Thursday, December 31, 2009

That's New York For You.

I don’t pick up on things. I have what you might thoughtfully call a slow mind.

Whenever a pretentious individual comes to me and begins asking me a riddle, something that inevitably begins “you have 30 cents but one of them is not blah blah blah,” I immediately ask them to stop, because I know I will never figure it out.

Often times I will go out to breakfast and discover to my horror one of those infuriating “golf tees on a wooden triangle” games staring me in the face, just waiting for me to embarrass myself. You know the game. It’s the one where you have to hop over the other golf tees to eliminate them until there is one golf tee left, or you can no longer hop a tee. The chart in the corner indicates your relative intelligence based on how many tees you left behind. The usual scale is 1 equals True Genius, 2 -3 is Pretty Darn Smart There, Cowboy, and 4 and up reminds you to have mommy cut the sausage. I usually strand between 11 and 17 golf tees. Like I said, I ain’t the sharpest cookie at the candy story. Or however that saying goes.

All of this is just an extremely longwinded way of telling you that it took me 4 weeks of attending The See You Next Tuesday open mic to get the joke. I didn’t even know I was supposed to be looking for one. It seemed like a perfectly fine name for an open mic. In case you haven’t figured it out yet (bless you) the joke is in the name. See You Next Tuesday. Take the first letter of each word and form an acronym. Now imagine you’re texting, and replace the “See You” with “C U” and wallah! Hilarity ensues.

How absurd I must have looked telling my comedy friends that I would see them next Tuesday and being sincere.

At any rate, I always do see them next week because this mic is awesome. Everything about it is agreeable, right down to the location. The club is on the corner of MacDougal and Bleeker St, on the west side of Lower Manhattan. This is Greenwich Village, called simply by the locals, the Village. Apparently the Village was a thriving artist community before high cost of living essentially exiled the artists to Soho or Tribeca and eventually to Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The neighborhood is still lovely though, the back streets skinny and lined with bars, coffee shops and theatres. Merchants set up shop along the side of the road, selling books and records and thousands and thousands of back-issue Playboys.

The mic is in the basement of the Comedy Corner. It is somehow routinely packed and, in vast contrast to other Manhattan mics, full of rowdy, attentive comics. The hostess, I’ll call her AC, is a lively woman, and can often be found smuggling bottles of beer into the club via her purse. She clearly revels in hosting, and is a pro; mastering the balance of being funny and friendly, but also getting people off stage when their time is up. Always appreciated. AC has a tradition where she presents a topic of the day and challenges the comedians to riff on it. The comic with the best riff gets their $5 mic fee back. I took part in this contest once. The topic was "first crush," and I detailed my childhood obsession with The Little Mermaid. Not the titular mermaid herself, mind you, but the obese, sea-witch antagonist Ursula. I liked ‘em freaky from a young age apparently. I did not win the contest.

The lineup of comedians at See You Next Tuesday consists of a group of regulars and the occasional oddball walk in. On one particular night, I shared the stage with both a pre-op and a post-op transsexual. Now that’s New York for you.

A few weeks back a comic got on stage with a unique shtick. He was flamboyant, decked out in a preposterous fur coat and pink boa, looking how I imagine Jesse “The Body” Ventura looks at church. He went on and claimed that he was simply modeling for his acting class, and needed pictures of himself telling jokes for an “assignment.” His assistant was sitting front row, silently taking pictures. (This was the Teller to his Penn) After three minutes of striking various poses, often with props, he vowed to tell an actual joke to close out his set. He spent the last two minutes constantly getting around to his joke, stalling, until he was given the light and got off stage without ever getting to the punch line. And it was all kind of hilarious.

I also had the pleasure of meeting the Bad Slava at the Comedy Corner. Anyone who has ever told a minute of comedy in New York City knows about the Bad Slava, as they most certainly use his website on a daily basis. is a site that lists all the open mics in the city. Indeed I used the website to discover the See You Next Tuesday mic. I had no idea, but the Slava is an actual person and a comedian himself. We’ve chatted after a few of the shows. Slava is - by far - the most famous person I have rubbed elbows with since becoming a comedian.

All things considered an excellent mic. Well I suppose I should be on my way now, it’s New Year’s Eve after all and I still haven’t figured out which trains to take to meet my friends in Manhattan. This, clearly, could take a while.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Pay Your Dues.

People mean well. They do. I think that’s an underrated virtue in the long list of virtuous things people do. For the most part, people like when other people are happy and will act accordingly. The people who don’t - the people in the minority? Fuck ‘em.

So it is this virtue that I have to remind myself of on a nearly daily basis. It has become some what of a personal mantra to me.

You See, my career-choice invokes curious reactions from people. It eventually boils down to three groups.

Primarily, there’s the group of people that constantly shoot me comedic advice. I would venture that 50 – 60 % of my conversations now start with the words “so I thought of a great idea for a joke…”

This well-meaning individual will then rattle off a personal anecdote or observation that they think would be killer material for a bit. I respond to each person in the exact same way: I nod accordingly and smile intermittently so as to appear to be listening intently (I do this like a pro) and then give a light guffaw at what I assume to be the punch line. I then give each one the confirmation that, yes indeed, that might make a good joke and then promise to see what I can do, like I’m trying to get someone invited to a party.

Stand –up comedy, for all its worth, is a low-discipline art form. It appears very “doable” to the average onlooker, and it a lot of ways, it is. Look at a beautiful piano concerto. Anyone watching a performance or listening to a record can tell that an immense amount of work went into the creation. It’s clear that not just anyone can do it. The same goes for a painting, or a sculpture or a dramatic performance. There is an obvious craft on display. But stand-up comedy doesn’t have that gravitas. For every George Carlin or Chris Rock, comics whose mastery is so apparent it dares you not to call it art, there is a Gallagher, a comic who became a millionaire smashing fruit.

(For what it’s worth, I believe that comedy has the ability to be art every bit as important as Beethoven or Michelangelo. It’s just that it can so easily not be art that people get confused. It’s the artist not the art-form. Hell, I could blow into a tuba every day of my life but I promise you, art ain’t coming out the other end of it.)

I hope all of this doesn’t sound like I don’t appreciate people trying to help me out. I really, really do. I think it’s wonderful that people think enough about me to share their humor. And, it must be noted, that on at least one occasion this helped me write a joke that I actually have used. But so often the joke I am bequeathed is so ridiculous or so downright offensive, that it boggles my mind to discover these people are sincere. Sometimes afterward I have to just shake my head in disbelief. People mean well. People mean well. People mean well.

If they aren’t giving me material, then perhaps they belong in the second group. I call this group the joke archeologists because they like to dig through my life and point out which experiences could be ripe for material.

Almost every time I complain about anything, group two responds by shrugging their shoulders and telling me: “at least you got some good material out of it.” And that’s an interesting way to look at comedy, and life in general. Every terrible event I have to endure can be mined for comedy gold. With this logic, I can’t tell if I should be pissed I’ve lived a generally blessed life. But comedy is great because it doesn’t have to be true. You may have to pay your dues to sing the blues but you really don’t have to pay your dues to tell jokes. You really don’t have to do anything but make people laugh. Such is a benefit of a quasi-art: since people don’t take it so seriously, the stakes aren’t as high. This relaxed atmosphere could encourage people to take more risks, which in turn could lead to truly artistic material. It’s actually kinda cool.

If they aren’t giving me material or helping me find my own, then they might be group three: people who want me to prove my merit. Comedy is one of the only professions where a practioner can tell a stranger what they do and then immediately be asked to prove it. The response usually is “Oh you’re a comic? Say something funny.” These people are maddening; they are the minority who doesn’t mean well. I usually get very upset at their audacity, until I realize I do this all time. Every time I meet a dentist or a doctor, I immediately ask for a mini-checkup, or use the occasion as the perfect time for someone to take a look at this bothersome rash. Everybody’s gotta pay their dues sometimes, I suppose.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas, Ra Ga Ga.

On Monday I attended the Christmas Party at the Broadway Comedy Club. Well, attended may not be the right word; crashed would be more appropriate. I was not invited.

It was no matter. This was not a terribly formal affair. I arrived on time, because I am an idiot. There was a buffet line, although the only thing I could actually eat was some awful pasta salad that probably had chunks of meat in it anyway.

After only a few minutes there I was verbally chastising myself for not getting drunk before coming to the party. Mental lapses of this magnitude are simply not acceptable. Not only could I get drunk on the cheap, but I'd have the courage to converse with the crowd. I could buy drinks there of course, but I only had 20 dollars, and 20 dollars wouldn’t get a squirrel drunk in Manhattan.

I resigned myself to paying eight dollars per drink. I figured I’d get something stiff, a Vodka tonic or a shot of whisky, something to make the two drinks worth it. The barkeep, a young man with arms covered in pseudo-tribal tattoos, informed me there was only beer and wine available, but not too worry because cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon were only a dollar each. Merry Christmas.

Hearing this news, I felt a wave of joy and relief wash over me that I’m sure is similar to what Sir Edmund Hillary felt when he reached the summit at Everest. I wanted to scream out to the bar-dwellers, like Kramer: “It’s a Festivus MIRACLE!” I asked the bartender if I could get more then one at a time, and the conversation went, almost verbatim:

Bartender: “Yeah sure man, get 10, 11 whatever.”

Me: “But I only have two hands…[index finger to mouth, head-down in deep contemplation] Better give me six.”

And so the night got better and better. I quickly sat down at a corner table and began speed drinking, anticipating my metamorphosis. The club was playing a loop of the same old Christmas songs that probably played at Jesus’ prom. But inexplicably, every fourth or fifth Christmas song was followed by Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance and this pattern continued all night. Silent Night and God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, were followed by Bad Romance, and then back to Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. As puzzling as this trend was, it was a great way to keep track of how drunk I was becoming, as this could be gauged by how happy I was to hear Bad Romance come back on. My affinity for Gaga escalated slowly from “What the hell is this song playing for?” to “Hell yeah! This is my jam!” as the empty PBR’s stacked up.

Once I felt the warm buzz I got up and started to mingle with the crowd. Even with the drinks I didn’t have the courage to just walk up to people alone, so I followed close behind my friend Angela and forced her to introduce me to everyone she talked to. This led to some awkward moments as I shuffled my cans from hand to hand in order to shake with people who couldn’t care less about meeting me. I decided I needed to be drunker. As I headed back to the bar, Bad Romance came back on, and I remarked to myself that it wasn’t really that bad…

I want your ugly, I want your disease, I want your everything, as long as its free

I loaded up with three more PBR’s and headed back to the crowd, which was now filling up the club. I reconnected with Angela and we talked with Mike, a comic from Long Island. The three of us talked for over an hour, ostensibly about stand-up comedy but increasingly about the fact that the beer was so cheap. Mike had been a comedian for a couple of years, and was a genuinely nice guy. He introduced me to several guys around the party who booked and ran shows, wonderful connections, but I was getting to drunk to retain any of the information. The PBR’s were accumulating, the night beginning to blur, the Bad Romance, as always…

Ra Ra, Uh Uh Uh, Rum-a Rum-a-a, Ga Ga, Oh La La

Now the bartender was a short older lady and I was disappointed; I enjoyed the first bartender’s escalating bewilderment at my behavior. I grabbed a few more blue-ribbon-winning dollar beers from her and headed back to the floor, stumbling over the buffet table on the way. I talked with a belly-dancer, a woman at least 6 inches taller then me. I asked if her she was some kind of stand-up comedian, belly-dancing hybrid. I vaguely recall asking her if every time she practiced her belly-dancing, snakes appeared from random baskets and started doing the hula, which may or may not have been a racist question. This conversation, as drunken conversations tend to do, didn’t end in any conventional sense, it just kind of melted into conclusion, probably because one of us had to take a leak

I had three dollars left and I used two of them for my final two drinks and one to tip the short old bartender lady. I drank one waiting in line for the bathroom and most of the last beer while in the bathroom, because I am a that classy. I finished and staggered around, my mind pulsating and my eyes dancing. A man sing-speaking in bass was detailing the many reasons the Grinch was an a-hole. I walked around inserting myself, uninvited, in as many conversations as I could. Then I started dancing, I believe.

By miracle alone, I made it back to my apartment. I nestled snug in my bed, and head-spinning dreamed of sugar plums, humming that venerable Christmas Classic:

I want your horror, I want your design, ‘Cause you’re a criminal, As long as your mine.

Monday, December 21, 2009

On Subways.

About 3 times a week, my ride on the subway is interrupted by a speech, sounding more or less like this:

Excuse me ladies and gentlemen. I hate to bother you but I am in a very bad place right now. I’m homeless, living on the streets, and I need your help .I’m a veteran of the gulf war. The government benefits are coming too slow. Any change or food would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

Then they walk around the train, holding out a basket, or bucket, or an inverted ball cap. Nearly everyone patently ignores this person. Their conversations come to a halt; their pale faces belying deep embarrassment. I am not above ignoring. I bury my face in a book or just stare at the floor, barely moving.

I had no idea these were a regular occurrence on New York City Subways; it never happened in all years I rode the T in Boston. The first few times it happened I was deeply disturbed. On the street, beggars can be averted or sidestepped or otherwise easily ignored in the expanse of shuffling feet and wailing ambulance sirens.

But on the subway you are forced to make a decision, and that decision is usually: “no, I will not be giving you any money.” You rationalize the same way everyone always does: they’re going to just use it on booze and drugs, or they're not really a veteran. And you're probably right. But that doesn’t stop the guilt, at least not for me. On a dense and dirty subway car, with no easy exit, the guilt percolates, like a slowly baking turkey.

The suitably ragged, usually toothless individual will be lucky to get one person to unload a few rogue nickels and dimes into their filthy Yankees hat. They are never rude, never intrusive beyond their initial speech. Just defeated. They shuffle past the denizens of apathetic commuters and out at the next stop, their identities never considered.

The homeless aren’t the only group who employ this tactic. Of more consternation is the starving artist, typically a musician, who will step on the train and give a similar spiel, but then proceed to play some maddening solo on a violin, or flute, or no-shit, a trumpet. These people have all the shame of begging but inspire none of the empathy. They haven’t earned it, or perhaps more importantly, they do not appear to have earned it. They are annoying, and their gall is appalling. There is no reason why they can’t set up legitimate shop at a corner of any subway station, and eek out their existence like any decent street performer. These people are not desperate, not defeated, just self-important. They have egos large enough to believe that people want to be forced to hear a trumpet solo on their way home from work, where they otherwise might be reading, conversing, or sleeping. They do the walk of shame after their performance as well, going to each person with some-sort of money-grubbing receptacle in hand. I wouldn’t give this person spare change if I were hemorrhaging coins from every orifice on my body.

You would think as somewhat of a poor artist myself (the artist part is certainly debatable) I would identify. But I don’t. Art is a mutual experience. It is equal parts sender and receiver. If the receiver is held hostage by the sender, forced to receive, the dichotomy is clearly perverted. I wouldn’t assume that random strangers want to hear jokes about my sex-life on the subway. I think the same goes for violin solos, no matter how beautiful.

A few days ago I was riding the subway late at night. The door opened, and a man with no legs pulled himself through with his arms. His torn, mud-soaked jeans followed limp behind him. He pushed the bottom half of a milk carton in front of him. The man didn’t say a word; he just pulled himself down the car. The subway was silent as people tried desperately not look. No one had any idea how to react but most put change in the carton. Any sort of justification not too would be wrong. Anything a man with no legs would like to spend his money on seemed just fine with us.

I had no money. I just stood their silently as he made his way passed my feet, his face looking more weathered then his pants.

A subway is a place where strangers sit within inches of each other but never engage one another, as any attempt would make you seem strange, or more likely, dangerous. Despite this, a group of people skip right over the formalities and go straight to begging for money, something I’m uncomfortable doing to my mother. How desperate they must be; how sad it all is.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

In Brooklyn.

Three straight nights of Brooklyn Mics turned out to be just what the doctor ordered.

On Wednesday I tried out an open mic at the Bellville Lounge in Park Slope, which Gregory Quinn trivia buffs will recall is the same neighborhood where I did my first New York City show at the Root Hill Café.

The Belleville Lounge was a small place - maybe the size of a middle-school classroom. It was barely lit, the only light coming from the tea candles on the tables, and a few, sparse gas lamps hanging on the corners. The dearth of light muted the paint on the walls; different hues of brown, beige and black melted into each other, making the whole place look like the inside of a cappuccino.

This mic wasn’t exclusively comedy, and it was nice to hear something other then the usual parade of dick jokes. (Of which I am certainly guilty.) The musicians were surprisingly excellent, a nice variety of singer-songwriter sincerity and country-rock banality. My set went very well. The audience was receptive and polite, and I seemed to grow on them as my time went on. A number of them came up to me afterward to offer a good word. For the first time in New York, I failed to stay the entire show. But approaching midnight, with a 45-minute walk still to go, I decided to bundle up and brave the frigid night air.

On Thursday I was in Williamsburg, at the Taco Tacu on N. 6th Street. The comedy took place in the basement, in another dimly-lit haven. The walls were lined in crème-orange padding, and the seats were similar-colored ottomans or faux leather couches. It was as if Macdonald’s designed a line of mental hospitals. The comedy was scheduled from 8 until 10pm, with a karaoke party to follow. The closer it got to 10, the more people in the audience who were confused and slightly annoyed to find comedy in the basement. A party stage left was celebrating a young ladies birthday, and more partygoers arrived as the show went on. By the time I took the mic around 9:40, the birthday party had swelled almost 30 deep. They were a raucous bunch. They were dolled up and greasy, awash in make-up and hair-gel or some other amalgam of creams and lotions, looking exactly like the pampered inhabitants of reality shows they were clearly (or instinctively) trying to emulate.

They heckled the shit out of me.

But it wasn’t awful. I proclaimed immediately that I was from Boston, and I insinuated in so many words that their beloved Yankee shortstop has an alarming affinity for fellatio. They did not like this one bit. They screamed and hollered and insinuated with just one word that I myself may be a homosexual. Being called gay by drunken people doesn’t really rattle me -- I went to high school. They eventually calmed down, and carried on with their remarkably clichéd existence.

Friday night was easily the best of the bunch. This time I was at the Williamsburg Art Room. Located in Bushwick. The WAR is not an easy place to find. It’s on the corner of Ingraham and Morgan, a section lined with small abandoned warehouses and desolate, horror-movie-ready alleys. The WAR gives no indication to its presence, and when I found myself at 35 Ingraham, staring at a black garage door and not a window in sight, I was certain I had written down the wrong address. But after a few frantic phone calls, I was reassured this was the correct address.

There indeed was a bar at 35 Ingraham. It was a wide open room that looked like someone cleared out their two-car garage and threw in some lawn chairs. The wall to the front was white and unadorned, and would be used after the comedy show to project giant clips of Michael Jackson news bulletins.

Before the show, I waited out by the front door for my friend Lisa because I feared she would never the find the place if I didn’t. Lisa is engaged to be married to my best friend since childhood, and he will be moving to New York City soon. More and more people I like and care about are living in the city, and it’s making it feel more and more like home. I offered to buy Lisa a drink, but not surprisingly the WAR didn’t take debit and I had no cash. She bought her own. I suck at these types of things.

The show was uniformly excellent, the first show I’ve seen in New York that rivaled the best I’d been a part of in Boston. The show was produced by Brooklyn Underground Comedy and hosted by comic Jackie Cheng, who was delightful. She asked me if I wouldn’t mind going first, and even though I really did, I said I didn’t. I did around ten minutes and my jokes went over well. Afterward I sat back down next to Lisa and we debated how wise it would be to eat from the bucket of bar pretzels, especially considering neither bathroom had a sink. Eventually out hunger got the best of us.

After the show, we rode the L train back into Manhattan with a couple of the other comics headed in similar directions. Lisa and I parted at Union Square and I rode to Franklin Ave with Rae, another comedian, and she made pleasant company.

Today, a blizzard is hitting Brooklyn, and I won’t be doing any comedy. I may however, get drunk and walk around Prospect Park in the snow. A nice end to a good week.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

GQ's Top Ten Tips for Bringer Success!

All comics hate bringers.

I know…more fancy comedian lingo. A bringer is a show that requires the performer to bring a certain amount of paid guests in order to get time at the mic. It’s not unusual for this to be some exorbitant amount of people, like 10. The guests then have to pay a ten dollar cover and buy at least two drinks, which are usually around 12 – 13 dollars. Not a drinker? That’s OK, you can get an 8-dollar Coke anytime.

This rant has been ranted thousands of times by thousands of comics, so it’s not much use for me to continue. Instead, I’m going to offer some solutions to the problem. Not how to avoid doing bringer shows- that is all but impossible – but how to maximize your bringing potential and make bringers a breeze. So here it is, GQ’s (me, not the magazine - happens all the time) Top Ten Tips for Bringer Success!

10. Do all favors solely based on whether you can ask that person to a bringer. See that little old lady trying to cross the road? I got news for you, she ain’t coming to a comedy show anytime soon. Let the boy scouts handle it. But, wait, what’s this?! This young lady needs someone to escort her home safely at 2am? “Well that depends…what are you doing Friday night?”

9. Get James Cameron to front your bringer show 500 million dollars, then do your set in IMAX 3D. If possible, have sex with Kate Winslet in an antique car.

8. Craigslist personals, Casual Encounters Section. Not just for pictures of your genitals anymore! Be sure to use steamy language: "I'm 24, and I loved to be watched. It’s my fantasy to have a group of people pay to see me perform. I love when people laugh at me during the whole thing. I’ll also be holding something closely resembling a phallus.” Throwin' in a picture of your genitals at the end couldn't hurt.

7. Fake terminal illness and advertise your bringer show by constantly reminding your friends that “this is it.” (Note: this one only works once)

6. The classic misdirection. Remember when you worked at Dunkin Donuts, and you put a sticker that said “Feed the Homeless” over your tip jar? (You’re a bastard, by the way.) Why not do the same for your bringers? Personally, I dress up like Mr. Mistoffelees from CATS. Now if they thought an actual performance of CATS was going on, well I can’t be blamed for their assumptions, can I?

5. Go all Roman Catholic on them, reformation style! Promise forgiveness of sins and automatic admittance into heaven in exchange for a ticket. And the two-drink minimum, of course. You know as well as I do, some idiots will fall for that.

4. Just make it a Facebook event, and everyone who said they might go, really means they will definitely be there!! (Note: this has never worked ever.)

3. “Listen Uncle Steve, if you’re not coming to COMIX on Saturday, you’re not getting the Kidney. End of story.”

2. Three weeks before your show, publish a book where you admit to years of drug abuse and mullet-wig wearing. Or be chased out of your home at 2am by a nine-iron wielding, vindictive wife. Or impregnate a governor's daughter. Or…

1. Theme nights! Why let Major League Baseball have all the fun?! Some that have worked for me: Free Gregory Quinn bobblehead to first 25 guests. Get both breasts signed for the price of one! And my favorite, first ten guests receive cordial invite to next bringer show!

And there you have it. With these ten simple tips, you’ll be an expert bringer in no time! Now get out there, and make those club owners some money!

Gregory Quinn

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Breaking in, Part Two: On the Road.

The road from Brooklyn, NY to Plymouth, MA is a little over 250 miles, and I have come to know it well. This road, lined with office buildings and gas stations and transient glimpses of Long Island Sound, has become my sort-of Walden.

Scenically challenged though it may be, I have grown fond of this road. It either signals excitement and trepidation (on the way to New York) or calmness and relief (on the road back home.) In the 6 weeks since I moved, I have made this trip five times, always to perform a show back home in New England.

The first trip to New York was early on Sunday morning, the day after Halloween. I don’t remember what was going through my head. On one hand, I was only going to be gone a few days, as I had a show in Rhode Island a few days later (See: On Sucking) but I also knew that part of me had changed forever. Though I had lived all over the country for two years after college, I had spent the last 8 months living at home in Plymouth and I think I knew then that I would never go back. Not permanently at least. I may rue the day I said this: but I felt (feel) my days living at home with my mother - were over.

It takes a dozen directions to make it from my house in Plymouth to the highway, and double that off the highway to my apartment in Brooklyn, but in Connecticut there is one. Get on I95 South and go 110 miles. This leaves me ample opportunity to indulge in daydreaming and contemplation. Usually I go over the show that I am returning from. Sometimes I go back triumphant, racing to New York City and ready to show them what I can do. After a bad show however, I go back apprehensive, slowly making my way through Connecticut passing town after town I would rather live in then foreboding, fearsome New York.

I make sure to stop at a rest area just west of Clinton, Connecticut, even if I have no reason to. Because I am obsessively nostalgic, I stop at the same one every time, and each time I feel I’m recapturing my youth. It’s one of those all-purpose rest stops, ubitqitous on freeways all over the country. I manage to somehow park in the same spot every time, and when I enter I throw a quick head nod to whoever is working the little convenience store, as if they would ever recognize me. The bathrooms are expansive, with several low-hanging urinals lining the back wall. Since there are no partitions between each one, even one other man in the bathroom means I am forced into the stall to take a leak. I just can’t handle the pressure.

With my coffee in hand, I will usually sit in the food court and watch people go by, wondering about them. Connecticut isn’t the Wild West, so a good many of them probably stop here on their daily commute, merely miles from home. But I wonder about some. At this point, a lot more lies ahead going south then it does in the opposite direction. Perhaps some people are making their escape, migrating to warmer climates. No one talks to anyone, too enamored with their Big Macs or too scared of murderous drifters out scoping their next mark.

After leaving Clinton, I’m about two hours from Brooklyn. At this point, the first bit of New York stations appear on the airwaves, rescuing me from the drivel that is Mid-Connecticut radio. New York’s shadows looms thicker and thicker as I continue west. The stickers on the cars gradually change from Red Sox to Yankees and it is clear Western Conn. is more New York then New England. And even though each time - each mile farther from home - I’m a little scared, as soon as the impressive Manhattan skyline appears over the Whitestone Bridge, I realize I’m heading in exactly the right direction.

Monday, December 14, 2009

That’s Pretty Much What I Do.

A minimal comedy weekend was in order after the disaster that was Friday’s midnight show. For the first time since moving to New York City, I worked some jobs for pay. Over the weekend I started my new career as a food demonstrator at a Stop and Shop in the ominously named Brooklyn neighborhood of Gravesend.

For those intrigued, a food demonstrator sets up at supermarkets and hands out samples of whichever product they have been hired to push. On my first day, I was doling out free samples of Starbucks Ice Cream. Have you ever visited a Dairy Queen or a TCBY, and a thoughtful employee offered you a sample of ice cream to help you decide? Now imagine if that thoughtful employee’s only job was handing out those samples. That’s pretty much what I do.

As pathetic as it all sounds, (and is, really) I did manage to run into some interesting characters. One particular man, with a forceful, perhaps Russian accent (if I were inclined to guess), came within inches of my face, and looked me dead in the eye.

“I need you listen to me very carefully,” he says. “I need you tell me where the female products are. Do you know what I mean when I say female products?”

A couple of old acquaintances happened to bump into each other right in front of my table. They were elated to see one another, and despite showing no interest in a free spoonful of Starbucks Java Chip Frappachino ice cream, proceeded to stay right in front of my table, where they carried on a conversation for over an hour! I’m serious; I timed it. It did not take long for the conversation to switch from niceties to a full rundown of each parent’s recent medical troubles. Apparently, the woman’s father was having a considerable amount of problems with his colon.

“My father…my father, the doctor’s noticed a lot of blood in his stool.” The woman informed.

“Huh?” the man asked.

“My father, it’s his rectum.” She makes an exaggerated hand gesture toward her rectum, to clarify.



This conversation went on for so long, with such a majority of it focusing on bleeding from one’s rectum that I swore I was on some Candid Camera. I thought any minute I would flip out and tell the couple to take their anal hemorrhaging tales elsewhere, and then they would burst out laughing and a guy with a camera and a host would walk out. They eventually parted, leaving me with buckets of Caramel Macchiato to hand to the masses. The whole job seemed so pathetic. But considering I was paid to do this job, and I’ve made zero dollars doing comedy in New York, it’s fair to say I’m a far more successful food demonstrator then stand-up comedian.

But I really needed a comedy free couple of days anyway, even if it meant constantly explaining to the elderly that Starbucks makes an ice cream now. Friday’s show, while not anywhere near my worst show, was among my most disappointing. I am reluctant to get into to many details. It’s hard, performing – working – not only for free, but so often at the expense of my dignity, and the burden of my friends. You would think in return for so much free labor, comics would be thrown a bone every now and then, but it just seems to make us more vulnerable for exploitation.

I wasn’t aware of it going in, but there was a booker at the show on Friday, an industry man. It was a tough room to be critiqued in; 2:30 in the morning, 7 people in the audience. I talked to the man afterward. He said he liked me and said I was far along for someone so new. He said I seemed like a smart kid, maybe I shouldn’t write so many sex jokes. I do have a lot of those.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Comedy Central Contest Winner.

On Wednesday I performed at the New York Comedy Club.

A layperson could be forgiven for thinking that a New York City comedy club called the New York Comedy Club would be a prestigious venue. One might reasonably assume that this would be the premier comedy club in Manhattan, the only one worthy of bearing the name of the greatest stand-up comedy city in the world.

But it only takes a few seconds inside to realize it should be called Uncle Dick’s Comedy Brothel. It resembles a rejected set for the next Saw movie. The brick façade behind the microphone is the fakest looking I’ve ever seen.

The comedy legends chosen to be immortalized on the walls of the New York Comedy Club are an interesting selection. The front wall features portraits of a young Andrew Dice Clay and Rodney Dangerfield, striking his familiar pose. Not that weird really, until you put them together with the paintings in back: a giant Ace Ventura (from the cover of When Nature Calls no less!) and Eddie Murphy, not in his prime Eddie Murphy Raw jumpsuit, but as Dr. Doolittle, the veterinarian who could talk to animals. Put this all together: Dr. Doolittle, Ace Ventura, the Dice Man and Dangerfield, and you get such an odd mix that I am convinced I’m missing some hilarious connection between the four.

But despite all this, I really like performing here. The ramshackle, loose atmosphere usually translates to the crowd, and the club’s many oddities provide perfect fodder for new comics.

Two of my biggest fans, Risa D and Kelsey M, met me at the show and without complaining, shelled out over 60 dollars in one night to see me perform. In my modest estimation, that translates to about 12 dollars per joke. Not a cheap night out. I’m not sure how much longer I can in good conscience keep asking my friends to drop that kind of change to see me do the same 7-minute routine. I feel myself inexorably marching towards barking for fans in Times Square...

But Risa D and Kelsey M were, as all my friends have been, real troopers. They even managed to make the woman sitting next to them stay a little longer to catch my set. The host of the show was the daughter of legendary comic Jackie Mason, who you might all know as the voice of Hyman Krustofski, Krusty the Klown’s father on several episodes of The Simpsons (Thanks, Wikipedia!) The host came up to me before my set and asked if I have any credits. This is fancy comedian lingo meaning things I would like the host to wow the crowd with before calling me on stage: “This next guy can be seen on MTV..." When I told her I didn’t have any credits, she said she would make them up. She then introduced me as the winner of a Comedy Central Stand-up Contest. Clearly not true, but it’s going on my resume from now on.

My set went pretty well. The Derek Jeter joke continues to kill, while my blood-donating joke, which was crushing when I first started to use it, has bombed on consecutive shows. Halfway through my set, I yelled at two women carrying on a full conversation. Dealing with hecklers is so easy; just calling them out usually gets a laugh. The women were embarrassed and afterward one of them came to the back to give me a hug.

The waitress gave the patrons blue tickets, signaling they’ve closed out their tab. This is a way to keep people from sneaking out without paying, and Risa D quickly pocketed the two tickets, proclaiming that next time she would not be paying. On the walk to the subway, a giant red balloon whirled across the street and right into our arms. Kelsey M played with it delightfully before smacking it high into the frigid Manhattan air and onto 23rd street, probably causing a car accident.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

On Technique.

I’ve started taking showers specifically to write new material. Jokes come so fluidly in there. It seems that my naked body is my muse. But it has to be in the shower. I tried just standing around my room naked but it was to no avail. No good material came out of it.

But in the confines of our world-map themed shower curtain, blistering water spitting all over me, I am an ancient comedy seer. Some of my best material has been written in here while my unmentionables go unscrubbed.

Usually my roommates have left for the day, off pursuing some sort of gainful employment (idiots.) Before entering, I stand naked in front of the mirror, envisioning a svelte version of myself by wrapping my towel several inches above my waste to hide my expanding stomach. I can’t make my pectoral muscles jiggle independently, but I use this moment to pretend that I can.

ANYWAY, once prepared I enter the shower and let the water rip. I surge through the cleaning process as quickly as possible, sometimes using the body wash and shampoo interchangeably. I don’t even bother below the knees. Please. Once this is taken care of I turn my back to the water and just stand, usually 30 to 35 minutes, while I await comedic inspiration. Once I have it, I fist-pump to myself and sometimes high-five Turkmenistan.

Grabbing one of the shower bottles as an impromptu microphone, I begin riffing on my new material. Recently I got into a bit about a substitute-teacher boot camp, in response to New York State’s ludicrous assertion that substitute teachers go through a training program. Come On! How much training does one need to force children to watch Miracle on 34th Street while he checks his Facebook?

In the rare instance that comedy gold eludes me, I resort to drastic measures to conjure up the funny. Often I engage in a little amateur alchemy, combining conditioner, shampoo, and soap into a mega-cream and then I massage it on my temples or drink it. Watch out it doesn’t get in your eyes though. Ouch!

Following three of four hours of vomiting, I’ll make a last ditch effort and pour myself a tub. I don’t slack on the ambience. I grab red-wax candles, the bubbles, and a bottle of Duboeuf Saint Amour Domaine du Paradis (I Googled “romantic wines” and this came up. Truthfully, it would be ginger ale.) Have you ever wondered where I got the joke about watching porn on a cell phone? Bingo.

So there’s my comedy writing technique. I’m not saying it works for everyone but if you find yourself dealing with a bout of writer’s block, feel free to give it a try. But the part about drinking the shampoo-soap-conditioner mix? Don’t do that - that was a joke. It might actually be poisonous.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

On Sucking.

I drove back to New England on Wednesday after only three nights in Brooklyn, to open for a hypnotist at the Comedy Connection in Providence. The night was an almost unqualified disaster, my first truly epic bomb. Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve failed to make people laugh many times before. I once worked a lonely tavern where the only couple in attendance spent my entire set reading the back of their KENO slip. Usually these events are very easy to let slide.

But my slot at the Providence Connection, a 15-minute paid gig at a considerable club, was the first time I ever really ate it at an important show. The place wasn’t packed, but at around fifty people, wasn’t desolate either. I’ve worked bigger rooms with smaller crowds before. I was so bad, half way through my set, a waitress came and handed me a note, informing me to bring up another comic when I finished rather then going right to the hypnotist. Apparently they wanted to salvage the show before the headliner came on.

Nothing, and I really mean this, nothing makes me angrier then a comic who blames the audience for their shitty performance on stage. It’s one thing to finish your set, shrug your shoulders and say: “tough crowd.” It’s a completely different thing to act as if your failure to make them laugh was the crowd’s fault, as if they did it out of spite. Any crowd can be won over. Some may be harder then others, they may indeed be a “tough crowd,” but it’s up to the performer to find a way to engage them. No one comes to a comedy show not wanting to laugh.

I am prone to this thinking too, and I made all sorts of observations to make myself feel better. I told myself the crowd was only their for the dance party that was taking place after the hypnotist, that they were waiting for their tardy friends and were distracted when they showed, that they weren’t looking at the stage. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized I could have got to them if I had approached them differently. Usually when I encounter a crowd that’s hostile, or distracted, I use crowd work to reel them in, figuring if they’re not going to leave me alone, I might as well take it to them. I did a bar in Revere, MA once with a crowd of middle-age drunks who wouldn’t let any comic get a word in. One sad, drunken lady at the bar actually walked on stage and tried to grab my crotch before I got her to sit down. I spent the rest of my set making fun of every last wannabe cougar and balding, fat guy at the bar, and they loved it. I came away unscathed and had them all buying me drinks after.

But I didn’t take it to them at the Connection. I had fallen way too in love with my material. When the crowd talked to each other instead of listening to me, I carried right on with my routine instead of calling them out and riffing with it. I thought my jokes were good enough, and I must have seemed sad: carrying on with jokes about vegetarians and sex toys, oblivious to a crowd that had long stopped caring.

The comic who came on after me, Brian, who is excellent and a pro, riffed with the crowd and actually got a good reaction. They hypnotist had a rough night as well. We consoled each other afterward.

On the long, tedious ride back to New York through Connecticut, I had a sickly feeling of panic. It’s much easier to abandon reality and follow your dreams when you think you’re good at it. But if you think you suck, then all of the sudden all your goals seem as impossible as they actually are, and the anxiety lays down on you like a wet Snuggie. Luckily, I wouldn’t feel this way long…

Monday, December 7, 2009

Breaking In: Part One

I will try to cover now the first few weeks.

I knew that moving to New York City meant virtually abandoning the progress I made in Boston and starting over at the bottom. I just never thought the bottom would be like this.

The first show I did in Manhattan was 5:30 in the afternoon on a Tuesday. The Big Time. My friend Scoots accompanied me to the show because we both didn’t know any better. The price for 5 minutes of stage time was 5 dollars and a beer. The practice of charging comics to perform at open mics is unheard of in Boston, but ubiquitous in New York. I suppose five dollars isn’t that bad. But the beer, the beer is where they get ya.

A single can of Pabst Blue Ribbon will put the fledgling comic out a cool 6 dollars. The same beer sold for a buck-fifty from 2 till 5 on weekdays in Boston, costs about the same as two gallons of milk in NY. I remarked to the bartender that for four dollars more I could get 30 of these, but he was unimpressed.

A 50 year-old corn-rowed white man emerged from the bathroom and offered Scoots and I his still wet hand, pulling each of us in for a one-armed male embrace. He must have smelled the new on us because he soon began a diatribe about the dangers a comic will face should they decide to move to Los Angeles without first making the proper connections. Such as himself, of course.

As the only non-comic in the house, Scoots was the only one we deemed, “a real person,” and the comics acted like he was booking for Letterman. A laugh from Scoots was akin to an applause break. This was Scoots first time at an open mic and he was thoroughly bemused, chuckling or cracking an awkward smile at the mere mention of the word “penis” and hooting whenever a comic inquired from the crowd: “Where all my pot smokers at?” I went seventh, to a crowd of about six people, one of which was literally asleep, sprawled across several chairs like he was waiting for a subway train that long since stopped running. I got almost no reaction, but Scoots seemed to like me. He loved my closer. A dick joke.

Scoots and I stayed the entire show (which, I would soon learn, is something of a miracle at an open mic.) Mostly I just counted the remaining comics in the crowd, trying to judge how much longer I had. I’d grimace each time a new person wandered in an hour late to do their five minutes and leave immediately. I would not like to go into the details of the jokes, suffice to say there were not one, but two canine-rape jokes. Which, even being a cat person, I find a little distasteful.

The mic was over by 8pm, odd as I’m used to shows not even starting until sometime after that. The night still young, Scoots and I went to a bar on the Lower East Side. I left after one beer, going down at least three different subway stations before finding one actually heading in a direction I needed.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

First Night: At the Root Hill Café.

I suppose this was inevitable.

I moved to New York City - Brooklyn to be exact - just over a month ago. I loaded everything I owned into my road-weary 1996 Geo Prism (not the first time I’ve done this) and headed for interstate 95.

It’s funny how much you think you own until you spread it all out. My new room resembled a well-stocked prison cell - like one they might give you if you do all the guard’s personal accounting – underscored by a single window with bars over it. On my wall, only the same Rolling Stones’ poster I’ve had since high school. This was it; the Geo was empty.

My first New York City comedy experience was an open mic in Brooklyn, in a neighborhood called Park Slope. On the corner of 4th avenue and Carroll St, was the Root Hill Café, scarcely populated on a Monday evening. It’s one of those places that goes out of its way to be quirky, rather than just stumbling upon it. Instead of seats, the Root Hill prefers thick wooden planks jutting from the wall, so at first glance it would appear they were floating in the air. I couldn’t help but think how impractical it was, as any rearranging that might be needed for large groups would require several power tools and at least a dozen unionized workers.

I told about seven minutes worth of jokes, to a waning crowd consisting of comics yet to perform and a stalwart comedy host. The man who followed me did magic tricks, including turning a one dollar bill into a hundred and pulling the world’s largest magic wand out of a brown paper bag. The host gave me her business card and wrote: “Welcome to New York!” on the back. I considered myself welcomed.

After my set, I tried to buy a bottle of water, but my debit card was rebuked because my Dasani did not cover the 10-dollar minimum. After contemplating buying a few slices of carrot cake, I returned the water and drank out of the sink in the bathroom

Thus was my first night in New York.