
  • No matter what, always do all of your time and never a second over.
  • Always have an exit strategy and never ever perform anywhere that doesn’t have two un-obstructed fire exits.
  • Always count your money before you leave the club.
  • If the bartender or waitress or even just busboy are physically in the room during your set, you still technically have an audience.
  • Remove any cultural reference that will time-stamp your bits to ensure a longer shelf life.
  • Never steal a joke: you will always be found out and no one will ever let you live it down.
  • You can call each other every name in the book but “hack” is fighting words.

Lenny‘s book has this heart-breakingly beautiful passage where he proposes a party phone line where lonely people could be connected to each other. (In other words, he basically invented the Internet in 1965.) Bill‘s thinly-veiled roman clef opens your eyes to the fact that, boiled down to their essence, there’s basically only five type of male comedy acts: poop, sex, race, weight and politics. (In 1994, this was a groundbreaking revelation.) Jay lets you in on the fact that the game is tragically rigged for randomized failure. It doesn’t matter if you’re Brian Regan, 10 years in at the height of your creative powers. Everyone eventually bombs: it’s just a question of when.  Martin‘s tome is unquestioningly the masterpiece of the pile, connecting how the ukulele he used at a part-time, after-school theme-park gig eventually became an integral part of his show to illustrate that you will use every part of your past to make your present.

At the time, newbie me was inspired by Shandling/Sanders’ humble beginnings in Mound, MN. (He’s actually from Arizona, dumbass. Satire. SAAATIIIRE.) At the time I first cracked the front cover, I only vaguely knew of Shandling as someone who used to do funny things on cable channels I wasn’t allowed to watch at the time. In time, I eventually realized how truly influential “The Larry Sanders Show” became: Judd Apatow‘s entire career, Steve Coogan’s Alan Partridge character, HBO becoming more than just boobs and boxing, “30 Rock“, Aaron Sorkin’s walk-and-talk schtick, “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “Seinfeld,” “The Office“, etc.

Larry Sanders in turn led me to the fourth-wall-leveling “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show,” which still gets my vote for funniest TV theme song of all time: Singer Bill Lynch explains Garry called him up and asked if he can write his theme song, asks what the listener thinks of it so far, etc. 

I vaguely remember coming across a study at some point where scientists picked dozens of one-liners past and present and attempted to determine what joke got the most laughs across all demographic categories. If memory serves me correctly, the clear winner by far was Shandling’s:

A man went to his doctor and told him “My penis is burning” and the doctor said “That means someone is talking about it.”

Sadly, today most people probably reference him, if they remember him at all, as Senator Stern from the Iron Man franchise. Some obituaries dutifully remembered him as one of the few stand up’s to flagrantly cross the Comedy Store picket line during the LA comedians ill-fated 1979 strike. The legend goes that Mitzi Shore never considered Shandling good enough for prime-time spots, but that all changed the moment he became her #1 scab star.   

He cameod in everything from “Zoolander” to “The X-Files” to “The Dictator.” Garry was the best interview Pete Holmes has done to date and his small part in the criminally underrated “Mixed Nuts” was truly inspired. On balance, the less said about “Over The Hedge” the better.

I recently re-read Amy Wallace’s excellent 2010 GQ piece again before finally getting around to watching Shandling’s episode of Jerry Seinfeld’s “Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee.” I put it off because I knew it would make me tear up. I was right. It’s truly moving, and not just because of Garry’s in-retrospect-foreboding aside about wishing a boxing referee instead of a doctor could be the one to officially pronounce him permanently down for the count.

Shandling never married, never had children. Like a lot of other men who chose this path (myself included), he instead threw himself completely into everything else: opening for Buddhist monks, learning ham radio, etc.  

I loved how Larry Sanders always weaved together fact and fiction, blurring the lines to create truly awkward, chaotic confusion everywhere he went. “Ellen Or Isn’t She,” where Ellen DeGeneres is debating publicly coming out as lesbian, but then ends up having a weird one-night stand with Garry instead. “Broadcast Nudes,” where Garry’s real-life fiancée is asked to pose for Playboy, which she ended up doing IRL at that time. Or how the set of “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show” meticulously recreated his actual off-camera apartment down to the lamp.

“Confessions Of A Late Night Talk Show Host” is the textbook definition of a murder-your-grandmother-to-get-on-a-sitcom character personified, a ruthless-yet-insecure role cemented for eternity. Sanders = Shandling and visa versa. Shandling showed all of us how to get everyone to pay you handsomely to pretend to show them how to properly demolish their fourth walls. How to never take anything seriously. How it’s possible to show authentic vulnerability while somehow also hiding your true self in plain sight. His career is an insanely intricate sleight-of-hand magic trick worthy of Andy Kaufman’s greatest Tony Clifton pranks. Garry Shandling is still dead and Earth is a less funny planet to live on without him.   

*Edit: I fully acknowledge my top authors are all straight white males, mostly wealthy Jews. I recognize it is not my place here to point out why that group of people seem to be better joke writers than everyone else. As a straight, middle-class Caucasian dude who grew up idolizing Robin Williams and Bill Hicks, it’s entirely possible their words spoke to me more than others because their experiences were more immediately relatable. Later on, I also definitely gained a lot of practical insight the second go-round on Judy Carter’s “Stand Up Comedy: The Book” and “The Comedy Bible.” Ok, I’ll shut up now before I dig this hole even deeper than it already is.

Quote Of The Day

Posted: August 26, 2017 in Uncategorized

“Dorothy (Stratten) looked at the world with love, and believed that all people were good down deep. She was mistaken, but it is among the most generous and noble errors we can make.”—Peter Bogdanovich, in a public statement issued after the murdered actress’ funeral

dorothy-stratten-01

Darkness

Posted: August 21, 2017 in Uncategorized

darkness

(In honor of this morning’s solar eclipse, a poem written during the Year Without A Summer)

Darkness
“I had a dream, which was not all a dream.
The bright sun was extinguish’d, and the stars
Did wander darkling in the eternal space,
Rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth
Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air;
Morn came and went—and came, and brought no day,
And men forgot their passions in the dread
Of this their desolation; and all hearts
Were chill’d into a selfish prayer for light:
And they did live by watchfires—and the thrones,
The palaces of crowned kings—the huts,
The habitations of all things which dwell,
Were burnt for beacons; cities were consum’d,
And men were gather’d round their blazing homes
To look once more into each other’s face;
Happy were those who dwelt within the eye
Of the volcanos, and their mountain-torch:
A fearful hope was all the world contain’d;
Forests were set on fire—but hour by hour
They fell and faded—and the crackling trunks
Extinguish’d with a crash—and all was black.
The brows of men by the despairing light
Wore an unearthly aspect, as by fits
The flashes fell upon them; some lay down
And hid their eyes and wept; and some did rest
Their chins upon their clenched hands, and smil’d;
And others hurried to and fro, and fed
Their funeral piles with fuel, and look’d up
With mad disquietude on the dull sky,
The pall of a past world; and then again
With curses cast them down upon the dust,
And gnash’d their teeth and howl’d: the wild birds shriek’d
And, terrified, did flutter on the ground,
And flap their useless wings; the wildest brutes
Came tame and tremulous; and vipers crawl’d
And twin’d themselves among the multitude,
Hissing, but stingless—they were slain for food.
And War, which for a moment was no more,
Did glut himself again: a meal was bought
With blood, and each sate sullenly apart
Gorging himself in gloom: no love was left;
All earth was but one thought—and that was death
Immediate and inglorious; and the pang
Of famine fed upon all entrails—men
Died, and their bones were tombless as their flesh;
The meagre by the meagre were devour’d,
Even dogs assail’d their masters, all save one,
And he was faithful to a corse, and kept
The birds and beasts and famish’d men at bay,
Till hunger clung them, or the dropping dead
Lur’d their lank jaws; himself sought out no food,
But with a piteous and perpetual moan,
And a quick desolate cry, licking the hand
Which answer’d not with a caress—he died.
The crowd was famish’d by degrees; but two
Of an enormous city did survive,
And they were enemies: they met beside
The dying embers of an altar-place
Where had been heap’d a mass of holy things
For an unholy usage; they rak’d up,
And shivering scrap’d with their cold skeleton hands
The feeble ashes, and their feeble breath
Blew for a little life, and made a flame
Which was a mockery; then they lifted up
Their eyes as it grew lighter, and beheld
Each other’s aspects—saw, and shriek’d, and died—
Even of their mutual hideousness they died,
Unknowing who he was upon whose brow
Famine had written Fiend. The world was void,
The populous and the powerful was a lump,
Seasonless, herbless, treeless, manless, lifeless—
A lump of death—a chaos of hard clay.
The rivers, lakes and ocean all stood still,
And nothing stirr’d within their silent depths;
Ships sailorless lay rotting on the sea,
And their masts fell down piecemeal: as they dropp’d
They slept on the abyss without a surge—
The waves were dead; the tides were in their grave,
The moon, their mistress, had expir’d before;
The winds were wither’d in the stagnant air,
And the clouds perish’d; Darkness had no need
Of aid from them—She was the Universe.”
—Lord Byron,  July 1816

The Lost Art Of Quitting

Posted: January 18, 2017 in Be-Bop, Uncategorized

img_9489

Since I last wrote my “Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, you’re cool, and fuck you, I’m out!” post last August, I’ve ended up doing stand up comedy again a handful of times for a variety of very good reasons that aren’t entirely just excuses.

  1. I was offered a substantial sum last fall to go to a complete stranger’s house on his birthday that I lived 2 blocks from at the time and then proceed to roast him in front of his friends and family.
  2. Purely on last minute impulse, I cashed in my airline miles and jetted down to Rochester, MN this summer to attend the last open mic before the closing of Goonie’s, the club I started at. I was asked by my old boss the GM to fill in as warmup  for a last minute cancellation before a roast of the very funny man who took over the open mic after I moved to Anchorage, Mr. John Russell.
  3. I just filled in this weekend for the hilarious comic Kyle Farrell for 3 shows with comedians Uncle Griff, Rudy Ascott & Chris Coleman. We all road tripped to support Kass Smiley’s new album release before she permanently relocates to the L48.

img_9492

(Coat check: Seward, AK)

It was so much fun and I did surprisingly well at both 4 Royle Parkers & Maverick Saloon in Soldotna as well as The Pit in Seward. I really needed this weekend both psychologically and emotionally, as it reminded me of everything I forget about that is so cool, fun and awesome about touring. Going to a new town where you don’t know anybody, getting free food & drinks, driving a relatively new rental car, staying in strange beds you don’t have to clean up, being viewed as exotic & exciting & mysterious by the local flirts, unique diners, weird but cool bars, gas station munchies, fighting over the radio, killing time writing set lists at sports bars, applause breaks, everything. All of the crazy, I miss it dearly.

I didn’t even really mind that there was no non-smoking section anywhere, that one of the shows almost got pre-empted due to poor planning by “DJ Hankerchief’s Neon Dance Party,” some sketchy hanger-on’s, etc. It all makes me think of an interview with the late great Mitch Hedberg. I’m paraphrasing here but his response was something along the lines of, “You should be grateful as an entertainer that you get to live your life in a hotel room. It is a privilege. It is an adventure. You are lucky in a way that most of us are not. This is fun and you should be grateful for this opportunity while you still have it.” Sadly, in his case, eventually at the end it just wasn’t enough.

Please note: Hedberg & I are both comics born in Saint Paul, MN but I am in no way shape or form comparing myself to Mitch, truly one of the greatest one-liner-writers that has ever walked this earth. 

A few people have asked me today if I’m second-guessing my self-imposed “retirement.” I will diplomatically answer by saying I really don’t know either way. I wonder about this the same way I wonder about moving back to MN. When I go home to visit, everyone makes time to visit with me and we go out to these great restaurants. But back when I lived there, I never saw a lot of those people, because I’m kinda anti-social & busy but also because my presence wasn’t a rare novelty treat back then. I’m sure there’s nostalgia about my home state glossing over unpleasant parts of my past there. By that same token, would I eventually just go back to hating everything in comedy again like I used to?

All I know for sure right now is that I didn’t realize how much I really miss my stand up comedy buddies. The bonding & commiserating you get with comedians in cars on the highway is real.  There is no substitute for that. It’s like a private club where civilians are not allowed. Stand up comedians do not judge you. Of course we are still competitive & jealous & rip on each other mercilessly. That never goes away. All comics really care about is whether or not you’re still funny.  I’m happy to report that apparently I still am. Cheers!

IMG_9484.jpg

Warning: Do not under any circumstances let this man use your hotel room sink.


1. Twin Towers 2 (No Fly Zone) Mixtape – Specifically the song “She Be Putting On”. It’s a terrible song in its own right, certainly wouldn’t be my first choice for a 1st single. To be fair, the weakest verse award goes to Slim Dunkin. (Side note: Slim Dunkin was shot to death while making a music video at a recording studio. Presumably that clip didn’t make the final cut.) 

  
2. The 2014 mixtape “I Can’t Rap Vol. 1” – arguably the most honest mixtape title of all time, one has to admire the sheer balls of assuming ahead of time that Volume 2 would even be necessary.

  
3. Dietary Preference Or Just A Picky Eater? As part of the grieving process in the aftermath of his brother’s suicide, Mr. Flame announced he had become “85% vegan.” With all due respect to his detox regimen, holding a press conference to announce your new wishy-washy diet choice is the most annoying American eating fad since Pescatarianism became mainstream respectable.

  
4. The So-Called “Flocka” Factor – it’s one thing to adapt your stage name from the signature punchline catchphrase of Fozzie Bear, the official patron saint of Hack Stand Up Comic Flop Sweat. It’s another thing entirely to run a campaign using 3 names. Mentioning the middle name never works. Initials, sure, that’s fine. Worked for Dubya. Plus, he holds the rare distinction of Waka F. Flame sounding just as insane and ridiculous and Muppet-esque as spelling it out.

  
5. Candidacy Announcement Planning Committee – where to start? A. Don’t declare your intent to run on 4-20. That’s Adolf Hitler’s birthday and the Columbine Massacre anniversary. B. Don’t make it an web exclusive video on rollingstone.com – you’re a rapper, not Keith Richards. C. Don’t immediately appeal to the lunatic Tea Bagger fringe base & the Koch Bros. You gotta ease into pandering towards powerful special interest lobbying groups like People Against Pets In Restaurants or Americans Against Americans With Big Ass Feet That Take Up The Whole Goddamn Sidewalk. D. Stick to the issues you know i.e. marijuana legalization. You are living proof it’s impossible to overdose on weed. Otherwise you would have died long before Slim Dunkin even ate his first donut, let alone picked up a microphone. 

  

All-Female Rock Tribute Bands

Posted: April 11, 2014 in Uncategorized

Semi-Decent Names Already Taken

AC-DShe
Misstallica
Bitchfits
Lez Zeppelin
The Iron Maidens
Slaywhore
Malice Cooper
Mistress Of Reality (Black Sabbath reference, FYI)
Ladysmith
Cheap Chick
Vag Halen
Judas Priestess
The Ramonas
PRISS
Hell’s Belles (AC-DC reference, duh)
AC/DDC

Worst Of The Worst
ThundHERStruck
Aerochix (Too minivan-ish)
Allison Chains (assumably not to be confused with the porn star)
The She-Tles (methinks it sounds too much like the Shitty Beatles)
Ziggy Starlet and the Spiders from Venus (Male Cover Bands Are From Mars)
Iron Madame (So, like the audio equivalent of a medieval torture device popular during the Inquisition?)
Judith Priest (Too nursing home-esque)
Queen Diamond (Not an democratically-elected position)
The Minks (RIYL The Kinks, making P.E.T.A. upset, early period John Waters)
KISSES (Knights In Satan’s Service Entrepreneurial Society)
Fem Zeppelin (Try again.)
Hammer Of The Broads (One of those cases where it’s their word, it’s only ok if they call each other that; it’s empowering if they own it, I guess.)
Ladies Zeppelin (Ladies Room Zeppellin suck, or so I’ve heard)
Moby Chick (Whenever possible, avoid names referencing a 17-minute Herman Melville drum solo)
Zepparella (Is Jane Fonda attached to the project?)
Zeppelina (All Lazy Don Bluth References Go To Hell)
The Die Die My Darlings (I just made this one up right now, but I’m betting it’s being formed the instant I hit the Publish button.)
The MissFits (Can the logo please be Danzig getting punched in the face?)
Ms. Fits (Danzig apparently got divorced)
The Nuns (Ohhh…The Monks…yeah, I get it now…)
Queens Of Queen (Drag Queen Monarchies in England never have any real political power, it’s still just a ceremonial title.)
The Femones (Pheremones…better yet Ferremonies)
The Hormones (You’re not even trying at this point, are you?)
The Romanes (Those who misspell lettuce varieties are…ummm…doomed to repeat it?)
Tap This (Why not make original parodies of Weird Al Yankovic tunes? The mind reels…)
TurbonegrA (This Just In: Racism Lite doesn’t make you “provocative,” just kinda sad.)
Girls Girls Girls (Was Strip Club already copyrighted?)

The Van Halen One I Secretly Wish I Had Thought Of First
She-Ruption (They were into squirting before it was cool.)

Just Found 2 Other Total Randos, As The Kids Say Nowadays
Harptallica (The topper – from Lousiana)
Holy Divah! (What exactly the exclamation point indicate? Oh! Calcutta! The Informant! Etc!)

I’ve got to go find me some hot chick musicians that know how to half-decently play mid-period Tom Waits ballads before somebody else beats me to the punch.

Poetry

Posted: August 24, 2012 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Poetry

“I, too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond all
this fiddle.
Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one
discovers in
it after all, a place for the genuine.
Hands that can grasp, eyes
that can dilate, hair that can rise
if it must, these things are important not because a

high-sounding interpretation can be put upon them but because
they are
useful. When they become so derivative as to become
unintelligible,
the same thing may be said for all of us, that we
do not admire what
we cannot understand: the bat
holding on upside down or in quest of something to

eat, elephants pushing, a wild horse taking a roll, a tireless wolf
under
a tree, the immovable critic twitching his skin like a horse that
feels a
flea, the base-
ball fan, the statistician–
nor is it valid
to discriminate against ‘business documents and

school-books’; all these phenomena are important. One must
make a distinction
however: when dragged into prominence by half poets, the
result is not poetry,
nor till the poets among us can be
‘literalists of
the imagination’–above
insolence and triviality and can present

for inspection, ‘imaginary gardens with real toads in them’, shall
we have
it. In the meantime, if you demand on the one hand,
the raw material of poetry in
all its rawness and
that which is on the other hand
genuine, you are interested in poetry.”

Marianne Moore (November 15, 1887 – February 5, 1972 / Kirkwood, Missouri)