Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Making it Up as I Go Along.

While reading on the toilet, I came across an interesting passage in Uncle John’s Supremely Satisfying Bathroom Reader about comedy legend Jerry Seinfeld:

When Seinfeld went on stage for his first ever stand-up performance, he was paralyzed by stage fright and forgot his entire routine. He ran off the stage in a panic, mumbling a few lines to the crowd: “The Beach. Driving. Shopping. Parents.”

People love these anecdotes. It’s like the story of Michael Jordan getting cut from his first basketball tryout. We like to think we aren’t so different then the people we idolize.

Of course it’s flawed logic. My very first stand-up show went much better then Seinfeld’s, but it only takes a few minutes on Wikipedia to see that our careers have taken a far different trajectory since show number one.

It was only natural after this train of thought that my mind shifted to my very first show. (I made it off the toilet at some point.) When people ask me how long I’ve been doing comedy, I always say since last April, when I did a show at Mottley’s Comedy Club in Boston. That was not however the first time I ever did stand-up comedy, but it’s when I stated to pursue comedy in earnest. Before Mottley’s, comedy was a transient bedfellow; since then it has consumed my life.

My actual first attempt at stand-up comedy came years earlier in 2005, at a tiny coffeehouse open mic in Plymouth, Massachusetts. It was at the Kiskadee Café. The Kiskadee mic was dominated by slam poets and singer-songwriters, and right in the middle of them was a pudgy, bearded 19-year old telling jokes about masturbating.

Even though it was five years ago, I remember it almost exactly, and I do believe I could very accurately recall my entire set. So what the hell, I don’t actually do any of these jokes anymore (and most certainly never will again.) Why not share with you all a transcript of my very first show? Does that sound like something you might like?

(I envision only Harry and K-Fox actually saying “Yeah!” out loud while reading this.)

So if you will, join me on a journey back to the summer of 2005 and…

Gregory’s First Show.

MC: Oh wow, that was great Hubert, really meaningful stuff. Thank you for sharing that about your father.

(I’m making this up of course, but you get the idea. Pretentious poets always write poetry about their father not loving them.)

MC: Well, we have a treat for you guy’s. Let’s hear it for Greg Quinn, who is going to do some comedy for us.

[Tepid Applause]

Gregory: Hey Everybody, Hello, Thank You. Hello. So it’s 2005. It’s like, the future! And technology has gone crazy! I was in a public bathroom recently and I went to use the paper towel dispenser, and I couldn’t even figure it out how to use it! It was completely motorized! Since when do you need an engineer’s degree to wash your hands? I went to get some paper towels, and there was that Terminator Eye looking right at me. And I couldn’t get it to recognize I was there, so I had to like, Karate-chop the air in front of the Eye trying to get paper out. What is the point of this? Was anybody injuring themselves with the old pull-down method? Did someone try to push for a paper towel and pull a muscle?

(I was totally jazzed when I wrote this joke. This is what made me think I could be a comedian. I did it this one time and no one laughed, and I’ve never done it again.)

Gregory: I actually like public bathrooms. There’s no pressure. We’ve all been there. You’re at home using the toilet and you go to flush and the most horrifying thing in the world happens, the water starts to rise. And it’s like Indiana Jones and there’s a giant boulder rolling down for you. (Big laugh, go figure.) But if you’re using a public bathroom and this happens, you just look at the toilet, shrug your shoulders and hit the road.

Gregory: Anything is better then hotel bathrooms. I hate hotel bathrooms. Because every one I’ve ever been in is the same. We all know the time-tested bathroom setup: toilet, next to that the sink, behind the sink the mirror. And it’s lovely. But every hotel bathroom I’ve ever been in abandons this set-up, and they put the mirror right behind the toilet, so every time I use the bathroom, I’m treated to front-row seats to my own disgusting, flaccid penis taking a leak. It’s awful

(Also a laugh. I changed this one up a bit and actually still do it from time to time, though not in a while. So there it is, 3 minutes into my very first set and every joke is quite literally toilet humor.)

Gregory: So the poets were good, huh? (I knew how to fish for applause right from the get-go.) I don’t know though. It always sounds like they’re just making up as they go along, doesn’t it?

(Here it is, my first ever riff. I thought of this while I listened to the poets, and decided right there I would make up a poem on stage, and I figured it would be just as good as anyone elses.)

Gregory: I could just do one right here and it would sound just as good! Just shout out a word, any word. (I’ll never forget - someone said trombone.) Ok, Trombone. (This poem won’t be close to the one I actually said, but you’ll get the idea.)

Gregory: Oh, trombones
Your sound, so sweet
Yet so hard to hear
Because I never knew
What it was like
To hear my father play one
Oh trombones
Why did he drink so much?

(Epic Disaster! Not a soul laughed, and honest-to-goodness, a woman with short brown hair stood up and said: “you know, that’s not funny, some people take this very seriously,” and then walked out. I was frozen.)

Gregory: Ok, so this is a nice place here, huh? You got bagels and coffee. Can I get steak-tips here? Does anyone order steak-tips here? (Bombing.) Um... So, I have a gay walk. I do. I mean I like women and everything, but I walk like a full-on homosexual. It doesn’t matter what I’m saying before I walk, I walk like I’m gay. “Yeah, the big football game! Let’s do this, let’s kick ass!” [Walk away overtly gay-like.]

(Big laugh. I DO have a gay walk. Time for the closer.)

Gregory: So I was watching a documentary about Pandas (I was a master of transitions) and I found out that the reason they are going extinct is that they prefer eating to having sex. They would rather eat then get it on. (I never saw such a documentary.) And I thought, how weird? Who would rather eat then have sex? And then it hit me. I would rather eat then have sex. Because if I’m horny, I can masturbate. But there is no equivalent for food. I can’t stare at a box of cookies and jiggle my stomach around. I can’t watch Emeril and stroke my tounge!

Gregory: Thank you everybody.

And that was it. Now, this is clearly not verbatim what I said, but I’m positive these were the jokes and this was the order. I tried my best to fill in the rest.

I would find out a short time later that Jim Gaffigan had an almost identical bit to my last one, only funny. But I swear on my life, I didn’t know that when I did this joke.

I hope you enjoyed this as much as I did, or failing that, half as much as I did. I’m starting to think it would be a blast to do this exact set over again and some pointless open mic.

Anyway, I would do comedy maybe a dozen times over the next 4 years before going for real last year. Not bad for a first show if I can say so. What do you think, Seinfeld?

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Greatest Show in the Universe.

Years from now, when I am predictably famous, I will look back with fondness at the place where I got “my start.” Perhaps it will be some place ordinary; a vaunted comedy club; a hip, soon-to-be legendary underground comedy bar. Maybe my start will come via a more unorthodox route; a new Geico commercial campaign, a media-sensationalized murder trial. But I can say with certainty that my start won’t be hosting a new late night talk show on the Spike Network. Oh well.

It’s not that I wouldn’t take that start. I would love to heretofore be known as “isn’t that the dude who used to host that show on Spike?” It’s just not in the cards for me.

The casting call for Spike’s new pilot, modestly named The Greatest Show in the Universe, made it clear it was looking for a very specific candidate. They were looking for a 20-to-30 year old “guy’s guy.” A dude who’s “into the internet, video games, beer and his friends.” They did not want someone “polished” or “hosty,” instead they were looking for someone with “inherent comedic talent,” specifically “Zach Galifianakis, Seth Rogen, Jack Black, Ricky Gervais, Bill Murray, Jonah Hill, Andy Samberg.” As far as I can tell, this means they would like the host of The Greatest Show in the Universe to be a pudgy, excessively hairy 30-to-60 year old British Jew who writes songs about “jizzing in his pants.”

The casting call also stated that it was looking for a guy who “gets laid because chicks dig his quirky personality, not because he’s hot. And not because he has the best pick-up lines. He doesn’t.” The brass at Spike wanted someone who was "unassuming, jolly when drunk (not violent)" and that people "would want to hug.”

It was starting to get convoluted; I needed to create a check list.

OK. Let’s recap.

20-to-30 year old? Check.
Love the internet? Check. But I have a feeling they mean a different internet.
Love video games? Unless they mean 20-year-old video games, then Strike.
Love Beer? Check, for sure. But again, I think they mean drinking beer at a nightclub while scoping for chicks, not Gas-Station 40’s alone on a weekday evening. So, half-check.
Not Polished or Hosty? I can’t even begin… um Check?
Anything like that list of comedians? Judging my career achievements, Strike.
Doesn’t get laid because of looks? Resounding Check.
Does get laid because of quirky personality? Strike. (Any of the smattered instances of me “getting laid” were due almost exclusively to unbelievable luck, something akin to divine intervention.)
Unassuming? Seeing as I have a blog, a Resounding Strike.
Jolly when drunk (not violent)? Strike, Check. I’m not a violent person in any way, but I’m certainly not a jolly drunk. (On Friday night, in classic Gregory-drunk form, I spent my intoxication locking myself in the bathroom, then trying to “walk” to Massachusetts before passing out on a bench 4 blocks away in the wrong direction. I don’t really think this is what the casting-call had in mind.)
Huggable? Check. Clearly.

So that’s 4 ½ definite checks, 5 definite strikes, and 2 in-betweens. This ratio satisfied me enough to give the audition a shot, although I probably would have showed up had the casting call asked for 70 year-old transsexual Asian pianists.

The audition was at Comix on West 14th street, and it took all day. I arrived just as signups began and was number 66. The open calls were going on in cities across the country. Each city had two days of auditions. The first open call in New York had around 200 hopefuls. Assuming this was the average per-day attendance and knowing how many cities were involved, I figured they were looking for one man among a couple thousand “guy’s guys.” My masculinity wouldn’t stick out amongst a group of Olympic Figure Skaters, so I knew odds were against me surrounded by beer-bellied football aficionados.

The internet call asked comics to come prepared with a 30-second routine and our best improve skill. I don’t have any jokes that clock in less than 30 seconds, so I spent the night before writing a bit specifically for this audition, and came up with one I could use. I should have known better. When I got to the audition, I was instructed to disregard the casting call and instead familiarize myself with a prewritten bit that I would be asked to perform, some routine about how people who wear Ed Hardy shirts are douche bags.

So I spent the morning trying to remember someone else’s bit and wondering why I didn’t just become a lawyer. I auditioned on the main stage, in front of couple of attractive women. They never even mentioned the Ed Hardy bit, just said hello and asked me a few questions about myself.

Hot Lady: If you had a superpower, what would it be, and why?

(I was told beforehand to be ready to answer “Coke vs. Pepsi?” and was ready to staunchly defend Pepsi; this question caught me off guard.)

Me: Um… I would like to be able to have my entire life available on VHS so I can watch any moment from my past whenever I want.

(No idea where that came from.)

Hot Lady: Why VHS?

(I wanted to say because they didn’t have DVDs when I was young and there was no way I would have the time to forward-convert my entire childhood onto DVD.)

Me: Um… I like VHS.

Hot Lady: So you tend to like older things, like retro video games?

Me: Oh yeah, I bust out the Sega all the time. (I smile, expecting her to say something like, “Oh, I just love Sonic the Hedgehog!”)

Hot Lady: Cool. Well, nice to meet you Gregory. Thank You.

And then I left.

That was it. The callback was on Thursday but I never received an email. I wasn’t surprised or disappointed. In fact, the audition accomplished nothing except giving me a topic to blog about. This has increasingly become my justification for any failure, or mistake, or terrible, terrible decision. It’s good to have that outlet. Believe me. It’s good.

Friday, March 12, 2010

We F'd it Up.

“And I really don’t care for the way your company left me in the middle of fucking nowhere with fucking keys to a fucking car that isn’t fucking there, and I really didn’t care to fucking walk down a fucking highway, and across a fucking runway, to get back here and have you smile at my fucking face.”

- Steve Martin.

Left in the hands of a professional such as Steve Martin, Fuck and all its derivatives can be wonderfully poetic words. The problem is Fuck isn’t only used by the masters. The amateurs have gotten their filthy hands all over it, and they have completely Fucked it up.

I consider myself an amateur; I’m certainly no master. And that’s why I have tried to keep my usage of Fuck to a minimum. I’ve written 30 posts, at an average of about 800 - 1000 words a post. That’s anywhere between 24,000 to 30,000 words I’ve written for We Could Go On and On and to the best of my knowledge, I’ve used the word Fuck in some form 5 times. Once about every 5000 words. Considering that on a typical work morning 7 of the first 10 words I speak are Fuck, I should be applauded for this restraint.

(And before you point it out to me, I am completely aware of the irony of this post. Restraint is going right out the window, or as Amy H. would say, restraint is being defenestrated)

Fuck is such a wonderful word, partially because of its versatility but mainly because of its notoriety. That’s why we have to be so careful not to overuse it and make it socially acceptable. A lot of people lament the censorship of television and radio, claiming that it is in infringement on our freedom of choice, and being a comedian you might assume I would agree, but to the contrary! I cherish the censorship! As long as the FCC deems Fuck inappropriate for the masses, it will retain an air of deviousness. Trust me, if the day ever comes where they can casually say fuck on How I Met Your Mother, our civilization will meet its demise

Fuck is like smoking. The more reviled cigarettes become in the mainstream, the more ridiculously lethal we discover they are, the more completely insane you have to be smoke, which only makes cigarettes more awesome. If I read on the internet tomorrow that cigarettes caused rabies, it would only make smokers seem more badass. Fuck is the same way.

But what would happen if Fuck became just another word. What would we do then? There is as of yet no suitable alternative. The C-word? No way. No versatility. Somehow, “Cunt the police” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.

We need Fuck. And we need it to stay as badass as it currently is. We can’t let amateurs ruin it. Overuse some other curse word all you want. Overuse shit. No one gives a Fuck about shit. Shit may be distasteful, but it doesn’t have the power of Fuck. Shit is the PG-13 to Fuck’s R. Go ahead, say shit in school. You may get a terse look or two, but no one will really get angry. But say Fuck in school and the shit hits the fan! That’s a Fucking detention for sure! (School children read this blog all the time.)

Substitute other phrases for Fuck You. Suck it seems to be very fashionable these days. Tina Fey says it all the time. Why not try suck it on for size? Suck it has some of the versatility that Fuck has and even rhymes for limerick purposes. So next time you want to tell that infuriating hippie on 6th avenue trying to get you to pledge money for children to Fuck himself, tell him to suck it instead. Do it for GQ. If not for me, then do it for the children! They will need Fuck in the future!

It’s with this in mind that I try to keep Fucks to a minimum during my stand-up set. As far as I can tell, I have only one bit in which Fuck is essential for the punch-line. The rest of the time I say Fuck, I’m irresponsibly garnishing it on my bits, like it’s Fucking mustard.

I’m glad I got that off my chest. It had been bugging me. And if you disagree, please feel free to suck it.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

If I Had a Nickel...

One of my favorite personal routines is to take the hypothetic saying “If I had a nickel for every time…” and compute it literally.

You hear it all the time: If I had a nickel for every time Tina was a bitch, I’d be a millionaire.

Now this person – let’s call him Walter - can’t possibly mean this literally. In order for Walter to actually become a millionaire exclusively through Tina’s bitchiness, Tina would have to be a bitch to Walter 20 million times. If Tina has known Walter for 50 years, she would have to be a bitch to him 1095 times every single day. I’ve known some mean ladies, but there is no way Tina could keep that up.

I’ve always found the clichĂ© far more effective when you take the math seriously. Had Walter said “If I had a nickel for every time Tina was a bitch, I’d have 500 dollars” or if Tina said “If I had a nickel for every time Walt was impotent, I’d could take a trip to Hawaii,” well, those would be completely plausible, especially if they were married. Hell, an all-inclusive trip to Hawaii will put you out about 700 bucks, or in Tina’s terms, 14 thousand times Walter’s dick doesm’t work. That could happen over 50 years. Easily.

Lately I’ve been wondering how much I would actually have if I were to put a nickel in a jar for every time something has happened to me. So I did out all the math, and thought it only fair to share the results with you all – my bffs They are separated into categories based on what I could afford had I accumulated a nickel for every occurrence, so if you’re looking for all the juicy sex stuff (which is where I always head straight to) head to the bottom first, in the penny-candy section.

- An unlimited monthly MetroCard ($90, 1800 nickels)

If I had a Nickel for every time I…

• Couldn’t decide if I wanted to respond with “Cool” or “Nice” and ended up saying “Nool.”
• Answered “What’s up?” with “Good, you?”
• Been walking toward a stranger on the street and couldn’t decide which way to evade, resulting in a terribly awkward dance in which they get very angry.
• Pretended to no longer enjoy Professional Wrestling.
• Became winded rising from the sofa too briskly.
• Ate an entire package of Kraft Cheese Singles in one sitting.
• Wrote on someone’s wall with the sole intent of them writing on mine, thus making me seem more popular.
• Claimed to hate New York City and couldn’t live here a month longer.
• Claimed to love New York City and quoted “Empire State of Mind.”

- A beer for myself and my lady-friend at a typical Manhattan Bar ($12, 240 Nickels)

If I had a Nickel for every time I…

• Drank way too much and vowed to quit drinking in the morning.
• Got drunk again that very same night.
• Took an alternate subway train because I was convinced I could figure it out only to end up in the South Bronx.
• Bragged about loving some deviant activity I’ve never even considered doing.
• Quit a job or responsibility to “focus on comedy” only to watch DVDs at 10 in the morning.
• Exaggerated a story from College.
• Attempted to begin regular flossing routine, abandoned plan three days later.
• Claimed to just “not really be into porn.”

- A McChicken Sandwich ($1, 20 nickels)

If I had a Nickel for every time…

• Started to update this blog but spent 3 hours on IMDB instead.
• Really tried to love College Basketball.
• Compulsively moved because I didn’t want to “grow old in this two-bit town” only to be hopelessly homesick 4 weeks later.
• Ran three miles, felt entitled to eat pizza every meal for next 6 days.
• Rinsed and repeated.
• Semi-seriously considered responding to a Craigslist personal.
• Understood a poem.

- A game of pinball (.50, 10 nickels)

If I had a Nickel for every time I…

• Wore a Hawaiian shirt on a blind date.
• Talked to a woman without the assistance of alcohol.
• Danced without the assistance of alcohol.
• Convinced myself I am living “The Truman Show.”
• Hit a three-point shot.
• Have been paid to do Stand-up comedy.

-A gumball (.25, 5 nickels)

If I had a Nickel for every time I…

• Um… how do I put this… engaged a lady in coitus.

-Postage in 1978 (.15, 3 nickels)

If I had a Nickel for every time I…

• Engaged in aforementioned Coitus in which either party had an orgasm and/or was sober. (Estimated.)

-A Nickel (0.05, 1 nickel)

If I had a Nickel for every time I…

• Vomited all over the house from too much Tequila.
• Drank Tequila.
• Looked forward to visiting Nebraska.
• Have been paid to do Stand-up comedy in New York.
• Accidentally visited another country.
• Inadvertently told my family how many women I’ve slept with (see above.)
• Kissed a man. (It was in college, during an improv show, OK? No need to start texting your friends “I told you so!”)
• Maintained for any amount of time something I’m proud of (you’re reading it.)

I think that’s good for now. Forgive me for the few TMI (too much information) moments. But come on, those are PG-rated when compared to my stand-up act. If anyone would like to know anything else I could afford using this nickel scale, feel free to ask me in the comment section or on good old Facebook.

I’m a weirdo.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Quitter.

I quit my job yesterday.

I was going to say I resigned yesterday. Resignation has an air of authority about it, like I’m relinquishing a throne. But considering I was an office-supply salesman and I only worked there two weeks, it would be absurd to say I resigned. Truth is I quit, cold turkey and without any notice. Took all of five minutes.

Funny thing: I’ve never considered myself a quitter despite a lifetime of behavior to the contrary. Take for example New York City. I’ve lived here for 4 months and I’ve had and lost 4 jobs. Only one of them was not of my own volition. I had a job as a food demonstrator (stopped answering my supervisor’s calls because I deemed the position too “beneath me” to give her that courtesy. I assume she eventually got the idea.) I had a job driving old people to their rec. hall on Long Island (they told me to call back and let them know my availability. I never called back.) I had my temp job in TriBeCa (I intended to ride this job for several years, but they made me leave after two months.) And I had a job door-to-door office supply selling which I did for 12 days, got quite good at it, then had somewhat of an epiphany in the middle of the day and realized I couldn’t do it a moment longer. So here I am in the middle of the day in Brooklyn, unemployed again.

And this is a tradition I’ve maintained through my life. I got my first job when I was 14, ten years ago this spring to be exact. Here is a short list of some of the jobs I’ve had over those ten years:

 Bus Boy
 General Store Cashier
 Janitor at an old person’s home.
 A summer cleaning up department store parking lots.
 Whale Watch deckhand
 After School tutor
 Substitute Teacher
 Yogurt Salesman
 Target
 Video Game Store Cashier
 Radio Station Road Crew
 Trail builder
 Americorps Corps Member
 Case Manager

The list goes on. And none of those jobs I was fired from. Many people spend a decade at a single job, but in less then ten years I managed to get sick of all those. A couple of them ended and I had to leave (Americorps) but for the most part I just decided that I had enough. I even walked out on Target, which has made me ineligible to work there ever again, and in the very-likely scenario Target takes over the world, yours truly is screwed.

So maybe I am a quitter. I do have very particular taste when in comes to my employment. Money has never been much of a motivating factor for me, so it’s hard for me to do anything just to make money. I’d rather do something I like for little to no pay then something I hate but could bankroll in. This probably explains why I could volunteer ad nauseum for two years but couldn’t sell office supplies for more then two weeks. But in New York, I have to make a lot of money to live here and pursue comedy at night. And if I’m looking for a job just to collect a check while I do comedy at night, door-to-door sales ain’t it.

Because I couldn’t do both. I tried to convince myself I could, but it was clear I couldn’t. Sure, I got to an open mic every now and then, but I wasn’t writing, I wasn’t practicing. There was one too many nights where I rushed out of work only to get to a mic and realize I had missed the signup. I didn’t move to New York for that. I was stressed. I was up late thinking about how to work up the nerve to cold-pitch somebody who wanted to murder me with their eyes. I virtually forgot about advancing my comedy career. So after a cold, rainy day in the South Bronx, where I was told to get a real job, told I should be ashamed of myself, told I should watch my back in this neighborhood because people in suits seem suspicious, I realized it wasn’t worth it. Not when I agreed with every word they said. It’s not that the grass was greener in the neighbor’s yard, it was that I felt like I didn’t have a fucking lawn.

I’ll get a job, I always do. I wager that it won’t even take me long. I’ll go into that interview and they’ll ask me where I see myself in five years. And I’ll look them straight in the eye and lie. I’ll give them some bullshit office line. Because telling them I plan on living in semi-squalor, skipping from job to job and still barking at the comedy moon doesn’t have the best ring to it.

At least not to an interviewer. To me it sounds just fine.