Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Some Business.

“The Dresden atrocity, tremendously expensive and meticulously planned, was so meaningless, finally, that only one person on the entire planet got any benefit from it. I am that person. I wrote this book, which earned a lot of money for me and made my reputation, such as it is. One way or another, I got two or three dollars for every person killed. Some business I'm in.”  

- Kurt Vonnegut

The problem is I’m a comedian. That’s at night time. During the day I clean up playgrounds and occasionally mow the lawn. These activities don’t involve much in the way of adventure. I’m talking good ole fashioned, hair-raising adventure. Sure, I have adventurous things happen to me. Sometimes a homeless person will take a dump in the urinal, and I’ll have to figure out how to remove it using only some rags and a sawed-off broom handle we call the “shit stick,” but that is hardly Indiana Jones swapping the diamond with the sandbag.

I don’t flirt with death, I don’t walk on the wild side, I don’t dance with the devil in the pale moon light.   When I go on stage, I may say I “killed,” or I “bombed,” or I had them all “in stitches,” but 90 percent of the time, these are only metaphors.  

In other words, I live a pretty easy, worry-free life. Most of the time that’s just fine, but when you’re trying to be an artist, or a comedian or a writer, it can make things a little difficult.  

I’d love to write a memoir. It’s right up my alley. Memoir research presumably consists of reminiscing, looking at pictures, and drunk-dialing old friends. I'd get to focus on the one subject that can hold my attention longer then a limerick: myself.   The only problem is that most of the memoirs I read center on some great struggle or affliction, and I don’t know anything about either.  I love my parents, but if they had only been Communist Secret Agents who sold me to Red China, it would have made my literary ambitions much easier.    

Take a look.

Jon Krakauer was an unknown journalist for Outside Magazine when he was sent to climb Mt. Everest for an article on the mountain’s commercialization.  Krakauer reached the summit in the midst of the greatest tragedy in Everest’s history. Ultimately what Krakauer produced was not a faceless article called “The Price of Everest,” but “Into Thin Air,” quite likely the greatest mountaineering book ever written. (Find me someone who has read it and disagrees and I’ll buy you a Tab.) Whatever demons sill undoubtedly haunt Krakauer, somewhere in his mind he must realize what doors that tragedy opened up for him, how it provided him the ability to make a living doing what he loves to do. Krakauer is a wonderful writer and would have been without that tragedy, but there are plenty of wonderful writers who only need a chance.  However terrible it may be to accept, all those people who died on Everest gave Krakauer his chance.

Augusten Burroughs is one of the most successful memoirists in the country.  When he was 13, Burroughs was abandoned by his mother and sent to live at the family shrink’s place, where he was free to drink, smoke pot and have sex. He entered into a sexual relation ship with the shrink’s 30 year old step-son, which neither the shrink nor Burrough’s mother had a problem with. Then he moved to New York and discovered he was also an alcoholic.  A good way to grow up? Probably not.  Good fodder for a successful career as a writer? You bet.  My mom cut the crust off my PBJ’s until I was 19. 

I think the craziest example of… oh I don’t know… ironic serendipity, is the case of Ann Rule. Ann Rule was a going-nowhere crime writer in Washington State when she volunteered at the local suicide hotline and hit the jackpot.  Sitting next to her every night and swapping stories was a pre-murderous-rampage Ted Bundy.  They developed a close friendship, and soon Ann Rule, the failing crime writer, was privy to personal details in the greatest American Crime Story of the 20th century.  Her subsequent book on the Bundy murders, “The Stranger Beside Me,” made her famous, and she went on to become a prolific writer. 

Come on.

  That is luck my friends; twisted, violent, nights-wide-awake-tortured-with-guilt luck, but luck nonetheless.  I’m sure Ann Rule swears she would give back every penny she made, every published word she wrote, to have just one murder disappear. I’m sure she believes herself when she says it, deep down in her core. But what I’m saying is this: do you think she ever breaks down in the middle of the night, wide awake, and knows she hit the jackpot?   

And then there’s Vonnegut, who makes it appear the fates are literary minded.   I mean, how many people survived the air raid at Dresden? A hundred?  And among that small group was one of the great American writers, clinging to life.     His account of Dresden became his great work, and it made him famous. He acknowledges this freely. I find this incredible, if a little scary.

So what am I saying? That I want something terrible to happen to me so I can write about it? No. Of course not.   It’s just something I’ve been thinking about lately, and I could never intimate that I know what the aforementioned authors went through. These writers are all successful because they were supremely gifted artists who were able to turn their pain into something tangible, and share it with the lucky, pain-free masses. There were other people on that mountain, other people in the slaughterhouse basement, other people shaking hands with the serial killer.  They all didn’t write about it.  Weaker writers like me may think that a tragedy is all that’s keeping them from penning their magnum opus, conveniently forgetting that Stephen King was never mauled by a rabid dog or murdered by a killer clown.  

The problem is I’m a comedian.   I’m more concerned with where that sock went in the laundry.  It’s no great adventure, no life-affirming personal struggle, but it’s life too.  And I’d like to tell you about it.             

Friday, May 21, 2010

At The Buzzer.

My show at the Grisly Pear last Thursday coincided with Games 6 of the Boston Celtics – Cleveland Cavaliers playoff series. Sucks when that happens. 

The Celtics were up 3 games to 2, and had a chance to knock out the heavily favored Cavaliers in Boston, so this was definitely not one of those get-the-score-on-the-internet-later games. There was no way I could skip the comedy show, leaving me with no other option then to attempt some Mrs. Doubtfire-esque multitasking.

The show was produced by my friends at Comedy Party USA and was a special goodbye to Michael Reardon, who was moving home to Boston later that weekend.  Mike, like me, moved here from Massachusetts to pursue a career in stand-up comedy. At least that’s what I figured; I don’t really know what his intentions were.  He lived here for five years and now he is moving home and while he never became famous he performed all the time and is one of the happier people I know, which has got to be a win. Mike says he’ll keep performing in Boston.  It never ends. That’s the deal. 

So I was particularly jazzed about this show.  Mike told me I’d be going on first (they always save the best comics for first) and I had a moment of panic where I considered ditching my new material because I didn’t want to open the show with a thud, but eventually went with my new stuff and even dusted off a couple golden oldies. The set went fine and my work was done only 12 minutes into the show.  More and more people came to the Grisly Pear as the show went on, and I missed out on the liveliest, drunkest crowd. Sucks when that happens. 

It was no matter any how, because now it was game time.  The comedy show was in the back room, behind the bar, so I had no place to watch the game. I could, however, hear the decidedly pro-Celtic crowd rip-roaring at the bar TV, and as I listened I had that distinct feeling of missing out, like when all your friends talk about how awesome that party you skipped was.  I had to watch.  Problem was, I wanted to be a professional, so the post-Michael Reardon era Comedy Party USA would still book me. 

My first plan of attack was the classic I shouldn’t have broken the seal bathroom strategy. This is the one where you go to pee every 4 minutes and then stand in the bar to catch a few glimpses of the game. Your friends assume you are on cocaine or worse - you have diarrhea - but it’s a very effective strategy regardless. After a quarter and a half of this, I was beginning to look absurd. I switched to plan two: texting my brother for constant updates.

Usually this is a poor way to watch a playoff game, but when your brother is Harry Quinn, it’s a delightfully oddball experience. Only months ago, my brother was a devout anti-texter. (“If I want to talk to someone, I’ll just call them” – Idiot.) Now he’s a mad-text lunatic, and I couldn’t be happier, especially at playoff time.  He’s the most frantic, simultaneously excited and infuriated play-by-play guy ever.  He’s as excitable as Marv Albert around a pile of lingerie and an unbitten woman’s back.  Random gametime texts from Harry include:

  • “This is so bullshit. The refs are throwing the game on purpose. The NBA wants …HOLY FUCKIN SHIT LEBRON WAS CALLED FOR A TRAVEL!  IT’S A MIRACLE!”

  • “Fuck…Fuck. Damn. Hell. Wait….KGGGGGGGG!”

  • “Would you kill a close friend if it meant the Celtics won the finals?”

And so on. 

You got to love his passion, and in the end it inspires me. I skip the penultimate comic to watch the climax of the game (I return for Mike, the finale, of course) and jeopardize my connection. They might not have noticed however, a lot of people were drunk.

As you probably know, the Celtics went on to win, pulling off a sizeable upset considering the Cavaliers were the odds-on favorite and the Celtics were washed-up geezers.  I couldn’t miss that.  The Celtics (sentimental hogwash alert) mean too much to me. 

I think as you grow older, once the unqualified adulation for athletes that you have as a child wears off, what draws you back to sports teams is a sense of loyalty.  I used to feel that for all four Boston teams, now I just feel it for the C’s.  People often identify a team with a specific period of their life. Nostalgia for that time can convince a fan to keep coming back to the team.  For me, it was the 2008 Celtic’s Championship run. I was a Celtics fan before then; I started getting into the C’s during their Paul Pierce-Antoine Walker-Walter McCarty glory days (sigh) but it was this run that solidified me as a lifetime fan.  The 2008 playoffs coincided almost to the day with the two months I lived in Birmingham, Alabama, one of the more trying periods of my life.  The job sucked, I was homesick, etc. etc. Virtually the entire time I was in Alabama, I had a Celtics playoff game to look forward to and that kept me sane.  I used to walk to an Applebees in Ensley, the shittiest ghetto in Birmingham, because I had neither a car nor a television, and I'd watch the game with total strangers. Just about every night.   I made friends with all the other Celtics fans, discounting the one who threatened to stab me if I hugged his girlfriend again. (She was also a Celtics fan; Pierce just hit a go-ahead three. We were caught in the moment.)   

I remember for the Celtics-Lakers series, Applebees was split in half, Boston fans bar-left and LA fans bar-right. The TV on the Celtics side was a few seconds ahead. I used to cheer with the Boston fans after a big basket and then run over to the LA side and relive the basket, this time rubbing it in their face. It was great.  For those two months alone, I’ll be a Celtics fan forever. 

That’s the loyalty. The Red Sox used to have it, but they lost it, maybe forever. Something about that entire 2004 World-Series Winning Curse-Breaking Yankee-Beating team being wholly juiced up on steroids… thing. That did it for me.  When I was a kid, my two pastimes were professional wrestling and Major League Baseball. I think I always knew pro-wrestling was a fake sport; I was never ready to find out baseball was too.

I flew off on a tangent there, I know. Forgive me.  Hope you enjoyed it anyway.  If you did, you’ll be happy to know there are a lot of blogs brewing in my head. They will probably come soon. Just don’t expect one tomorrow. The Celtics are on.  

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

I'd Eat the Cheeseburger, Darling.

I did a bringer and I only brought myself; myself apparently worth $35.  Seeing as I refused to bring any friends, the show’s runner insisted I act as my own bringer, and buy my way in like any comedy-fan: $10 ticket and two drink minimum. Hoping to get my money’s worth, I ordered the stiffest drinks I could imagine and the bartender, recognizing my despair gave me a Jack-and-Coke-sans-Coke and a vodka tonic, (hold the tonic.)  After two glasses of virtually straight liquor (I do believe there was an ice cube in the Jack) I was bumbling and ready to go, but I wouldn’t go on stage for hours, after I had sobered-up, dozed-off, and urinated 13 times. 

I hate shows like these.  The crowd starts off hubbub with energy. Usually they are at the preliminary stages of intoxication. They are bewildered to be at a comedy show (regular people, it seems, do not go to comedy clubs every single day. I know; I was shocked myself.) They laugh at just about anything, save for the poor souls stuck going first or second, while the crowd is still texting their friends directions and staring in bewilderment at the beer prices.   The comics who go in the middle of the show have it made.  Comics can coast through their sets, a rapt, happy-drunk audience at their disposal.    It’s during this portion of the show, the wheelhouse I call it, that I sit in the corner room, drunk and antsy and desperate. Desperate to get on stage while the energy is still high, desperate to deliver my jokes to a crowd that I could kill.

I go on stage just after 12:30 am, or in Gregory-Standard-Time, five hours before I need to be up for work the next morning.  This is no longer the wheelhouse.  They are no longer, happy, Opening-Day buzzed; they are miserable mid-August-Kansas-City-Royals-fan shitfaced.  They have suffered (and I do believe that word to be appropriate here) through two dozen amateur comedians doing seven-minute sets laden with masturbation jokes. No one is really pays attention during my set, save for one intoxicated woman up front who may or may-not have wanted to sleep with me.

Earlier in the evening, while running a 10K between the comedian’s standing room and the toilet, I continually encountered a sloshed college girl who took every opportunity to make pleasantries.  I never pick up on things, and figured she was just being drunk-friendly with everyone, until she cornered me by the bar and talked my ear off. At one point she put her hand gently on my shoulder as she laughed.

Uh oh.

Now I found myself in the awkward position of having to tell sloshed college girl that I have a girlfriend and want nothing to do with her. I’ve always been bad this maneuver.  I never know where to sneak this info into the conversation.  Usually I try to pick up on any bait which I could segue way naturally into an anecdote about my girlfriend. (I’m terrible at this; in my younger days it has taken me months. This is one of the reasons I look forward to marriage because then I can just scratch my forehead vigorously with my ring finger until the girl leaves me alone.)

I couldn’t find any gateway and I was beginning to get desperate.  I was going to take anything I could get, maybe blurt out something like Oh I see you have jeans on. My girlfriend just bought some new jeans a couple months ago or something like that when sloshed college girl gave me an opportunity. She found out I was from Boston and coyly said that we couldn’t be friends anymore because she was a Yankees fan and then wallah! a window.  I let her know that my girlfriend is a Yankees fan and we get along just splendidly.  Sloshed college girl doesn’t notice or at least doesn’t acknowledge and went right on. I am left with only one option: I tell her I need to go the bathroom and I hide on the toilet. 

I didn’t see sloshed college girl again until she was my only fan and it was almost one in the morning.  I did my set, the usual stuff and then went home.

As long as I’ve broached the subject allow me to ramble.  

I have this theory. I think being in a committed, monogamous relationship is similar to being a committed vegetarian. Here’s my logic:  I’ve been a vegetarian for over two years and I no longer crave meat. I’m often say that if a cheeseburger and a pile of cocaine were placed in front of me with a gun pressed to my head, I would grab a rolled-up dollar bill and a credit card and get to work, Mia Wallace style.  And I mean it. The thing is I used to love meat. I would salivate over the prospect of a mid-evening bacon-cheeseburger. It’s not as if I’ve forgotten how delicious cheeseburgers are, it’s just that I made a conscience decision to not eat them, and I enjoy being a vegetarian enough to not eat the burger. After a couple years, a cheeseburger no longer looks appetizing. I would most-certainly vomit if I ate one.  It’s the same thing with being in a monogamous relationship. It’s not that I don’t notice other women are attractive or sexy, it’s that I’ve decided to commit to one woman, and the relationship is way-too wonderful and means way-too much for me to screw it up by, I dunno, eating the woman. And after a period of time, other women don’t look so attractive, and I would assuredly vomit if I made out with one.   

It’s a pretty nifty theory right?  It is, but it is essentially flawed, because it doesn’t take into account that in the two-plus years I’ve been a veggie, not once has a cheeseburger approached me, lettuce hanging out and buns exposed, and begged me to eat it.  There isn’t much risk of confronting temptation beyond the smell of a random summer barbeque.

So I guess the question then becomes, if a gun were pressed against my head and in front of me sat a cheeseburger and a willing beautiful woman, which choice would I make? Oh darling, it’s easy. I would eat the cheeseburger.  I would eat it with the bacon topping and the buffalo-chicken-kickers side. I would eat them all and never regret it. I promise.  

Monday, May 10, 2010

The First Six Months (C-.)

After work a colleague and I wait for the subway home. He lives on 175th, mere three stops away. On my way to Crown Heights, I look forward to a 90-minute commute home. Every day.  As the A train approaches the Dykman St stop, barreling ahead so fast it looks like it hasn’t the slightest intention to stop, my friend turns to me and says, “every time the train goes by I wonder what it would be like to jump right in front of it,” and I nod in recognition, because I know what he means.  I’d say I even consider it ever so slightly, wondering what would happen to my body as it hit the scorching train; wondering if it would bounce around the track like a rampant flesh pinball, or if it would simply fall to the side and be dragged limp and lifeless, like the bodies of so many cell phone-retrieving idiots.

I’ve been in New York City six months now.

These are the thoughts that now inhabit my mind and I blame the Big Apple. When people ask how New York is going (as if I have some sort of influence over the city as a whole) I usually answer with this anecdote. If nothing else, it ensures they will stop asking.  Because when you’re not doing all that great, it kinda sucks to talk about it.   

(Let me explain however, that I harbor no actual suicidal fetishes, even ones so spectacular. I don’t actually want to jump in front of the train. In fact, as a staunch atheist, I am inclined to a pursuit of immortality. I would gladly drink deep from the fountain of youth, and in time would get over the inexorable deaths of my friends and family. I would regard their passing with a kind of reserved acceptance, similar to how I will feel when The Simpsons are finally canceled.  So please, no worrying.)

New York City-wise, and by extension life-wise, I’m doing super.  A+ across the board. (With the notable exception of my savings account, which is gone.)  Comedy-wise though, it’s been much rougher. I’m thinking a C-, and only because the professor rounded up from a D+ after I cried in her office. (Did that in college)   
The main problem I have is trying to quench that inner voice that keeps telling me I may have done a lot better for myself and my comedy career had I stayed in Boston.  I was making ground there, making a name for myself, and plenty of comics have made it via Boston. The voice says I gave up on Boston prematurely, that I completely blew it when I tried moving to New York.  I hate that fucking voice.  That asshole can suck it, because he always conveniently forgets that I lived in my mother’s basement and spent most of my time cleaning up the splattered excrement of mentally-challenged adults. Still, it’s tough thinking about how much better I was doing only this time last year.

I know there are comics out there who have been working the mic scene for years. They still pay 5 dollars at 5 in the afternoon, still drag their friends to bringers at 50 dollars a head in the hope a booker will see their set and offer them their chance, and they keep going, head down in the wind. It’s incredible. I am completely drained already, and I’m still watching the same basketball season that started when I lived in Massachusetts.  I cannot give up though, I have given up so much and spent - get ready for this - close to 7,000 dollars to live here 180 days, to call it quits now. So I won’t.  But I plan to bitch about it frequently and you, as the ever-faithful readers of this blog, will be the recipients of that largesse.

My entries in this blog have dwindled because my whole comedy-experience is slowing. I can’t bring myself to write a blog about another mic, or tell you about another show in which I did the same old jokes, or tried new jokes that didn’t work, or barked on a street corner for a show that was cancelled. What new is there to report?  How often do you want to hear about the unyielding embarrassment of leaving a show to blazing sunlight, or a paid open mic in which a third of the audience was asleep, or fooling around on their smart phones, or masturbating vigorously in a clown costume. (That last one seldom happens, but would be a welcome reprieve at this point.)

If I jumped in front of the A train? Now that would make a great blog. 

I can’t quit writing this blog however, for without anything but my shower curtain and my soon-to-be long-suffering girlfriend to bitch to, I will be dead, sanity speaking. I need this and I will carry on (apropos of the name I have just discovered), but I am going to have to find some creative ways to keep this whole thing palpable.  Maybe there is a break right around the corner.  You will be happy to know that Scoots and I are brewing, and I feel a long-dormant creative potential could soon be erupting. 

I must be honest; not all shows lately have been bad.   I will write about these shows, I promise. And like I said, life in New York City hasn’t been bad. Sometimes it’s great.  If this whole reason-I-moved-here-in-the-first-place thing was going alright, I would give the whole New York experience high marks. But as it is it’s a C-, holding on desperately to a cliff of average.

I hear the vindictive voices telling me I should have known. Not the voices of my parents of course, they are always supportive. (Please send checks made out to Gregory Quinn, Brooklyn, NY….)  But I hear those snide voices who knew better. They are completely right: I should have known this would be impossible.  But I would like them to hear me. I know how stupid I have been, but I have learned no lesson.

I’m not going anywhere.