Friday, November 11, 2011


Fuck the gays. It’s not a choice? So what? That doesn’t mean shit.

Sorry, bad way to start. Holed up in my room. I don’t mean all of what I just said. But the argument of “it’s not a choice” is not a valid crosswalk to rights. Being a murderer is not a choice. Ditto with pedophiles and rapists. Nobody’s opting in to those programs. Those aren’t impulse buys. Those are deep-seeded emotional conflicts that are too strong to control.

But, more importantly (read: concerns ME), depression is not a choice. But we - the depressed - have no rights. We are outcast. We are picked on. Targeted. Bullied.

Gays can’t get married? Depressed people can’t get married either. We either get left by the people who get close to us (for “bringing them down”) or we spend enough time alone where we completely deconstruct even having a relationship at all to the point of total nihilism. Her back rubs and home-cooked meals end up having the same net effect on me as a centipede crawling around my apartment: “Oh, look... That.” Even if we can survive the gauntlet of monogamy and commitment, we still have the hurdle of the actual marriage to conquer. Rings, showers, contracts, people. Ugh. Sounds horrible. I’d rather download another season of The Wire.

We’re not free to express ourselves. I can’t show up for school or work at noon in sweatpants without a shower. If someone on the train asks me for the time, I can’t respond with, “AAAUGHHHH! Again with the questions!” Our desire for complete seclusion (along with the concurrent, completely hypocritical desire of total acceptance) is constantly violated by the bigoted assumption that we are not depressed. Leave us the fuck alone. Just let us buy our burritos and eat them and crawl back into bed because our beds will take us in any state, not just the one where we smile.

There is no collective empathy for the depressed. There is no comfort when I assume my roommate incorrectly put the dishes in the dishwasher as a concentrated fuck you to me. "Why the fuck would the plates go there? "This isn’t a scrap heap where we just chuck everything in and turn the knobs. There is a system! Everyone is so stupid. If everyone would just be more like me..." Yeah, what a world that would be. Then we could all project our self-hatred onto the rest of the world and try to convince ourselves that constitutes a “perspective.”

See, even I can’t stand me. So, I empathize with the world even if it doesn’t empathize with me. There is no depression pride parade. (Mostly because we wouldn’t wake up in time.) There is no depression neighborhood in town. (Who wants to move? Boxes, lifting, ugh.)

You may say that society DOES offer us options: antidepressants, therapy, etc. But why can’t we embrace our depression? Why can’t we say, “You know what, world? Fuck you. I’m not playing by your arbitrary set of rules. This is who I am. Accommodate ME, not vice versa. It’s society’s fault I’m in this mess to begin with. If we all lived the way we’re supposed to live, I wouldn’t feel this way at all. It’s your pressures exerted on me that make me want to die.” Where’s that pill? The pill that opens your mind to ideas outside what your told? Oh right... We can’t have everyone seeing through the facade. Mushrooms are outlawed.

For fun, let’s imagine they offered a similar option for gay people. A pill that you take everyday that makes you not want to fuck your own sex/gender! Two words: rainbow riots.

Another problem with depression is that from the outside, depression looks like vacation. Sleep in late, watch movies, masturbate, eat pizza. What a day! Unfortunately, the crumbling sense of self is invisible to others. The inability to latch on to anything meaningful doesn’t quite reflect photons as effectively as, say, the cake plate on your stomach. But, depression is almost a hyper-awareness. This external reality presents itself and throws on yet another layer of depression. "Look at me. All sad because I’m eating food and watching things all day. Ugh. What a complete waste. You can’t even enjoy things people would kill to do. Where are they? They’re at work, making money for their families. You are sitting on a couch contemplating whether or not you could have been great at yo-yo if you had stuck with it. Why the fuck would anyone bother to love you? You’re too scared to go out into the world because you know it will tell you what a useless faggot you are."

It’s around this point that you have a brief moment of pseudo inspiration. "Wait. I can’t let my feelings control me. I need to get out! Do something! Sunlight is good. Eat an apple. Work out. Clean my room. Meet a friend for coffee. Write something. Make things happen.” But then, “What’s the point? Now I’m just doing stuff so I forget about how terrible everything else is? I don’t want to be one of those guys who writes a check list of things to do to feel happy. ‘Whenever I’m feeling a little down, I just get out my vacuum and start sucking away. Put on a little Rolling Stones and just clean the day away.’ That guy sucks. I don’t want to be that guy. How many fucking levels of quotes are in here? Can I realistically convey multiple voices to a reader? Is this even still worthwhile? Have I gotten anywhere? Stop asking questions. Too many questions. Not enough answers. Well, what the fuck is an answer anyway? Nothing sticks. It’s all just made up shit and people just accept things so it’s easier. They’re all phonies... Oh yeah, YOU have all the answers. You've got it figured out. Nothing gets past you. What a keen mind you have. So keen you can't even get up to brush your teeth. You just tell yourself how stupid everyone is so you don't have to feel bad about how inadequate you are. You're just pissed off you're not smart enough to write a book..." And on and on and on...

Monday, October 31, 2011

What's the worst that can happen?

Is honesty really the best policy? Well, it depends on what you mean by "best." If you mean the most straightforward and true, then yes, honesty is the best policy. If you mean the way to get along with others and propagate this collective delusion of grandeur, then no, honesty might just be the worst policy.

I should note that I'm particularly jaded right now. Not ultimately, just right fucking now. This constant coat-checking of thoughts and ideas that EVERYBODY thinks but nobody dares to say is getting absurd. It's like we are all clinging to the belief that Santa is real although rather than a fat alcoholic in a suit, he's morphed into the manifestation of our ability to achieve lofty goals. We believe we can! But nobody has the balls to tell us we can't. I fucking hate Santa Claus.

Well, you can't. There. I said it. I'm sorry, but at some point enough is enough. How long are we going to pretend that everyone can really be president? Seriously. First of all, only a true sociopath would have the perverted glibness and ruthless perseverance to even become president, so I never understood why that was a positive thing. Also, most of us couldn't fucking do it. Sorry. We just can't. You can't do whatever you want to just because life would be better if you could. If I could do whatever I wanted, I would have done what David Freese just did for the St. Louis Cardinals rather than spill my guts to a room full of mandated drunks every fucking night. I would have loved to play professional baseball but I was simply not good enough. Repeat after me: NOT GOOD ENOUGH.

There is no shame in that. I'm actually quite pleased with what I'm doing. I know I sound pissed off right now, but I love stand up comedy. I really do. I love it so much that it hurts when I see it so marred by the same exact bullshit that pervades every single thing in our society: dishonesty. It's rampant. Why? What are we so scared of? The worst case scenario is that we find out we're not good enough. Well, of course we're not! We all die, you know. Did you know that? We fucking die. I don't know if you've dealt with that yet. I struggle with it nearly every day. At least once I think about the fact that I will be DEAD and gone forever. It can be terrifying. It's made even more terrifying by the fact that half the planet doesn't even let themselves admit this! They're in mass denial that somehow some universal force or destiny will save them from this fate. Well, it won't. They'll die just like all of us. That's about as flawed as it gets. Who gives a shit if you can't pen a truly original novel or disprove the four color theorem? ( That's all peanuts compared to the ticking of our existential alarm clock. Gah.

I'm not trying to be morose. In fact, I don't even think I am being morose. Death - along with all commonalities - should be a linking concept in humanity. We should come together over this fact and use the time we have to rock out on this planet. I'm getting off track...

The point is we have to be able to admit ourselves to ourselves. (That was not a typo.) Accept ourselves. I'm not saying we have to contrive our ideologies around our flaws so that the flaws dissolve into translucent strengths. But god damn it just be honest with ourselves. If someone is not honest with him/herself, then how the fuck are they going to be honest with the rest of the world? They won't. I need to learn how to edit.

Let's make it more specific. What frustrates me so much about everything is the constant self-censoring we have to do in order to spare everyone's own fraudulent image of themselves and their surroundings. Suddenly it's "mean" or "disrespectful" to not allow someone to continue making up a world in his/her head. You're a "prick" or an "asshole" if you tell someone what you actually think. I don't understand it.

I'm sure many people think things about me that they don't say. Although, I feel like the "asshole" and "dick" title are thrown my way very liberally. So much that I am aware of it. But I don't care. I'm aware that the way in which I interact with people comes off as abrasive, tactless, impolite, over the line and possibly offensive. I'm okay with this. It's not because I'm devoid of empathy and don't consider people's feelings; quite the contrary. I am deeply sensitive to the struggles and emotions of others. That's not a joke. I am so sensitive to them that I refuse to do them the disservice of sparing them my true thoughts.

For example, in stand up comedy, there are so many people in Chicago (literally hundreds), and elsewhere, who have absolutely no business doing this. None. "But who are you to say who can and who can't? Who made you king of everything?" I'm no one. I'm not even saying things that are that radical. There are a plethora of people who EVERYBODY knows should not be doing stand up. They are either bona fide awful or so painfully mediocre that there is just no hope in churning out a career in an already brutal and rigged industry. But we are not allowed to tell them! We must continue to allow these delusional robots aimlessly waste their lives as we stand by and pat them on the fucking back for doing it! It's insane. Not only that, but the collective refusal to be honest makes anyone (me) seem like a malicious lunatic if he (I) does say something.

I have absolutely no patience and tolerance for self-delusion. None. None of you do either, you're just not willing to categorize certain things as such yet. Let's say, for example, that I had not given up on my dream of playing professional baseball. Let's say every day I went to the batting cages for hours to hit 200 fast pitch cage balls. Me, the 5'10" Jewish man with slightly above average pure athletic ability. "Sorry guys, I can't hang out, I gotta hit the gym because Spring Training is gonna be here faster than you know." Would you applaud my effort? Would you say, "Good on you, man" for pursuing my dream? Or would you be tempted to help me in my obviously confused and possibly belligerent state? Which one is the "nice" thing to do? Which is more respectful? Frankly, if you were to allow me to continue to believe that I actually had a chance at playing professional baseball, you would not be my friend. You'd be a coward too afraid of emotional confrontation. In instances like these, the most respectful thing to do is to shatter the blatant delusion and then be there to help them pick up the pieces. This is something that 99% of people are afraid to do. It's much easier to say nothing. That's not a majority that people are going to proudly Tweet about either.

I'm not even suggesting that our reality is more "real" than theirs. We might be the deluded ones and they the enlightened. Okay, fine. But there is no "reality." It's all just a collection of various perspectives but it's not so relative that we cannot exert the force of our intuition on our surroundings. It's a discussion, a back-and-forth, a constant debate that never ends resulting in its own advancement without any concrete plateaus. That's life. Uncertain. I accept that. But that is no reason to stay silent. Silence kills.

It goes beyond comedy, of course. In public rhetoric, nobody is ugly; nobody is stupid; nobody is under-qualified; nobody is inept. Everyone is a great and wonderful creature with limitless abilities. Awesome. What a world that would be. Everyone is amazing yet somehow our world is in shambles. Must be that wretched 1%! It couldn't possibly be that we've been willingly dreaming because finding meaning in reality would just be too gosh darn daunting.

I think the roots of this conflict lie in the competitive nature of Capitalism. Pure competition (not for sport or tribalism), but just gaining an edge, etc. is not necessarily a healthy way to live. Rising to the top might feel productive (it might also be a chasm of emptiness) but only at the expense of the risk of stumbling to the bottom. The thing the president never mentions in his speech when he's lying to everyone about how America is #1 (in what category, may I ask?) is that in order to get there we had to incur the psychic price of oppressive imperialism and outright murder masquerading as humanitarian efforts and liberation movements. And that's just accepted. We are told from the get go a series of lies: America is the best, our founding fathers were uncontroversial geniuses, Santa and Jesus are BOTH real, God loves you, Heaven awaits you, love is exactly like the inventions of Hollywood screenwriters, your government cares about you, the world is evil. It's not. Most people are good. They are. We have just not been willing to accept the parts of us that aren't and it's spiraled out of control.

So, if this is the end result of a blatantly dishonest, delusional world, why not just turn the tides and be honest with yourself and with others? Seriously, amidst this dystopian backdrop, what's the worst that can happen?

Saturday, July 30, 2011


In light of the recent influx of complaints regarding (Chicago) comedy, I thought I would weigh in with some things that you can hopefully take with you. I have been doing stand-up in Chicago for the last four years so here are some thoughts I have at this stage as they pertain to some common qualms:

1. Comedy owes you nothing. I know this is harsh especially when a lot of us consider comedy to be the only significant other that could possibly “get us.” But even though you might pour your heart and soul to this oft-succubus of an art form, it CAN NOT make you happy and is under no obligation to provide you with any type of satisfaction. You make your own happiness in comedy and in life. Life, like stand-up, is a process. As much as people try to contrive them in life, there are no check points. In stand-up, no gig or accomplishment means anything other than what it is. In other words, the only satisfaction you will get out of “achieving” something is a mirror image of the work and focus you put into it. People get gigs they don’t deserve; people don’t get gigs they do deserve; etc. If you can enjoy the process then you’ve already won. No matter who you are, the adulation you may or may not receive is completely intangible. Louis CK can’t sleep next to his Twitter followers. Bill Cosby can’t call Himself on the phone. Likewise, the people who hate Dane Cook don’t live with him. These things only provide satisfaction (or dissatisfaction) insofar as the performer/artist/person enjoyed (or didn’t enjoy) being a part of the process necessary to achieve them. The self-discovery, the vulnerability, the theatrical intimacy, whatever. So even if it’s having a good set at an open mic, having a bad set at a showcase, struggling to write a new bit, writing six great new bits in a row, any of that - it’s all part of the process. Everyone’s process is unique yet contains a very sacred thread of commonality. We are all doing the same thing yet we are all completely different. It’s special. It’s terrifying. It can be brutal. It can also be insanely rewarding in ways that few things on this planet are. Enjoy the process, with all its ugly points and highlights, otherwise you’re fucked.

2. (The North Side of) Chicago is not the only place where stand-up comedy happens. I know the Chicago comedy scene can be intimidating at first glance. A lot of people move from other towns and cities so just being in a giant urban area can be intimidating, much less walking into an open mic where everyone seems to know exactly what’s going on but you have no fucking idea. We’ve all been there. I also know that it seems like a huge deal to get bumped at Lottie’s on Tuesday night. (A really fun open mic, by the way. Check it out if you haven’t.) Chicago is an amazing place to start, but keep it in context. There are so many opportunities here as well as opportunities to make your own opportunities without risking any fatal errors. Chicago allows comedy to BREATHE (something horribly absent in industry cities) which is the reason so much great stand-up has originated here. But, the best way to utilize Chicago is to utilize everything about it. There are 3 full time comedy clubs in the city, “3” in the suburbs (I barely count Riddles to be a comedy club because it is run by a fat, overcooked piece of rotten beef that has the honesty of a politician and the bankroll of an open mic comic. I’m not being vague to avoid him finding out; his name is Ken and I hope he sees this and chokes on his fat fingers as he tries to lick the remnant barbecue dust off of them. If you want to send him hate mail, his email is and I think we should all tell him what a piece of malignant shit he is. Just a thought.), a plethora of showcases and open mics in the city, a huge sketch/improv scene but there are also a plethora of cities within a few hours that have their own clubs and scenes. Go to them! When you feel you are ready, find them. Until then, don’t sweat the fact that Bert Haas won’t respond to your emails. All part of the process...

3. Work harder. There is a reason your parents freak out when you tell them you want to be a stand-up comic. It’s fucking hard. Impossibly hard. It is only achievable through thousands of hours of hard work and dedication. So, for example, if you’re not getting booked at a certain room or club or people bump you at an open mic, take the fucking lump and chalk it up to part of the difficulties of this field. The answer is always the same: work harder. Are any of you as good as Bill Hicks? No? Well, then fuck off. Work harder until you’re better than him. And when you’re better than him, work harder to be better than you were. It never ends. You should always be working. Write better bits, get on stage more, hit other open mics or rooms or clubs. Make your own room. Whatever you want to do, there are endless ways to do it if you’re willing to put in the work. The caveat is, however, if you have to be told to work hard, you probably won’t.

4. Comedy is a reflection of life, not life itself. The goal, more than any TV credit, should be to cultivate a perspective on life that is a) insightful and b) funny (in that order). Remember comedy’s place in the context of life and utilize it as a channel, not as a mask. Comedy is at its best not when the person is hiding from or avoiding the pain and hard parts of life, but when the person is acknowledging them head on with a slant that brings out the humor. Even with that, it’s still comedy. There are many other parts of life that are worth your time, effort and understanding. Explore.

5. There is no shame in being shitty. Most people are. Don’t let it cut so deep that you have to lie to yourself about it. This is one of the reasons you should never complain about not getting booked because, most likely, the people you are complaining to are thinking, “Yeah, you fucking suck. I wouldn’t book you either,” but instead they nod and go, “Yeah it’s fucking bullshit,” and walk away wishing you would just quit so they’d never have to hear your stupid cunty voice again. If you aren’t getting booked, it’s not a conspiracy. You probably suck. At least for now. It’s much easier if you can be honest with yourself. We have all accepted we won't be professional athletes. There is no shame in that so why can't we admit that we can't do this?

6. Don’t be a faggot. This is pretty simple. There is no one way to get to where you want to get to, but in all of the blueprints laid thus far, no successful comic says, “Yeah, I used to bitch all the time about open mic lineups and I just did that for like 15 years then I was awesome.” (I should note that “success” is not defined by anything but what you consider to be success. This all goes back to enjoying the process. Are you enjoying it? Then you’re succeeding. Are you unhappy with it as a whole? Then you’re not succeeding.) Go get awesome, you faggots. Stop tricking yourself into thinking pathetic self hatred is a voice.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Answer

People always ask, so here’s the answer:

I live for those moments - those tiny, transient moments - where everything makes sense, just in that instant: the moments where a riff or melody in a song just snaps the universe into place and you’re seeing it all at once like a Laplace Demon; moments of complete intimacy where you’re so open that communication can almost take place telepathically; moments of such intense emotion where crying almost seems like an insult to the reality of it; moments where everything rushes through your head like a montage; moments of ultimate humanity!

Yes, certainly, these moments are rare. (Increasingly so given the pace and direction of the world’s flux toward delusion and “spectacle.”) However, they contain within them the inverse of one’s (our) collective struggle. It’s basic Newton, you fucking weirdos.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Local Shows and General Fraudulence

Hey guys. Look, I don’t mean to be a stick in the mud, but what the fuck are we doing? I mean, seriously. Are people even thinking before they do things? Does one thought enter their brain before it makes their body perform destructive, useless actions? I seriously don’t know. Not to sound all over-arching and Glenn Beck-y but this has to stop.

First, the comedy part. As many of you know, I co-produce a weekly stand-up comedy showcase called Comedians You Should Know. It is, without a doubt, one of the most important things of which I am a part and it is something in which I take deep pride and satisfaction. In a nutshell, that show (and group) is the manifestation of comics’ hard work, determination, perseverance and talent. We have, collectively, poured our souls into that show, ripped each other’s throats out over that show, but ultimately created one of the best independent stand up shows in Chicago with our own unlovable hands and bipolar brains. That’s something. We should be proud.

I was recently made aware of a show called “Stand Up Chicago.” They run their showcase on Saturday nights at Ole Lounge around Lincoln and Diversey. (Now, I should note that I am aware that by even mentioning this show here I am giving it more publicity than it would ever receive anywhere else, but I hope that the content will negate any positive awareness this “plug” creates.) So, I checked out the website of this show:

I’m not sure if it will be changed by the time this blog is posted, but on their front page here is the “description” I found:

Sounds like a show I might want to see. Descriptive, enticing, etc. Not bad, right?

Yeah, no shit. I fucking wrote it.

Here is the ticket link to our upcoming showcase on Wednesday, May 18th (my birthday, coincidentally):

(This link is not working. Here is the relevant snippet from our press materials:)

Comedians You Should Know, the premiere Chicago stand up comedy collective, is independently produced by a cast of six local comedians: Marty DeRosa, Danny Kallas, Joe Kilgallon, Mike Lebovitz, Drew Michael, and Michael Sanchez. Since 2008, the group has established a prominent presence in the local arts scene. Circumventing the tired, stale brand of comedy clubs, Comedians You Should Know delivers original, fresh, showcase-style stand up comedy every Wednesday at 9:00 PM in the back room of Timothy O'Toole's (622 N. Fairbanks Ct.), a classy downtown bar in the Streeterville neighborhood. Their weekly show has garnered frequent sold-out crowds and a loyal local following.

Comedians You Should Know features a DIFFERENT LINEUP every single week and thus makes it a must-see event every Wednesday!

Notice anything? Yeah, they ripped us off word for word. This is the description we originally used on our website, the one we use on all our email blasts and press releases, etc. It’s blatant plagiarism, plain and simple.

I did some further investigating and apparently Stand Up Chicago offers college and corporate bookings! Wow. Well, I typed their “descriptions” into Google and found that they plagiarized those descriptions from this website:

Now, I have no idea who comprises this “collective” called Stand Up Chicago, but they did have a contact name, Steve, and a phone number. (The name and number have since been removed from their website and replaced by an email address.) I called this man to inform him of his (website’s) blatant plagiarism. He played dumb, passed the buck, and said he would look into it. I told him, “There is nothing to look into. I know you ripped it off because I was one of the people who wrote it. Take it down immediately and stop promoting your show with my words.”

Look. Anyone who blatantly rips off the descriptions of his/her show is NOT going to be doing good work anywhere else. What is the long term plan here? Just rip off your way to the top? It’s a fraud’s mentality and someone looking to make a quick buck off of a broken, no-barrier-of-entry industry. I looked at his lineups and they are, predictably, atrocious. The “collective” is something like 35 of the most inexperienced comedians in Chicago. Nothing wrong with being green, but be honest about what it is. Also, I love how they offer college and corporate bookings seeing as all 35 of their comics have about 60 seconds of workable material COMBINED.

I then went on to explain the problem with doing things as he is. Not only is his show a complete sham and a fraud, he’s doing a DISSERVICE to Chicago stand up shows at large.

Around here is the point that he hung up on me.

However, this is an important and more general point I want to drive home to all comics and potential producers in Chicago (and anywhere, for that matter). When you tell people you are doing the best show in Chicago or you are the “premiere stand up comedy collective” in Chicago and people come to your low-rent, run down, under-produced, under-promoted, “comedy show” where the 8 people you do somehow convince into sitting through 90 minutes of the manifestation of your worthlessness while they stare awkwardly at their dates and contemplate pulling the fire alarm just to have an excuse to leave your godforsaken show, those people then equate that show with ALL Chicago stand up shows. And why wouldn’t they? You’re using the same lofty language as the shows that actually merit it.

We at Comedians You Should Know have worked our asses off for over three years, on and off stage, to make sure that our promotional description was not a lie. So why are we allowed to say those things? Why can we call our show awesome? Because it fucking is. There are a few shows before ours that helped lay the blueprint for our show and have earned that right as well. Chicago Underground Comedy is one. It’s been around for 6 years or something and it’s consistently great in an awesome venue. The Lincoln Lodge is another, which has been around for 11 years and has done countless numbers of phenomenal shows. I’ll even throw Entertaining Julia into that list even though I think they just promote with hipster lesbian aura. But it is, nonetheless, a show that executes exactly what its producers intend. Props to all those shows. (I don’t even want to mention The Red Bar Comedy Club because in a short year and a half it’s become a full-time weekend comedy club with such a high production value that to place it in the category of “independent showcases” would be insulting, even though most comics don’t even know where it is. It’s the same reason I don’t mention Zanies or Jokes and Notes in this discussion.)

So when you put either our literal description on your website or something similar and then people come into watch the tornado of nervous knees and might-as-well-be-stolen jack-off bits, you are diluting the legitimacy of the good shows and leaving the city with a bad taste in its mouth when it comes to stand up. That’s very bad considering how much quality improv and endless entertainment exists in this city. We already get our asses kicked by sports, summer festivals, Second City and Jager-fucking; we don’t need to be cannibalizing our own heads with our asses.

Now, I understand that not every show can feature the “best” comics in Chicago because then the newer comics won’t ever get good stage time and won’t improve. True. I will lay out the blueprints to deal with this issue:

First of all, brand new comics, go to every open mic! You are not better than any of them. Write your bits and try them out at every open mic. Go bomb. You have to get used to it because it never stops so you might as well do it a lot when the stakes are nonexistent. That much is a given. If you aren’t at every single open mic (or trying to run your own) then you don’t even deserve to be working on a show.

If you decide to run a show there are a few ways you can do it which I think are fair.

1. Run a straight up “New Faces” showcase. Tell the public, “Hey, these are brand new comics and we need your support in order to get better” or whatever. Some people might bite. Some people are legitimately supportive and kind in these types of scenarios. It’s not that sustainable because there are little to no redeeming qualities of a show like this other than the pseudo-charity of sitting and smiling at a nervous virtual virgin. But at least it’s honest.

2. Run a “best of” showcase. This is what ChUC and CYSK have done. For the most part, there are very few brand new comics doing time on either of these stages. It makes for a really good show, but it’s not very conducive to new comics’ growth as they won’t get any stage time. Which brings us to number 3...

3. Run a hybrid of 1 and 2. Book a show and stagger it. Say you have a host and 6 comics. Book a brand new comic to open with 5-6 minutes. Book one or two green but not BRAND new comics to do 8. Then book 3 really good comics to do 12-15. That way, each week you will get up 3 new comics to get time but you will also reward the audience by giving them 3 really good comics so the show as a whole is still enjoyable. That will provide you a sustainable show that can actually build a following as well as provide opportunities for both new comics AND good comics. It’s the best of both worlds. This is how CYSK started in 2008 where we were the new comics. RIOT Comedy started like this initially as well. I think this is the best compromise for newer comics looking to get stage time and wanting to strengthen the comedy scene.

The idea of a stand-up showcase itself is not original. I’m not claiming that CYSK was the first ever showcase or “collective” of its kind; it wasn’t. BLERDS existed and left before we ever existed. ChUC and The Lincoln Lodge predate us. The Elevated existed before those. Doug Stanhope posted a blog in 2007 that we essentially took and ran with. Your show doesn’t have to be revolutionary, just don’t be an idiot and steal other show’s descriptions. I have no problem with a carbon copy of a good show existing in a neighborhood that doesn’t already have comedy. But be good. Don’t book shitty comics. And, more importantly, if you can’t tell the difference between a shitty comic and a good one, don’t book a show. You’re not helping.

(Please remember: PROMOTE YOUR FUCKING SHOWS. The lineups do little to no good if there is no one there to see it. That’s another issue entirely and I don’t feel like getting into that now.)

So, I want to thank Stand Up Chicago for providing a perfect example of how to NOT run a stand up comedy show. You have exemplified, to a T, everything that is wrong with these types of shows. I honestly don’t think that I could have described a better example of the wrong way to do this. Steve, your show is a blessing to the community. If there were an infomercial for running a comedy show, your show would be the black and white “way” where the guy is hurting his back or the girl is frustrated and the big red X shows us how wrong it is. Well, now there is an easier way. It’s really simple: don’t be a moron.

Look, either we are a community or we are not. I like to believe that we are. One of the best parts of Chicago is that we can do these things and experiment and fail and learn and grow and help each other but you have to pull your weight. Be hard on yourself. Push yourself. Make things as good as you know they should be. Don't settle. Work hard. Have fun. Be funny. Laugh. Make others laugh. Appreciate when someone writes a great bit. Appreciate when someone runs a great show. Learn from them. Write better. Promote better. Get better. Live. Be present. After all of that we can die like the faggots we are. We might as well crush it while we're here.

Note: When I say “Chicago” I, like most people, mean the north side of Chicago. Unless you’re black or have 150 drunk cousins, you rarely go south of Madison.

Monday, April 25, 2011

I am not ugly.

I am not ugly. So, I feel like when people meet me, their expectations are a tad high. We tend to judge people based on how they look. That’s our first line of defense as a member of this species. “Are they clean? Symmetrical? Groomed? Well-dressed? Slouching?” All these things affect how we perceive a person. So, when they see me, relatively handsome, relatively fit, good posture, clean skin, they probably feel more or less at ease. They let their guard down a bit. I’m clearly not some mutant freak. I don’t smell bad. I dress nicely enough. My pants fit. I shower. I don’t incite the urge to scream or run away or tell your friend about how it was hard not to stare. So, because I don’t look like some huge weirdo, people feel relieved because compared to what a person COULD look like, I’m probably a breath of fresh air. I could have a swastika on my eyelids and have those weird blotches of discolored skin where you spend the whole time looking at it trying to figure out what the fuck it is, or I could have one arm or, worse, one nostril; I could have my penis hanging out of my pants, I could smell like the inside of a colon, I could have weird twitches and tics and weird screams that make me look like a Holocaust survivor or something. The point is, I’m not any of those things. I’m me: a relatively decent looking human being. So, when people first see me, I feel like they open up a tad.

But then I talk. Oh, how silly they must feel to have been duped by the superficial inferences of appearance! To see a man in whom they entrusted such a fundamental component of their social confidence speak as if he has spent the last 20 years in a creepy lair with shrines to his mother or something equally creepy. I’m not sure if it’s the fact that until the age of 21, I heard the world at half-volume or if I’m naturally neurotic and overly analytical or what. But everything I say contradicts every moisturized pore on my face. My words are so completely asocial (and often anti-social) that they couldn’t possibly belong to a man who looks like he could be the stock male photo in a relatively thrifty picture frame. It must be so strange to watch a person who appears to be relatively fit for society: mock every single social convention; show absolutely no regard for tact, etiquette or other social mores that protect feelings et al; and create more awkward pauses than a teenager trying not to come too soon. I feel like I’ve let them down somehow. I haven’t lived up to the hype my face and body create. Not that I WANT to live up to the hype; I think the hype is just, well, hype. It’s over rated. Illusory. Nonetheless, I feel like a walking beer commercial where I seem to promise all sorts of wondrous things only to deliver a much more cancerous, albeit truthful experience.

I am not ugly. Sadly, however, I suffer from the saddest, most isolating disfigurement of all. While you are all galavanting about the party, hurling gallons of booze down your relatively pointless mouths, following the same biological instincts that allowed your father to consensually rape your mother, I have this thing in my head that is — against my good conscience — SKEPTICAL.

The skeptic is usually motivated by some catalyst of doubt. The world usually inflicts trauma on these people in one way or another which makes them question the world’s intentions. This could be a social trauma, physical trauma, emotional trauma or many other things. It’s not limited to one. This is why beautiful women (or people) are so often vapid. The world is handed to them so why would they question the world... unless they suffered something terrible. It’s a horribly twisted notion however it seems to hold up. This is what makes the rape or molestation victim so appealing. (Well, that and their lowered expectations: even if you don’t make them come, they’re just thankful you’re not their older brother on a dare.) Their paradigm can not be such that the world is to be trusted since that same world allowed them to suffer so horribly and inexplicably. My “trauma” was either the socially crippling hearing loss, instability at home followed by divorce, natural depression or something or a compounded combination of everything. That doubt, that benign level of misanthropy is key in a world so flooded with illusory notions, image-laden propaganda, misinformation and an overwhelming level of dishonesty. Only doubt can uncover the truth. But we run a risk. In a world of lies, the truth is insane. That’s the fucked up part: uncovering the truth inherently involved a violent suffering. Whether it be the initial impetus of doubt, or the feeling of being ripped from the comfort of traditional social ethos.

The message is very clear: don’t ask questions. It’s social fascism. We don’t even need a gun to our head. Just shoot a round of awkward eye rolls in our direction and we’ll be forced to either capitulate or face social exile. But I urge everyone to remain skeptical and to ask questions, social consequences be damned. Question EVERYTHING! If anything, it would make my life a hell of a lot easier as we will be less of a minority going forward.

WARNING! SIDE EFFECTS INCLUDE: not believing in god, not celebrating holidays, not coming to your house to catch the game, believing the death penalty should be reserved for people who wear “Save Darfur” t-shirts from Urban Outfitters, believing that .08 should be the blood alcohol content at which you are no longer legally allowed to talk to me, treating parties like revolution rallies only to be told you’re a drag by some dude holding a red cup, using sex as a means of revenge on girls from your past, and a lifelong “faggot” title at sports bars and dance clubs.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Freedom (in Comedy) and a Call to Arms

“ has been a truism for years, indeed centuries, that it is precisely in the case of horrendous ideas that the right of free expression must be most vigorously defended; it is easy enough to defend free expression for those who require no such defense.” -- Noam Chomsky

[Note: The idea of “free speech” presented here is NOT the technical legal “right” to it. Obviously we all have that “right,” in theory. However, in our society and more specifically the industry of stand up comedy, censorship is accomplished through systemic means in the name of “business” or “industry.” I would like to combat those forces.]

Let’s not bullshit ourselves: free speech is a farce. Freedom of press, ditto. These “freedoms” are ideological platitudes that we ascribe to ourselves and our society simply because we exalt them in theory, but in practice we are often their hypocritical opponents.

While I believe that all people should defend freedom of expression, I can not stop anyone from opposing it. But I can respond to that opposition. Journalists, writers, comedians, editorialists, actors, painters, or anyone whose very existence implies and relies on freedom of expression should all be vehemently defending these rights without question. The fact that there is not a united front on these issues is the reason those “rights” are eroding under various guises of “national security,” corporate interests, “political correctness,” “offensiveness,” etc. These masks are all fraudulent platforms and they need to be systematically castrated.

As a stand up comedian, I am presenting this community - and any other interested parties - with a call to arms. Our rights are being violated not by a fascist censorship, but rather a systemic one with the drive for money at the heart of it. I will start with two personal anecdotes.

Comedy Club on State - Madison, WI

In May 2010, I had an incident with a heckler. I have covered this story before, so I will keep it brief. It’s mostly included in the video. If you haven’t seen this, please watch. If you have already seen this, just refresh yourself with my closing comments on it. There is no need to re-watch me calling someone a cunt, unless you get off on that sort of thing.

After this video was up for a few days, I decided to take it down. (I’ve recently reposted it to assist this particular story.) Not because I didn’t believe in its content, but because I was ready to bury the hatchet. (This is months ago, back when I still believed in the potential of diplomacy.) I decided to accept the ban, and try and mend fences after the year expired. So, a few months later, I emailed the club, telling them that I accept their one year ban in hopes that we can continue our great relationship next year. Four months later, they still had not responded...

I called the club on Friday, December 3rd, to follow up on that sentiment. I was told that because I posted that video I was banned for life. They said it was disrespectful to the club. I argued that to accept a banning without explaining my side of the story would be disrespectful to MYSELF. Eve, the general manager, said more or less that she didn’t care and I will never perform there again. She then told me to never call that number again. Then she hung up.

First of all, the video was factual. However, since it was inconvenient to the club’s business, I was banned for it which is a deeper example of opposition to freedom of speech. My “banning” has consequences. The booking agency of that room books many other rooms and values this room’s opinion. So, given that they banned me, I now have a reputation based on that opinion. However, the agency was not privy to the actual events, nor was anyone else. So, I posted the video which is the truth. Certainly people will think what I did was wrong, however nobody should deny my right to do it. My intention was to be funny, even if it was at the expense of the heckler. Regardless of your opinion, that was my intention and there were many people who found it funny.

That video, when it was posted, was littered with comments of token support. “Hilarious, Drew. Fuck them for banning you.” These were mostly written by comics, many of whom continue to seek work from and therefore support that club. Now, on an individual basis, I don’t necessarily blame them. There are many who subscribe to the belief that “this is a business and you made your own bed, and while I may agree with your sentiment I shouldn’t have to pay the consequences for YOUR actions.” And sure, there is a point to that. However, that is precisely the attitude which allows the erosion of our freedom and power.

We are fragmented and isolated and the clubs use the power of opportunity cost against us. We are all trying to “make it” in this business and it is one such that any missed opportunity could be catastrophic. Everyone is afraid to stand up to a club because it might mean a banning for them as well. I understand that. But if everyone is this afraid then they will continue to wield their power against us.

It is only by the process of unification under a fundamental banner that we can continue to exist with some level of autonomy. Marxist shit. (To those who say we should start our own comedy clubs, I want to note that this process is not JUST about comics vs. clubs but rather the battle for freedom of expression against those who oppose it (the public, the media, etc.) as we will see later on. Also, I argue that one should not have to validate his/her right to opinion by earning enough money.) With respect to the clubs, this idea of fragmentation/isolation is why comedy unions were tried in L.A .at the Comedy Store in ’79 and the early 2000s in NYC. I believe there was a movement here in Chicago as well back in the 90s.

I’m not necessarily advocating for a labor union (yet), but I AM advocating a united front on specific issues, namely that of freedom of expression. In this specific case, if the club in Madison received numerous emails from my supporters, comics and audience alike, my fate would not have necessarily been sealed (or at least not so rapidly). Of course, not a single individual sent such an email. I was completely isolated and therefore easily defeated by a much more powerful opponent.

Red Bar Comedy Club - Chicago, IL

That Friday was a rough day for me. Later that night I performed at the Red Bar Comedy Club in downtown Chicago. I was doing a short, 10 minute guest set. I had worked on a new bit earlier that week that I was going to do at the club. The bit focuses on the word “nigger.” The premise behind it being that since there is such high emotion, high octane emotion and sensitivity among blacks and whites alike surrounding that word, we are constantly told that it is FORBIDDEN to say. Basic human principle is such that when we are told not to do something, we immediately want to do it. So, I claim that by being told not to say the word, it makes me want to say it. And yes, I say the actual word, nigger, because I don’t believe in copping to its euphemisms for the sake of others.

Anyway. I performed my new bit to a great response on Thursday, the night before, at an open mic in front of about 40 people. Here is the audio:

After that set I was told by people, black and white alike, that the bit is great. Even Dave Odd, the producer of the room, said “good work” and I think he hates me more than anyone. I’m not an idiot: I know the use of the word “nigger” is dicey and will cause issues with people. So, given its success, I was that much more excited to do it at the club on Friday night. I did. Here is the audio:

Okay, awkward silence. Nobody heckling, decrying what I said. Nobody even seemed offended, just upset that that I wasn’t being funny. (It’s possible that they were offended, albeit silently, but it honestly felt different than that.) That’s fair. It’s possible that I performed the bit differently than the night before, different timing, cadence, or attitude which led to its failure. It’s possible that the bit is not quite ready, or simply unfunny. Regardless, the audience responded how they did. I finished on a more time-tested bit and got off stage. That’s when the mayhem started. The owners of the club were angry with me for doing a risky bit that had not been worked out long enough. Understandable. I apologized for that. However, given the response it had gotten, as well as my conviction in it, I honestly thought it was ready. Error in judgment.

After this, I was sold out by a fellow performer who was in attendance. Brian Babylon, a Chicago comic, posted slanderous things about me on his Facebook page which was received by many other comics, bookers, et al. This hurt me. For one, it was a fraudulent allegation which had actual negative consequences. People read that post/thread and now have a perception of me as a racist or a “bad seed” without knowing the facts. One local producer even threatened to “handle” me on a morning radio show. It was insane. I understand that some of those people are Brian’s close friends and they will take his word over mine any day of the week, but that is why I’m firing at Brian. HE chose to sell me out and for that I am criticizing HIM. He started a chain of slander that will make it basically impossible for me to work the South Side of Chicago. Not that I worked it much anyway, but still, this is horrendous given that it is censorship WITHIN the community.

Secondly, we are supposed to have each others’ back in this fight. Whether or not one agrees with what I said on stage does not take away from my right to say it... especially when I’m someone who has at least SOME credibility in stand up. I am clearly not clueless on stage. I headline the club. What I was doing was clearly in the interest of comedy, especially given the response the bit got the night before. It’s offensive that one would try and limit my opportunity to experiment, no matter how “risky” the territory. We can’t be judging solely on the basis of whether or not the jokes get laughs, but rather if they were INTENDED to get laughs. EVERY joke has gone through a process of not getting laughs at some point. That doesn’t take away from one’s right to say it and work through it. The subject matter of the joke should not limit its ability to be tested. Anyone who believes otherwise is an opponent to free speech.

The Michael Richards (“Kramer”) incident was mentioned a few times. Now, obviously I don’t believe that he and I are even in remotely comparable territories, but I will go ahead and assume that comparison because it doesn’t change my stance. I will defend Richards with pleasure and ease.

The Michael Richards fiasco was a failure. Not because of the tirade he went on, but rather because he was sold out by the hypocritical community that should have supported him or at least supported his right to do what he did. He was isolated and therefore easily defeated.

Obviously you will be hard-pressed to find someone who agrees with the CONTENT of his tirade, but that doesn’t deny his right to say it. Imagine he was yelling at a pro-lifer or somebody who didn’t believe in gay rights. All of the hypocritical liberals would be posting that video on their Facebook pages, calling the guy a hero. It’s insane. Or what if he were yelling at a woman? Case in point: look at how comics responded to my clip from Madison and/or how everyone exalts Bill Hicks’ Funny Firm tirade.

Is it only because these are funnier or get more laughs than Richards’? Maybe, but maybe people only laughed at Hicks or at me because they agreed with the sentiment. I bet a bona fide racist would have laughed his ass off at what Richards said. In fact, I bet many of YOU laughed your ass off at how insane it was while you watched it on YouTube behind the safety of your Macbook screen. But regardless, whether or not something is funny does not change the validity of its message nor the comic’s right to say it.

We have to assume, especially with an immensely credible comic-actor like Michael Richards, that the intention was to be funny. It doesn’t always pan out. However, it is only when the performer does something with which we disagree (or think we’re supposed to disagree) that we strive to deny him/her the right to say it. But that just goes back to the initial Chomsky quote: our real commitment to freedom of speech is only tested when confronted with “horrendous” ideas, as the good and palatable ideas require no such defense. It’s a hypocritical stance.

Richards should not have apologized to anyone except possibly the club owner for not making the crowd laugh, thus failing to do the job for which he was hired (a task at which many people fail, and one can argue that no such apologies are necessary in each case). It is for precisely these reasons that I refused to apologize to the woman from Madison nor will I apologize for anything I say on stage, ever (unless I misstate a fact or statistic or something). These should be TRUISMS, especially in the stand up community. We are already fragmented and isolated by the “industry,” whether it be by clubs, television, management, NACA, whatever; to permit or advance infighting is exponentially disastrous and possibly fatal.

Imagine what the aftermath would have been if every single comic came out in support of Michael Richards. People called him racist. Even if he is, so what? Does that mean he can’t perform? You think he’s the only racist in comedy? You think you can eliminate all the homophobia, racism, anti-Semitism, misogyny, etc. from comedy by banning people if they say something that’s not PC? That’s insane. That will just stop the vocalization of those thoughts, but the thoughts and feelings will prevail. The only way to reach a higher state of collective consciousness is by discussing these things openly and honestly. In order to do that, we have to allow people the right to say what they’d like, even if we disagree with it. One’s ideology should not disallow them from performing unless you believe in Stalin-like censorship. Again, irreconcilable with freedom of speech.

What do we do?

There are endless numbers of cases like this in comedy (Bill Hicks vs. David Letterman) and otherwise. This is a call to arms. Stand up for these ideals in which you claim to believe. (Pun unavoidable, sorry.) Don’t fall into the category of every other hypocritical American - speak up. Freedom of expression is a very basic, relatively black and white issue. You either believe in it or you don’t. Yes, people have the right to react however they do as well. That’s their choice (or socially programmed response). But we have the right to respond.

To anyone, especially those who do stand up comedy -- which is supposed to be a beacon of free speech, a field in which we are supposed to QUESTION the boundaries we are given -- if you claim to support free speech but don’t actually stand up for it, then you are a hypocrite. (Conversely, if you DON’T support free speech, then admit that and own that position.) Don’t just support it tacitly with Facebook “Like”s, etc. Defend it. Fight for it. If someone infringes on this right, be rabid and vocal in your response, ESPECIALLY in cases like Richards where it’s so easy to hate him.

This is a VERY SMALL community (stand up in general, not just Chicago) and one in which we can all actually make fundamental differences. Due to the stresses of business and money, freedom of expression and freedom of press is eroding and rotting in front of our eyes. But most of us would rather ignore it because that might open up an opportunity to do a 6 minute guest set at [insert any of the plethora of parody comedy club names]. The only way to prevent it is to fight back in droves.

You will see many detractors who mock this as a juvenile fight for the right to say “cunt,” but this is much more than that. Many rooms limit what you can say, what topics you can talk about. It’s insane. People will say, “Well it’s a business!” Yeah, but that business mentality only helps the club owners and promoters. Bill Hicks was cut from Letterman because their pro-life sponsor didn’t approve of his pro-life joke. Is that freedom? It’s a business... yeah, a fucking soulless one. The clubs and networks do it for their sake, so they can maximize the number of nacho “munchies” they sell alongside their daiquiris or the number of minds they can numb with their cathode rays so they can make a stronger presentation to Tide. The comics don’t see shit from that. All they get is an opportunity to take part in a bastardized, left-field-wall version of the art form for which they sacrifice and if they play the game right, they can earn a few dollars and maybe have their own TV show, consolation prizes which amount to nothing when compared to their stifled creative freedom.

If we are unified against these powers, the industry would adapt. We have to force the industry to recognize this right. Imagine if every comic came out in favor of Hicks and said, “In the name of free speech, we won’t do your show unless you air his set.” Now we have a battle between ad dollars and righteousness. (To take it further, what if every screenwriter, TV writer, etc. refused to curb THEIR content. What would TV advertisers and networks do then?) At least it’s a fight. Of course, nobody spoke up and defended Hicks because they were hoping they would be the replacement comic. Just another example of how our current system pits the people against each other.

How can the clubs or TV reconcile a free speaking comic with the public’s desire for “safe” entertainment? One possibility is BE FUCKING HONEST. Tell them it’s impossible to make everyone like everything. If the industry is the liaison to the public, then have it explain, “Look, you might be offended by this or that, but understand that the thing you were laughing at might offend somebody else. We can’t draw any lines because if we give in to every single complaint, we will have people up there only talking about clouds or sandals. And even then, you’d have people complaining about how the comic made fun of MY favorite brand of sandal and that’s not right...” Treat the public with some fucking respect and tell them the truth. Don’t give in to the fear of losing their money.

With a united front, we can force the industry to either adapt or collapse. Both outcomes are good things because in its current form it is unacceptable. If the stand up industry collapses under pressures that demand for free speech, then perhaps we need to look deeper and direct our efforts toward the system as a whole (something we should be doing anyway).

Perhaps I overestimate the potential of this field and/or its constituent people. Maybe stand up is just another cog in the Entertainment wheel and we should all be shooting for Hollywood. Maybe we should accept our fate as the limited, social jester-hamsters, free to do all of the things we want so long as we keep people spending. I don’t think I want to support an industry like that. This is a cry of hope.

Until we are united and in lock step on this issue (and perhaps others), we can’t fight these basic infringements. We need to shatter the illusions that pervade our communication and infringe on our rights in society and in our chosen “field.” What would the comedy club business do if every single comic vowed in unison to never capitulate to language requirements? What would you say on stage, in the name of comedy, if you knew that every single comic had your back and would defend your right to say it?

Imagine the possibilities...