Monday, August 30, 2010

In Hell, it’s all Bringers.

Sometimes I forget why I don’t do bringers. Because I have a soul.

One day that soul may face Judgement, and I bear not the strength to face it with nothing to show for my soul but a history of bloodsucking bringers. 

Here is how my last bringer show ended: five good people, whose opinions of me I actually care about, paid about $35 each to watch me do the same material and tolerate being the butt of every comic’s intolerable crowd-work because they happened to be – with the exception of one obviously confused, middle-aged Asian man – the only people in the entire club. In other words, the club made $175 off me and me alone, and I got to watch people I like be ridiculed and forced to buy $10 beers. 

My Soul. My Soul needs cleansing.

These pictures are great because it's impossible to tell that there are less people in the audience than a Mel Gibson Fan Club.

(Note: I know this show was weeks ago: I don’t churn these things out at a rate that pleases me. I would love to find a system that works, like posting a new blog every Tuesday – Thursday, or every day divisible by four, but any such method eludes me. The best I can hope for is Harry Q. yelling at me on my Facebook wall, and then subsequently liking his yelling at me to remind myself that I should get off Lobstertube and dust off the ole We Could Go On and On.)

The show was at Gotham Comedy Club on a Friday Night. Wow, a Friday-night spot at Gotham, not bad, sport-o.  Don’t get too excited; the show was a bringer that started at 6:30, which is the comedy equivalent of me telling you I fulfilled my dream of playing at Gillette Stadium and you later discovering all I did was run around the field with the other blind kids at 11am with the Patriots’ PR team and the backup place-kicker.  So let’s all keep this in perspective.  

I got to the show early and the place was desolate. It was my first time in the Gotham, and I must say, it was gorgeous. It was all sleek and silver and black. Everything was a smooth and becoming plastic, like the back side of smart-phone. If BrookStone made comedy clubs instead of just alarm clocks that play ocean sounds, it would look like the Gotham Comedy Club.  When I first got there I was giddy; there was definitely an I’ve-finally-made-it vibe in the room as realized I would soon be performing on this stage.

Any feelings of comedic actualization were fleeting as the show started and it became evident that the people I brought to the show to be able to perform were the only people in the audience.  (I’m choosing to ignore the aforementioned bewildered Asian man, because let’s face it: if I don’t at least get some empathy for this show then it will have been an abject failure.)   There were at least 10 other comics, none of whom brought anyone because apparently they didn’t have to. This probably gives them the impression that they are “above” me as comedians. Maybe so. But they weren’t better comedians. Not by a long shot. Still, I was the only one  who had to ask his friends to blow almost forty dollars and a Friday afternoon to have the privilege to perform.  Makes you feel like a schmuck, you know?

 These pictures make it seem like the post is bigger! 

Since it was just my friends and they were seated smack-dab in the front row, they were all treated to some of the worst, hackiest crowd work forty dollars can buy!

Who’s single here? Are you guys a couple? Are you freaky in the sack? Who’s smoking weed tonight? Name your top five Wrestlemanias – quick!

(What I wouldn’t have done for that last one to be true?)

A coworker of mine, Alex, who is just about the nicest person you could ever meet (she has a WALL-E bookbag for goddsakes) got the worst of the reverse heckling. I won’t even write some of the things that were said to her because I fear for my job if I printed them on the internet. 

The joy on my face is not a joke. 
(Photos courtesy of Amy H.)

I went on seventh. It’s hard to perform for a paying audience that consists of people you could have just invited over to your apartment and told jokes to for free. They were all such good sports, though. They laughed and smiled and were supportive and told me I needn’t feel apologetic or embarrassed when, of course, I felt both. 

Afterwards, the booker/headliner of the show, who was a genuinely nice guy and a talented comedian, offered me a bringer-free guest-spot on a future show.  I accepted and then came to the sudden realization that perhaps that was how all the other comics on the bill got to perform sans duped guests; they had already brought people to their own embarrassing failure and were compensated with a spot on my sinking-ship nightmare of a show. Makes sense. 

Just to make myself feel a little better, I’ll use this time to thank the people who went to the show by name, didn’t complain one bit, took every thing good-naturedly, and decided to still talk to me afterwards. Amy, Aimee, Alex, Sarah and Dillon. Thank you. You are all going to Heaven, where they don’t have drink minimums and comedians who make inferences on your sexual habits based on your earrings. (Hell is loaded with both.)

Monday, August 16, 2010

one outta two.

One outta two ain’t bad. In fact, there are a myriad of pursuits in which one outta two would be positively splendid. If a first baseman, for example, keeps a one outta two pace at the plate for an entire season, he would almost certainly have registered the greatest season in the history of hitting first basemen. Just about the only blemish on my one outta two is that it is only outta two; it’s too soon to determine if this is an indication of success or merely happenstance. But for now I stay positive and simply maintain: one outta two ain’t bad.

Question: What the hell am I talking about?

Sorry. I’ll explain.

I spent a good deal of time over July writing short stories, most of which I don’t mind saying were god-awful garbage.  But I persevered, because I like writing short stories. Any creative pursuit that can be pursued sitting on a couch in one’s underwear while blasting Eminem is how shall I say, my cup of tea.

By the end of the month, submission deadlines for a few literary magazines were approaching, and I worked up the nerve to submit two different stories to two different magazines. One story was accepted and one was rejected, and what follows this (typically) elongated introduction is the rejected story. 

Some sour grapes:  The magazine that rejected me sucks anyway! It’s so lame, and the magazine that will publish me is waaaaay better. Like 1000 times better. And sexier.

ANYWAY, The story below is entitled In Left Field, and like all fiction, is based and born in truth.  It’s not god-awful garbage, but I think it’s vastly inferior to the story that was accepted, so I’m actually quite content with how it all worked out.  The literary magazine that rejected it stressed a brevity theme, and all submissions had to adhere to a 500-word limit. Part of (most of) the reason I chose to submit In Left Field was that with it’s original length of 1200 words, it was by far the shortest story I wrote. It was not easy eliminating 60% of a story that was only a couple pages long anyway, and indeed what remained of In Left Field was skeletal. In bore only a slight resemblance.

So, the magazine’s loss is We Could Go On and On’s gain (or loss, if you are understandably sick of these stories).  Here is my first rejection. May it be the first of many, as long as I never stop writing.

In Left Field.
By Gregory Quinn

Mr. Anderson sat on his back porch, our default left-field foul pole.  He loved watching me strike the old man out. He laughed and hollered and told my father he couldn’t hit the pool from the diving board. He called me the next Rocket.

My father pretended to be upset, promising to bring the heater when he took the rubber. But he’d toss me a gopher and I’d crank it to the trees while Mr. Anderson cheered.

Our field was a miniature diamond of raked-aside pine needles and bags of sand we bought at the hardware store.  Mr. Anderson helped us build the field. He paced off the distance from the batter’s box to the pitcher’s mound, walking one foot after the other in dogged precision. He maintained the field throughout the summer, raked the sand and painted the foul poles yellow.  He never played, always retreating to the porch of his brown ranch and always looking after his wife, whom I never met.  

Mr. Anderson’s wife stayed inside, sheltered. During our games, Mr. Anderson checked on his wife often, bringing himself and my father another drink as he returned. She’s been feeling a little ill lately, he explained, pointing to the sky, this damn weather.  At night, my father walked through the never-mended fence and sat with him on the back porch, smoking and drinking and trying to ignore.  

Late in July, Mr. Anderson’s wife was seen wandering around the neighborhood naked, muttering to herself and watering the gardens. Mr. Anderson found her and silently wrapped her in a blanket, walking her to his truck. My parents sat at the dinner table and remarked how sad or what a shame, never expressing the relief that their own breakdowns took place in the anonymity of their own home, fully clothed.   After dinner Mr. Anderson was back on his porch, warning me to watch out for the heater.

On the nights we didn’t play Mr. Anderson stayed outside, sipping from silver cans of beer and throwing rocks at the sticks in front of him. His wife called from inside and he’d go to her, emerging with a fresh drink but no one for which to explain. He’d shake his head and sit back down, barely moving.     

It wasn’t long and then Mr. Anderson’s seat in left field was always empty. The trips inside for his wife were longer and longer and when he came back out he said nothing.    My father went over there often then. He went inside and stayed for hours. He and Mr. Anderson came back out to the porch and from my bedroom window I watched them sit and smoke in silence.  My father came in so late those nights I never heard him come home.   

Mr. Anderson’s wife died the weekend I went back to school. I’m not sure I even noticed.

The End.

See. It’s not that great. I mean, I don’t hate it. I like the image of Mr. Anderson’s crazed wife watering the neighbors’ gardens naked. But I know I can do better.

Amy suggested that one day I should publish an anthology of all my rejected stories (she assumes, like I, there will be a lot of them) and entitle it: Suck It: The Rejected Stories of Gregory Quinn.

My girlfriend is a genius. 

Monday, August 9, 2010

Advice is like Ass Holes.

I was goofing around on the internet the other night, hours after I really should have been asleep, when I stumbled upon an interesting site. The site- I Write Like – is a “statistical analysis tool” that allows you to input into its generator a personal writing sample, which is then “analyzed” and compared to a famous author.  No wonder they haven’t cured cancer - this has clearly taken precedence.

After a few minutes messing around, it was clear this was all a marketing scheme for some writing workshop, but initially I was very intrigued. The link to the website was under “Do you write like Kurt Vonnegut or Stephen King?” and it was impossible to resist such a query. (Never mind what I Google-searched to yield such a link.)

Obviously I was curious to find out which famous authors my writing style resembles, so I entered the first few paragraphs of my short story, On Interstate 35, Stuck, (available for your reading pleasure in the archives section) hit the analyze button and immediately, I Write Like informed me I write like Stephen King. 


In the interest of consistency, I insert the last few paragraphs of  Interstate 35 and find that in this part of the 800-word story, I write like Dan Brown, author of The DaVinci Code, a book which Stephen King famously hated. Oh, irony.

After a few more samples, I enter full messing-around mode. I write simply “suck it” into the analyzation-chamber, and I Write Like tells me that “suck it” is not a sufficient sample. So I elaborate and enter “Suck it, Mr. Magoo. You are not welcome here” and wallah! I write like Ray Bradbury. Don’t remember that line in Fahrenheit 451, but no matter.

The legitimacy of this whole operation now in question, I create a little test for the I Write Like.  I input the first line of Stephen King’s story 1408:

Mike Enslin was still in the revolving door when he saw Olin , the manager of the Hotel Dolphin, sitting in one of the overstuffed lobby chairs.

What I found was that for all the years Stephen King was under the impression he wrote like Stephen King, he was mistaken. He wrote like Vladimir Nabokov.  Perhaps it was the hotel setting which made I Write Like think of illicit, nubile love.

The site also features a “Prove-It” tab which enables you to link your results to your Facebook page and demonstrate that irrefutable technology has proven you do indeed write like JD Salinger.  I spent the rest of the night trying hopelessly to get I Write Like to tell me I write like Kurt Vonnegut, even blatantly plagiarizing Cat’s Cradle, but was unsuccessful.  Then, inspiration struck me, and I input:

Suck it, Mr. Magoo. You are not welcome here. So it Goes.

I Write Like analyzed this and told me I write like Ernest Hemingway. My name is Yon Yonson. I come from Wisconsin

All of this got me thinking about the craft of writing in general, and how - while this website is flawed – we all do write like somebody. And this brings me to the main point of this blog (Ha! Those 500 words you just read were merely the introduction! Suck it.)

I think the best way to become a better writer is to become a better reader. Constant, obsessive reading is just about the best writing class you could ever hope to take.

Here’s what I’m thinking.

We unconsciously emulate everything we are receiving. Spend enough time with anything: a person, a book, a musician, a movie, a fast-food restaurant (anything!) and it’s practically inevitable that you’ll start to copy certain things about their personality -their habits and quirks and humor and style - without even thinking about it.  I had a teammate back in my NCCC days, Dylan, whose quirky style of humor I found infectious, and after only a few weeks living with him, I found myself constantly employing his brand of confused-faces and wise-ass-bewilderment humor without even trying, it just happened, and it felt totally natural.

The same thing happens with writing. The writer’s style is going to mirror whoever they’ve been reading lately or whoever they read the most. If a dude has read nothing but Stephen King and then one day sits down to write a short story, it would almost assuredly resemble, if not outright replicate, the prose of King. There’s a good chance the dude’s story would be a moody, folksy character ensemble about a nefarious store, politician, car, or graveyard in rural Maine. It would just happen. But if this dude, let’s call him Fisher; if Fisher becomes a better reader and adds more authors to his daily reading regimen, when he sits down to write his next story it’s going to have the influences of the new authors, plus the still-strong influence of King, plus the singular perspective of Fisher himself (which is exclusively Fisher’s, unique to him in the world, which is what makes writing great) and what will emerge will be the amalgam, and now Fisher is a much better writer. It’s like magic. Fisher has added Kurt Vonnegut, Phillip Roth and David Foster Wallace to his reading list, and his new story is about a time-shifting alien growing up in post-war Jewish Newark and battling a prescription drug addiction. And his car is haunted. And that story could potentially be awesome.

The more you read, the more unique your reading list will be, thus the more interesting the mixture of influences in your writing style becomes. I really think it’s as simple as that. I could be wrong (I probably am wrong) but I know for sure that the more I read, the better these posts become, and no way that’s a coincidence.

Walk around New York and you’ll see those ubiquitous yellow newspaper stands with catalogs for writing classes, the front of the stand proclaiming: Learn How to Write! Inside you’ll find a few dozen suggestions on what to do with a few hundred dollars and 6 hours a week. They obviously don’t want you to know that a library card is free. 

I input this entire post into I Write Like.  I found like I write like Cory Doctorow, a Canadian Blogger and Science Fiction writer. Creepy.        

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Deal With It.

When I was 14, I saw a billboard for Hooters Air.

For the unfortunate few not in the know, Hooters Air was the official airline of Hooters Restaurant, the only “family restaurant” that makes a Montreal strip joint seem tasteful.

Before you ask, please believe me. I am not making this up. 

It was a hideous idea. Most people realize that flying is serious business and wouldn’t trust their lives to a company that somehow screwed up the combination of bar food and big breats. When I’m 35,000 feet in the air, I’m usually in a far too serious mood to participate in the type of decorum the Hooters’ atmosphere perpetuates. People agreed with me, and not long after I saw the billboard, Hooters Air folded.  This would have been around the year 2000

I was 15 years old and on Interstate 95, somewhere in North Carolina. Above me, the endless string of South of the Border billboards relented for just a moment, and in their wake was a preposterously garish orange sign, with an illustration of a 747 and that semi-iconic Hooters owl, himself proclaiming: “Hooters Air, Where getting there is half  all the fun. 

My 15-year-old self thought it was absolute genius.

It’s a play on that old cliché and it was marketing wizardry. If anyone you know ever flew on Hooters Air, that was the reason. I’m not saying they saw the Billboard and then dialed their travel agents, but that philosophy was certainly the motivation behind choosing the airline. The conversation never would have gone:

“Yeah, I gotta take Hooters Air flight 109 to Atlanta for a meeting.”

Rather it would have sounded like:

“Yeah, I gotta go to Atlanta for a meeting, but I’m taking Hooters Air!”

The Hooters Air people were marketing the flight on the plane as the vacation, not the means to get to the vacation. They were hoping they could get you to forget how ludicrous the thought of Hooters Air is by making it seem like an event, or at the very least an interesting conversation starter. Other airlines boast about the destinations they take you, not so much the flight itself. If they do mention the flight, it’s to tell you about what little creations they’ve come up with to make the whole unfortunate experience more bearable. More leg-room, leather cushions, forcing fat people to buy two seats, and they go on and on.
Aren’t you being a little ridiculous? Yes. I am. Whichever ad-man came up the slogan was probably just trying to stress the point that this time when you duel over the stewardess, you needn’t feel like a sex offender.  But, still. The idea that getting there could be all the fun was a notion that I could never quite relinquish. It festered and bubbled inside of me, until the idea that I would live my life without endlessly traveling, without wandering for the sake of wandering, became absolutely unbearable. It seemed that Hooters had succeeded in blue-balling me, though certainly not in the manner they anticipated.

It was this anxiety that led me to wander out on my own after college, to join Americorps (and then join it again), to forgo laundry and groceries to have money for weekend trips, and ultimately to relocate to New York.  

And now I’m here, in New York, the great New York, and most of the time all I want to do is leave.  New York City is so massive that weeks and months can melt away before I realize that I haven’t left the five boroughs even once. (I should just say four. Who goes to Staten Island?)  Anyone who grew up in the suburbs will agree; the idea that you could go more then a weekend without leaving one town is crazy. Plymouth didn’t even have a Wendy’s until I was 22! 

The downside to one place providing everything you could possible need is that you never need to go to another place. New York is like one giant Super Wal-Mart. Big Apple aficionados will counter by saying that New York is so disparate from block to block that it’s like traveling thru limitless locales, arguing there’s more diversity in a dozen Manhattan blocks then all of the Dakotas.  And they would be right. I could travel thru the entire American south and never come across a good Venezuelan Cachapa, or I could take a five minute walk during my lunch break and score a great one.

But for me, there is something about staying in one geographical location for a length of time that drives me bonkers, just the idea that I’m not stretching out, that I’m becoming grounded.

Two good friends of mine are leaving the city next month. My roommate left last month. None of them seemed to acclimate to New York. For all the things they liked about the city, none of them ever felt it held a candle to what back home could offer them. So after a trial period they are moving home, and they are positively ecstatic. I get this horrible feeling that I will end up bitter too, that I will – such as those patrons of Hooters Air - want to just up and leave simply because I haven’t up and left in a while.

But that would mean giving up, and I can’t do that. Not this year at least. Maybe not in five years. Maybe I was ignorant to think that chasing my dream would be a constantly amazing and life-affirming ride, propelled along simply by the fact that “I’m going for it,” and not a reality check: a confidence-crushing, bank-account-depleting,  self-degrading struggle.   Maybe I was ignorant to think it would be so much fun.

(It is fun a lot, too. Let me take a moment here to apologize for how whiny and self-loathing this post got all of the sudden. Not sure what happened. Maybe I should have some cookies.)

I have to remember there is a purpose, a goal I’m working towards, and when I reach that goal this will all be so incredibly worth it.  And if I never reach it, it will still be worth it, because it will just give me another place to escape from, another destination to start the car from and hit the road, or get on the jet plane.  On to the next one, on to the next one.  

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

And Mr. Gaffigan Came, Too

Like pink flamingoes belong on the front lawn, I belong in the basement. A basement, it seems, is the only place in which I am fit to perform.

It’s nice actually, such an accurate physical manifestation of my stature in the comedy world. It couldn’t be any less subtle if I performed all my shows on the bottom rung of a ladder.

There were the countless mics at basement comedy clubs like The Comedy Corner or East Ville Comedy, the Wednesday motel mics in the basement of the Village Lantern, the mic at the Tangine actually called My Grandmother’s Basement, all of which gave me the impression that the road to top is paved with leaky faucets and menacing furnaces.

At least Ochi’s Lounge, the Chelsea club underneath Comix - pretty much the big papa of New York Comedy Clubs – is lovely, easily nicer and hipper and hotter-bartendered then any number of above-ground comedy clubs.  I’ve performed here twice, both times as part of the I’ve Got Munchies variety show, which has got to be among the most interesting shows in New York.

Look! Pictures!

Why so interesting?  Well - first you have the Munchie’s-produced comedy videos which elicit reactions ranging from silent bewilderment to roaring laughter. Then there are the performers, everything from desperate stand-ups (that would be me) to affable storytellers; from naturally-funny magicians to twin-brother comedy duos in matching suits.  There was one man from my first show whose entire act was shoving whole meals into his mouth and then speaking as clearly as he could. The crowd loved him.

The producers of the show are also not what you expect from someone booking an important room on a Saturday night. They are the wonderfully irrepressible Jenn Dodd and Sharon Jamilkowski, two ladies who seem incapable of displaying emotions other than jubilation. When Jenn thanked me for doing her show, a show where she gave me a drink ticket and which I didn’t have to pay to do, I was flabbergasted. I’ve reached a point where I feel indebted to anyone who doesn’t out-and-out screw me over.

There’s also the name,  I’ve Got Munchies. This is clearly intended to conjure up images of marijuana-induced snack-food binges (of which, mother, I know nothing about) but in truth refers to the group’s ultimate goal to combine comedy routines with easy to follow dinner recipes.  Go figure.

Since I’ve moved to New York City last year, one of the better lessons I’ve learned is that a spectacular failure, something crazy and embarrassing and altogether unforgettable, is preferable to a moderate, garden-variety success. Everyone remembers that diminutive Asian man who became an instant celebrity “butchering” Ricky Martin and no one in the world has any idea who the hell Taylor Hicks is. (Indeed, I had to Google American Idol winners for this reference.)

In this vein, the I’ve Got Munchies’ variety show seems leagues ahead of other Big Apple shows even when acts or videos (or some of my jokes) fail.  Even when jokes bomb, I found myself thinking: finally, something different.

There's me... 

Adding to the overall oddball experience, last Saturday night I unexpectedly opened for Jim Gaffigan, one of the most successful and recognizable stand-ups in the country.  Undoubtedly the high point of my comedy career and it all took place in a basement.

I’ve heard of superstar comics doing drop-ins before. Grizzled, open mic veterans are awash with accounts of the times Myc Kaplan or Bill Burr popped in to do some time right after their own set. These comedians always come off desperate, like when a middle-aged guy can’t get over the time his cover band opened for the remains of Lynyrd Skynyrd. But when it happened to me I suddenly understood. To so many comics who never flirt with greatness, to so many comics, like myself, who truly believe that they have inside them the capacity for greatness but will most certainly never attain it, simply sharing the stage with someone who has made it can be a life-defining event. If in 20 years I look back to the night I worked the same crowd with Jim Gaffigan as my crowning comic achievement, I will be supremely disappointed. But it’s better to have that then nothing.

He did not see my set, unfortunately. I was pretty good.

He came after I went on stage and he left after his own set. I fantasized about him seeing me in action, about hearing the laughter, about noticing the two applause breaks I received, and then rushing to phone his agent. Art, you gotta get down here, this guy is killing! And just like that I am whisked away into a world of stand-up royalty where Last Comic Standing has to beg me to audition.  But that was not to be, of course. I settled on sharing 22-dollar shots of whisky with Scoots.

...And there's Jim. Proof! (This will be as big as I ever get.)

I don’t begrudge Jim Gaffigan for showing and then blowing, for the ease in which he arrives at any show he pleases and gets on stage. I am jealous but not bitter. That’s just what becomes of the big boys and he certainly worked hard to be there. Sure, it’s funny that to him this is a bush-league show good for testing unproven material and for me it is marquee, a time to roll out my red-carpet goods, but it’s not unexpected. Comix, remember, is upstairs. 

And besides, it’s a win-win for everyone.  Jimmy G. gets to try new stuff to a receptive, human audience, I’ve Got Munchies gets to forever advertise that they’ve booked the likes of Jim Gaffigan, and I get to forever regal my friends with the tale of the time I opened for a legend. 

Maybe, just maybe, I’ll meet him on the first-floor one day.