This weekend I was making my headlining debut at Ann Arbor Comedy Showcase, a terrific club in Columbus, Ohio (that’s some Big Ten football rivalry humor). There were two shows Friday and two shows Saturday. The crowds were great, the headliner was greater and the travel atrocious. If you are familiar with my travel stories over the last decade since I started doing road work regularly, you know that Amtrak and despair are my most frequent travel companions. This trip would be the apex of that travel history. Before breaking down the weekend here’s the math: I spent 38 hours in Ann Arbor, Michigan and 43.5 hours in Amtrak facilities. To paraphrase Jamie Lannister, “The things I do for self-destruction.” OK – here goes the recap!
Thursday-Friday: Amtrak to Ann Arbor
Hello Darkness my old friend! – it was another trip on the infamous Lake Shore Limited – the Amtrak train that goes from NYC to Chicago by way of Australia. The trip to Toledo (the stop where you get off to get the Amtrak bus to all parts Michigan) is supposed to last 15 hours, ending with a 6am “de-training.” Well, we got stuck in Albany, NY (2.5 hours into the trip on time) for 3 hours. So in the time I was stuck in Albany I could have gotten off the train, gone to Albany airport and flown to Detroit before the train left Albany. So we ended up getting to Toledo at 10am. But, despite the fact that the Amtrak bus ORIGINATES in Toledo, apparently our 4 hour lateness was not quite enough time for the bus THAT ORIGINATES in Toledo to make it to the station on time. It ended up getting there at 10:30 and I was in Ann Arbor at 12:20. I ordered a Lyft and the driver told me that her cousin was Karlous Miller (a finalist on a season of Last Comic Standing). I did not think it was a good sign for the weekend that Lyft drivers in Ann Arbor were able to one-up my career, but so be it.
Since I had managed 3 hours of sleep on the train to Toledo I was full of energy to explore Ann Arbor once I had checked into my hotel. So I walked towards a movie theater to see John Wick 3 (worst of the three Wicks, sorry Keanu) hoping to see some stores or eateries to write in and assess the Tator Thots in the rust belt. But all I walked by for 2 miles were car dealerships. Seriously. But then I found a nice little coffee shop near the movie theater and sat mapping out soon-to-be legendary sets. After a late lunch of popcorn, M&Ms and Wick I headed back to the hotel to shower off the Amtrak Funk for the shows.
The crowds on Friday were not too large, but they were outstanding. I then retired to my hotel to get a very important night of sleep (#Foreshadowing).
Saturday – Models, Abortion Stones and BBQ
I woke up Saturday to a solid complimentary hotel breakfast (Danish, Belgian Waffle, youth sports teams not saying thank you when you show them courtesy at the buffet) and then did my review of the sets from the night before, which conclusively showed that I am great, but could be greater (as Saturday’s game day adjustments would bear out).
Knowing I would be on a train all Sunday I went to Mass on Saturday evening (#PrayerWarrior). I got a Lyft and my driver was a former model (she moved to NYC as a teen and was a model for many years – I believe her is all I’ll say) who moved back to Michigan to have kids and start a life coaching business (that was my confirmation that she definitely had been a model). So I was 2 for 2 in Lyft drivers being able to one up me in success in the art/fame pursuits. Mass was Mass, though from the below picture you can see that these Midwest Churches are not playing second fiddle to the South:
I then ate some delicious food at a local BBQ spot (warning – I am not a food d-bag so if you are some guy who bathes in his own dry rub and wins contests in Texas for best bbq while carrying an AR-15 then you may not judge the food as I did, but I loved it)
Saturday-Sunday-Monday: White Sharon, Black Sharon and the Tornado
The shows Saturday night were awesome. Bigger crowds and even some fans from my appearances on Sirius XM and The Black Guy Who Tips. Sold a lot of albums and then went back to my hotel. My train back to NYC was to depart Toledo at 3:15am, but I decided to not risk a lack of availability of cars later in the night so I called (app’d? Summoned?) a Lyft to take me the 70 miles to the Toledo station. A White Lady named Sharon accepted and then abandoned me 7 minutes later (#AbandonmentAmy), which is when a Black Queen named Sharon (am I doing this right Black Twitter?) accepted. She got me to Toledo 7 minutes faster than the estimate and I gave her a strong gratuity (#ComedyMogul is back!). So at 2am I stepped into the Toledo Amtrak Station. Before continuing to the horror portion of the story here are two new bits/clips from Saturday’s shows:
The station was fairly crowded. As I would learn it was because every train out of Chicago was extremely late. So I sat next to a young woman with blue hair, two tongue studs and a batman t-shirt (ummm are we soul mates or are you just here to star in my Make-A-Wish porn film The Beige Knight?). And that was when the alerts started coming. My train would not arrive until 4:30am (a 90 minute delay). Shit. Then another alert. And another. And another. My train eventually arrived at 7:30am. I got into my room (rooms were cheap from Toledo so I got a sleeper car using points, figuring I would be getting on the train before daylight), which was prepared very nicely for slumber by yet another Black Queen (#TrustBlackWomen) who also got a nice gratuity from me (the world will be a better place if I ever become rich and famous). I managed to sleep for 3 hours and that is when the real adventure began.
We were 4.5 hours late in Toledo and kept losing time city after city. Then we arrived in Rochester. Delay because a man was threatening to jump on the train tracks. Then we got to Syracuse. Delayed due to freight train traffic (America – where freight always gets priority over people, which is the main cause of many delays on our country’s rails). Also delayed because of a tornado. So I took photos and a video. From that video, three different weather services contacted me asking for permission to use the video with credit. Never a good sign for your comedy career when you crush 4 shows as a headliner and your only glimpse of success is from a weather video you shoot on your phone in Syracuse.
We kept getting delayed and at 9pm I turned off my phone for the rest of the night to avoid any Game of Thrones chatter. We finally arrived in Penn Station at 12:15am, but like a horror villain popping up right before the credits to slaughter our hero, the train then had to reverse for over ten minutes to actually go to the right platform. I stepped on the platform in Penn Station at 12:30am. I took a cab home to get my dog Cookie, who peed in the kitchen, but she didn’t spoil GOT for me so I didn’t scold her. I took her out for a walk and then watched the finale of GOT (I liked it – it wasn’t going to be another epic bloodbath folks). I then slept better than I have in a long time – 6 hours. Thanks Ann Arbor!
If you are binging or catching up or have started the show this contains earlier season spoilers
On Sunday, May 19th HBO will air the series finale of Game of Thrones, it’s most popular show of all time and the definitive show of the last decade (all due respect to one of my TV Drama Mount Rushmore members Breaking Bad). But for all the deserving praise the show is getting as its run concludes (and some deserved and undeserved criticism) I have been perplexed by a lack of criticism for one of Thrones‘ most glaring omissions in this era of representation and inclusion: none of the incest is same sex.
The show over 8 seasons has featured rape, murder, gore, loads of nudity and yes, incest. But of all of that incest, which has been a hallmark of the show as much as it has been a hallmark of the Targaryen history, none of it has reflected the LGBTQ community. Most notably we have:
Jamie and Cersei Lannister – the twins who don’t know how to quit each other
Cersei and her Cousin Lancel (Lancel eventually goes Born Again Faith Militant)
The Whole Targaryen Family
Craster – the man in the north who has sex with all of his daughters (and notably has all of his sons KILLED, denying even an opportunity for same sex incest with their father later in life)
And last, but not least Jon Snow and his Aunt… Daenerys
This is a lot of incest in various forms – sibling-sibling, father-child, aunt-nephew, cousin-cousin, etc., but they all have one insidious common thread – all heterosexual intercourse. This begs the question: what are show creators Weiss and Benioff so afraid of? Why leave out a marginalized community from one of the driving forces in the hit show? Now there was one character who gave the LGBTQ-Incest Ally community hope: Prince Oberyn Martell. A demonstrably sex-positive, bi-sexual hero (he had sex with women and men on screen and notably told the Lannisters that he did not judge their relations.
But just as the show’s LGBTQ hero was defending the life of the dwarf Tyrian Lannister (an ally to yet ANOTHER marginalized community), the show writers demonstrated their true contempt for that voice of inclusion. This is the fate our inclusive, sex-positive, LGBTQ hero received from Weiss and Benioff (who, by the way, have said they want to make a Star Wars film where the Confederacy wins and enslaves Jon Boyega – HARD PASS):
So as this show ends its run on Sunday night I say good riddance. Incest is not just a plot device and taboo to be enjoyed by the hetero masses. Hopefully, with the spinoffs of Thrones and other shows HBO develops will do better. Because the audience, like Prince Oberyn, deserved better.
In 2000 I cast my first Presidential vote for Al Gore. I had been a big fan of Gore’s since middle school when I read Earth in the Balance and was happy to vote for someone who had the experience, intellect and foresight to confront the issues critical to the country’s present and future. Obviously he sighed at a debate, lost the election and seems to have (understandably) lost his passion for politics. I have since voted for John Kerry, President Obama twice and Hillary Clinton. But the candidate I am supporting for 2020 may be the most enthusiastic vote I’ll cast since popping my presidential voting cherry for Gore (though being the bi-racial son of a black immigrant man and a white American woman I did feel a personal affinity for then-candidate and President Obama). I am supporting Governor Jay Inslee of Washington and am hoping that he can start to gain some real national traction. Here are some relevant facts about Governor Inslee for those who don’t know much about him:
- Voted for the assault weapons ban in 1994, which cost him his first Congressional seat after one term
- Returned to Congress in the late 1990s and voted against the repeal of Glass-Steagall – one of the key factors that precipitated the financial collapse of 2008
- Has been a consistent voice regarding climate change for decades
- Voted against the war in Iraq
- As governor (currently serving his second term in Washington state) – signed first net neutrality law, declared a moratorium on the death penalty, introduced a state public option for health insurance in January 2019, and has pardoned thousands of low level drug offenders. Washington was also the first state to sue to stop Trump’s original travel ban on Muslims.
- Personally – has three kids, married his high school sweetheart, drives a Chevy Bolt (green and ‘Murican!), won a state hoops title in high school and is 68 years old
So basically Jay Inslee was a progressive martyr in his first stint as a Congressman, supporting a gun control bill that passed but cost him his job. He was right on Glass-Steagall, the Iraq War and his commitment to his signature issue, fighting climate change, has shown foresight and leadership. He has federal legislative experience and strong executive experience. Plus, his state is home to Starbucks and Amazon, so it would be hard to claim his progressive vision and leadership have been incompatible with capitalistic success. But right now Inslee is polling in the 1% range. Among his “problems” – his social media following is weak and he is a “straight, white man” in a party and liberal climate that yearns for a candidate more reflective of the Democratic party’s diversity. My main issue with this is that the Democrats have last nominated a black man and a woman. John Kerry was the last white man the party nominated (in 2004). This is not an argument that “it’s time to go back” or anything stupid like that. My point is that, unlike the Party of Trump, the Democrats have not shown themselves averse to voting for people other than straight white men, and yet it seems more than ever the Democrats and liberals seem to be acting like selecting a candidate who happens to be a straight white man would automatically be treated like a step backward. I think that is counterproductive both in the primary phase and in potentially damping enthusiasm in the general IF the party happens to nominate a straight white man. I think the roster of candidates is really strong (Pete Buttigieg is running a surprise second in my own personal choices), but I will vote for whomever wins the Democratic nomination. Worrying about too centrist or too progressive a candidate when Trump is the other choice is like declaring chemo or surgery as terrible choices for dealing with Cancer – you better choose one because the result of not supporting either is Cancer.
So with this heartfelt, but mostly useless endorsement I would like to suggest some advice for Governor Inslee’s campaign (since the campaign is running with fighting climate change as its overarching theme I will not address that, but I wholeheartedly endorse that emphasis):
- Make it clear you are not Governor John Hickenlooper – I write this only half in jest. You announced your candidacy the same week as Governor John Hickenlooper (a more centrist candidate, who is also a white male, but who unlike you, saw Deep Throat in the theater with his Mom). The media sort of labeled both of you alternatively as “centrist governors” and “here come the straight white guys,” which is sort of a lazy (and false) branding of your track record. You are as progressive as anyone in the race, except that you have the votes and record of actual progressive actions, not just rhetoric.
- Meet with the Parkland kids and other gun control activists – the only thing that young people have been as vocal about as climate change in the last few years has been gun control. You could really be THE candidate of young people if they learn that not only are you a climate change warrior, but also lost his your first Congressional seat voting for gun control (how many politicians on either side of the aisle these days would you expect to risk career for conscience?). Working with kids like the activists from Marjorie Stoneman Douglas would bridge your 25 year old vote to today’s concerns. This should be your way to approach other large issues where your record is clearly a strength.
- Take on Bernie Sanders – Bernie’s fans are probably as devoted to Bernie as Trump’s supporters are to him. Taking on Bernie (not in a dirty politics or insulting sort of way) would highlight that you are no less progressive than Bernie (and on gun control more so). Your voting record and policy priorities cannot be criticized from the left and your record of accomplishment stands favorably to Bernie’s mostly rhetorical star power. Also, being almost a decade younger than Bernie cannot hurt. Now you may be saying, but if Bernie’s fans are ride or die for Bernie why take him on? Well, there are many voters, whether they be people of color, women, or other demographics who still feel either an affinity for Hillary Clinton or a wariness of Bernie. Showing that you are able to make a compelling challenge to Bernie’s front runner status might make some people notice and might make others who felt that Bernie was not sufficiently supportive of HRC feel that they have a progressive alternative that doesn’t feel like a betrayal of Hillary. There are many candidates, but according to polls around 50% of voters favor Bernie or Biden in the primary (at least right now). So you know that these are voters who are not writing off straight white men based solely on their demographic (not that other candidates’ bases of support are based strictly on that, but certainly there is enough talk in progressive circles that it is also not a negligible concern). Aim for 8th place and you will stay in 11th. Aim for 1st and you might get yourself into the top 6 in time to become a real contender.
- Highlight your personal story and your consistency as a progressive champion for 25 years – my 100 blog readers now know your personal and professional details, but most of America does not. Change that. Continue to highlight and feature climate change, but letting the American people know your consistent progressive bona fides else won’t detract from it. Your other accomplishments and experiences might just make America feel even more certain that you are the candidate to successfully win the battle against climate change.
This weekend found me in Syracuse, NY (always good when the road forces you to miss the jacked up prices of Valentine’s Day and just celebrate on Sidepiece Day (February 13) for more reasonable prices and easier to obtain reservations) entertaining the people of upstate New York from the confines of one of America’s largest malls. The weekend would include movies, cheesecake, PF Chang’s, looking like a domestic terrorist in the mall and a visit from the former Governor of NY. But most of all it would include me setting a new high in missed references by audience members, cementing my status as the beige, left-of-center Dennis Miller. But as they say – in the land of the blind, the one eyed man is king, so please don’t perceive this as me unnecessarily taxing the minds of America. When I ask a sold out crowd how many know who Quincy Jones is and only 15% clap (5% less than for his semi-famous daughter) you just start to feel like either you are out of touch or people are getting really dumb, OKAY BABE cha cha cha. So without further adieu, from my writing room aboard another Amtrak, here’s the recap:
After arriving at the Destiny Mall (where, based on all the neck tattoos I saw, the destiny is apparently unemployment) I went to PF Chang’s, despite my agreement with The Cheesecake Factory to brown bread and cheesecake myself to death every time there is one nearby. I ate my beef & broccoli and then went to the club. Was predictably pretty packed for the V-Day. My walk up music is “Warning” by Biggie, simply because it has a great opening 15 seconds before lyrics start. However, I have made the mistake over the last few road gigs of thinking that Biggie is sort of culturally ubiquitous. Well… he isn’t. Actually – let me cut to the chase. Here is a list of all pop culture references I made in my 5 sets and the corresponding level of acknowledgement by the crowd:
- Biggie – an average of 3 people per show
- Rashida Jones – 20% of crowd knew who she was
- Quincy Jones – 15% (as a follow up to the low level of recognition of his far less accomplished and famous daughter)
- Who Framed Roger Rabbit – 5 people (a reference to the crowd thinking they might die if they laugh)
- Drake – 7% (an allusion to “Started from the bottom now I’m here”)
- Amistad – silence
- Ike Turner – 3 people (referring to who might have owned my dog Cookie before I got her)
- Chris Stapleton – 30% (comparing a guy with a big beard who was one of the people who acknowledged Drake to the popular country singer – I then admonished the upstate crowd that they were closer to Canada than Tennessee)
- Air Bud – 50%
Most of my act is not references or analogies, but every year it feels like there are fewer and fewer consensus references (HOW THE FU*K DO YOU NOT KNOW QUINCY JONES??!!!*^@E@&@*), but even A Star Is Born jokes were falling on deaf ears a couple of weeks ago in Buffalo – the movie was a huge hit and nominated for 8 Oscars but you feel like you are mentioning a 1960s foreign film to half of these people!
Well the show went well enough – sold a lot of albums after the show and then celebrated a solitary Valentine’s Day as one should – by banging a piece of red velvet cheesecake from the Cheesecake Factory (which may be the title of my next album – an R Kelly parody record – DEAR SYRACUSE R KELLY IS A SUCCESSFUL SINGER WHO IS ACCUSSED OF HEINOUS CRIMES AGAINST WOMEN AND GIRLS AND HE HAD A HUGE ALBUM CALLED THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY).
On Friday I left the hotel around 1130 for the Destiny Mall. I went to see the new Liam Neeson movie (if you like the 2nd season of Fargo and don’t mind that Liam Neeson once roamed the streets looking for black men to murder it is actually one of his best movies of recent vintage. I also thought of a sketch – Liam Neeson shooting scenes for Schindler’s List and then during breaks in filming scouting places to hunt black men. Example:
Liam as Oskar Schindler: We must give these people freedom! We must protect these people!
Director: And cut! Nice work Liam
(lighting goes David Fincher dark)
Liam Neeson: I am going to get those black bastards
Director: And can we take it from that later line one time actually
(lighting goes bright again)
LN: Sure. These are people. Good people. And we cannot judge them based on what they look like or how they worship!
Director (tearing up): And cut! Wow – that was beautiful.
(lighting goes dark)
LN: Now. Where’s the best place to find a black bastard. I mean anyone with black skin. Doesn’t matter!
You get the point.
I then sat in various places in the Mall for an addition 5 hours, basically looking like I was scouting it for a terror attack, reading a book on Frederick Douglass (one of my fellow bi-racial Mt Rushmore Americans – Babe Ruth and Barack Obama are the other two).
The two shows went well in that I sold a lot of albums, but the crowds still felt weird.
I woke up early on Saturday for no reason other than that Mother Nature apparently wants to accentuate my already sleepy eyes. I went to the Mall around 11 and went to see the first show of Happy Death Day 2U (the first one was surprisingly good; it stars a pretty chick who plays bitch really well and there’s like 1% of my DNA that still finds that attractive), but the sequel, though mildly enjoyable lacked some of the focus and bite of the first one. I am supposed to see Alita tonight, but right now the best movie of the weekend is definitely the one starring the guy who hunted black people for sport back in the day.
I then spent another 5 hours sitting in the mall, had PF Chang’s for dinner again, read more about Freddy D and then went to the club to see a packed house for the first show. And they finally were the crowd I was hoping for. Still sort of dumb, but a great energy for comedy. Sold a bunch of albums and then got a piece of cheesecake from the Factory (Oreo – my arch nemesis and eventual cause of death).
The late show Saturday felt like it was “Bring Your Stripper To Work” Day. There were a lot of big heels and bigger, round breasts on display when the show was over (they were an OK crowd – pretty much like all of them except the Saturday early show) and as the audience was leaving a lot of the couples looked the same: White Guy with Suit (there was one black guy who looked like he was taking his stripper out for a date), earring and/or hair gel, and a woman who looked like she was in Jay Z’s Big Pimpin’ video but has now settled down in Syracuse to raise her family of breast implants in a conservative community. To be honest is a smart move by a small market thot – if you go to LA you will look like a middle class housewife with a web cam show; if you go to Miami you will look like a grandmother with a web cam show, if you go to NYC you will look slightly trashy (though you are appreciated boo!) but in Syracuse you look like a porn queen who can have any Syracuse University assistant coach you choose! I call these women Giannis Antetoko-bimbos (SYRACUSE – GIANNIS ANTETOKOUNMPO IS AN MVP CANDIDATE IN THE NBA AND PLAYS IN MILWAUKEE SO IT IS A PUN ON HIS NAME AND ALSO AN ANALOGY TO HOW HE HAS THRIVED IN A SMALL MARKET). But even more notable on the final show of the week than the abundance of saline was the presence of former NY Governor David Patterson. I killed with him and his family. They came over after the show to tell me that I belong on SNL. But then they left without buying my album. You just can’t trust politicians!
This weekend I was in Buffalo, NY performing at Helium Comedy Club. It had been a full three years since I had performed at Helium in Buffalo, but the city had not lost a step in my absence – it was still incredibly cold and dreary. I booked my hotel through hotwire.com – the Russian Roulette of travel booking sites and unfortunately landed in a hotel 2 miles from the club. The weekend would be one of missed laughs, terrible weather and poor sleep. So without further delay, let’s get into it from the café car of the Amtrak home:
Thursday: Country For Old Men
I hopped on the 7:15 am Amtrak to Buffalo, an 8 hour ride that ended up taking 9 hours. In my ever militant, old man style of life (I have a landline, 7 day a week hard copy newspaper delivery, a cannister of Folgers coffee that I dig into every morning and a dozen other old man habits) I took a cab at the train station instead of getting a Lyft. I immediately regretted my decision and not just because it was double the price. The 20 minute ride to my hotel featured AM talk radio. I could not tell if it was Rush Limbaugh or just another bloated, angry, pill-popping “conservative,” but the entire discussion for 20 minutes was three angry white dudes discussing abortion. I then realized that Fox News is really just the cool party drug version of GOP hate. AM radio is the uncut, pure, too potent for human consumption level hate that should have angry old white people ODing. “Jack was in the prime of his life. Collecting social security and Medicare. His wife of 40 years was calling police on black people selling bottled water. And then someone slipped him some bad AM radio and his heart was only prepared for what he thought was Fox News level hate. He is survived by his wife, 3 children who all owe child support and a bi-racial child he doesn’t acknowledge. RIP Jack.”
I checked into my hotel – the Wyndham, which was pretty nice for the broke-ass special price I got from Hotwire. A couple hours after checking in I got in the hotel shuttle to take me down to the club. Different middle-aged white guy, but same AM radio. This time it was just two angry white guys discussing “all the free college the illegals were getting.”
When I got to the club I had a splitting headache, probably from the overload of all the truth bombs I was bombarded with during my unexpected exposure to AM talk radio. The crowd was fairly light on Thursday, but the set went well (though I did make a video of various references falling on deaf ears for your pleasure below) and I sold exactly enough albums (2) to cover tips for the green room waitress and the MAGA shuttle to and from the club that night. #ComedyMogul
Friday: Ruth Bae Ginsburg
On Friday I was awoken from my slumber at 6am by the elderly couple next door blasting Fox News (I head the old man say “Pelosi has got to stop the shutdown already!”). After breakfast in the hotel I went to a Starbucks 0.8 miles from my hotel, which meant, in Buffalo temperatures, I looked like Leonardo DiCaprio at the end of The Revenant by the time I arrived. I did some reading, writing and arithmetic and then went to see On The Basis of Sex, the enjoyable new film based on the early life and work of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Young Ruth was cute AF so I didn’t think Felicity Jones was an out of bounds choice to play her, but I did have some small critiques. My review of the film and theater experience:
When I went into the theater it was a pleasant light flurry outside, as if Buffalo was saying “Well, you obviously want a touch of winter wonderland when you come to Buffalo!” but when I exited the theater 2 hours later it was a fu*king blizzard (video is available on my Twitter feed).
Attendance was lighter than normal for Friday shows, understandably given the weather. My sets were well received and I sold a few albums. Only one guy all weekend seemed to hate me (mid 50s biker wearing an American flag bandana, accompanied by his wife), but every show references to Biggie, A Star is Born and other pop culture items from a wide range fell on mostly deaf ears. Here is my brief plea to the crowd about A Star is Born:
And I got my allotment of strange racial comments as usual. A guy asked me where I was from in NYC and I said the Bronx and he replied “You’re the tallest white guy from the Bronx ever!” proving that he had not retained much from my set and that he had no idea how height or geography work. My favorite racially awkward line from road work is still is when the emcee was twerking on stage in Toledo back in 2010 (I was featuring for Steve Byrne) and I said to a white woman near me “he’s pretty good!” and she said without humor, “Well duh, he’s black.” #MAGA
Saturday: Mass and Bad Tourist
Saturday I woke up at 6am (I generally haven’t slept well most of this decade, but this was different – the alarm in the Fox News elderly room next door was blaring). Apparently, the geezers who left the day before had set their room alarm for daily and I had to call the front desk to shut it off (also Wyndham – please get thicker walls). After some rest and watching various shows on my computer I made my way back to Starbucks for more comedy due diligence and then it was time for Mass. The Church was a cathedral named St Louis. It is beautiful and obviously harkens back to a time of greater prominence since many of the kneelers had cobwebs and it was only about 15% full. And as I do in my never ending tour of Catholic Churches in America I gave my collection money to a homeless woman outside – Philadelphia, DC and now Buffalo are the cities with the savviest homeless people apparently. I don’t know how you can waslk into a Church and not give your money to a homeless person outside the Church. Sure it’s savvy marketing, but Jesus never put an asterisk on the Beatitudes “Unless they are smartly guilting you.”
After Mass I walked to Wendy’s near the hotel when I saw the bar that birthed Buffalo Wings. I thought, “What luck – I should obviously go here for dinner… except chicken wings are worthless pieces of shit, so on to that spicy chicken value meal at Wendy’s!” Seriously, wings suck and were basically trash that the bar had to use when they ran out of good food 80 years ago (this was covered on an early episode of my deceased Righteous Prick Podcast). Show me the home of the breaded chicken tender and I will support that local business.
Birthplace of Buffalo Wings… PASS!
That night the shows were great, CD sales were trash and I went back to the hotel having made a profit of about $100 for the weekend and tried to fall asleep. I had this weird dream that I was in a store front with friends and some celebrities (Mark Wahlberg was one of them) when about a dozen armed gang members entered and shot and killed one person and the person they were there for, 6ix 9ine – a rapper who I’ve only been made aware of in news reports (I don’t know his music) and have not seen or read anything about in at least a month. Perhaps it was my subconscious mind’s way of saying how much I hate entertainers who have Internet fame. Or “It was all a dream…” – just kidding I know you don’t get that reference Buffalo.
This weekend I travelled to Washington, DC to perform with Jay Nog (my co-host on Making Podcasts Great Again) and John Moses (of Fight Stories Podcast) at Bier Baron Tavern – a bar/hotel/performance space in the heart of Dupont Circle (sandwiched between a Church with a huge rainbow flag and a gay bar called The Fireside – a real Devil’s Triangle!). We had two stand up shows, Friday at 8pm and Saturday at 8pm and then at 10pm each of those nights were Jay’s show called “Paid or Pain” where veteran comics sit and judge new comics and then based on audience reaction the new comics are either paid for their sets or tortured by a dominatrix. This of course differs from my comedy career where I am paid, but never enough to cover the emotional pain of pursuing stand up comedy as a career. Now federal workers in the DC area are largely furloughed from work and going without pay. And as the shows demonstrated this weekend, we ended up wishing the fight over Trump’s historically terrible presidency had forced us to be cancelled as well. So without further adieu:
Friday – Hacked To Pieces
When I arrived at Bier Baron Tavern I realized I had stayed there before. I believe it was 2013-ish when I emceed for Sebastian Maniscalco and needed a cheap hotel to guarantee myself some profit for the trip. Ironically enough this weekend I stayed there again, a mere one week away from taking my girlfriend to see Maniscalco at Madison Square Garden. I guess I am just keeping it more real. When we checked in there was a guy standing in the lobby in a drug-induced trance. He was outside in the same mode the next day. But even he was gone on the third day when he realized no one, including dealers, wanted to be near these comedy shows.
After checking in I had a salad at Chopt nearby and went over my set list for the night. When I made my way down a few minutes before showtime I noticed that there were 6 people in the room. But to be fair a woman came in about 10 minutes into the show to drive attendance to 7. The crowd was pleasant despite being so small, but I could not help being disappointed. You see across the street from the venue is a coffee shop named SoHo Tea & Coffee. And when I started doing comedy in DC in the Summer of 2003, STC had one of the best booked shows in the city. Monday nights – always a full house, good comics, etc. And the few times I got to do it before leaving DC for NYC (for my first attorney job) were really enjoyable and felt like little early career milestones (i.e. not performing on comics-only open mics, though to be fair a lot of mics in DC had audience). So in 15 years I managed to make it across the street for a few hundred dollars in net profit. Not good.
After the stand up show we got ready for Paid or Pain and that was a packed house as the young DC comedians packed the place with friends. Some of the comics were decent for newbies, some were atrocious. But one guy stood out. And not in a good way. In comedy there is no more offensive combination than confident and terrible. And one comic basically got up there and delivered a worst of Def Comedy Jam performance. I mean the hackiest white people this/black people that comedy. As one of my fellow judges Reese Waters said “That act killed in 1988.” John Moses, who was equally vicious (and correct) throughout the night and basically deduced that the guy had so much confidence because he had basically lifted the act from old Def Jam. The worst part was how well he was killing with the crowd. Between his friends who accused the three of us as “not knowing comedy” and “being jealous” and several other audience members who were so drunk and possibly stupid you would have thought Patrice O’Neal had risen from the dead to deliver his new special. And because I never pass up a chance to reflect on comedy I realized these people are probably typical of comedy consumers now: Meme consumers who watch 2-4 Netflix specials a year, never go to a comedy club and think real hackery (like the jokes went stale in 1994) is great comedy. And when I am featuring for that guy in 6 years I will have a good, sadistic laugh.
Saturday – Brain Dead Care Bears
On Saturday I woke up early to do all my comedy logistics for the week and then recorded this week’s episode of Making Podcasts Great Again with John as our guest (it’s a good one – so go subscribe on iTunes and enjoy when the new one drops on Wednesday).
I then went to see The Upside – the new Kevin Hart and Bryan Cranston movie. I will say the movie is a high B+. I enjoyed it, I laughed and most notably, I had no idea how the movie was getting demolished on Rotten Tomatoes. I have suggested this on social media with the movie Bumblebee, which sucked, that Rotten Tomatoes is susceptible to bribery or at least bias. While a F/1 star review is clearly rotten and an A/4 star review is clearly fresh in that 2-3 star range there is a lot of discretion in how they categorize it as rotten or fresh, since most people in our App/Quick fix/low attention span world will likely just see its score as the indicator that matters. For example, when Lady Ghostbusters, an awful comedy received a strong score I decided to look closer and saw a lot of 2.5 star reviews where the blurb was fairly negative but was being rated fresh. Just something to think about when you realize how much power RT has in this day and age and how much money is invested in movies. It would be business malpractice NOT to try and manipulate or bribe Rotten Tomatoes. But the point is simple – I really enjoyed The Upside.
When I left the movie theater I had to eat an early dinner and was not sure where to eat. And then I exited the Mazza Gallery shopping mall and realized that God had a plan:
The shows that night were not good. Snow had started falling so if you needed an added ingredient to ensure poor attendance beyond three comedians of varying levels of anonymity you had it with snowfall in DC, a city that handles snowfall about as well as Trump handles polysyllabic words. The first show (the stand up) had about 10 people in attendance and they were very nice and eventually warmed up with about 20 minutes left in the entire show. But the real deal was the Paid or Pain show where the comedians were almost all new, but all displayed varying levels of competency (the last one is probably ready to emcee some places, as he was the best and most experienced of all of them). But instead of 2 or 3 getting voted for Pain, the audience, which seemed to not grasp sarcasm, comedy or the fact that the voice judging the comedians was not, in fact, Donald Trump, but just a comedian imitating him, voted for everyone to get money. At one point I called them a collection of Care Bears with brain damage, a group with a Teri Schiavo-esque grasp of comedy and various other well done insults that seemed to go over their heads. At the end of the show I spoke to them in my real voice to prove to them that I was not Trump (even though I was completely visible on stage the entire time) and that got a big laugh as if they just realized it.
Sunday – Race to Amtrak
I had an 850am train home and the snow was still falling and I contemplated taking a Lyft, but I instead walked to the Metro, which opens at 8am on Sundays. DEAR WASHINGTON, DC – YOU ARE A MAJOR CITY OF NATIONAL AND INTERNATIONAL IMPORTANCE! STOP ACTING LIKE SOME SMALL SOUTHERN TOWN – OPEN YOUR TRAIN AT 6AM IF YOU ARENT GOING TO BE 24 HOURS A DAY! When I got to the Metro the gate was still locked. But the next train would not arrive until 833am – a very close call. I contemplated going back to the snowy surface of Dupont Circle, but the up escalator was not turned on and I was not prepared for Rocky IV mountain training at that hour (seriously – DC folk know that escalator is like travelling into coal mine depths). So I waited until someone opened the gate and got on the Metro (5 stops from Union Station).
I got to Union Station at 842am and began sprinting screaming “Allah Au Akbar!” to make sure I had a clear path to the train (it was like my own Tom Cruise movie for 30 seconds). I got on at 8:47am and plopped down in the quiet car, breathed 200 out of shape sighs of relief and thought to myself, “What the fu*k am I doing with my life?” I then cracked open the latest book on climate change that I am reading, The Waters Will Rise, and took comfort in knowing that we are all fu*ked.
This past weekend I was performing at the Albany Funny Bone. It was poor timing because I had to leave home after only seeing the 1st two parts of the six part series Surviving R Kelly. I asked the crowds not to spoil the last four parts for me, but my suspicions were confirmed Monday afternoon when I watched them – R Kelly is a terrible person. But this is not about the Pied Piper of R&B – this is about the (what is the opposite of Pied Piper – Repellant, Career Suicide Maker?) Career Incinerator of Comedy. So let’s Laugh in the Name of Hate with this recap – in which I survived 3+ days on one pair of socks, sold a lot of albums and took a request from a fan to disastrous results.
I brought 43 albums with me (20 Thots & Prayers, 23 Trump albums – Fireside Craps) on the Amtrak north to Albany. I also packed clothes and a book I was finishing on humanity’s effect on Earth (2014’s The Sixth Extinction – basically we are a plague upon the Earth and that was before the modern GOP created a bottle neck in international politics related to climate change). What I did not pack were any pairs of socks. I would realize this on Saturday.
I got to the new hotel that the club uses. The used to use the Hampton Inn about a mile down the road from the shopping mall where the club is housed, but Hilton built a new hotel on the mall premises and that is where I got to stay. The Hampton Inn on Western Road I still highly recommend – the staff was superb there, but nothing beats being able to walk to the club in 5 minutes when you are a carless comedian getting coffee. The weird thing about the hotel is that it is two Hilton properties in one building. On the left is Tru (where I stayed) and on the right side it was a Homewood Suites. It sort of reminded me of that movie I did not see, but saw several previews for, Trouble at the El Ray.
The crowds Friday were awesome (and right now there are at least 300 people in Albany trying to take credit for my usage of Tater Thots to describe chubby, tattooed white women of America). A buddy from college showed up with some family members (I gave them a free Trump CD) and I managed to sell a couple of albums. But it seemed like a lot of recent trips I had overpacked the merch. The headliner was selling t-shirts, which audiences love, the way social media loves memes. But I did receive several handshakes and compliments, BUT I CAN’T FEED MY DOG WITH THOSE! Also a guy came up to me with his wife after the second show and said “That Air Bud-Weinstein joke is the funniest bit I’ve ever heard. And I come here a lot.” And then he walked away. I CAN’T PAY BILLS WITH THAT (and it happens to be on Thots & Prayers)!
I went back to the hotel after, reviewed the tapes of both shows confirming my status as a comedy genius and then fell asleep.
Saturday I used a free ticket to see J-Lo’s new movie. If all these women can see corny Jason Momoa as Aquathot with no shame then I can see J-Lo do her thing! The movie had just enough positives to make me not feel like a total tool. And my theater of middle aged upstate NY women seemed to enjoy it as well. But seriously J-Lo is an all timer. There are women you want to marry. Then there are women you might consider leaving your spouse for. J-Lo is in a category above that called “Where should we bury my wife’s body?” Inspired by J-Lo, J-Lou got ready for Saturday’s shows. But post shower, pre-sneakers I realized I had not packed any socks. My normal 36 hour pattern on the road is:
- Shower before show (in this case I showered before my 315 train to Albany on Friday)
- Put on fresh underwear and socks
- Be one of the 50 funnies people in America
- Wake up
- Consider the gym
- Reject that and eat snacks while wearing the previous night’s clothes
Unfortunately I discovered Saturday afternoon that the critical 2nd step was disturbed. I made a mental note to buy socks at the mall and change before the show.
I did not remember until around 10pm when all stores were closed. But, fueled by a dinner at Pizzeria Uno, I crushed both shows. I even had 4 Albany fans/quasi employers show up (readers of this blog should remember that for a couple of summers I did a show at a mansion in Albany for a man named Dave – he threw very cool end of Summer parties for his friends). They remain the only private shows I have ever done that were fun.
I ended up selling a lot of albums after the two shows, but the second show is the real story here. In addition to actual fans showing up to the first show, a woman came up to me before the 2nd show (she was there for the 2nd show) and said “I saw you last time you were here and that Spirit-Southwest joke you did I have been telling to my sister for like a year. Will you do it?” I told her that I hadn’t planned on it (the industry may be stupid enough to keep me down on the depth chart, but I keep a headliner’s production pace in case they ever wake the F up), but I would do it for her. SHE THEN CALLED OVER HER SISTER AND A FRIEND/BOYFRIEND/CUCK TO WATCH ME DO IT AT THE MERCH TABLE. I then explained that I would do it on stage during the show.
The bit is about 6 minutes so it ate up a good, unplanned chunk of my 25 minute set but it killed. The rest of the set went well. As I mentioned I sold well after, but guess who I didn’t sell to? The “Dance monkey dance!” woman! She walked by, gave me a finger gun and said “thanks for the joke!” Fortunately I was in too good a mood to dwell (I attribute it to my recent purchase of The Greatest Showman soundtrack which is offensively catchy – I was surprised by how much I liked the movie and the album was only $6.99 on iTunes, and studies show that musical taste is not binary) but I would have been less offended if she had pegged me at Tru by Hilton and left without leaving a tip.
I woke up at 530am, most likely because I had a cup of coffee in between the two Saturday night shows. Coffee seems to incubate in me and kick into gear 8-11 hours later. Well, knowing there was an 8am Mass 2 miles down the road I got dressed and power walked my way to Christ The King. As I have noted in previous road posts, I always like going to Mass outside of NYC because 1) they are more full and 2) people shake hands and aren’t a bunch of Purell losers who wave at you, even if they are sitting next to you (as I said on Israeli Tortoise – “Jesus could wash the feet of lepers but you can’t shake my fu*king hand? Real fu*king Christ-like!” And speaking of Christ after Mass and breakfast I saw buff Jesus/Homeless Fabio Jason Momoa in Aquaman. It was surprisingly adequate. And I think it was the best Post-Nolan (also my rap name) DC film for sure (spare me your Wonder Woman nonsense).
After the movie I remembered to buy socks… and decided not to. I figured I would be home in less than a day where I have many pairs of clean socks so I could make it one more day.
Sunday’s show was my favorite show of the week. It was a packed house and most importantly they bought more albums than any single show that weekend. I arrived with 43, sold 40 and gave 1 away. #GOATFeature (though it helped that the headliner had run out of t-shirts mid Saturday) Additionally, I had crushed an R Kelly bit on Sunday and wanted to post it to YouTube. However when I reviewed the tape, a black woman located near my camera was ordering her “well done, but not burnt!” steak too loudly and it is really distracting from the bit. Obviously R Kelly still has some allies among black women. SMH in the name of love.
At the end of 2018 (way back then) I decided to ditch Facebook and Instagram. Aside from the negative psychological impacts of Facebook, their actions related to the 2016 Election, privacy and just their overall deplorable corporate conduct made me realize that I had to delete my accounts (Facebook owns Instagram for those that don’t know). And full disclosure, Facebook’s 5+ year saga to crush content that was either hosted on other sites (blogs, YouTube, etc.) through their constantly evolving greed algorithm made it easier to depart as my content was not even benefiting the way it did years before. So, as I told fans/friends/followers in a few posts in December that they could still follow my site, YouTube and Twitter for my content, a few of my 4000+ “friends” followed me, a majority didn’t see it (a vast majority thanks to Facebook’s work) and the rest offered something akin to obituary comments. Some explained that they hated Twitter (but were apparently OK with Facebook, a far more morally and psychologically corrupt company) and others just had no compelling interest to continue to consume my content (the overwhelming majority of which is free – only my 6 stand up albums cost money – my weekly podcast, blogs, videos and tweets are all free and occur with far more regularity than the roughly 2.5 years in between stand up album releases) despite near daily amusement (which I assume from the many likes compiled every day). It dawned on me that most of these people liked my comedy, but liked Convenience a lot more.
I live in NYC, a fairly liberal city at least in how it votes. But every time I see people from my midtown Manhattan building ordering Uber (a company I ditched much faster than Facebook for many of the same reasons), or see Starbucks recycling cans stuffed with non-recyclables (or recyclables in the garbage can right next to the recyclables can), or witness thousands of people shuffling along zombie like on crowded rush hour streets and subway stairwells or a thousand other things I realize, even in some of our most ostensibly progressive/liberal places, we are now in the era of Convenience. And I capitalize it, at the risk of appearing Tom Friedman-ish, because I think it is a social movement that trumps almost everything else (somewhere Progress was replaced by Convenience, but we never stopped calling it Progress). If a city with extensive public transportation and a fleet of yellow cabs cannot separate themselves from the convenience and control of hailing a cab to their door, even if they must wait longer and contribute to an epidemic of traffic and pollution in NYC, then what chance is there (let alone ethical right to moralize to) to get more conservative (individual liberty leaning) people in redder parts of the country to agree to give up their way of life, especially when the sacrifices they are asked to make often are part of a much more substantive change to their lives?
I am only examining the small microcosm of comedy in this obviously very large problem of Convenience. Our addiction to Convenience has already decimated lower-middle class and middle-class jobs (Amazon is at least 5 years past the point where they should have been broken up on Antitrust grounds… yes I quit Amazon/Amazon Prime/Whole Foods as well) and is still at least an equal force as the GOP in stopping our needed commitment to fight climate change – the metaphorical asteroid headed for Earth. However, I do think examining stand up comedy is instructive. Comedy is something most people enjoy on some level, but have come to expect it to be curated and delivered to them with the least amount of physical or intellectual effort (if clubs could book memes at this point I am sure they would). So as Comedy Central and HBO have abdicated their previously vital role of stand-up comedy cultivation, Netflix has entered to dominate the realm with a gluttonous oversaturation. They are in the business of eyeballs and will deliver more comedy than is necessary, good or wanted just to achieve more eyeballs. They are literally devaluing the concept of a special before our very eyes. Meanwhile, social media, especially Facebook, has given people loads of free content, while also cultivating an environment that makes the average person appear on par with comedians as algorithms cultivate feeds and motivate people to get thumbs, hearts and smiles. I learned this the hard way when I saw how many people were unwilling to either ditch Facebook (not really my point, but it would be nice to see) or add a less putrid social media site to their rotation to follow a comedian for whom they expressed enjoyment . In other words, the platform now trumps the content and eve more so, the content creator. And I think this is a clear sign that the Comedy Bubble is set to burst, if it hasn’t already.
Of course, I have other anecdotal evidence that suggests to me that the Comedy Bubble that has built up will burst and burst big. The Funny Bones – one of the big chains of comedy clubs has joined the Helium chain (a smaller, but prestigious collection of clubs) in only offering 5 show weeks (eliminating Thursday shows). Now if you are to ask and listen to comedians already in the money, they will tell you stand up comedy is fine and the only threat is “PC culture” or some other boogeyman. I will address that later, but when the biggest chain of clubs decides that a 17% reduction in shows is better for the bottom line it should be making more headlines for comedians than what a comic said at Columbia University. Mind you – middle acts are not getting an increase in pay (making it 30+ years at the $100 a show rate, but now with fewer shows and higher transportation costs than in 1988) but this also has not really registered for the “comedy community” either. Money in stand up is like the stock market at this point – those with the leverage, power, management and means to be at the Netflix special level or a similar perch see money and pilots being thrown around and think it’s a Bull Market for comedy. But to borrow an analogy from politics – Main Street comedians are making less than their counterparts in 1988 from club work. Not to mention the fact that many more headliners (both elites who sell out rooms and guys lucky enough to just have the spots) are bringing their own features which in many cases is elevating mediocre comics ahead of the once normal selection process because of… Convenience (multiple A Comedy Club bookers have told me this, though all you need is eyes and ears to know this). Some do it because they want a friend. Some do it because they want a shitty opener. Some may have another reason. But for a profession that often likes to proclaim itself as a meritocracy this is about as Un-Darwinian as it gets.
So why isn’t there an uprising among comedians? Some form of concerted action? A guild? People simply giving a shit? One easy reason is that like country bumpkin Republicans who vote against most of their own interests, rank and file comedians often think they are going to be the next elite comedian and want all the riches and privileges that come with it, so why change it? But a more widespread reason, in my opinion is that Facebook is now the nation’s comedy club and the majority of comedians (the comedy proletariat) who make nowhere close to a living are content to thrive on social media and people are content to absorb tons of humor (and try their hand at it) from Facebook. My new album was the worst selling of my career, despite me having my largest social media reach to date and it being my best album. I think it is because the idea of paying for comedy (especially from a *gulp* “nobody”) has never been a tougher sell. If you don’t have a streaming subscription already to a Spotify or Apple you just are no longer programmed to pay for content that way.
Sidebar – I wrote many years ago that Louis CK selling his special for $5 set a bad marker. He had the power to cut out the middle man and as someone who has self-produced every one of my stand-up albums, I respect it. But by creating a new expectation that the best in the business only asks for $5 I thought it might have had an Amazon-like psychological effect on the comedy market. If a comedy star places that price on their work, why would the standard $10 from me or someone in my position be enticing? As it turns out sites like Apple and Spotify one upped him with a “How about all the comedy AND music for $10 a month?” But I digress.
If I cannot get fans to sign up to Twitter to follow me, what the hell chance is there of them opening a wallet? And this is all fine, except how can the stand-up comedy art expect to grow in a substantive way when it is borderline impossible to make a living at it (as in survive without a day job – I am not expecting to be rich, or even thrive at the middle level), except at the highest level?
I know this is just my own experience, but I am smart enough and more than experienced enough in this business to see that these are not isolated experiences that I am having. A population programmed to value the convenience of content over the provider of the content thanks mainly to Facebook, a workforce that largely doesn’t actually work at any level where labor issues might concern them (sort of the Uberfication of stand-up comedians – treat an art like a side hustle and you’ll never be motivated to join forces or value the art) and a streaming platform that cheapens the special-ness of live stand-up comedy is a toxic combination that has brought stand-up comedy to a brink. Combine that with a powerful class of comedians blinded by riches at the top and a mentality that is unfiltered Paul Ryan – an almost absurd, self-serving belief that those at the top are simply more meritorious than some of those stalled on the way up and you have a recipe for a massive decline in stand-up comedy.
So while Facebook, whose likes, if not the new opiate of the masses, certainly are the opiate of the comedians, joins forces with Netflix (both metaphorically and in stolen data) to drive comedy this way we also have a cultural civil war going on in stand up comedy. We are starting to see the results of when stand up comedy, overexposed and overinflated through the Internet smashes up against the scrutiny of the Internet, the very means of much of its exponential, short cut growth. It is very much the chickens coming home to roost. And I for one welcome it. I am not saying I agree with all the arguments on either the left or the right (though the Kumia Kompound Krowd tends to scream bloody murder whenever one of their favorites is called out for offensive content or slurs, but responds with a chorus of “shut the fu*k ups” to those who voice disagreement, unable to see the irony through their MAGA hoods apparently). But as the traditional path to stand up quality and success (writing and performing and travelling – the path I have taken that has made me an excellent comedian and an economic failure) has faltered and been replaced with an Internet and social media warp speed path, weaker comedy and bigger opinions have filled the void. This has led to failure. Certainly not economic failure (I’m sure the mean income of comedians is fine, but the median income is undoubtedly dogshit), but a larger failure for the quality and stature of stand up. Just because it suddenly got easier to be booked as a headliner for a select few, did not suddenly make the process of creating good stand up any easier. And the cultural battle within stand up that has spilled into the public square has problems on both sides. I see the right-wing folks demanding that their preferred voices not be diminished at all, as if benefitting from the greater and accelerated exposure should not or cannot come with anyone validly objecting. And on the other side I see left wing voices willing to throw away context and respect for an art embraced for pushing envelopes to satisfy their day job. human resources department concept of right and wrong. And often both sides are expressed with an aim of accumulating responses on social media.
I will tell you my two favorite specials this year were from a woman who hadn’t done stand up in 15 years (If I need to tell you who then why are you even reading a long essay on stand-up comedy?) and a Showtime special (Erik Griffin) that most of my contemporaries (let alone non-comedian friends) hadn’t watched. I saw HBO hit new lows, numerically and qualitatively. with stand up and I watched Netflix present a veritable parade of mediocrity (I cannot and did not watch everything, but I found myself largely unimpressed). There is no incentive or for the public to buy/support unknown comedians thanks to social media. There is no incentive for the business to develop or rigorously scrutinize specials and acts because Netflix is basically a blank check. And there is no incentive for comedians to stand up for what’s right because a majority don’t make enough, don’t expect to make enough, or just don’t plain care to treat it like a real job (you know, when they aren’t “Roast Battling”). So instead overly sensitive stand-up comedy neophytes, who have been convinced that their social media reach has magically enhanced the quality and importance of their opinions (and in some cases their stand-up), do battle with crude morons cloaking themselves in “free speech” while the foundations of the art and business crumble beneath them.
So in 2019 I think the Comedy Bubble will burst more. I say more because every time I see a club advertising a YouTuber, a WWE wrestler or a washed-up actor I realize it already has burst. It’s just time for it to continue leaking until enough people notice. “The medium is the message” is a phrase coined by Marshall McLuhan and I think it applies perfectly to comedy in 2019. Facebook and social media ARE the comedy. Comedians are the only ones who still seem to think they are important to the process.
(Disclaimer – I know Stugotz will not read this due to length, someone please give him a cheat sheet… I get the show)
By way of introduction I have been performing stand up comedy for a few months over 15 years when I started midway through law school in Washington, D.C. as a much needed stress release. I have been making sketch videos on YouTube since 2009 and have been podcasting for just under 7 years. I have been doing impressions since 6th grade when my Jean-Claude Van Damme impression became a favorite among my friends. My stand up career was largely started on impressions, both hacky (Schwarzenegger, DeNiro) and not so hacky (Owen Wilson, Jack Bauer, to name a couple), but as life experiences, good, bad and ugly accumulated, my stand up became a place for me to explore my thoughts about my life and the world. As a reuslt I began to steer my impressions to my YouTube channel. It was from that YouTube channel that I would find a way into The Dan Lebatard Show, ESPN’s most downloaded radio show/podcast, first in 2014 and then in a much more substantial way starting in 2016.
The Dan Lebatard Show is my favorite podcast. It prides itself on its anti-sports show sports show, much to the humorous chagrin of co-host Stugotz. They speak intelligently and nuanced on sports and culture, they get great guests and have a great roster of regulars (the great Bomani Jones, Greg Cote and Stan Van Gundy to name a few that are not Pablo Torre or Marty Smith – I may “get the show” but I still don’t get the appeal of “Marty Party”). And then there is the crew inside the show, the “Shipping Container of Frightened Refugees.” Chris Cote (the most underrated member of the whole show IMO), Billy Gil (if sports radio were Moneyball ESPN might view him as a better value Stugotz), Roy Bellamy (the quietest member of the crew, which makes his contributions, even “Roy’s Realm” which grew on me quickly, admittedly because of Chris Cote’s background, pleasant surprises) and of course, Mike Ryan, the undisputed leader of the SCoFR and almost their representative in the triumvirate of Dan, Stugotz and Mike – sort of the Westbrook of the Shipping Container and the Bosh of the Big Three. The most appealing thing of all about the show when it came to me, a comedian who loves sports, was the fact that humor is almost on equal footing, if not above sports, in terms of the qualities the show most valued. They also incorporate fan content to a very large degree, creating loyalty and interaction, if not attribution, integral in building a great brand in 2018. I was one of those fans who contributed and was given attribution, likely because I do this for a living (or did) and because it was wildly popular with the show and its audience. But it was shut down (twice) without warning, explanation or merit and that is what this will be about.
My name is J-L Cauvin and if you have not heard of me that is understandable and one more reason why I have to write this. It is my relative anonymity that made my dismissal so easy, even though my work was much more well known than me.
I became aware of The Dan Lebatard Show, much like many non-Floridians, when Lebron James signed with the Miami Heat in 2010. A few days after Lebron’s Decision, a friend sent me a photo montage on YouTube set to the Lebatard rant. I must have watched it 20 times at least. It was hilarious. Shortly thereafter I began listening to the show and by 2011 I was a regular listener. 5 days a week downloading the podcast.
In 2014 I created a web series called Louis CK’s Comedy Academy, where I impersonated various comedians teaching assorted comedy disciplines at a fictional school. If you count the 30K views the preview video got, the series generated around 70K total views – certainly not viral, but also not nothing. One of the videos in the series was George Lopez teaching Latino Comedy. When Dan went off on how he didn’t like George Lopez’ comedy later that year I figured this was my opening to contribute to the show and get a little bit of shine myself. And Dan did play it on the air and for my work I received a Dan Lebatard Show t-shirt. Other than my Late Late Show t-shirt, which I foolishly gave to a woman I was dating, incorrectly assuming I would get many more late night TV spots and the associated swag that accompanies said spots, the Lebatard shirt was the only shirt I had received marking a comedy accomplishment (distinguishing it from the Salvation Army store room worth of comedy festival t-shirts I have accumulated in my apartment throughout my years performing).
I continued devouring the show through 2015 when a certain orange man announced his candidacy for the presidency by calling Mexicans rapists. I had already been working hard on my impression of Donald Trump, and getting some work with it, when in 2016 Stugotz said something that made me think “who does that remind me of?”
The Birth and (First) Death of Trumpgotz
Trumpgotz was born on September 23, 2016. I sent it to the show after hearing Stugotz go off on Chris Bosh’s health issues with the Miami Heat. The certainty and inconsistency of Stugotz talking about medicine and pro sports felt so Trump-ish that I decided to record the quotes, word-for-word, as Trump. The result was a lot of Twitter praise and followers and a video that now sits at just under 15K views. I made several more for the show that Fall to the same effect.
But as the Podcast Lord giveth, He taketh away. Around February 2017 Stugotz began ignoring my tweets and the show stopped playing the sound on air, despite the consistent hits and praise for the subsequent submissions that did make it to the air. I just assumed the show no longer wanted them and was moving on. I was disappointed, but after over a decade in stand up I was used to things going up and down and usually ending down. I kept listening to the show and just hoped I could find another angle or break to keep my career mildly relevant.
Dan Resurrects Trumpgotz
To my surprise in June 2017, after many months of not being on the show, Dan asked on air (slight paraphrase), “Whatever happened to Trumpgotz? Those were funny, right? Put it on the poll, ‘Was Trumpgotz one of the funniest things on the show?'” Over 11k responded to the Twitter poll (not an exact science I know) and almost 9K said yes. On air Stugotz offered a reluctant finger point at Mike Ryan, who it seemed clear had unilaterally decided Trumpgotz was no longer funny.
Mike Ryan is the glue guy of The Dan Lebatard Show – he can have moments of virtuosity (if his Mel Kiper as Beyoncé scouting reporter was truly off the cuff it was genius) and he is generally well versed in pop culture, sports and (sigh) music that he can have starring moments on the show, as well as all the excellent production off air he does. But, as a stand up comedian who has worked with many funny people who are comedians as well as not, there is always a slightly thirsty aspect to his humor. His impressions, praised by Dan, tend to either be remixes of Frank Caliendo (the Mel Kiper technically just sounds like someone who studied Caliendo as a cheat sheet) and his others tend to be some version of Vincent D’Onofrio in Men In Black (which did get Mike a little hot under the collar on an episode) – Andrew Luck-D’Onofrio, Demon of D’Onofrio Debate – gee I wonder if Mike has an impression yet of Wilson Fisk on Daredevil! He enjoys a sort of fiefdom on the show as the resident comic genius, that is not really a threat from celebrities, whose level he does not compete at, nor is he threatened by the hundreds of one-off contributions from fans. But a regular contribution from someone at least in the talent and stature zip code (though not number of Twitter followers) might pose more of a threat to his ego. And when it comes to comedy bona fides it isn’t a contest.
But with the rest of the show and the audience providing overwhelming contrary opinion Trumpgotz was back! I began cranking out almost weekly videos and was getting direct messages from Stugotz when he thought a particular rant during the day (knowing I was an out of town podcast listener) might be a good one for Trumpgotz. Hank Azaria, voice over artist extraordinaire called my Trump impression “astounding. Ten out of ten.” on the show. That probably represented the high water mark for Trumpgotz. Hank Azaria – Queens born, went to Tufts University, worth $75 million was someone I could identify with. I am Bronx born (both outer borough), went to Williams College (fellow member of the NESCAC) and I have $750 dollars in the bank. For him to give me that type of praise only solidified, even if only for one impression in my comedic arsenal, my hope that there was still hope for me in comedy. By mid 2018 I thought, with my new stand up album, Thots & Prayers, recording later that year I might have a chance to make a move with the show. What if, based on two years of popular and unpaid contributions, the show would grant me one hour, in studio, in character as Trumpgotz to offer hot takes, etc. in exchange for a couple of plugs for the new album. Sort of a junior version of Azaria’s 3 hours to promote Brockmire? Sure it was a long shot, but it also was not absurd to think it a possibility. With the loyalty and size of the show’s audience and their enjoyment of Trumpgotz I really thought 1000 sales might not be outrageous, which could yield me $15K. Not Taylor Swift numbers, but when you have atrophied your Georgetown Law degree and poured everything you have into a career, that kind of money can give you a respite from living month to month. Already an unlikelihood though, July 4, 2018 made it an impossibility.
Dead on the 4th of July
In June 2018 (I think) Donald Trump was ridiculed for mumbling/not knowing the words to America The Beautiful or the National Anthem. I was contacted by a fan of The Lebatard Show who got my information from Mike Ryan (sidenote – as of this typing the only two people affiliated with the show that do not follow me on Twitter are Mike Ryan and the show account, which I believe Ryan has access to or control over). The fan wanted to know if I would record a Trump-inspired version of America The Beautiful for his podcast. Disclaimer – the song referred to Hillary Clinton as a c*nt and to President Obama as a monkey. As someone who believes Trump is a clear cut racist I viewed these as words simply in keeping with a character. Dan always says he wants to have Quentin Tarantino on the show and presumably he has heard the language that Tarantino has written and does not ascribe it to Tarantino the person. Similarly, Alec Baldwin (and his vastly inferior Trump impression) had become chummy with the show as of my last listening and yet he has a history (and present) of real life action that is less than positive. But at the time I thought nothing of it – sure the language is offensive and wrong, but it is in keeping with the racist person I am portraying. I sang the song and was actually quite proud, considering I am not a singer, of being able to sing and maintain the impression. The podcaster/fan was very pleased and thankful (I did it for free) and he posted it to YouTube on July 4th.
Within 3 hours (and less than 200 views) of it going live I got a direct message from the podcaster. He told me that Mike Ryan had said the following (these are second hand quotes from the podcaster that I am copying from my DMs):
- Mike Ryan isn’t happy about the sketch.
- He asked me to take it down.
- Said it’s going to be a major headache for him. That he can’t be associated with it.
- He seems like he is at a point where if we don’t take it down he wont work with you anymore
These were all messages sent to me within one minute of each other. I then told the podcaster to please take it down and he did. Less than 200 views and I am guessing Disney and ESPN brass were not among those viewers to rush to a video making fun of Trump by relatively unknown Miami-based podcasters with no affiliation to ESPN or Disney. But Mike Ryan certainly was one of those less than 200 people to rush to the video. The man whose impressions were Diddy remixes compared to my Trump had placed me in contact with the very podcaster whose offensive song would supply a (questionably) valid reason for him to ban me from the show (versus his arbitrary and solitary decision to stop playing my audio in 2017 – now he had cause, either coincidental or manufactured). I am not a conspiracy hack and don’t even actually think Ryan could be this cunning, but it is worth at least pondering.
I submitted 2 other videos in the next two weeks, believing that my quick action at the behest of Mike Ryan was enough to maintain my relationship with the show. They were ignored by every member of the show I tweeted them to and were never played, despite actual requests every week since July for Trumpgotz on the show. And Trumpgotz was not among the 30+ impressions nominated for best impression during the show’s annual awards in August. But in case you think my content is too toxic for the show, the day Greg Cote leaked Dan’s engagement I tweeted the show, leaving out one person intentionally but sending it to Billy, Roy, Chris, Stugotz and the show. It read “Stat of the Day: Dan’s fiancée was not born when Die Hard came out.”
Without attribution Mike Ryan made the joke a few minutes later on air.
So I sit here in a midtown Manhattan Starbucks (I guess transitioning from my career as failed stand up comedian to future failed screenwriter?) finishing this. My (double) album, Thots & Prayers is better than I had ever hoped and even has a 5 minute bit about the OJ Simpson documentary, partially inspired by Dan Lebatard’s commentary on it (if you were a fan of Trumpgotz you can go get it on iTunes or other platforms if you want to show some support, but I don’t expect many of you to and that is not the purpose of this writing). But it has also sold poorly in relation to my previous releases. I can’t help but be slightly bitter than the 1% chance I had to have it blow up through an ESPN platform was snuffed out, by what must be pettiness. Could I be wrong? Could Mike Ryan’s second snuffing out of Trumpgotz simply be because he was playing it safe and did not want a 150 view video of someone in character to bring down the most popular podcast at ESPN? Sure. But it’s unlikely.
I have dealt with a lot of indiginities and disappointments in my comedy career, but this may have been the most disappointing. I have no management, no agent so almost everything I have accomplished in my comedy career has been talent, work, and a touch of luck in times that tweets have been read. And the idea that someone who doesn’t even have skin in my game could see fit to shut you down simply because he can is gross. And the fact that Dan, Stugotz and the rest of the shipping container has yet to 1) bring up Trumpgotz and 2) respond to a single tweet in 4+ months referencing or requesting Trumpgotz makes me think Mike Ryan has already poisoned the well with regards to me. When he arbitrarily shut me down in 2017 he left it open to Dan remembering on air how good it was. But if he had just cause (I was a toxic comedian using foul language and slurs) then everyone would be on notice to ignore Trumpgotz. Once again – maybe I am wrong, but then what the hell is the alternate explanation for shutting down a popular segment that cost the show exactly nothing?
This may sound like ravings of a crazy fan or a bitter comedian, but my writings have covered injustices and bad practices across entertainment and media for years, obviously with a focus on stand up comedy. But the Lebatard Show meant a lot to me as a listener and as a contributor. The show seemed to have a lot of respect for comedy. In fact, whenever Dan interviewed a comedian in the last few years he always seemed to be concerned that PC culture, etc. might be making it more difficult for comedians to practice their craft. Well Dan, if you read this… the difficulty is coming from inside the house.
This weekend I performed in St Paul, MN at the Joke Joint Comedy Club, which recently had to relocate to a new space in downtown St Paul inside of Camp Bar. It was part of the 1 city, 3 show tour I managed to put together to promote next week’s release of my new double stand-up album Thots & Prayers. Although I will obviously get into the humorous and sad details of the trip, the most notable thing about it was the fact that I travelled a total of 62 hours for two nights of shows in Minnesota. That is because I decided to take Amtrak both ways. As I explained to the crowds in St Paul, to be still doing comedy after 15 years despite it being detrimental to my physical, emotional and spiritual health when it clearly is not going to lead to any financial stability, let alone something approaching success, requires a core of delusional optimism that only historical figures and the mentally ill possess. And because I believe with Dr. Ford certainty and Brett Kavanaugh intensity that the album is a masterpiece I felt a heightened fear of flying this week. I already hate flying and like the train, but about 10% of my brain was saying “If you comedy career has been consistent it is in the tragic irony department – whether it is Patrice O’Neal demonstrating some affinity for working with me only a few months before his eventually fatal stroke or developing the best Trump impression in comedy while seeing everyone but me get paid for it, it is clear that comedy has turned me from Mozart to Salieri. And the icing on the cake would be dying right before the album comes out. Yes, I am aware that this sounds Trump-Kanye levels of insane, but if you have wasted 15 years of your life pursuing a career that God and country seemed destined to impede then how nuts is it to take it one more level to comedy martyrdom? Well, as I write this recap I am halfway through Pennsylvania in a rush to make it home, shower, walk my dog who will no doubt greet me with the apathy that makes me think I should have named her Industry instead of Cookie and rush to Newark, New Jersey to see Bruno Mars. So here is the recap:
Long Train Runnin’ – NYC to St Paul
I got on the Lake Shore Limited from NYC to Chicago on Wednesday afternoon. I had a roomette, which after finishing Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff, felt like a moderately spacious space pod – two chairs that come together to form a 6’3″ bed (I am 6’7″), a panel of light and climate controls and a toilet right next to your chair/bed (like be careful to not splatter close or else you might be a turn on for Trump). As cramped as it may appear, a space like this goes for $1350/month in Manhattan.
The train was 2.5 hours late getting into Chicago, which I did not mind because it allowed me to read half of Bob Woodward’s Trump book (I would finish it two days later and found it fairly underwhelming in its prose – fuller review on my podcast tomorrow). I also watched quite a bit of Senate hearings about Brett Kavanaugh thanks to surprisingly improved Amtrak WiFi service. I then had a 2 hour wait before getting on the Empire Builder train, which is the Amtrak from Chicago to Seattle. I arrived at 10pm Thursday night in St Paul (my portion of the Empire Builder was a manageable 8 hours) and headed to the downtown Doubletree where I got my cookie and took 4 showers to get the smell of cross country obese feet out of my skin (like a coal mine or a Subway restaurant, long distance Amtrak’s signature scent seeps into your skin).
The club manager picked me up at 1pm Friday to take me to the club hotel (I used my free night via hotels.com for the early arrival hotel – always helps when you have subsidies for your paranoia about flying). Now the Doubletree was downtown – a 10 minute walk from the train station and about an equal distance from the club. Well, the Best Western Plus (which was the old hotel the club used when it was located in the burbs) was now about 30 miles from the club and train station. Fortunately my schedule of reading in the corner of a Starbucks can be done from any location, which is all I did until showtime.
The emcee, Andy, picked me up and we got to the club about 10 minutes before showtime. The audience was fairly light, but I assured the manager that my fan would arrive on Saturday (if you think I am joking – my one fan in St Paul did show up, but with his wife so I will count that as two fans – like the French language I consider the man determinative). I sold one album Friday after what I thought was a pretty good set (and thanks to my Milli Vanilli bit, the floor manager closed the show with Baby Don’t Forget My Number), which I promptly spent on Wendy’s after the show.
As a bonus the feature, David, brought gigantic cookies from a local bakery to the show:
When I woke up Saturday it was under 40 degrees so rather than exercise I went and read at Starbucks. Also, had it been 80 and sunny I would have just read at Starbucks. There were two shows Saturday night. The first had a nice crowd and I sold one album. So basically 38 CDs of mine simply went on a vacation from my apartment and will be back home in a few hours. Below is one of the non-album, timely bits I did for the early crowd about the upcoming film A Star is Born:
The late show had about 16 people. And I thought to myself, “This deserves to be my final show.” They were nice people and decent laughers for such a small crowd, but when the goal is a career and you are 15 years operating at hobby level of success it is important not to forget that if divided into 2 teams, your audience would not have sufficient numbers to play a baseball game.
Long Train Runnin’ pt 2 – St Paul to NYC
After a refreshing 4 hours of sleep Saturday night I got a Lyft to the train station (the aforementioned Andy (emcee) was nice enough to set his alarm and see if I was able to get a cab) and got on the Empire Builder back to Chicago. I had some pancakes in the dining car and did some lounging in the lounge car (as you can see there was a very Earthy looking guy in the car (turns out he was a poet – how has that profession survived?).
We got to Chicago 20 minutes early so I had 2 hours to kill so I walked around downtown Chicago looking for something to eat, but all I was able to get was Subway (most things were closed) and the apathetic young sandwich artist didn’t even heat the chicken enough. Clearly a Modern Sandwich Artist.
I then got on the Capitol Limited, which goes from Chicago to DC. That train was 5 minutes early and was a great ride (I got another sleeper roomette where I began ripping through The Dirt, the biography by Motely Crue – unquestionably a brilliant (since it works) structure for a biography (each band member writing different chapters as their story progresses through an unthinkable amount of drugs, sex and violence). However, quite uncomfortable when the band’s bass player basically admits to rape (letting other people have sex in a dark closet with a woman who believes she is having sex with him). I feel like the entire music industry could be shut down by #MeToo, except we seem to have grandfathered rock music to be exempt from it. Now hip hop, which has never been as bad as Motley Crue somehow seemed more problematic to America (thinking emoji). Anyway more on that on tomorrow’s podcast as well. If the train is good for anything it is great reading time.
I got off the Capitol Limited in Pittsburgh at 5am to transfer to the Pennsylvanian which runs from Pittsburgh to NYC. I tried to get on an express greyhound at 630 am (the Pennsylvanian did not leave til 7:30 and takes longer), but the Greyhound was sold out – which is richly symbolic: the only thing that sold out for me this weekend was a Greyhound bus – if my career were to continue it is good that I can set a new goal of trying to be as successful at comedy as Greyhound is at bus operation.
So now I’m 2.5 hours from NYC and then I will have to hurry up and get ready for the Bruno Mars concert. Amtrak Funk gonna give it to ya!