- July and Detroit for Jay Inslee July 2, 2019
Just as Governor Jay Inslee is seeking to transition the United States to a green economy, I continue my transition from unpaid comedic genius to unpaid political strategist (despite loving The Dark Knight like a child I have never quite heeded The Joker’s advice of “If you’re good at something never do it for free”). After watching the first debate I offered the Inslee campaign some reminders and some unsolicited advice on how Governor Inslee should adjust his messaging (right down to word choice) and debate approach. HERE IT IS if interested. But with Kamala Harris taking over the second debate and possibly snatching frontrunner status from Joe Biden (with a combination of charisma, a deft challenge to Biden, a host of platitudes, a major inconsistency, usage of clichés and the lifting of not one, but two winning lines from Governor Inslee) I thought there was no time like 530am on a Tuesday in my underwear to start drafting my next set of tips for the Governor’s team:
- Unions will be a big topic in Detroit at the end of the month. Governor Inslee was the only one to mention them in the first debate. Whether it’s Kamala Harris doing her second backflip on Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for all plan, Julian Castro guaranteeing the right to abortion for trans women or Beto O’Rourke busting out his Spanish, the debates are going to be full of pandering. And with the second debate, union labor and working class American will surely be courted heavily (won’t people find it odd if the economy only gets talked about for 15 minutes in 4 hours in Detroit the way climate change was only talked about for 15 minutes in 4 hours in Miami?) by the candidates. Governor Inslee has made reinvigorating organized labor a centerpiece of his Evergreen Economy plan. And he drew some bipartisan pundit praise for being the only candidate to mention the need (and his plan) to strengthen unions. Well, he will be one of 19 other candidates to do so in Detroit (I cannot guarantee what the hell Marianne Williamson will say). Without appearing to be whining he MUST make sure that the rust belt knows that he made unions a centerpiece of his plan and has not just talked about them while pandering in Detroit (language might seem strong, but so what – use it). “Not one other candidate talked about union labor in the first debate. But don’t trust what I say in Detroit. Look at my state of Washington. Highest minimum wage in the country. #1 in employee satisfaction and in state GDP. And look at my Evergreen Economy Plan. Union labor and strengthening collective bargaining are the centerpieces of my plan to transition our 20th century economy into a 21st century economy. It has a GI Bill to help workers move from fossil fuel industry to clean energy economy. Labor and factory workers will not be left behind in a Jay Inslee economy – they will be out in front leading it. And you don’t have to take my word for it because I’ve already done it in Washington State.” and related to that…
- Make One Page Summaries for The Various Plans. Governor Inslee’s plans are in depth and rigorous. They also don’t make for easy sharing except among the deeply interested and learned. Make one page, bullet-pointed summaries of the plans, especially the Evergreen Economy. Easier to share and digest for the average person and voter. Debates do no play to all of Governor Inslee’s strengths, given the number of candidates and the brevity of answers allowed and 36 single-spaced pages do not allow for easy mass consumption.
- Iowa Cynicism. For much of the year Joe Biden has led in Iowa polls. In second has been Bernie Sanders. They could not be much more opposite as far as Democrats go, but oddly enough, in Iowa, the supporters of each had the other as their second choice. Since we are all adults here, the message in that is clear – an older white man still represents tradition, stability, comfort and “Presidential” to that segment of the electorate. There is no other explanation since their politics are as different as their demographics are similar. That simply means that from a political and, sadly, a demographic stand point, Governor Inslee can probably pick off votes from both of those camps, especially Biden. This does not mean change messaging or pander, but facts are facts and Governor Inslee is a steady, telegenic leader like Biden (but not too old), but with a consistent and progressive record to assuage Bernie Bro concerns. I guess this just means that making a big splash in Iowa in January is not just necessary for Inslee, but also possible.
- Do not let Warren skate and do not let Harris get away with stealing lines. As I wrote last month naming one’s opponents is a clear winner, as those who attacked Beto can attest to. Saying that Warren has good ideas, but that Inslee has actually already made them law is more like a backhanded compliment than an attack and I think could work, at least in terms of making people look at the Governor’s record and give him serious consideration. And Harris claiming “I call it the climate crisis” or using his winning line from the end of the first debate about Donald Trump being the biggest threat proves she is a Pitbull (yes as a prosecutor, but also as someone who samples others’ work and makes it shittier).
- Make Donald Trump’s incompetence a new, main line of attack. I am very proud Governor Inslee has repeatedly, forcefully and unequivocally condemned Donald Trump’s entire political career as a racism-driven movement. From Birtherism on, Governor Inslee has called it as it is. But the cold facts are that some people are numb to the accusations of racism. Others are turned off by it. I don’t agree with or condone that apathy or ignorance, but the goal is to win the nomination and beat Donald Trump. As someone who has plainly called out Trump’s racism and has an impeccable progressive record, the lane that really could work well for Inslee (and yes, while courting some of those Biden and Bernie voters from #3) is to highlight the massive incompetence of Trump and his administration (thanks to Pete Dominick of Sirius XM who got me thinking about this line of attack):
- His diplomatic, ego-driven failures (Saudi, North Korea, Iran, etc)
- That he exited the TPP, but then wanted back in when he realized it was the best way to fight China (but he was more concerned with continuing his attacks on our First Black President – double whammy – incompetent and racist, without saying the R word)
- His tax cut failure – did not help the middle class, but sure helped real estate developers (self-dealing)
- His record turnover of cabinet officials – claiming they are the best people and then within a year trashing them as (insert some of the insults)
- The corruption within his administration
- His lies about coal
- His inability to heal the nation even in the most obvious and painful of tragedies like Charlottesville
I made many other suggestions in my last three political blogs about how Governor Inslee should approach debating and how he should get his message out, so hopefully some people have read them (including a social media ad campaign of 30 second videos on issues where other candidates are scoring rhetorical points for policy, but Governor Inslee has already implemented them as law). The voters are not set in stone as the Harris rise and Biden fall showed this week. But Governor Inslee needs to be more forceful and carve out a unique path that highlights his considerable strengths while not treading the familiar ground of failed candidates past and present.
- What Next for Governor Jay Inslee After The First Debate June 27, 2019
The good news for Governor Jay Inslee is that no one has him in the “had a bad night” category, and a few people have him in the “had a good night” category. That might be enough for Senator Elizabeth Warren, the front runner of the first debate group, who basically spoke for the first hour and delivered a solid, but overrated performance, and did nothing, almost literally, for the second hour. People gushing over her safe, not memorable performance feels more like confirmation bias of her status than any real analysis of her performance.
However, in my mind there were three winners: Bill DeBlasio, Julian Castro and Cory Booker. They expanded the nation’s awareness of them and all had strong individual moments (word for word I think no one was better than Bill DeBlasio – and my friend John had presciently warned me that he thought DeBlasio might try for the same things I wanted Governor Inslee to do – tout specifics about your leadership, your progressive accomplishments and then attack at least one opponent by name. He did all those with undeniable rhetorical flourish). I was satisfied with Governor Inslee’s performance for sure, but I wanted him to have more of a debate like one of my top three performers.
As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, I believe Governor Inslee needed to name a couple of opponents (with Warren being the obvious) to make a personal distinction between a plan-maker and a lawmaker. He made that point several times (though Amy Klobuchars attempt at a moment, which did get pander-plause was a misguided “I’m a woman so I don’t need a man to tell me about protecting women’s health” when Governor Inslee was simply pointing out the fact that he has passed more laws on the issue as governor than any of the people on the stage. However, the crowd still ate it up so it counts as a point. But DeBlasio, Castro and Booker, in that order, detected the awkward young gazelle named Beto (as I wrote on Twitter – The CW’s idea of what a president is) as a candidate that they could attack personally. And they did and they all scored points for it. Governor Inslee scored many points during the evening and used my strategy (inadvertently or nor… I am starting to think his people may have actually read my blogs and tweets – can I have a job?) of invoking accomplishments over plans. And he got a few strong applause (called by CNN the line of the night “The greatest threat to our national security is Donald Trump.”). But now comes the work (I’ve gotten about 10-15 people to donate to the campaign and at this point that is probably my ceiling as a fundraiser) of adjusting and improving messaging and debating going forward. So here are my tips and ideas for Team Inslee going forward:
- Stop saying “Donald Trump says wind turbines cause Cancer; they cause jobs.” First off, don’t improve Trump’s stupidity. He actually said “they say the noise from win turbines causes Cancer.” That’s actually dumber. So change the line to “Donald Trump, I’m embarrassed to even repeat this, but Donald Trump says that the NOISE from wind turbines causes Cancer. The only things the sound of wind turbines indicate are the presence of clean energy and new jobs.” The line the Governor uses now is not as rhetorically catchy as he/the writers may think and it avoids the full stupidity of Trump.
- The “deathbed” or “with my last breath” talk about climate change and the governor’s grandchildren is powerful, but might also be a little bit of a downer. I would say something more akin to “My father was a biology teacher (humble roots, education – good points) and he instilled in me not only a love of nature, but a respect for it. And as I see my grandkids growing up I want to honor my father, but also honor my grandkids by ensuring that they have a country and a world that is as healthy and beautiful and prosperous as the one my father introduced me to.”
- I must repeat this even though it was the focus of the last blog – NAME. WARREN. (and others who feel applicable). BCD (Booker, Castro, DeBlasio) all attacked Beto and scored big. It showed they could be fighters (for those worried about Trump’s imposing presence) and it showed a willingness to make important issues personal. Governor Inslee obviously cares deeply about a host of progressive issues and it shows, but his game on Wednesday night was like watching a great tennis player play against a wall at the park. You can see some of the skills, but only when blasting forehand winners past an opponent do people really get to see the skill and greatness. Warren was treated like a figurehead at the debate by both the moderators and the other candidates. Governor Inslee said a couple of times that “plans are great, but as governor…” As correct as those comments were, he MUST name an opponent and draw blood. Saying some less condescending version of “I like Senator Warren’s plans so much I already made them into law in my state” and then drawing a distinction between ideas and ideas + executive experience is a legitimate one, one that will score points and the kind of attack that doesn’t feel like an attack, but more like a vicious backhanded compliment.
- Stop being so polite. Bill DeBlasio scored points by basically seizing every moment he could. It wasn’t quite NYC rude, but whenever he saw a parking space he took it without hesitation. I saw Governor Inslee raise his hand at least 4 times and get ingored. And worst of all, as I feared in a pre-debate tweet, Rachael Maddow wouldn’t let Governor Inslee speak on guns (though he did get in a great quick line about the filibuster) but tried to appease him with being first on climate change (DUH – did anyone not think he would get that question first?). And as someone who would like a climate debate, but did not demand it – I must admit the climate change coverage in the debate was appallingly low. I think, at the risk of appearing like The Lorax, the Governor should absolutelty hammer the almost GOP level of time devoted to the issue. Be more like DeBlasio in style – confidently forceful, but not outright rude. As far as content of those comments – email me! I will work for little money!
- Lastly – where to go from here for Governor Inslee. There needs to either be a town hall or speech in front of a large crowd. Even if he needs to do it in his home state (also Van Jones spoke very highly of the Governor’s performance on CNN last night… and he has an hour long show on CNN on Saturdays…). Or there needs to be a big ad buy. He must call out some rivals by name to draw a contrast. He needs a list, but not a boring one of all his accomplishments, laws and progressive consistency through the years. So here, sort of reiterated from a previous blog post, is my vision of an Inslee ad (or maybe even better a series of individual YouTube/Facebook/Twitter ads that in 15-20 second bursts take each of the bullet points I will share below one by one) that is needed now to change the perception of the candidate and set up the next several months of the campaign (if Inslee’s Super PAC is reading this – WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?):
- Beto talking about climate change followed by picture of Governor Inslee and graphic of various sources citing Washington State’s plan as the best climate change plan in the country and the Evergeen Economy labeled the gold standard by Greenpeace
- Cory Booker talking about gun violence followed by a picture of a young Rep. Inslee voting for the assault weapons ban and “Vote to ban assault weapons costs Rep. Inslee his seat in Congress” and/or shot of Governor Inslee face to face with Trump about arming teachers in Florida (and I still think the Governor needs a meeting with the Parkland kids – between climate and gun control, the Governor should be THE candidate for young people)
- Julian Castro talking about immigration followed by Governor Inslee’s debate answer of “fighting Muslim ban, protecting dreamers in Washington, etc. (one of his best answers all night)
- Elizabeth Warren discussing free college, etc and (I think you get the pattern now – Governor passing tuition-related laws in WA)
- Joe Biden on “middle ground on climate” followed by climate graphic and quote of the Governor’s choice
- Bernie talking about taking on Wall Street (followed by Rep Inslee voting against the repeal of Glass-Steagall in Congress)
- Lastly Trump talking about war with Iran and Rep Inslee voting against the war in Iraq
“My opponents many of whom have great ideas, do not have the track record of progressive accomplishment that I have as governor and as a congressman. I know I can make it happen as President because while my opponents talk about that they would do; I’ve already made it happen as Governor.”
If Gov Inslee attacks or names so many opponents many will have to come back at him, but the good thing about that is it will reframe his candidacy. If one or two come after you you look like Beto (though the Governor would have a lot more substance to defend himself with), but if 5 or 6 want to show how good they are compared to him it makes him look more like a frontrunner and less like an also-ran.
And one more thing, great Twitter takeover by the Govenror’s wife of 47 years, Trudi. That video of the Governor sledding at Tom Cruise stunt-level speeds with his grandson should be a viral video. Embrace the Governor’s record and experience and also that he looks like a rugged westerner who will be able to save the country and beat (phsycially if need be… kidding) Donald Trump.
Donate to Jay Inslee HERE if you like Governor Inslee’s plans or just want more of a platform given to climate change, which he is prioritizing like no other candidate.
- Gary Gulman: Putting The Funny Back in Painfully Funny June 24, 2019
2000 years ago a lean Jew with a gift for analogies died for the sins of mankind and reshaped the world in the process. While not nearly as historic or dramatic, two thousand years later at a low point (in this writer’s opinion) for the art of stand up comedy, a lean Jew just turned his suffering into a comedy special that may save comedy-kind from its own downward artistic trajectory. I am speaking, if you missed the title of the blog, of stand up comedian Gary Gulman (full disclosure I am friends with Gulman and have been a huge fan and deep admirer of his comedy for the last 15 years. But the friendship is not of the nature that I would lie if his new special was less than great. I would be silent if I felt like what I saw was mediocre or even merely very good). What I saw Saturday night in Brooklyn (this will contain no spoilers as far as material) was as important a special as there has been in the last decade. But its importance does not merely stem from its deep dive into Gulman’s mental health struggles, which give the framework to The Great Depresh. Rather, it stems from the fact that it is hilarious. In this age of cop out one man shows, mediocre stand ups elevated for their social media followings or podcast metrics and teary confessionals being praised as great comedy, despite the paucity of laughs, Gulman has offered definitive and hilarious proof that stand up comedy can still be used to turn pain into laughter, and not just applause and whispers of “how brave.”
When I arrived at Roulette on Saturday there was a long line (I was attending the second show). As my girlfriend and I (she bought the tickets – I was offered comped tickets, but in this age of “gimme free content” I believe in paying for great musical, comedic and pornographic artists) approached the entrance Judd Apatow exited the building (he is producing Gulman’s special for HBO). I briefly contemplated kidnapping Apatow (he was only surrounded by three women, all of whom I think I could take) and demanding he produce a special for me, but I thought better of it. When we got to our seats (the balcony – we were too late for the lower level) and it was the only time I was disappointed the whole night. The leg room was a tight fit, which felt ironic because Gulman, at 6’6″, is the patron saint of tall comedians (apologies Brad Garrett).
Without discussing any of the specific jokes I can tell you that Gulman’s set, running about 70 minutes, started with an upfront admission of his recent mental health struggles. I actually briefly feared that he was going to do a one man show confessional (I was the Doubting Thomas to Comedy Jesus), but within a minute he was into classic Gulman. It almost played like a comedic biopic, where the movies starts a little before present day to showcase the low point, but then we go back to childhood and work our way forward chronologically. It was all the language and in-depth story telling that are signatures of Gulman’s brilliant comedic style, but applied almost exclusively to autobiographical material (if Apatow is reading this I would like to nominate myself to play Gulman in the biopic or limited series).
So the show was an A. That’s the easy part. When a great comedian takes his game to a more personal level it should not be surprising when it is great. But what made me happiest, as someone who cares about stand up, is that this special will re-set the current standard for personal pain as great stand up. No longer should we have to choose between good comedy and teary confessional spoken word as two branches of stand up – stand up comedy requires laughs and Gulman’s latest proves that a truly great comedian need not sacrifice laughter for truth and depth.
And on another note I think this is exactly the special that HBO needs. They have been in a particularly long drought (with exceptions for Michelle Wolf’s strong special a few years ago), which is painful for a network that gave us Chris Rock, George Carlin, Dave Chappelle and others. Netflix now has a gluttonous chokehold on specials (but seriously Netflix – call me, I’m really good and need the money), but with Amazon inking a deal with Jim Gaffigan and now Gulman delivering a masterclass for HBO perhaps the prestige can return to HBO, or at least loosen the Netflix monopoly.
So hopefully my “Comedy Jesus has come to save comedy and HBO” has not set the expectations too high for Gulman, but on an equally serious note for Judd Apatow, if you don’t want to cast me as Gulman in a limited series (though please consider my tour de force sketch as Gulman in Comedy Academy Episode 3) my other thought is developing a movie with Gulman and Jon Bernthal playing brothers (Gulman is the big sensitive brother, Bernthal is the ex-military jerk who gets kidnapped and requires his large, but gentle and cerebral brother to save the day. Hilarity and life lessons ensue). I think it’s comedy and cinematic gold! But if not, at least Gulman and Apatow are going to give the world a great and needed comedy special.
- It’s Time for Jay Inslee to Start Name Checking June 13, 2019
For anyone following me on social media for the last few months, my usual cycle of Utah Jazz support, entertainment snark and Trump bashing has been superseded by a daily campaign for Governor Jay Inslee for President. I was supposed to attend a private fundraiser for Governor Inslee earlier this week, but given my usual luck it was not completely surprising that bad weather and a helicopter crash (!) in NYC led to a postponement of the event. So I must resort to my blog and social media to get part two of my message out to Inslee and his staff. Governor Inslee can no longer play the role of The Lorax in the 2020 campaign. He cannot play the Eco John the Baptist to whichever savior the Democratic primary voters eventually pick. He needs to get out of the 1% pack and to do so he must start naming names in the Democratic party.
As a quick recap I wrote this about and for Inslee in March and although it took a while he has started to employ some of these things (almost certainly by coincidence, but still).
- He has started to distinguish himself a little bit from the also-rans with his climate change militancy
- He has name checked Joe Biden (at the time that I wrote in March, Bernie was the front runner and Biden had not declared yet, but the logic is the same)
- He has finally started to tout his stellar progressive credentials and accomplishments
At least some of these represent positive and smart steps, even if it took too long to start. But now the Governor has a bigger problem. He is basically headlining the 1% field. His climate debate request has gotten him a little more press, but it has not been able to get him to break into the Biden-Bernie-Warren-Buttigieg-Harris 1st tier. He has not even broken into the Booker-Beto-Klobuchar second tier. Oddly enough, when Seth Myers took a dig at Inslee’s relative anonymity I thought “at least they were mentioning him!” It reminded me of the Jack Sparrow line, when told he was the worst pirate someone had ever heard of… “but you have heard of me.”
And to be clear, my money is where my blog is – I have given so much money to the Inslee campaign that my girlfriend may be starting to think Inslee is a chick from California that I am seeing on the side since some of that money “might be better spent on other things” as she waves her naked ring finger. But the Governor is in real danger of being stuck in the 1% crowd permanently if he doesn’t take some drastic action. That is why he needs to start naming his opponents and not just offering a list of great accomplishments as a legislator and governor (that not enough people are hearing anyway). Because right now, Inslee’s goal must be to get to 3-5%. And to do so he must start going after those above him.
But this is not necessarily a call for attacks and I don’t think from Inslee’s character he is looking to tear down fellow Democrats. Instead here examples of what he should do (in both an ad and in the debate at the end of the month):
- “I think Senator Warren has a great idea for paid family leave. That’s why I already implemented it as Governor.”
- “I think Senator Booker has great ideas on criminal justice reform and gun control. I lost my seat in the House voting for the assault weapons ban and have commuted sentences/pardoned thousands of non-violent drug offenders as governor.”
- “Beto has a cute climate change plan.” (Ok that’s just for me, but you get where I am going)
- “Bernie is a passionate progressive, but my progressive record is second to none and I did it in signing bills and risking my seat in Congress, not just in debates and campaign rallies. My state has the highest minimum wage AND the highest GDP.”
- “Senator Warren has a good plan for college tuition, but I have done that in Washington as well. And as someone who had to leave Stanford after a year for financial reasons I understand this issue on a personal level.”
- “Pete Buttigieg has a great future in this party and is an important voice going forward, but when we get Donald Trump out of office we need someone with the experience and the vision to tackle our probelems on day one. He may be a quick study, but I already know the book.”
- “Joe Biden was a great VP under a great President, but Mitch McConnell needs to be dealt with as the SCOTUS thieving, Trump enabling, corrupt wife-having enemy to our Constitution that he is. WOOOOOO!” (sorry a Ric Flair exclamation seemed appropriate after all the rhyming).
I hope that makes my point clear. Govenror Inslee is at the point where getting to 10 or 20% is something to worry about in the Fall. The immediate mission (for the survivial of his campaign and message) is to get to 5%. And to do that contrasts must be made by name. Most of those are not attacks, especially the Booker and Warren comparisons – but they will make people wonder if maybe Governor Inslee is the best person to make ideas into laws. The message must be “Yes I think climate change is the lens through which we must view most, if not all, issues, but before you brand me some tree hugging, one issue candidate, know that my record as a Congressman and a governor is a progressive powerhouse. Many of the candidates you support now are great people with great ideas. But I have spent the last 25 years turning great ideas into great laws. And when it comes to not just defeating Trump, but governing and leading a great new century of American hope and prosperity there is NO candidate more prepared on day one than me.” They cannot attack Inslee on his record from the left and if the moderates of the party want a Biden – they should be looking at the younger guy with a sterling economic record as governor – where business AND workers have thrived.
Too many people think of Govenror Inslee as a one issue candidate and relegate him to the EPA under an administration of a candidate polling better. That’s like saying Lebron James would make a great 6th man. Yes, it’s true, but the resume, the accomplishments and the experience demand a bigger spotlight and that starts, for Governor Inslee, by naming names and getting to 5%.
- Road Comedy Recap: Ann Arbor Day(s) May 20, 2019
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!
- Shame of Thrones: The Incest Inclusion Problem of TV’s Biggest Show May 18, 2019
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.
- The Case (and possible strategies) for Jay Inslee March 23, 2019
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.
- Road Comedy Recap: The Dennis Miller of Syracuse February 17, 2019
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!
- Road Comedy Recap: Buffalo IQ January 27, 2019
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.
- Road Comedy Recap: Shutdown in DC January 13, 2019
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.