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.             


  1. Stephen King was also actually hit by a minivan that almost killed him as well

  2. I feel that the ordinary life is just as amazing, for everyone in general. It just takes a good person to tell their life and why it is so amazing. everybody can create the life they are looking for, all they need to do is realize that they can, they need to go a little farther, they need to give it a little extra. Just a little 'extra' in your 'ordinary' will make your life "extraordinary"

  3. Well, Sedaris comedically (is that even a word?) writes about everyday life and he's quite the success. And I know Murikami was a bar owner before he became a writer. Nothing amazing happened at his bar...he just worked and worked.
    So, if nothing is happening to you, then you either have to make something up (though I guess most comedians prefer to draw from real experiences) or actively seek adventure. This ties in with your "do something unusual for a year"...why not try to be a superhero? Practical? Probably not but you'd certainly get some stories out of it (I just saw Kick-Ass, hence the idea).
    PS...I used to quote that line (Ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?) all the time!