If there is an over-used character trait of the artist, it would be the tortured soul aspect of the personalities that endeavor to write, paint, compose, act, or market brilliant ideas. This makes for compelling narratives — severing an ear, drinking absinthe to the point of early senility, or speedboating into a pier, make the artist and his process seem like a seductively lonely and arduous task, fraught with the crescendos of the best mix tapes ever made.
Stoking fictional embers is necessary to tell a story worth watching or reading, a story has to have a plot, but the creative process is very much an interior experience. One has to manifest the process with some kind of arcing outward event or flow chart. I struggle to concoct a way to explain my lack of productivity because it is a constant thought, without the constant churning of words on the page. In fact when you are not writing, you think about writing more. I still jot ideas in a notebook, or on a memo pad (on my phone), or even date a journal entry, but I have not kept my deal with myself to put up a post a week. I toy with the idea that a picture has to accompany a story, and so without a picture I have nothing to write, I have photo block, as well.
I’ve heard writers say that writer’s block doesn’t mean they don’t write, it’s that what they write isn’t any good. I don’t know if that is modesty or boasting. In my experience the instrument stays in the case, when the road blocks are up in my psyche. Even when you’re in a prolific period there can be varying degrees of quality.
Writer’s block is also an over-used premise to discuss, and posting this may be an exercise to jump-start my dormancy, but so what, part of the anatomy that shuts me down is the self-defeating talk in my head saying, “no one reads this shit, so why fret over a topic,” even if that is true, writing is a self-generated current and the presence of eyes on your words shouldn’t be why you torture yourself in the first place. At least that’s the mentally healthy way to look at it.
So as I force words, and force feed coffee, I think of the eyes out there that might be reading, that might have wondered where I’ve been, that hope I will return, who may have had a block of their own, and even if it’s four eyes, or six, or ten, or twelve, there is an exchange that has halted, and needs to flow again. If it’s all a tree falling in the forest (another over-used concept), ah well, at least I sat up and put something down on paper. All of you guys out there should too.
In an attempt to get my year started right, I tried to book more stand-up shows to get some momentum going. My good friend Ryan Sickler was kind enough to throw me on his line-up, at Flappers in Burbank, where he was headlining. Four shows over 2 nights was a good way to pile up some numbers for my resolution attempt, and it was in town.
The Crabfeast is a super funny podcast, hosted by Sickler and Jay Larson, and the line-up was billed as comics who have appeared on the show. Their following is loyal and it’s a real fun thing to be associated with.
The first night of the show was preceded by precipitation, heavy rain is a cause for alarm in Los Angeles and it was not the best omen for a show. I white knuckled my steering wheel, and showed up at the club in pretty good shape. There was an audience and they were warm and responsive.
In the lobby, which doubles as a green room, a fellow comic and friend, Patrick Keane (pictured, left), was hanging out to support; and Sickler, graciously, threw him some stage time. I hadn’t seen Keane in a while, but we picked up where we left off and it was a great way to loosen up before the show. Another comic on the bill, Mick Betancourt, arrived and we wondered how we didn’t know each other yet, and within ten minutes we were chopping it up like we had 10 years under our belt. Matt Fulchiron had car pooled with Mick, and Matt and I go way back, it was a mini-reunion and it was bound to be a good show. It was.
More importantly, the camaraderie of the green room/lobby was a comfort and a pleasure. In my days as an actor, it was a rare dressing room that had this kind of feeling. Comics are a notoriously catty group, but in some cases, with some crews, and on some nights, we get along like a championship team, about to crack champagne. It says a lot about the guy who brought us together, but I’m not sure how much I can continue to flatter him, without sounding odd.
During one of the better jags of the night, we quoted a favorite comic’s jokes and all recalled different lines, cracking ourselves up over the absent friend’s brilliant material. “I forgot about that one”, “I never heard that one.” “Is that new?” It is high praise and true talent that can entertain in absentia. It is what we all aspire to.
The second show was about to start and we all had to reset our pre-show ritual, which for me involves pacing, shadow boxing, and high anxiety, which is partly affected and better than it used to be. Matt Fulchiron was on-deck. He put his beer down, cut short a topic, and had the line of the night, as the host told him he was next, “This is the part of the job I hate.” We all laughed and knew what he was talking about. Of course it’s funny because it’s true, partly; we all love the stage, particularly when it goes well, but when it goes badly, we all spiral into doubt and fall back to position one, wondering how it went south. What he meant, I think, is hanging with a crew who knows you’re funny, and know what you go through to get through, is a great place to be and hard place to leave, even as a paying audience awaits.
I may be reading too much into the night, but I was feeling reflective, and on my way to feeling grateful for this life I’ve carved out. I want to thank all you guys for reminding me.
So psyched to get back with my boys Ryan Sickler and Jay Larson on their big time podcast The Crabfeast. Always a good time.
Check us out:
Nobody cares, so why should you?
That’s a sentiment I have shared with my girlfriend when I playfully bemoan my outcast state. Sometimes, when something doesn’t go my way, I’m able to have a sense of humor about it. Most of the time, I am not. When I am not self-pitying I will pretend I am, my girl will ask, “Why didn’t you go out tonight?” and I’ll reply, “Nobody cares what happens to me,” and we laugh.
Over time I have joked that Nobody Cares, So Why Should You, would be a great title for a self-help book. These days we say things online before they are fully fleshed-out, essentially time stamping a thought that years ago would stay in a notebook, or on a post-it, or on bar napkin. I suppose I am doing that right now. I have struggled to write, as of late, and it is this tenuous theme that I cling to.
Nobody cares, can be a mantra of the negative, but there is also a liberating message. If nobody gives a shit, then you are free from boundaries and judgement. Sure, I can say through the gauze of my writer’s block, that nobody reads this shit, so why bother. I’d be right, but I also would be free to rant, and rave, and have “a take” on anything that came to mind. I would be free from scrutiny, and comments, and I would have purged my thoughts.
Nobody cares, so why should you, is the kind of sloganeering that makes teens slam doors and pout with ferocity. That zit of yore on my nose becomes meaningless, when I think about nobody caring. I live in Los Angeles, a town of self-involvement. If nobody cares, because they only care about themselves, then what is holding you back. If I’m doing comedy in a dive bar and worried about my career, I am doing myself a disservice. Just go for it. I am free to do as I please.
The only time this little jingle of a phrase takes on a sinister sound, is when you think about the bad shit that goes down in every corner of the world. The indifference to people in need and the time wasted watching cats duel with yarn can make you worry if we’ll last a week as a species.
So maybe nobody cares, and why should you, but maybe we can improve on the word, care, and start showing some concern. Or we could just scrap it. It’s up to us.
This should be fun. If you’re in the area or want to get out of one.
Ventura was a blast, hope to be back up there soon.
Tuesday night ended an era and a comedy room that stood for 20 years. That no industry covered the event was fitting, partly the point, and sad, or funny, depending on how you choose to look at it. I choose to look at it as fitting, funny and inspiring.
The turn-out was immense. standing-room only, Vance Sanders is the Cal Ripken of running an open mic, a sports reference he won’t get, but we were there for him. Robert Yasumura took over when Vance got sick and they ran it together for 7 years, and we were there for him too.
Mostly, we were there for ourselves. We don’t get much ceremony in this thing we do, and we wanted to be there to see it one last time. We went to grumble about parking, the indignity of being carded and stamped, because after all this is a UCLA bar, and to congregate on the patios and awkwardly say we love you. That’s what it was for me. It didn’t dawn on me that they had been calling it “The Open Mic of Love” for a while, maybe since the beginning. Love being ironic because it has been known as a tough room forever.
Tuesday July 23, 2013 was a day for love. A day for a true-ragtag group to come and bask in a shared accomplishment. If you were in that room, you were part of it. If you were in the other rooms you were part of it. The way Vance and Robert navigated the impossible task of who would say what was done to perfection. All of wishing we could get up there, but understanding.
For me, for a short while in the early to mid 2000’s that room was my deadline for new material. It was the way for me to feel like I wasn’t dying on the vine, in this city. A place to make friends and to have your stomach lurch when you found out about all the shit that was going on in the business, all the shit that had to be done. A place to sit and watch, good, bad, and ugly comedy.
Stand-up comedy is an individual sport, and that being the case, many comics are self-involved, lonely messes of humanity. We are vulnerable and raw and endeavor to turn pain into joy, in a business that prefers us to stay away, while the few lucky ones are plucked and shot into the stratosphere.
When I moved to Los Angeles, I wasn’t a comic. I was an actor with a resume filled with plays that a few thousand people saw. My brother made me promise I would go to an open mic and to commit to the date I would do so. I didn’t go to the Brew Co. I went to the HaHa Cafe where I had to pay 5 bucks to do 5 minutes while the sun was still out. It went well, which is a disaster, because all the years of building up a phobia washed away, and I said to myself, “I can do this.” Which takes me to where we are today.
The Brew Co. was not the kind of place for me, on paper. It was a cliquey, nerdy, den of alternative comics who would have shut me down if they knew my main stream desires. Desires, I’m sure we all craved. I kept going, I worked on stuff, I think I was beginning to be accepted. I found a voice, a little neurotic, a little cocky, a lot wordy. I got feedback. I won an award.
That’s right, this open mic had an annual awards show called the Scoomies, it’s an acronym that few know, that Vance came up with. The categories were, Best Joke, Most-Improved, Best Melt-Down, you know, that kind of stuff. In ’04 I won the Scoomie for Coolest comic. My acceptance speech was this: “It’s great to win Coolest Comic in a room full of people, I would have thrown against lockers, in High School.” That was my schtick at the time, playing up that I didn’t belong, but partly relishing in my inner nerdiness. I’ve kept it and I’ve had to explain it a couple of times, which usually ended with me saying, “It’s hard to explain, you wouldn’t get it.”
People ask me when I have shows and when they asked about the last Brew Co. I said it wouldn’t be entertaining to an outsider. I think I was right, but being there and seeing the outpouring of love and affection and faces from the past and present, I think an outsider might have gleaned something special was going on. But, then again, those college fucks just wanted us to get the fuck out of the room so Karaoke could start. So, I guess I was right, you just wouldn’t understand.
Long live the Brew Co. Long live your Dreams. I miss you guys already.
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