Wednesday, January 28, 2009

MID-STREAM: An Essay In Progress Following A Return From San Francisco

--for I knew that as soon as I got off the stage on Saturday night, that it wouldn’t be too long before that familiar Loneliness made its presence felt again. It was such a beautiful night. Actually, it was a very beautiful week overall. It seemed that each show got progressively better, culminating in one of my favorite performances ever on Saturday night. Hence, my reluctance not only to say goodbye for the evening, but to leave San Francisco and the Purple Onion yet again.

Thursday at the Eureka Theatre was a litmus test for myself as a writer. I had done so many podcasts and written so many blogs over the past months that I had, I felt, neglected my duties when it came to writing new live material. Adding to the drought was the emblematic struggle of making ends meet in New York City.

Writing for the internet had made me dependent on two things: technology and solitude. The stream of my ideas raged as torrential as ever. Yet having opened the Pandora’s box of studio creativity, every comedic idea thenceforth was seen as a potential recording project; replete with manifold layers and sound effects. A far cry from those days when I lived in my car at the Berkeley Marina and managed to write multi-character pieces without the aid of a computer.

And the solitude required by studio creativity made me in turn more afraid of my audiences, where I had not been before.

Moving to a new place in Jersey City last December seems to have unleashed something in me which I had often feared over the last few months had disappeared: the raw excitement of standing in front of a mirror and bellowing out comedic pieces in anticipation of performing them for a live audience.

My interpretation of the Geico Lizard as a cockney football hooligan met with success right off the bat. The laughter it received reinvigorated my confidence in my ability to write single character monologues reacting to an unseen second party. Not only that, he’s very fun and easy to perform, thanks to the primal rage I’ve infused in him. Anger is my favorite emotion, for it is so familiar to me.

Yet my favorite of all the new pieces I brought with me to San Francisco is undoubtedly "The Humility Award". Ever since seeing Eric Idle lampoon Richard Attenborough in the final episode of season three of “Monty Python’s Flying Circus”, awards presenters have been among my favorite characters to play.

"The Humility Award" is a self-contained absurdity. What truly humble person would allow themselves to be the recipient of The Humility Award? The applause the bit received was worth more to me than the audience will ever know. I loved it so much that it was the only piece I repeated over three consecutive nights. I loved it so much, in fact, that on the DVD footage of the first night, you can actually see me stifling a smile once I apprehend that the audience and I are on the same page.

That’s right! It was all filmed! All three nights! That was the cherry on top of the ice cream sundae of my post-show afterglow. Everything was filmed. Preserved to be packaged and sold. A product I will proudly sell, despite my longstanding aversion to commerce.

But boy, how I dreaded to get off that stage Saturday night! The Purple Onion is my home, as Mario, the owner, is always so good to tell me. It’s moments like those that remind me of how far I’ve come and how far I have yet to go. From some socially-retarded bookworm in small-town Missouri to being embraced by the Italians of North Beach.

“Life,” says Bruce McCulloch in a little-known Kids In The Hall piece, “is a pretty sweet fruit.” Indeed.

Or as King David wrote in his psalmic glee, “My cup runneth over.”

Either sentiment is apt, although I find myself repeating the latter with greater frequency than ever.

My cup runneth over.

Also, I talked with Michael Ian Black (Viva Variety, The State, Stella) a good deal in the hotel lobby this past weekend. That was a major turning point . You see, I have always been afraid of people who appear to be more succesful than me. Because, I suppose, I am afraid of myself and my own defects. I am afraid of my jealousy. I am afraid of my competitiveness. I am afraid of my pride.

So I went down to the lobby two or three times to get some coffee and each time I saw Michael Ian Black at the far end of the lounge. It’s hard to describe it, but his presence at first bothered me. I knew there was somebody in this hotel who was more successful than me. So each time, I would get my coffee and turn back to the elevators to go up to my room--troubled, depressed, and feeling like a failure after having seen a success.

But the third time, I decided to do something different. As I turned towards the elevator bank with my coffee in my hand, I instead turned around and went and introduced myself to Michael Ian Black.

My approach to things has failed me in a lot of ways. I called myself an artist as a defense mechanism, not as a statement of confidence. I let others call me a genius and privately relished it with an unending megalomania. I told people that I kept to myself because that’s just how I create; failing to mention that solitude and misanthropy were the blinders I wore against having to witness the success of others.

Michael Ian Black shook my hand and invited me to sit down. We were joined by other members of The State who were rehearsing for their reunion show as part of Sketchfest. He told me he had enjoyed my show on Thursday which surprised me because I wasn’t aware he had even been in the audience. It also relaxed me because I felt like an equal, which is, I hate to admit it, one of the most relaxing things to feel like.

On Sunday, before heading to the airport, I had another conversation with Michael Ian Black. We talked about the “business” of comedy and the psychological effects it can have on a performer. I won’t reveal any specifics of the conversation out of respect for confidentiality. But it certainly was illuminating inasmuch as I can say that I am not alone in my neuroses.

God bless you, Michael Ian Black.

One must separate one’s psychological well-being from the roller coaster of one’s occupation. Not only comedy, but any vocation. It’s all the same. I see it now. The realm of the spirit cannot be shackled to the contingencies of the material. Spirits can only live unfettered.

When I think about how I’ve often looked at the world and my place in it, I’m surprised that I’m still alive.

There was a new bartender working Saturday night at the Purple Onion. Usually, it’s A.J. This time, it was a new guy, Luka. As I was rehearsing my set on the sstage, Luka was singing very loudly in Italian behind the bar.

It sounded like the chorus to the early Bee Gees song “I’ve Gotta Get A Message To You”--about a man on death row about to be executed. I asked Luka if he was singing the Bee Gees in Italian. He said that he wasn’t. The he continued singing the same Italian passage.

So for five days, I’ve had the chorus to that Bee Gees song in my head:

I’ve just gotta get a message to you!
Hold on! Hold on!
One more hour and my life will be through!
Hold on! Hold on!

I was waiting for the NJ transit the other day. I was the only one in the waiting area. The reverb was beautiful. So I sang at the top of my lungs:

I’ve just gotta get a message to you!
Hold on! Hold on!
One more hour and my life will be through!
Hold on! Hold on!

I didn’t want to leave the stage Saturday night. The people were so beautiful. The night was so beautiful. The sound of their laughter was the sound of the host of heaven in divine orgasm.

I didn’t want to leave the stage Saturday night. Because I know that tomorrow follows today until today becomes a yesterday. How many yesterdays can one man’s past hold? Till the seams should burst and all yesterdays rain down upon his head until his very life itself should become an endless shower of yesterdays? No more todays? No more tomorrows?

No, this cannot be. I am looking at things with backward eyes. I must invert what I have inverted till the upside-down is right-side-up again.

Babies are not crazy. They have not had time nor resources to drive themselves insane.

The flight was nearly empty going back East. I am so tall, it was nice to stretch out across an entire row. I watched a Richard Gere movie called Nights In Rodanthe. It was predictably atrocious. I laughed when the leading lady cried. I laughed at all the sad parts. I am not completely cured of my cynicism. Nor would I desire to be. I must maintain a little schism; a little cognitive/emotional split between what I do and what is expected of me by the "good society". Just enough of a crack in the Spirit to allow Freewill to exist. Automatons do not get to heaven.

The flight attendants brought me four pre-packaged dinners when I called for them. I am not a regular comedian. I love airplane food. It was a feast fit for a king such as myself who reigned at 36,000 feet above the earth’s surface.

Oh, I hope we never land. . .I said over and over to myself. . .let us go higher still. . .

The flight attendants brought me as much coffee and Dr. Pepper and orange juice as I could drink.

My cup runneth over.

I hope we never land. I don’t want the show to end--