Tag Archives: Steve Birmingham

In Praise of “The Occasional” – Funny or Die’s Nearly Unbelievably Great Digital Magazine.

They were different times way back not-quite-a-fortnight-ago on July 25, 2012, when Bob Odenkirk floated his sixth ever tweet. As of this writing, he’s up to eight. But this one read, “I have a short film in this issue of the online magazine “The Occasional” check it out— its [sic] called ‘Read My Screenplay.’” Tabling an editorial style argument against the need for [sic]’ing tweets (especially in light of that I will eventually commit the Great sin of paraphrasing a comedian, and third-party no less), this bit of info gently registered as something pleasant but orbited on my periphery as being sort of foreign for now. “Cool,” was my exact first thought but then it resigned to something in the vein of  “but I’m not made of MUBI money.”

Perhaps DVR’ing, Kindles, Koozies, NOOKs and Crannies are all old hat for you, but The Occasional is in fact an iPad magazine and although I have no allusions about my steering passenger status, I’m not keen to quickly out myself as a veritable hardware Oliver Twist in this respect. I mean, there’s always been a digital divide for content’s journey from A to Me, well analog in the case of affording a Home Box Office subscription and being able to catch Mr. Odenkirk’s work on Mr. Show with Bob and David and The Larry Sanders Show at the time, or at least historically a digits divide as to whether or not folks had the nickel and/or proximity to get their mitts on the newsy, paper-based Barreled Cheese Gazette and the like. Yet it is not with nostalgia but a sense of adjustment that the third issue of Funny or Die’s brilliantly hilarious The Occasional has already placed itself in the hallowed tradition of Mad, National Lampoon, Spy, and The Onion (the latter of which has curiously disappeared in the Twin Cities market and is now locally published by the Austin American Statesman).

In his recent Just For Laughs Keynote address, the always cogent and comical Patton Oswalt spoke about the abundance of choice in this freeing new media milieu and “post-Louie world” where “content is king.” Oswalt held up an iPhone as the key that has unlocked comedians from the tether of “the gatekeepers.” And indeed, The Occasional is also available on the iPhone. And not to sound like I’m looking a gift horse in the mouth, neigh, I mean “Nay!” but I’m one of those people who have been more excited about the prospect of a cell “phone” and/or service provider that could deliver landline reliability (eyes on you AT&T) before rolling out all the bells and whistles and my new favorite funny e-zine. But ready or not is moot, and it’s just on us whether we can bask in a glorious left field gem and eschew that whole “Internet use disorder” deal. But dammit, however The Occasional might show up on a brainpan-n-scan, I’m such a fan!

With a creative team lead by editor-in-chief Dan Abramson and art director Nate Maggio, the roster of contributors for the July/August issue is a bastion of marquee comedic talent matched with a wonderfully imaginative and satiric visual layout. With photographs by Robyn Von Swank, the “A Day in the Life of Sarah Silverman” cover story by Silverman and Dan Abramson plays like an audio tour guide/slide show for her fans to follow along on her day being very famous and successful. Silverman narrates as a chime lets you know when to swipe to the next picture. Along with spot on fake ads for ABC Family programming and McTavish’s blended pure apple juice, Simon Rich’s “Moon Landing Transcript” is an LOL triumph of brevity with a bickering Buzz Aldrin. Other features, to name a few, include:  “A Bunch of Shit We Didn’t Know What To Do With,” “5 Questions by Jenny Slate,” “Tyler Perry’s House of Tyler Perry, “ “How To Fight A Trashcan by Heather Anne Campbell,” a Q&A or rather a “K&A with Jackée Harry by Julie Klausner,” movie lessons learned in “Film School by Kumail Nanjiani” and the “Prince magazine” within a magazine by Jake Fogelnest (chandeliers, anyone?).

In an utterly inspired and sustained bit, “Woody Allen’s Answering Machine” has Tim Heidecker voicing 27 unreturned messages left by the actor Tony Roberts who gets increasingly anxious, aging, and plucky. I don’t know what kind of awards go to audio portions of digital magazines, but it’s a bravura performance.

And then to ensure that this is an embarrassment of riches, Bob Odenkirk’s film “Read My Screenplay” is a fantastically pitch black humored short that involves novice screenwriting limo drivers and is scored to the Yo La Tengo song “Sudden Organ” (dig the “Two To Tango” screenplay title nod). The film stars D.V. DeVincentis as “Constipated Writer” and features John Ennis. Writer/director/producer/actor Bob Odenkirk (who some may first recognize as attorney Saul Goodman on AMC’s Breaking Bad) is an exemplar of this “post-Louie” paradigm where an artist is deserving of an endeavor with total artistic control.

Here’s to hoping that The Occasional continues to showcase such a deep bench of magnificent contributors. In his “Letter from the Editor,” Dan Abramson writes, “We really hope you enjoy this issue as it’s our third and we feel we’re starting to get a hang of this magazine thing. I want to look back at this issue as `The One Where We Figure It Out.’ Though that sounds like the name of a Friends episode. I hate that I know that…” Well, Abramson & Company have figured it out and Godspeed for the rest of us to catch up.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Chad Daniels’ Free One Hour Special: “As Is”

Fergus Falls, Minnesota-based comedian Chad Daniels had a pretty super Tuesday this past week. He released his second CD, “You’re the Best” (Stand Up! Records), appeared on Conan, and released a free, professionally shot, and uncensored one-hour special (“As Is”) via the venerable stand-up news & views site, Laughspin.com. Daniels is a seasoned comic and a captivating live performer. He’s had a Comedy Central Presents special, he’s appeared at prestigious festivals, on The Late Late Show, and was one of the select few comedians to be on The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien. So, to all outward appearances, Chad Daniels isn’t someone who has to give it away for free. Massively popular comics like Louis C.K., Jim Gaffigan, and Aziz Ansari have rejiggered the model of heretofore-televised specials and DVD distribution by nixing middlemen with the fan/artist win-win of direct online sales, and “As Is” is an exciting gatekeeper end run extrapolation that allows Daniels to (re)introduce his work to untold English-understanding Earthlings. Daniels recently told Patrick Strait of Minneapolis’ City Pages that “… My goal is to just get my stuff in front of more people, and hopefully use the special as a way to get some more attention on the album… by putting it online instead of cable everyone has access to it, which is what I really wanted.” Comedy Moontower hopes the free release of “As Is” proves to be a financially sustainable enterprise not just because Chad Daniels is worthy of greater attention, he is, but the prospect of enticing other artists to follow suit and also potentially raising the cachet of the still-relatively niche comedy “album” is just such a rousing possibility.

Recorded in one take at Acme Comedy in Minneapolis, “As Is” already stands as a harbinger of the death knell for de facto language censorship, but (also evidenced on “You’re the Best”) Daniels use of shock imbues his act with a somewhat niggling unevenness. A performer who walks the edge is inherently going to cross it with explicitness, button pushing, taboos, and/or audience comfort level— and Daniels is indeed “edgy.” My calculus is that a joke or a bit’s cleverness needs to trump its crassness but my opinion also comes from the totality of payoffs from this nexus. On Track 8, “Environmental Science,” which some could regard as needlessly misogynistic (or outrageously hilarious, or both), Daniels addresses this very juncture by stating that “a skill that a good comedy crowd has to have” is the ability to “individualize jokes.” He adds, “If you didn’t like that joke, I get it. Put it in the `I don’t like it pile’ and let’s move on. I don’t want that to ruin the rest of the show for you. That’s the same with life. If you get cut off on the way to work and you’re still mad when you’re cooking dinner, maybe you’re an asshole.” Or maybe Daniels isn’t your cup of tea.   Continue reading

Tagged , , , , ,

The 3rd Annual Austin Sketch Fest runs May 23 – 27. Q&A with ColdTowne’s Michael Jastroch

For more information: visit atxsketchfest [dot] com

The third annual Austin Sketch Fest is upon us, and Comedy Moontower was fortunate to check-in via email with the extremely busy Michael Jastroch, Executive Director of the ColdTowne Theater, which produces the festival.  In addition to ColdTowne, shows will also be performed at the Hyde Park Theater and the 29th Street Ballroom. The ATXSF is the little festival that can and does and for Austin comedy fans, it is turning into a jubilant holiday staycation tradition (yeah, you hoid me: f-in “jubilant,” I says) and a rising triumph for showcasing some of the funniest and most promising sketch comedy purveyors. As beloved as household troupes are like Monty Python, The Not Ready For Prime Time Players, Kids in the Hall, Mr. Show, and Upright Citizen’s Brigade, experiencing live sketch comedy still isn’t on the entertainment/arts radar for a lot of folks. But fair warning you laughter fiends, you fuckers, you screwheads, jackanapes, lollygaggers, noodleheads, you Johnny-come-latelies, you Sally-cum-nevers, you crazy diamond and huddled masses: the Austin Sketch Fest is here!

Steve Birmingham: Congratulations on the Austin Sketch Fest’s third year! How do you see the festival having evolved and/or refined its mission?

Michael Jastroch: Thanks, man. It ain’t easy building something like this up from the grass roots. It takes a lot of elbow grease, knuckle grease… a whole lot of grease.

When we started the festival, there was this huge vibrant stand up scene and this huge vibrant improv scene— both of which were getting a lot of national attention. There was this small, extremely talented pool of people doing sketch comedy— or scripted comedy in general— in town, and they didn’t know each other. Didn’t hang out. Didn’t collaborate. And their shows weren’t really pulling in the same audiences numbers, but the content was just as good.

If I’ve learned anything from being in Austin, it’s that creating a relatively open creative atmosphere allows everyone to flourish. A rising tide lifts all boats. Even during a drought.

That’s why we started the festival— to get people from different theaters and in different sketch groups talking to each other. That’s our primary mission: to do for the Austin sketch comedy scene what the Funniest Person in Austin contest and Moontower have done for stand-up and what the Out of Bounds Festival has done for improv.

As we go on and more local sketch comedy groups start to come together, we’ll continue to be as inclusive as quality controls allow. Obviously, it’d be counter productive to be pumping up sketch only to have the audiences leave with a bitter taste in their mouth.

From a national perspective, as we go on, we’ll be looking to bring in more and more headliners. We’re trying to grow that aspect responsibly. We don’t want to lose our shirts— we don’t even have shirts to lose. That’s how broke we are. We want to build a solid reputation and grow this gradually. We’re bringing in Paul F. Tompkins this year. Next year, we’ll be reaching out to some larger groups.   Continue reading

Tagged , , , ,

Happy Birthday Don Rickles

Today, Don Rickles turns 86 years old but not that Comedy Moontower needs a specific reason to toast this American original. When I was a tyke, I thought Don Rickles was one of the meanest men around but I was still captivated by his fearlessness and put-downs. My older brother Fun Bobby (or “Rob” as he was known at that time) hipped me to the reality that professional rassling wasn’t real and that Don Rickles was doing shtick. I immediately lost interest in the antics of Da Crusher, Jesse “The Body” Ventura, and the High Flyers (Greg Gagne & Jumpin’ Jimmy Brunzell), and I became all the more enthralled by Rickles’ act (which, as far as I could tell, seemed to be primarily improvised on the spot) and by his ability to elicit laughs from audiences instead of having the crowd brandish pitchforks and torches. It always made my week anytime Don Rickles appeared on The Tonight Show or a celebrity roast. Despite my total appreciation for the man and his talent, I only first saw him perform live on December 30th, 2007, at the Mystic Lake Casino’s new showroom in Prior Lake, Minnesota. I lucked into second row center seats and the seats in front stayed unoccupied. For stand-up geeks, getting goofed on by Don Rickles is akin to a baptism. The woman I was dating at the time was Chinese-American and despite her rad taste in rock-n-roll and film, she somehow managed to be totally unfamiliar with Don Rickles (freaky, right?). Midway through the show, Mr. Rickles asked me, “Hey pal, is that your wife?”

“No,” I replied as cheerily as one syllable can sound.

“Your girlfriend?” he queried.

“My date,” I said because we weren’t bf/gf yet. And while making that famous pout-n-nod, Don Rickles proclaimed to me, “Well, I’m sure your parents are real proud.” Half of the couple in Row B, Seats 58 & 60 was beaming but by the end of the show, Julie was a freshly christened Rickles fan.

In late November 2009, I had the great fortune to conduct a phone interview with Mr. Rickles for the Austin Chronicle in advance of his December 10th & 11th Paramount Theatre appearances. Below is a short excerpt of that conversation (someday I will transcribe the whole exchange because it was rather illuminating if you’re also a fan or simply carbon-based). As you likely have heard by now, Don Rickles is one of the nicest guys in showbiz and his entire consortium is a lesson in pure class. Please forgive the any implication of braggadocio, but Don (as he later asked that I call him) gave me my highest professional accolade by graciously thanking me for “being such a well-informed guy to do so much homework about me. It’s really a pleasure to talk to you because not many guys are on top of things like you are— about who they talk to, and I really appreciate that… If you come to the show, come back and say hello.” So before his first show, Don’s ace tour manager Tony O (formerly Frank Sinatra’s confidant), arranged time for us to have a little visit. This would be an instance where meeting one of your heroes is entirely uplifting. Since it was a private encounter, I have yet to recount the things Don said (other than asking me to call him Don instead of Mr. Rickles) or repeat the amazing words he inscribed in my copy of his autobiography, Rickles’ Book. I do know he and Tony O gave me extra face time because I was with a beautiful woman. I know this because they said so. Before shoving off, I gave him some Austin T-shirts for his grandkids. The show was hilarious and reminded me how much I dig hearing big bands live. I still get a laugh when I think of the “Wanna party?” offer Don made to an elderly woman in a wheelchair after she revealed her age. And to my utter disbelief and pleasure, at the end of his show, Don Rickles thanked me from the stage and rolled his eyes saying that I had brought him some T-shirts. Twice goofed— I’m still over the moon. Thank you and Happy Birthday Mr. Warmth!

Steve Birmingham: Mr. Rickles. It’s hard to imagine such a fearless performer as you as a shy kid but that was the case, huh?

Don Rickles: Well Steve if you investigate you’ll find out that most actors and actresses when they were kids were very shy. It seems to be the trend and that’s why most of them become outgoing after they get older. And yeah, I was a shy kid like a lot of others but it wasn’t so unusual in those days. I had a very strong mother who was very influential in keeping me going and wanting to be a performer.

SB: I found a newspaper ad for the Wayne Room strip joint in D.C. from January of 1954 boasting the 22nd consecutive week of Don “Glass-Head” Rickles. Was it at the Wayne Room in D.C. or the Elegante in Brooklyn where you felt you’d developed your voice?

DR: The Wayne Room was a joint in those days with a lot of striptease girls (and those striptease girls are like dressed compared to today), and I was the comedian in-between their dancing and so forth. That was a good training ground and helped me develop my style of talking to people and being sarcastic, as I am, and never mean-spirited. It was like a base camp for me to learn a lot of what I do, and then I went on to the Elegante and the guy [Joe Scandore] became my manager for forty years and he and I became great friends, and I worked a great deal of time in the Elegante in Brooklyn. After the Wayne Room days it had really developed into a performance.

SB: When you discovered your style, I’m curious if you also had the sense that your act would remain timeless? Your shows are still just as hilarious as ever and the fact that you have such a cross-generational and diverse audience speaks to that, I think.

DR: Well thanks Steve, I’m glad you realized that. Did you ever see my documentary?

SB: I did. I love Mr. Warmth and it definitely deserved those two Emmys.

DR: Ah thanks, I appreciate that. If you get a chance read the book, Rickles’ Book.

SB: I did, it’s fantastic.

DR: My god, we don’t even have to talk.

SB: [Laughs] Once you had found your style, did you also have a sense that it would be a timeless type of style?

DR: I had a lot of rejection in my beginning because it was different and I always say to other young people, “If you want to be successful in this business you have to be different and the people have to like you personally and you can’t be mean-spirited.” I never had a writer; I just used my own personality and started talking to the people and then talking about everything and exaggerating everything around me and little by little (who knew if it’d be timeless) but I knew that when they came to see me that the shows were always different because of what I was talking about. I always have a beginning, middle, and ending but it always changes somewhat every night.

SB: How do you feel about the “insult comic” label that you got tagged with?

DR:  I overcame that. It used to bother me in my younger years because it always sounded like some mean-spirited guy, which I certainly wasn’t. But it was a great thing for me that I overcame that image of the insult guy who’s mean or something, and Johnny Carson named me “Mr. Warmth,” and that’s what I’ve been using for years now. And it really is all about me. In other words, it’s a joke when I say “Mr. Warmth,” but the idea is that I’m never mean and I give everybody a fair shake, that they don’t walk out saying, “This guy’s a real Mafia,” or something. And again Steve, you know when you’re different you can’t please everybody. Bob Hope, rest his soul, was a great comedian but maybe there’s a guy in Iowa who didn’t like Bob Hope not because he wasn’t funny but they don’t like his personality. The same with Don Rickles. You can’t please everybody but the idea is to get 90% in your corner.

SB: The thing that really blew me away from your memoir involved your friendship with astronaut Gene Cernan and the last manned moon landing, Apollo 17.

DR: I went down to where the astronauts were; a friend introduced me to a lot of those guys, and somehow Gene and I connected. And [laughs] the funny part, he came to L.A.  to visit us, and we were going to have dinner one night and a had a Rolls Royce in those days, and I couldn’t get it started and I said, “Gene, can you get this thing going?” And he lifted up the hood, and he futzed around with it for about 10 minutes, and he said, “Gee Don, I can’t fix it.” And I said: “You know, you’re a joke. You can go to the moon but you can’t fix a Rolls Royce.” Of course, I made a big joke out of that. But he became very wonderful to me, and in fact he took the tape that I made with him to the moon. It wasn’t a tape you’d show to your grandma or your mother; it was strictly a stag kind of thing for those guys in the capsule— kind of personal and funny, and they loved it. And I was very happy to be able to do it.

SB:  That’s historic! I don’t know if any other comedian can boast slaying an audience on another celestial body.

DR: I don’t either.

SB: Two things about your friendship with Frank Sinatra really struck me: his unyielding loyal support for you and also how much he enjoyed practical jokes. Could you share one of your favorite memories of Mr. Sinatra?

DR:  Well the most outstanding thing was Ronald Reagan, rest his soul, was going to be inaugurated for the second time in Washington, and I was in Hawaii with my wife, and Frank called up and said, “Don, get packed and get to Washington. You’re going to be on the show with me for the inaugural of Ronald Reagan.” I said: “Oh, come on Frank. They’re not going to listen to me with my kind of style of humor. They’ll be a wreck.” [Sinatra said,] “No no no, I went to the Cabinet and they said, ‘No, we can’t have Rickles, we don’t know what he’s going to do’” And he said, “Well, if you don’t have Rickles, you don’t have me.” And that was the truth because of his loyalty to me. And sure enough, I came to Washington and they said, “What are you going to do Mr. Rickles?” And I said, “I don’t know. I get out there and do it.” And they were a basket case about that, but they accepted it, and I went out and did one of my best shows for the President. You can see in a little bit about it in my Mr. Warmth project, and it turned out to be just great.

SB: Jewish-American’s constitute only about 2.5% of the U.S population yet it seems like almost a majority of the comedy greats are Jewish. Why do you think this is?

DR: I don’t know, maybe God figured, “Gotta give them some sort of job.”

SB: You ran with giants like the Rat Pack and Johnny Carson and have met everyone of note from your half century plus in show business. Are there days when you feel a bit like The Last of the Mohicans?

DR:  Well, I look around and say, “How many guys at my age, 83, are headlining in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, and all over the country you know?” I go by that and doing well; that makes me very proud. But then again it makes me a little sad that so many of my colleagues have gone on to… who knows, better things.

Tagged , ,

Spotlight on Mary Lynn Rajskub

Comedian/actress Mary Lynn Rajskub (pronounced “Rice-Cub”) may be best known as a star of the silver and small screen, but she cut her teeth in stand-up, beginning at the San Francisco Art Institute before relocating to the nascent alt comedy scene in Los Angeles where her awesomely awkward, expressive, and decontextualizing style found a receptive home. She was a cast member on two of the most critically acclaimed TV comedies of the ‘90s, HBO’s Mr. Show with Bob and David and The Larry Sanders Show. She also played Chloe on a little program called 24. She’s also quite adept with canvas (as a talented painter and not as the oft-rumored Mexican wrestling star Dulce Maria Garcia Rivas). Rajskub is a prolific performer, who has created a myriad of one-woman shows, the recent web series Dickie, and who will appear in the upcoming web series Dirty Work and the film Safety Not Guaranteed, not to mention her pantheon of cameos. Being a new mom with her first husband Matthew Rolph (c’mon, I kid) had kept Rajskub from clocking in a ton of stage time but this uniquely talented comedian seems to be positively luminous from a new perspective and for the great fortune of stand-up fans, Mary Lynn Rajskub is bringing her insight, POV, and shtick to Austin as part of the Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival. I recently spoke to the exceedingly gracious Rajskub, who called from a rather unusual local in Southern California and who, like myself, was fairly tickled by the absurdity of the situation.

Steve Birmingham: With your busy performance schedule and your recent calendar activity, it seems that you’re doing stand-up with gusto of late, and that’s a wonderful thing. And we’re certainly thrilled that you’ll be performing here at the Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival. What is the impetus for you regularly rocking the mic now?

Mary Lynn Rajskub: That’s where I came from.

SB: Absolutely.

MLR: Those are my roots and I actually started out in performance art when I was in art school and performance art sort of turned into people laughing at me and me making fun of myself. Don’t ask me which one came first. But then I met comedians and I was attracted to them years ago, just for their ability to explore their own personas and their own point of view onstage in a monologue form while engaging an audience. It sounds so silly saying it like that but that’s what was exciting to me. So I always did acting but most of my best jobs and best work kind of spring from me doing that. And that’s kind of the way it always was.

SB: And I understand that you performed stand-up throughout the run of 24. I guess to me, it just seems like maybe you’re performing a little more than I had been aware of. That just might be my own ignorance.

MLR: No, you’re absolutely right and I didn’t even answer that part of the question yet. I sort of went off on a little tangent there. Lately I’ve been sort of focusing in on [stand-up] because my life is so different now because I have a family, a son and a husband, which I never planned on having or expected to have. So I have this new excitement about exploring that material and it’s just a really good time for me because most people recognize me from 24 and [I’m] sort of coming off 24 and reading all these pilots, and I’ve been doing a bunch of different little projects and then it just occurred to me that you this is the time now for me to explore my own material. Time to get back to what I always did. That’s what I’m putting together is sort of the point of view, embracing my life as it is right now and it’s been really fun.   Continue reading

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Spotlight on Maria Bamford

                                                                                                                             photo by Susan Maljan

“I love Maria Bamford. She makes me laugh. I think she’s hysterically funny. She performs all over the place [in LA]. Have you seen her? She’s so funny— she’s one of the few people that really makes you laugh hard, who’s doing something so interesting and insane. She does a lot of voices. She has a very high voice and she does a lot of characters and people in her life — with deep voices — and it’s just a unique, bizarre act. I’ve seen a lot of comics and it takes a lot to make me laugh really hard. And she definitely makes me laugh super hard.”

                                                   Judd Apatow to the Los Angeles Times’ Deborah Vankin  (11/19/10)

It feels somewhat superfluous to comment on Maria Bamford after Judd Apatow’s words but his endorsement is representative of just how highly esteemed she is by professionally funny people and stand-up fans alike. Maria Bamford is widely and rightly hailed as one of America’s finest, most original, consistently creative, and unfailingly funny comedians. In comedy parlance (okay “vaudeville,” Jesus!), she’s the top banana. Yet, in an interview we did in 2003 (as a point of reference, the first YouTube video was uploaded in April 2005), she expressed concern about disappointing “people who have come to see general c-o-m-e-d-y, spelled with a series of bananas.” That comment spoke to her self-deprecation and her awareness that she can be a little quiet and odd, but she was exceptionally hilarious and inventive then, just as she is today. The only thing that’s changed is the public’s increased sophistication and appetite for the edge of the envelope-pushers (suck it, paper-pushers). Maria Bamford has created such a distinctive niche and name for herself that the term “Bamford-esque” would be part of contemporary lexicon if she weren’t one of a kind.

And the Los Angeles-based, Duluth, Minnesota-reared Bamford operates in a more performance-based manner that draws on surrealism, Dada, and the avant-garde, but this is not to say that her act is overly precious— it is not, it’s just funny. She uses her flair for voices to create living, breathing, startling vignettes— often about her family, depression, and wonderfully left field observations (and perhaps best manifest in her handmade web series The Maria Bamford Show). She has released three instant-classic stand-up CDs and has an abundance of TV credits. Bamford holds the distinction of being the first female comedian to have two Comedy Central Presents specials and was the sole lady on Patton Oswalt’s Comedians of Comedy tours (which were documented as a Michael Blieden-directed feature and as a Comedy Central series). Maria is also in great demand as an animation voiceover artist. For example, she voices the Praying Mantis and Aphrodite on the just-released, first episode of the Noah’s Ark series on Funny or Die (also voiced by Marc Maron and Jonathan Katz. Watch below and sensitive viewer discretion is advised).

The Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival is doubly thrilled to have Maria Bamford on the lineup since she is such an Austin favorite— to the point that her multitude of local fans consider her an honorary citizen (not just because Texas needs the tax revenue). And certainly the People’s Republic of Austin would harbor The Bammer if things ever went “bad.” It’s a kinship thing. Like, the short-lived, Austin-based Punchy Tee company created a limited edition “Maria Bamford supports me in in my journey” T-shirt for charity. Proceeds went to the Austin Children’s Shelter last summer, which was rad because despite the ACS’s vital services and “home-like environment,” I’m not readily seeing on their web site (it’s after hours) if they too have a “No Kill” policy like the one the Austin City Council adopted two years ago for animal shelters. I’ll presume not. Was it reckless to speculate?  Oh yeah, I’m the cheese here. The Hunger Games domestically grossed itself $270 million and rising. Hey, sometimes there’s further ado. Seriously though, Comedy Moontower was fortunate to have Maria Bamford take the time to answer a few questions via e-lec-tron-ic mail.

Steve Birmingham: At the time and still now in hindsight, an abundance of people (myself included), consider the Comedians of Comedy tours as part of the vanguard for this new era of excitement and appreciation for stand-up and uniquely talented comics. I concede that one person’s “watershed” can be another’s “string of venue restrooms, one grungier than the next,” but could you please describe how the shows and touring initially felt and also what your perspective is in retrospect?

Maria Bamford: It was a very short amount of time— the movie was 6 days and the TV show was maybe 10. It was nice to be with other comics on the road and most especially, comics whose work I admire. I also love gas station food— so I just remember it being a real boon. I’m so glad that anyone is inspired to create their own work/creative projects as a result, that’s what was helpful to me about it too.

SB: What is one of the funniest or most memorable moments from all that time with Patton, Brian [Posehn], and Zach [Galifianakis]?

MB: I guess— because of the nudity— I remember looking at dozens of coquettish photos sent to Zach from this guy in South America, if your anus may be described as a coquette.

SB: You created, single-handedly wrote, and performed in (save the late Blossom Bamford the Pug) your web series The Maria Bamford Show, which Damon Jones shot, directed and edited. The caliber of creativity and humor in those twenty episodes utterly shames the content and bloated budgets of many, many TV sitcoms (and by the way, congratulations on the Museum of Arts and Design’s exhibition of the show). How did the project come to fruition? And to what degree was the process of working (offstage) without interference empowering and fun but also potentially imposing when the Internet is forever and you’re impersonating your family and portraying exaggerated personal adversity?

MB: Well that’s nice to say about it, and it came from me wanting to be on a TV show, doing a one-woman show about it— as well as fears of “madness” from my family tree. Dan Pasternack, currently [VP, Development and Production] at IFC (Portlandia), let us do whatever we wanted. It was awesome possum.

SB: This is clearly not lifted from Vanity Fair’s Proust Questionnaire: What are your two favorite journeys?

MB: I like going to NYC and any beginning of a trip— leaving LA.

SB: With your flair for characters who do not filter their inner monologues and your wonderfully surrealistic propensity to suddenly shift a point of view or cadence, your work was perfectly at home on Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! Was there something you took away from collaborating with and/or observing Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim?

MB: From Tim and Eric— they are fast and loose and inexpensive! It’s super inspiring how they are low-key and just make lots and lots of content and don’t seem very pretentious about it. I would like to be them, but I can’t find openings in their skins.

SB: How do you think your material has changed in the last decade and how do you see it evolving in the future?

MB: I don’t know. I’ve got lots of food and suicide material for the next album. I can’t wait to find out the next new jokes via my strong connection to a God.

SB: You’ve always been honest about your Diet Coke, uh, hobby and on your “Unwanted Thoughts Syndrome” CD, you joke about growing older and “getting a Diet Coke hump.” What are your thoughts about an Australian cosmetic surgery clinic’s web site naming you for coining this condition under their “bridalplasty” section as reason for “body contouring”? Also, can you comment on the phenomenon of “bridalplasty”? Their site reads: “For some women it’s a mere formality, but for many, their wedding is considered the happiest day of their lives. That’s why, most brides want to look as radiant as they feel, and why for many, cosmetic tweaks are no longer a flight of fancy, they are a must. But just as with planning the reception, choosing the cake, making the guest lists, and selecting the flowers, ensuring you have the right surgeon, and the right information on procedures should be your top priority. After all, with all eyes on the bride, you’re going to want to wow.”

MB: Gosh. I did not come up with Bridalplasty. Let’s hope the right writer is recognized. Surgery and party planning!

SB: You’re an accomplished animation voiceover artist. Is the protocol that you’re generally hired for a job and then collaboratively hash out exactly how a character should sound or is auditioning some times involved? And even when working with the best in the biz, does voiceover work ever teeter towards ludicrousness when having to articulate potentially abstract directions or is that just part of being a pro?

MB: Voiceover is just fun. It’s, as Chris Rock suggested, fairly low-stress. I’m super lucky to get VO work and it is never more difficult than loading trucks of baked goods at night.

SB: Your voice talent is a hallmark of your act but in my view, it is always in the service of supremely crafty writing and engendering highly conceptual routines. A Rich Little, Michael Winslow, or joke-thrower, you ain’t but I’m curious about how you approach creating new material? Is your tendency to have a bit mostly written and rehearsed before trying it on stage?

MB: I try to write and rehearse it before but that could just be control freaking. I’ve been thinking of taking an improv class again to let go a little.

SB: I’ve never been a fan (Leo) Gallagher’s work, but I do hope that he fully recovers from his recent heart attacks and is able to enjoy a long retirement. However, I seriously think it is one of the greatest things ever in “comedy” that he franchised his brother Ron Gallagher to tour and perform his Sledge-O-Matic routine. It eventually got litigious but I think it’s astounding that Ron (aka Gallagher Too) had a successful run for so many years. What is something another comedian has done that you find amazing?

MB: I loved Gallagher as a kid and I haven’t really watched him since then, but I’m sure he’s just as skilled with the smashing and that’s great [if] he’s still working, still creating. Anyone who is still making an effort and failing and trying and failing and succeeding and trying etc., are pretty amazing in my book. I’m trying to get the courage to try new things and so people like Brent Weinbach or my close friend Jackie Kashian— to see anyone’s risking and repeat is a great joy. I just saw Eddie Pepitone last week and he blew my brainbox.

SB: What is your idea of artistic satisfaction?

MB: To keep trying new things, slow and steady production, and sharing with other comics good times and the horror, the horror.

SB: Austin, Texas, gets plenty of de rigueur compliments but since you’ve graced us with performances so often over the years, can offer some constructive criticism for Austin and/or our Austinites?

MB: Austinites are weird and should keep it that way. Hahahoho. The only thing I’d hope is that they don’t change into Dallas.

SB: Please finish this sentence: The one thing I’ve learned about stand-up comedy is ____.

MB: The one thing I’ve learned about stand-up is that I don’t know anything. And music mic stands look like praying mantises.

The Moontower Comedy & Oddity Fest is honored to present Maria Bamford

Wed, April 25th at Cap City Comedy Club @ 8:00PM

Thu, April 26th at Cap City Comedy Club @ 8:00PM

Fri, April 27th at the ND (She Bang’s special guest) @ 8:00PM

Fri, April 27th at The Parish (Show House) @10:00PM

Purchase Tickets Here. You can also get tickets and badges at the Paramount Theatre box office or by calling 512-474-1221.

The box office is open Monday – Saturday 12pm – 5:30pm and is closed on Sundays.

Visit Maria Bamford’s web site HERE

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Spotlight on Brendon Walsh

Brendon Walsh on Road Trip Pranks – Viewer Discretion per Language

April Fool’s Day probably feels like amateur night for comedian and wily prankster Brendon Walsh, a bona fide lust for lifer with an irrepressible penchant for amusing himself and making his own fun. Onstage, Walsh is a hilarious, devil-may-care raconteur and not to imply that he’s always “on,” but in person he is a trenchantly funny and charismatic rapscallion. Brendon Walsh is like a roving, one-man gang of Little Rascals. He’s akin to a Groucho of the Marxes, a Josie amongst Pussycats, and he’s someone who delights in the joys of fake moustaches, gag classified ads, and sham banners. Then, these real life hijinks yield original and killer material. However, Walsh elevates pranks to near performance art (and not the simple ramshackle on-set fright type of shit that made me abhor Mel Gibson long before it was in vogue).

In fact, when this Philadelphia native relocated to Austin, he cut his teeth as a quasi-performance artist— besuited and singing overwrought love songs while pretending to play the keyboards at Club de Ville and my memory of his first foray into the Funniest Person in Austin contest has him snacking from a jar of mayonnaise and reenacting Vietnam by tapping a spoon against glasses of water. But Brendon rapidly made up for the lost time (and then some) of starting stand-up at the age of 29 years old. In 2004, he won the “Funniest Person in Austin” contest and he then twice tied for “Best Stand-Up Comic” in the Austin Chronicle’s “Best of Austin” 2004 and 2005 Readers Poll. What’s followed has been an amassment of accolades, garnering a following the old fashioned way from nonstop touring, festival appearances, and TV credits (Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Premium Blend, Last Comic Standing, Funny as Hell for HBO Canada, Conan, John Oliver’s New York Stand-Up Show, TruTV’s Worlds Dumbest, and, my personal favorite, Boise, Idaho’s FOX 12 This Morning— for real, watch below). Walsh has already had a busy and productive 2012 and he’s primed for a colossal breakout [What can I say? The kid loves funnel cakes]. Seizing the opportunity to attend at least one of Brendon Walsh’s Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival performances is highly recommended. Comedy Moontower recently corresponded with Walsh via email from his home in Los Angeles.

Steve Birmingham: Congratulations on your March 1st Comedy Central Presents half-hour special taping. What can you tell us about how it went?

Brendon Walsh: Thanks! Spoiler alert: It went okay! The only weird thing that happened was that I was booed offstage, around the theater, and then booed back onto stage. It was the first time anything like that was ever caught on tape.

SB: In January you were on the Weezer Cruise with Doug Benson’s “Doug Loves Movies” podcast. Being out to sea (i.e., trapped) with a boatload of indie rock fans seems like the experience could’ve been a blast or a bit much. Was either the case, or both?

BW: It was definitely a unique experience. I’m a fan of Weezer but I was also super excited to see Dinosaur Jr. and Sebadoh perform. I’m a huge Sebadoh fan (Bakesale is one of my favorite albums ever) and I got to meet and shoot the shit with Lou Barlow, who is totally cool and I found out he lives in the neighborhood and we have mutual friends. We will have lunch! Also met a great band from Kentucky called Sleeper Agent; we hung out a lot on the boat. All the shows were great and I got to say the term “lido deck” every day. The other people on the boat were mostly cool with the exception of a few meatheads, but it can be expected that a hit-making band such as Weezer would have such a broad fan base. So there will be a few clunkers in there. Everybody was pretty drunk all the time as well which made for some fun and also annoying experiences. I couldn’t imagine going on a regular cruise— that would be hell.

SB: You and Doug were also featured on the Season 4 of NBC’s Last Comic Standing (which also elected not to sequester Jimmy Pardo and Tig Notaro as well). If picked, I wouldn’t sneeze at the potential network ducats and exposure but how much of a total lark did you regard the whole affair?

BW: I knew I wouldn’t make it far on that show. Most of my jokes were about hating babies and having diarrhea. Top-notch stuff! Frankly, I didn’t even want to audition for the show but was kind of browbeaten into doing it. I even got monumentally drunk the night before in a passive aggressive attempt to oversleep for my appointment, but I forgot to turn my cell phone off and was woken up by the club calling me the next morning. That being said, I’m glad I did the show. It was a fun experience, put a few bucks in my pocket, and I made some great friends like Nikki Glaser, Chris Porter, Matt Fulchiron— actually everyone was cool except for one lady who was a fucking bitch. I don’t remember her name. God she sucked. It was crazy that neither Benson nor Tig made it further than they did that year, too.

SB: Bill Cosby, Noam Chomsky, and Norman Fell are fellow alumni of your alma mater, Central High School in Philadelphia. You started stand-up in Austin when you were 29 years old but did going to the same high school as Bill Cosby plant some sense of “it can be done”?

BW: You forgot Larry Fine (Three Stooges) and Teller (Penn & Teller)! The Cos and I were both kicked out of Central after a couple years. I was and still am a huge fan of Bill Cosby’s albums. I listened to Wonderfulness and Why Is There Air? constantly as a kid. I don’t know why it took me so long to start doing comedy. I’m kind of a late bloomer in a lot of regards (no pubes yet).

SB: What were you like in high school? Class clown? Bully? Ringleader?

BW: I was the ringleader of a gang of bully class clowns. We were violent and hilarious!

SB: When you were on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast [episode #210, 9/15/11], you mentioned meeting a woman at the Philly-based theater company where you were working who was a “pivotal person,” in that she opened your eyes to an artistic lifestyle. You commented how cool you thought it was that she was being paid $10k to design a teapot. You’d already had a lot of success by 2007 when you won $10K as the “Famecast Comedy Fenom,” but I was wondering when you cemented the sense that you are indeed a working artist?

BW: I don’t know how much “success” I had before winning the Famecast thing. I was really just scraping by at that time and my personal life was a complete mess. I haven’t really had a day job since 2005ish, so maybe then? It just kind of gradually evolves from being a novel, weird way to live then it just becomes the way things are and that’s how you make your living. The $10K came in handy, but the contest was a dirty, hate-filled, shit contest that really brought out the worst in people. It was all based on online voting which is extremely flawed and pretty much guarantees that the best man will not always win. Except in that case.

SB: Was performing as “Scary Monster” on Jimmy Kimmel Live! your first network appearance? And how did that come about? It was such a great Kaufman-esque or sort of punk rock moment. The cameras were well positioned for disapproving and puzzled crowd reaction shots. What kind of vibe were you getting from the audience?

BW: Definitely the first thing I ever did on TV, I think. You can see the vibe the audience was giving off if you watch the clip. They did not dig me at all! In my defense, I saw guys giving out tickets to the show on Hollywood Boulevard and lying to people about who the guests were going to be. So by the time I came out, the crowd knew there will be no George Clooney and now they have to watch some asshole in a thrift store suit and a monster mask tell lousy jokes for five minutes. Overall, it was a cool experience with no real stakes because my face or name wasn’t there, which was good because I was really new to comedy and really under-rehearsed. I had the idea a couple weeks before being on the show. Howard Kremer saw me do Scary Monster in Austin and told me to submit it to Kimmel, so I did and they said, “Okay” and flew me out. It’s an OK piece of tape but I can definitely see how green I was when I watch it. Speaking of green, I smoked a ton of weed before the taping that day which probably didn’t help the performance.

SB: What’s your worst road gig experience?

BW: I was robbed at gunpoint in Cleveland when I was on tour with Neil Hamburger and Todd Barry last year. I went for a walk into the wrong part of town after a show and bumped into the wrong dudes. I think Neil and Todd were the masterminds behind the robbery, but I can’t prove anything. They were wearing all kinds of expensive new jewelry the next day, which I found suspicious but the cops refused to investigate them. The whole thing was actually pretty intense but everything worked out and I’m not murdered or anything yet. Jeez that really sucked.

SB: You have toured with and opened for Doug Stanhope for a long time. Can you talk about how he has influenced you, your approach to stand-up, and performing?

BW: Doug has been a huge influence on me. He’s a great guy and one of my best friends. I think I’m pretty lucky that he took me under his wing so early in my career. He’s so different than any other comedian out there. Actually, he is one of the most unique people I’ve ever met. The way he lives his life is amazing. He’s like a bad kid cutting school who makes a living by pushing people’s buttons and causing a ruckus then he goes home to his Pee-Wee’s Playhouse-style home in the desert where he is all about lifting and laying out. He’s tan as shit and ripped as fuck.

SB: You appeared on Premium Blend in 2006 with Aziz Ansari. Damon Wayans was the host and he opened the show with— how do I put this diplomatically— an embarrassingly horrible and sub-hack impression of the sounds made by a Chinese and African couple having sex. What did you think when you heard that? And also it sounded like you shouted out someone’s name at the end of your set (as if a bet were made)?

BW: Man, I don’t remember Daymon Wayans’ set, but that bit sounds hilarious! At the end of my set I said, “Seacrest out!” but the band started playing before I could say it so I wound up yelling it into the microphone like a maniac.

SB: You were initially pretty turned off by the comedy scene here at open mics and Daily Brink quoted you as saying, “…People weren’t as thick-skinned in Austin and I really enjoy ballbusting, edgier humor.” I’ll certainly attest to you being one of the most naturally funny and spirited comics on and offstage but can you describe the degree of bittersweetness you have with feeling like you held back a bit against being part of a fairly celebrated wave of local comedy with Chris Fairbanks, Martha Kelly, and others?

BW: Thanks, man. I had a great time in Austin with all those guys. I didn’t really make myself clear in that other article. I was just speculating about how I would have developed as a comedian in a tougher, more competitive environment like NYC as opposed to the super laid-back vibe in Austin. I don’t really feel like I really held anything back in Austin. I just smoked too much pot for a few years there.

SB: You’re renown for your inventive pranks [Walsh recounts pranking and re-pranking comedian Chris Fairbanks in Aspen on WTF episode #210]. What’s a recent one that proved satisfying?

BW: I felt bad about how the Fairbanks thing unfolded, but it wound up okay with no hard feelings in the end. The most satisfying thing I did recently was my friend Tall Jon and I hung up some banners on an abandoned Circuit City in my neighborhood that read “Coming Soon! Whole Foods Silver Lake.” Everyone got really excited then really confused.

SB: You’ve performed at Montreal’s Just for Laughs, San Francisco’s Sketchfest, The Aspen Rooftop Comedy Festival, SXSW, Fun Fun Fun Fest, Bridgetown, Vancouver and soon Moontower. What’s one thing people should know about attending festivals?

BW: Wear sensible shoes and bring a jacket.

SB: What’s something you’ve been waiting to see changed already, dammit!?

BW: My attitude.

SB: In closing, is there anything you’d like to say to Austin, Texas?

BW: I love you, you drunken tattooed slut!


 

The Moontower Comedy & Oddity Fest Proudly Presents Brendon Walsh

 At the Parish as part of the kick ass lineup for “Show House” (From the minds of Duncan Trussell)

 4/26/12 – 4/28/12 @ 10:00PM (3 Events)

GA $15 Thursday

GA $17 Friday / Saturday

Purchase Tickets Here. You can also get tickets and badges at the Paramount Theatre box office or by calling 512-474-1221. The box office is open Monday – Saturday 12pm – 5:30pm and is closed on Sundays. Check moontowercomedyfestival.com for other appearances and announcements.

Visit Brendon’s web site and follow him on Twitter

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Spotlight on Andy Kindler

Andy Kindler’s masterful sharp-wittedness is a divining rod for the unintentionally funny. His sway over the absurd and ridiculous is such that they can be playthings or mapped out in meticulous sequence. Kindler is widely recognized from his copious television credits like his guest set and correspondent work for the Late Show with David Letterman but he is notorious for pulling no punches when blasting fellow comedians and show business, most notably at his annual State of the Industry address at Montreal’s Just for Laughs Festival. But Kindler delivers far more than calling “birthday suit” on someone’s new duds. For however candid his bits may be, Kindler’s barbs are couched in the finest joke writing and a signature delivery that is without real animus. Deep down, this Leave It to Beaver-loving kid from Queens is championing “lasting quality.”

Andy Kindler recently spoke to Comedy Moontower from his home in Southern California prior to crossing the globe to perform at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Mr. Kindler couldn’t have been more jovial or generous with his time and insight and although the transcript format doesn’t lend itself to denoting my recurrent and hearty laughter, I can foretell your cackling just from his bon mots on NBC’s Whitney, Robin Williams, a bar mitzvah and Monet. The Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival is proud to present Andy Kindler in person and here in ones and zeros.

Steve Birmingham: So it’s a real honor to talk with you. I’m a longtime fan so…

Andy Kindler: Well I appreciate that. Good to hear.

SB: Well it’s true and without just totally blowing sunshine your way, everybody is very excited to have you as part of the festival down here so it’s…

AK: Me too! I love Austin so much and I’m hoping we can knock down, destroy the SXSW festival. Take it over somehow.

SB: [Laughs] Well, you know, I think that’s the plan.

AK: Dismantle it, event by event. Maybe I’m going too far?

SB: No, no, no. Eyes on the prize.

AK: You’re with me on it then right?

SB: Exactly. I’m curious; the “Don’t Mess with Texas” slogan was originally an anti-littering campaign but was that readily apparent to you? Or did it just seem like Texas bravado?

AK: Well one of my early jokes I think was actually a misunderstanding of the …was it a bumper sticker or on the license plates?

SB: Bumper stickers for sure and perhaps plate frames.

AK: I don’t even remember the joke but the idea was like, “Oh yeah, like I’m going to start something with Texas. I’m 5’5’ and a half.” [Laughs] It wasn’t until some time later that I realized it was about littering so I didn’t change the joke because I dropped it [laughs]. The joke still kind of worked because it is an aggressive anti-littering campaign. They’re like, “Well, I’ll punch you in the face if you throw something on the highway.” That’s kind of where it’s going to.

SB: And I think it’s also been appropriated as a stand-alone kind of slogan.

AK: Yes, but then Rick Perry now stands as the image of Texas.

SB: [Deep sigh] Um, yeah. What part of New York did you grow up in?

AK: Queens. Whitestone, Queens, which is not too far from Shea Stadium. Right near Flushing, where the tennis center is.

SB: I understand you’re the youngest of three kids. Was there a lot of laughter in the Kindler household or did it seem about the same as your friend’s families?

AK: I was misled by my family because everyone in my family is either extremely funny, like my dad is extremely funny or my mom is unintentionally funny. I thought everyone was hilarious. I just thought that was a normal thing and then I realized later, no everyone isn’t hilarious. There were two reasons why it took me a while to get into stand-up. I wanted to be a musician. I was a musician when I was younger so I pursued that for a while. But then I took a sense of humor for granted (I just assumed) and I didn’t realize that not everybody has a sense of humor. Actually one of my favorite quotes from Jonathan Winters is like, “Most people don’t have a sense of humor. They think they do but they don’t.” So when I first started playing clubs, I realized everybody doesn’t necessarily have a sense of humor. Although now it’s different because I feel like comedy is in a renaissance right now.

SB: I agree.

AK: If the word “renaissance” can be used in relation. It’s not a Reformation. It’s not medieval times now.

SB: Well, a lot of women might disagree with that given the political climate, but no I totally agree. So the fact that your household was so humorous, were you drawn to any comedians on TV or as a youngster was stand-up and comedy not something that was especially on your radar given that you were pursuing music?

AK: Well when I was about eight I played a lot of corporate gigs, no. That’s my idea of a joke. Well the one thing I don’t think I said clearly was that my main influence was my dad because my dad was hilarious every minute of the day and so he was really a huge influence. I always think about this: My earliest influences were more with sitcoms. I remember watching Ed Sullivan when I was a little kid but I was so much more taken by when the Beatles came out. When Davy Jones died, I was talking about how I used to love watching The Monkees when I was a kid. I thought they were the most hilarious show. They were like the greatest comedians, but I haven’t watched it since then [laughs] so I don’t know if it holds up. But it wasn’t until I got into like high school; then I started to become aware of Richard Pryor. And then in 1975 when Saturday Night Live came out (even though I’ve never been like a sketch person), that was a huge influence on me, and Steve Martin. And then when the [Late Night with] David Letterman show came out— that was a revelation to me. But I also loved Johnny. I loved Johnny Carson too, but he wasn’t quite my generation. Comedians like Jackie Gleeson, Dick Van Dyke, and Bob Newhart; I saw Bob Newhart’s sitcom before I heard his stand-up. So it wasn’t from an early age I was like stand-up driven, you know, to watch stand-ups.

SB: Gotcha. I can certainly appreciate that with your father being hilarious. It wasn’t like there was this vacuum. So was it the violin you were playing at the time?

AK: When I was in third grade, my mom claims to have heard me say, “Oh, I like the violin,” and then within two weeks I was having lessons. And then I loved it for about another two weeks and then I hated it. Not hated it, I liked playing it, but I hated practicing more than anything else. But because I transferred my parental feelings about my mother to my violin teacher, it only took me until the second year of high school to have the courage to tell her I didn’t like it [laughs]. So I played violin way, way longer than I would have liked to but I was using it as an opportunity to deal with my emotional issues. And then I switched to guitar in high school. I broke my left arm in my sophomore year of high school. I was always pretty much the shortest in school, so the only way you could play basketball by the rules in gym is if I got to the foul line first or if I hit a foul shot then I could be the captain. So I was running so fast, I tripped over someone’s leg and broke my left arm. And so for two months I could hold, my sister played guitar, and I could hold the guitar and move my fingers and so I started playing guitar, which I fell in love with and started writing songs and stuff.

SB: Awesome. Well not that you broke your arm but…

AK: [Laughs] I’m over it. I think I’m over it now although it still cracks. It still cracks especially if I straighten my arm really fast [laughs] and keep doing that all day long. I can feel it crack.

SB: You’d mentioned Richard Pryor, and with exceptions, like say George Carlin or Bill Hicks, the history of stand-up and its finest purveyors basically seems to be the story of Jewish folks. If you search for Lutheran humorists, there’s Garrison Keillor. Period. Without researching it maybe Maria Bamford has a bit of Lutheranism in her family, but why do Jews utterly dominate this art form?

AK: And also let’s add on to that, I mean how funny is Garrison Keillor really?

SB: Yeah, that’s why I used “humorist” instead of “comedian.” But yeah, Prairie Home is kind of Yankee Hee-Haw but I do think he’s bright and writes some good articles and essays.

AK: Yeah. My favorite thing that he does is “The Writer’s Almanac.”  I think that’s so sweet. When I first heard [A Prairie Home Companion], I thought it was the greatest thing and then like four weeks in, like, I don’t want to hear Guy Noir one more time [laughs]. I think what you’re saying is true about the Jewish thing. Lenny Bruce who was also a huge influence not, obviously, as a kid but later on I got semi-obsessed with listening to his stuff because I feel with the way he talks, I feel so close to him. But he has a whole thing about how black people and Jewish people learned to entertain because they were slaves, and so they learned how to get out of being a slave by being entertaining. It’s a really great bit because the slave owner is like [spot on channeling Bruce’s lilt], “Oh Jewish person come over here and be charming” [laughs]. Oh, I probably should say that one of my earliest big influences was Woody Allen but not his stand-up but all those movies. But it’s the long string of self-deprecation and also reacting to maybe thousands of years of oppression. Either you get more depressed or you react to it with comedy so that’s why I think Jewish people have always been part of that tradition. I don’t know if Jews are funnier… I used to have this joke that Jews are funny even when they don’t know they are being funny. I have two examples of that: My friend Bill Kaufman (who used to be my comedy partner when I started), like when Whitney Houston’s song first came out and we’re driving down the street and the song is like, “How will I know? How will I know?” and my friend Bill looked at the radio and goes [flatly enunciating], “You’ll know Whitney. Believe me, you’ll know.” That’s an example. He wasn’t even trying to be funny. And the other example I use is when Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel reunited for this big concert in Central Park and my dad’s Jewish friend is looking at Paul Simon and he turns to me and he says, “That Paul Simon is okay. He’s not one of these jazzed up characters in a cockamamie outfit.” That was another example. To him there was nothing funny about that [laughs] but I never heard “jazzed up,” “character,” and “cockamamie” all in one sentence so beautifully used.

SB: [Laughing] That’s marvelous.

AK: I sold stereos in the ‘80s. I did all these sales jobs and I met Bill as a stereo salesman. Currently, he’s a marriage and family therapist [MFT] but he convinced me to do stand-up.

SB: Can you recall your very first open mic experience? How it went and where and when that was and what you may have talked about?

AK: So many events that I remember that are so clear and changing… like we were at a company picnic for the stereo store; it’s so funny to say “stereo store.” It sounds like the oldest word in the world. It’s like “record player.” So I was doing impressions of all the people who worked for the company and I would not say I’m the world’s greatest mimic but I can kind of get the gist of people and my friend Bill said, “Well have you ever thought about doing stand-up?” And I really hadn’t. I’d been to The Comedy Store when I first moved to Los Angeles, it’s not like something I had never thought of. But in college, I did a lot of theater and summer camp. I was always doing acting things but I was so strongly musically oriented, it never occurred to me to not do music and do something else. And so he convinced me, so my first open mic things were with him. And I have to say I don’t necessarily recommend that you comedians be in a duo but it certainly cushioned the rejection blow because I think it would have been worse. I mean it wasn’t fun— you put your name in the hat at the Improv. And we did the same thing at The Comedy Store and then there were all these different little coffee shops and stuff like that. I think the first three-minute thing we did might have actually been at this place in Lomita, California, which was an Italian restaurant called Seymour Hamm’s and it was a community theatre restaurant. Then I did that for two or three years but not performing every night but then I started to get really restless and realized it was too confining for me. A duo is just hard. I don’t know how anybody does it. And then I went out on my own and I’ve told this story before but it’s actually true that one of the first times I went on my own I bombed so badly that I was sobbing on the way home. The first time I did it on my own was Seymour Hamm’s. And it was just awful.

SB: Wow.

AK: And one of the clubs that I started out at with Bill too but also on my own was a club called Igby’s. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of that?

SB: Yeah I have.

AK: It was in West Los Angeles and I don’t know if this is true but it’s the weirdest name of a club. Jan Smith was the owner of the club. He was one of the original owners of The Icehouse, which is like this venerable club in Pasadena out here that I’ve never really enjoyed that much because the crowd is trained to laugh like hyenas and you just feel uncomfortable. So he opened up his own club and the rumor (which I think it’s true) is that he called it “Igby’s” so that in the phone book it was between The Icehouse and the Improv when people were looking it up.

SB: That’s kind of clever. Now when you mentioned you cried on the way home, if my memory serves me, Jim Carrey’s first time went so horribly that he passed for another year or so before he took another crack at it.

AK: Well that’s interesting because when I saw Liar Liar, I said, “That’s it! I’m not going to see any more Jim Carey movies for several years.” One thing that is interesting is when people come up or anybody imagines himself or herself doing stand-up. You go, “How do you do it? People ask that all the time. But the thing I don’t think people realize is that it’s like anything else. When you first do it you are scared. The comedian who is not scared to do it, I think, is probably not someone funny. It’s a frightening thing but I don’t think people realize that (I don’t know if you’ve ever tried stand-up) but you just do like a minute when you start— two minutes, three minutes as awful as it is. And many, many comedians have that story, which I think I had too, which is maybe after the first couple times, and then I had a really good set. Then that’s a false sense of, “Oh okay, now I’m over the hump,” but you never really get over the hump. Ever.

SB: [I mentioned that I was an employee at The Comedy Store for a couple years in the early ‘90s.]

AK: In the early ‘90s, the thing about The Comedy Store was …[owner] Mitzi’s daughter, her name is Sandy Shore. You remember her?

SB: I do.

AK: So she had seen me at another club when I was first starting out— Sammy Shore had a little fish restaurant in Marina Del Rey [Sammy’s Comedy by the Shore] and I would play there all the time. And his daughter Sandy saw me there and so she kind of got me to audition for Mitzi. It was like there are so many things I am willing to do in life but there are a couple of things I am not willing to do, like when they said, “Okay Mitzi liked you and you can work the door.” And I was like, “You know what? I’m willing to do a lot of things but I don’t want to work the door at The Comedy Store.” It’s so weird where you draw the line sometimes. It didn’t seem appropriate to me that you have people who are doing odd jobs around The Comedy Store. “I’m a comedian but I’m also a carpenter.” Also the environment there always frightened me a little bit.

SB: [I had back-tracked for a clarification on Seymour Hamm’s in Lomita.]

AK: It’s right near Torrance and it’s funny, well not that funny when I think of my early jokes— I said, “The chef here…” because I don’t remember it being a great restaurant but, “The chef here, [sounding green but selling it] Chef Boyardee [laughing], told me the secret ingredient in the Italian sauce is ketchup.” That’s just the grade of joke I was doing back then. This was like a little club where all these people who did community theatre in Torrance would hang out at this club but I never saw the theatre itself around there.

SB: I believe you attended Binghamton University, if I’m saying that correctly?

AK: Exactly, the State University of New York at Binghamton does not roll off the tongue.

SB: And I guess you went during the Ford and Carter administrations. I was wondering if you could describe what the prevailing zeitgeist seemed to be on campus during your time there?

AK: As you could well imagine, we were all excited about Ford [laughs]. I partied during, well let’s say this, the character of Andy Kindler may have done a lot of partying at school and it was fantastic! I loved college. First of all, I was a Grateful Deadhead, I was in a band, I was in kind of a popular band at school, and I was an English literature major (which I actually loved), and there was all this partying going on. But my senior year, I’ll never forget people in the spring saying, “We’re done, we’re done, we’re finished! Can you believe it?” I was like [exasperatedly], “What are you excited about? Why would you want this to end?” So I just loved it because it was beautiful in upstate New York and after college I went right to Los Angeles and that was quite a slap in the face because I thought I’d get out to L.A., I would audition for a play, then I would go and find if my name was on the bulletin board, but it didn’t work out that way.

SB: You know I’m just curious, how did your bar mitzvah go and did that involve a certain amount of pressure or stage fright or not?

AK: Well it’s kind of sad; it’s not sad but I was part of the baby boom generation so there were so many kids getting bar mitzvahed that I actually had to have a double bar mitzvah which was very emotionally crushing to me at the time. And then I wanted to sing my Haftorah portion. Not that I had the greatest voice but the other guy didn’t want to sing. So I felt limited that way but I actually loved doing it. Well I was a reformed Jew, so one of my jokes is; “I’m a reformed Jew so my rabbi was Catholic.” You got to write your own speech and that was my first example of censorship because I wrote this little original speech and at the end of the speech it said, “It doesn’t matter whether you are black or white, rich or poor, male or female, just as long as you’re Jewish.” That’s what I wrote [emphatically] as a joke and the rabbi changed it to “just as long as you’re a good person.”

SB: Wow, so the moment you’re officially becoming a man you get the brutal beat down of how the world…

AK: By the man! I’m becoming a man but the man won’t let me be a man. But one of my early jokes was that I don’t remember much about my bar mitzvah [with Yiddish inflection] but I do remember that I killed! The rabbi couldn’t follow me! I got six applause breaks during my Haftorah reading.

SB: This is a little random but I’m just curious if you had any thoughts about Hogan’s Heroes?

AK: I remember when it came out. Gilbert Gottfried actually has a really hilarious bit about Hogan’s Heroes. I don’t remember all of it, but the idea of them pitching it, [in Gottfried’s voice] “I have a great idea: Concentration camps! No not concentration camps, prisoner of war camp.” I don’t where it’s available but it’s so funny. He has a couple of really funny ones like, “How did Henry Winkler get The Fonz? [à la Gottfried] “I got a great idea for you, for The Fonz. A young Jewish kid, Henry Winkler, he’ll be perfect!” I know I didn’t do any of those bits [laughing] justice. But I thought that Hogan’s Heroes was like the greatest sitcom. I didn’t even think about it in relation to…

SB: The Third Reich [laughs].

AK: …being inappropriate [laughs] or that it was wrong. Of course, I don’t think I could watch one episode now but I was so sitcom-crazy. I mean I watched shows like Donna Reed. I loved Leave It To Beaver, which I actually think is a great show. I love Andy Griffith, so I think I projected my own childhood desire. To me there’s something about sitcoms where you would disappear in the world. I just loved the idea: These guys snuck out at night and they were having such a great time during [laughing] World War II and Shultz was hilarious and I’m sure there were so many loveable Nazis like Schultz and Klink. So yeah but it is an awful, awful, terrible, terrible show.

SB: Let’s talk about sitcoms today, tabling the fact that there are some wonderful shows like 30 Rock or Louie and some really interesting television like Mad Men. ABC made a show called Work It and then rightly cancelled it after two episodes. And I guess the producers did Friends. So do you think it was a matter of like, “Hey these guys have made so much money. We’ll just kind of let them do their thing,” or is there, not to ape Gottfried, a pitch meeting where they go, “How about a charmless and degenerate Bosom Buddies?” This show had two guys dress up like women to get a jobs but it…

AK: Oh, I know that one. I missed that one. That sounds like it would have exactly been up my alley of terrible entertainment like watching the Celebrity Apprentice.

SB: FOX finally pulled the plug on a show called I Hate My Teenage Daughter and I was just so struck by how much time and energy and money they spent on just promotion alone…

AK: Yeah.

SB: …ahead of its release. Then you think that it probably costs about the same amount of money to make a pretty good show versus a horrible one (as long as you have quality writers). These two shows were sub-lowest common denominator. There are always going to be some things scraping the barrel that will be big…

AK: Yeah you can’t always have all great stuff, but how does it get to this level? Well, on a very simple level, I think the way shows are pitched are like this, “Okay, there’s this guy named Earl and he has a list of things that he has to make amends for and that’s the show!” And then an executive will be like, “Oh that sounds good. That sounds like something I can pitch to the people above me and it makes sense.” So many times you’ll see a show where you go, “Why is the premise of this show so ridiculous?” Well that’s kind of the way it was sold because things that are good aren’t usually things that you can sum up in one logline or one saying. They usually think that if you just watch you’ll get it, you know? So I think it’s always this idea of (I didn’t see Work It), “We’ll get these guys to dress up like women and then it’ll be great!” And somehow they get convinced and they get into this world where they think it could work and then the other part is that it’ll be someone like Whitney Cummings. For some reason, all the sudden they decide it’s got to be Whitney Cummings. “She’s going to be the one.” Or it’s like Chelsea Handler. “Ooh she’s got that show that kids love on “E!” Let’s give her the reigns.” I mean I don’t even understand the difference between 2 Broke Girls and Are You There, Chelsea? I don’t understand. I tweeted that they should merge those shows. There’s no operating philosophy. It’s like Kramer on Seinfeld was funny not because he had long hair…

SB: Right.

AK: But then if you look at these sitcoms, there’s always one person they try and make the crazy Kramer type. And I think a lot of it has to do with the multinational corporatization of these networks. So they’re run more and more by faceless people interested in the bottom line. And that’s why reality shows are so popular. “If we can get people’s attention to watch Snookie or The Voice or The X Factor,” it’s like this constant race to the bottom to get these eyeballs but there’s very few people doing it the real way which is like, “Oh this resonates with me. This is funny. Let’s put it on the air.” It’s almost always some kind of angle. And again, anything that you could describe in one sentence probably isn’t going to be good.

SB: Do you think we’re just past the regular occurrence of scripted shows like M.A.S.H. (how old am I?) and such because they’re more expensive or…?

AK: I don’t think so. I love Modern Family. I think Modern Family couldn’t be more of a traditional show in terms of the setup. The setup is like a traditional multi…well it’s not multi camera. It’s single camera but it is like a regular sitcom but I think it’s just great. To me, the most encouraging signs right now are all the different cable channels. I love IFC. I love Portlandia. And so I think that what’s encouraging for someone like me is in the older days (like in the ‘90s), they would look at someone like me and they would go, “What is he?” I don’t have that Tim Allen appeal or I don’t have the…

SB: Congratulations on that by the way.

AK: [Laughs] … the old broad-based appeal. They were so concerned back then about having that but now something like Mad Men, which someone was saying it gets half the audience of some other show whatever, but look at the cultural [impact]. I mean I love Mad Men. And actually, the wife and me were watching the last three episodes of Season 4 right now to get ready for Sunday [the premiere of Season 5]. The one thing that used to drive me crazy when I had these meetings with HBO years and years ago and I would say, “I love Larry Sanders,” (back then) and their response was, “Well, a lot of people don’t watch Larry Sanders.” So that’s what their executive response was. This was back in the ‘90s. The truth is the fact that The Larry Sanders Show came out was what attracted David Chase to HBO. It’s like you can never go wrong doing something great. AMC was floundering before Mad Men came along. But then the thing too is there is also still the copying thing like FX. I don’t watch that show It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia. The mistake (well the head of FX has a really good reputation, I forget his name now, sorry, but [John Landgraf] really did take chances) but then I think there’s this thing like, “Okay, well then let’s have other shows like this Sunny in Philadelphia show.”

SB: Yeah.

AK: But that’s not the way you do it. Your brand, I’ve always hated the word “brand” except when you refer to smoking a Marlboro and that’s your brand. But okay, “Our brand is this,” Then they try and copy that or it’s like when they try to make something subversive. To me, Saturday Night Live was subversive when it came out. Not because they were trying to be, they just happen to be. To me, David Letterman is subversive but not because he’s trying to be. He’s from that long line of making fun of the comedy he’s doing. So there is a constant attempt to replicate the last thing that was popular. And that’s even true with artists. Like I don’t know if you’ve seen Ricky Gervais’ new show, Life’s Too Short?

SB: I have HBO but I have yet to take it in.

AK: You know I love the original Office and when he starts to drive me crazy is when he’s been hosting the Golden Globes. Something has become egomaniacal about the guy. He’s still one of my favorites but Life’s Too Short seems to me like re-churning out The Office. It’s the same documentary crew thing. It’s a very mean spirit, so even an artist who can be extremely creative can get into the trap of trying to reproduce what he’s done before or maybe even know what to do again. And I think on the network level, there is this constant chasing of the tail— of your own tail. I always tell people if you took anybody of normal intelligence off the street and just said, “For the next six months watch comedy. Don’t prejudge. Have your mind open.” After six months, you would be familiar with comedians and you would understand them. But mostly at the network level they don’t know what’s going on. Someone’s telling them what’s going on so it’s this constant race to the bottom in terms of copying and trying to redo what’s been done before and it almost never works.

SB: My understanding is that shows like Cheers and The Dick Van Dyke Show didn’t have very good ratings for quite a while but the networks stuck behind them. And I also recall 30 Rock came out around the same time as Aaron Sorkin’s Studio 60: Live On The Sunset Strip, And I just remember this glut of articles and ghoulish speculation after 30 Rock had barely started, “Oh the ratings are only this. Can the show survive?” Have network shows lost the chance to find an audience?

AK: A lot of times networks will give lip service. My theory has been a great show should never be taken off the air, ever, because you’re just going to replace it with something and there’s always going to be shows that don’t get amazing ratings anyway— so why don’t you have something good on that brings respect? Because then we have, “Well we know CBS is going to be great,” but so they always give lip service to it but they’re in such a business where they are worried about their own job and they’re worried about their own company. There’s always this panic that ensues in terms of whether we should keep it on the air or not. But almost every successful show has been under the radar. Seinfeld is the classic show business story where it had terrible focus group results and nobody at the network got it but they kind of let it find its way. Same thing: Everybody Loves Raymond was on Friday night but to Les Moonves’ credit, he got that it was really good. I did this DVD called I Wish I Was Bitter and the concept was that I’m not bitter. If I was bitter I would just give up but I’m always optimistic that things are going to work out. So I always feel like the cream does rise to the top but then there’s always going to be a whole bunch of mediocre stuff that rises to the top like the whole reality show craze. Sometimes I watch Extra, whatever the show is, [and have] the idea that if you put an alien in the world from twenty years ago and now they wouldn’t even understand why people are so crazy over The Bachelor (laughs) or that part of society where people just love celebrity. There’s no lasting quality to that.

SB: I’m kind of at the point where if folks like a lip-synching band or it’s more about choreography than music— if that brings someone enjoyment (something I may view without any artistic merit); it’s fine. But yet… wow I just completely brain-froze where that was going…

AK: Well I know where you’re going with that. The degree to which I get upset about what’s on TV or things like that, the other side of it is, it is where I get almost all of my comedy from so I hope terrible things don’t go away because I won’t have anything to make fun of and you know most comedy to me doesn’t come from anger necessarily but some kind of reaction to how ridiculous things are. So the argument, which is that we kind of live and let live, I definitely agree with that. People say, “You really don’t like Carrot Top?” or whatever the thing was. I don’t even know half the people that I’m making fun of; it’s nothing personal. Actually I do know Carrot Top. I’ve met him a few times. He’s very sweet but it’s nothing personal about these things. It’s not like life or death. It’s more like, “I just think it’s funny.” I have a joke that NBC has bought out my peripheral vision so every time I look to my left or my right it says, “Watch Whitney, Thursdays at Eight!” NBC made a deal with the people who flash your life before your eyes before you die and they’re going to promote Whitney. To me, there’s a funny ethic. And then sometimes, not so much now, but sometimes on Twitter rage will be coming out of but I get way more upset about Republicans using racism to get elected. Like Donald Trump, I find him to be a despicable human being and the fact that he would be a birther and all that stuff. And I still watch Celebrity Apprentice (no, I can’t watch that much of it) but it’s so, so horrible that I still enjoy how horrible it is. And the other thing I was talking to my wife about is that the reason why there are so many reality shows is that every once in a while there’s like a real moment, an actual moment on the reality show. It’s almost as if they had a car accident every week at Nine on TV. Look at the car accident.

SB: Yeah, it’s called The Kardashians. You mentioned your DVD and I see that you’re selling a special collector’s edition with a 2003 glossary. I was wondering if you might be able to share a couple of entries from way back in the early Aughts?

AK: Yeah yeah, I’m very proud of the glossary [laughs], it explains what’s happened in 2003. So one would be George Lopez, but this is recorded in 2003, George Lopez hadn’t reemerged as the talk show guy again so I was assuming that when people read this glossary that you would not ever have heard from him again. But he reemerged so I write, “George Lopez: This television magician was able to produce laughs without the use of humor. His long running, barely-watched show was cancelled in the year 2007 but sputters on in syndication somewhere. Check your local listings with a magnifying glass. If a tree falls in the forest, chances are that George Lopez will not have anything funny to say about it.” Then this is one that people do not even remember. I do a thing about the ABC Miners. Remember when the miners were caught in the mine and they got out of the mine and ABC made a movie about it [The Pennsylvania Miner’s Story]? So ABC Miners: “Remember the trapped coalminers who were rescued in Pennsylvania and then ABC cheapened it by making it into a TV movie.” “Crank Yankers: Puppets and phony phone calls have never been funny. Combining them was a stroke of genius. Denis Miller: You wouldn’t truly believe it. Before he became a shill for the right wing, Dennis Miller was a stand-up comic. In fact there was a brief time when he was hilarious then he decided to suck forever.”

SB: I’ve read that Dave largely just speaks with his guests while on camera, but I’m just wondering if from your many appearances and correspondent work for Late Show with David Letterman, if there is one kind of standout memory or thing you may have discussed that is something that really sticks with you?  

AK: The thing, which I actually think is a great thing, that he does is like whatever kind of relationship we are going to have— let’s leave that for when the cameras are on because I think it works. I think Johnny Carson was also like that. And sometimes I get to talk to him when he’s showing the video of whatever piece we’ve done. So we talk a little bit. But I guess my favorite moment, there are so many favorite moments, but my favorite moment was once where I was saying the movie King Kong came out. You know the remake? Where I think Jack Black was in there, right?

SB: Correct.

AK: I said, “Yeah and they go to this island where these large flying pterodactyls come at them and all these terrible bugs and they have to go through all these terrible things on the island. At one point Robin Williams jumps out from behind a bush and does ten minutes, just awful things.” And I was looking at him [laughing] and I just saw this little gleam in his eye. I could see that that joke made him happy, and that made me really happy because he really is the guy who is my comedy hero. So when I’m on that show, I’m never going to not be awestruck by it.

SB: I’ve heard a few comedians say that if a joke doesn’t work three times in front of an audience they’ll ditch it from their act. I’m not a comic but I think I would have a tough time letting go of something I thought was funny.

AK: Right.

SB: Now to great effect, you often provide onstage commentary on a bit’s success or underperformance. Is there any correlation between that and keeping something in your act that you’re fond of or is it mainly just part of the style that you know works for you and for audiences?

AK: Well I was actually going to write this, I was working on this tweet or joke that… Louis C.K. does this whole thing where he does all this material and then after a year he doesn’t do it again. Once he does the material after a year he won’t ever repeat it and so I’m kind of like in the opposite school. Obviously if you get booked back to a club you don’t want to be doing the same material but I always feel like if I want to go back to the vaults or if I want to add on to a joke, I always feel the license to do it. But in the same manner of Louis C.K.’s getting rid of your material after a year, I now will be promising to start dropping bits that I thought were hilarious for years but that no one laughed at. I’m going to start dropping them now. Because my thing is like, I never drop something if I think it’s funny and I definitely don’t do the three-joke thing (you said someone said after three times they do it) because the thing is that either the joke is only meant for a few people to like it. Like I have a joke that says, “The great artist Monet before he would start a painting, he would yell out to no one in particular, ‘Do you people like Impressionism?’” and depending on the reaction he would paint more realistically.” Now a lot of people get it and a lot of people don’t but to me, I know that that joke is funny so I’m never going to drop it. But I have dropped things that after long, long times, months and months and months are getting no reaction because I feel like maybe there could be something I’m missing about the construction of the joke that I just don’t get. But if I really do know that the joke is written well and it’s funny I’ll keep it even if two people like it.

SB: Well good for you. Because I mean you’re the author of everything else they’re laughing at. Wrapping up, I’m just curious if you sometimes get jealous or angry when you hear another comedian deliver a really great new bit? Like, “Oh I wish I had thought of that”?  

AK: I never really do. I probably pride myself on being able to laugh at other people, so no. Obviously when you hear something and go, “Oh I wish I’d thought of that,” that’s more like, “Aw, he got to something that I may have at one point gotten to.” I have this line if I make fun of Leno or whoever where I say, “70% of the reason why I say these things is bitterness and jealousy and envy and the other 30% are just cheap shots.” So most of my envy and jealousy and whatever (I don’t consider myself bitter) is more about based on, “Why is this person so successful, why are they rich?” But not jealousy based on not wanting someone else to be funny. The weird thing about stand-up is there’s a competitive nature to every art form or business or whatever. I worked with this comic which I’m not going to say his name because I really don’t want to repeat his name but I worked with this comic a few weeks ago who tried to blow me off the stage and I just have never understood that kind of concept of comedy. It’s not that kind of competition.

SB: Andy in closing, I always love hearing if someone has a nightmare road story or an audience from hell. I was wondering if something sticks out from you from all your years of performing?

AK: One time, years and years ago, someone at The Laugh Factory just stood up and started to say, [dripping with sarcasm] “Oh you’re very funny.” I said, “Oh you have a problem sir?” “Nooo why would I have a problem when you are so hilarious?” “Well sir, you sound sarcastic.” “Nooo, why would there be sarcasm involved when you’re such an amazing…” and this went on for about three minutes where I thought maybe he was going to rush the stage and kill me. So that was one, and another gig I remember was a one-nighter in Canada. I used to do all these gigs in Canada. I remember flying into some obscure airport, driving on a road, and then going what seemed like off-road for another hour and then getting to this club, like a bar, where there was an infestation of this kind of flying moth and it just seemed like I was inhaling flies while I was doing my act and they also hated me. So that was like a night where I thought maybe it’s going to all end. Also one time on a one-nighter— I used do these gigs in the ‘80s or ‘90s where you’d have a comic and there would be music afterwards— and I was dancing with this girl. I looked to my right and there was a guy dancing next to me with a girl and I smiled at him and then the next second I think he dropped dead. I don’t know that he died, but it didn’t look good. It did not look good, and the ambulance came and so…and I still completed the tour. I didn’t get the omen.

SB: Well that speaks to your professionalism.

AK: [Laughs] Exactly.

SB: When was your awesome Hack’s Handbook” National Lampoon piece written and was there a certain impetus for that?

AK: Yeah, it was in 1991. It was right before the comedy boom from the ‘80s was about to implode and go away. And so Chris Marcil, there was another guy too (they’re now sitcom writers) they were editors at the Lampoon and I forget how the contact happened. But by that time I had already been known for making comments on other comedians and it was just this real, cathartic type of experience where I went through all the different things because there were so many hacky premises at that time. It just was one of those things, like it just came together. I was so proud of it. My friend Joe Madison, who’s a writer and a stand-up, contributed. One of my favorite things was “Anything’s funny with an attitude and then it’s even funnier on steroids.” That was going around. So then my friend Joe Madison came up with “Steroids are just vitamins with an attitude.” So it was all that kind of stuff and people kind of suggested things to me, and the editors at National Lampoon were amazing. I just had no idea that it would have such like a lasting impression. I’m so proud of it because people keep referring to it and they keep reading it and some people have even told me they’ve actually used it to try to do well at the club (like over the years) to see if the horrible jokes still work— and many times they do.

*

THE ANDY KINDLER SHOW

Hosted by Bil Dwyer with special guest Mary Lynn Rajskub

Thursday, April 26th
Doors @ 7:30pm | Show @ 8:30pm
Stateside at the Paramount

Purchase Tickets Here. You can also get them at the Paramount Theatre box office or by calling 512-474-1221. The box office is open Monday – Saturday 12pm – 5:30pm and is closed on Sundays. Stay tuned for other appearances and announcements.

Follow Andy Kindler on Twitter

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

A Conversation with Lucas Molandes

photo: Mindy Tucker

Austin-born, NYC-based comedian Lucas Molandes has the veritable King Midas touch except with tarnish, a wonderfully pitch-dark after-afterglowing palette of gallows humor, languor, and self-deprecation. Whether discussing drinking, drugs, stage moms, or slave wages, there’s no escaping the pull of Molandes’ worldview. Even the inspirational children’s story character The Little Engine That Could is imagined well after its moment of glory has faded into lurid squalor. However, Molandes is also an ardent proponent of carpe diem even if his motivation is seemingly the horror of the golden years. Where some see middle-aged men behaving badly as a mid-life crisis, he hails a “mid-life revival.”

Lucas Molandes, who won the 2010 Funniest Person in Austin contest, is an exceptional talent who has reassessed his approach to stand-up comedy and who traffics in a personal and conversational earnestness teeming with insight and sharp observations. Sourcing his life as an open book makes for a thrilling live experience and is evocative of Marc Maron, who has twice championed Molandes as a guest on his WTF podcast. Lucas Molandes is unquestionably funny but as you’ll learn, he isn’t satisfied with simply making laughs. Comedy Moontower recently sat down with Lucas at the Cap City Comedy Club in advance of his much-anticipated and highly recommended Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival appearance.

Steve Birmingham: Can you tell me about your Catholic upbringing?

Lucas Molandes: At the time I don’t think it really registered that it was different. Because since then my parents haven’t gone to church in a long time and they were the ones who made us do the whole sit down and kneel and praying for an hour long and trying not to fall asleep and then going into church class, which I ended up getting kicked out of after eighth grade. I made a voodoo doll out of felt and I thought it was funny. And our teacher just had had enough of us. Yeah, so we got kicked out of church class and then my parents just stopped making me go to church. Just sort of gave up. I think they were like, “We tried.”

SB: Was the voodoo doll something you thought that was just fun to make or was it also kind of some measure of commentary on how you felt about being there?

LM: I don’t think it was commentary… I didn’t understand church and religion really in that way but I did understand being subversive and doing something just to mess with [people]. One of my favorite books is “Confederacy of Dunces” and where they talk about the guy who works in the bar. He’s sweeping the floor but he only sweeps the dirt in a line. So the dirt’s still there, it just looks cleaner. And so it’s just little things like that that I’ve always admired— people who do stuff that’s like giving the finger. That was my way of giving the church the finger. It’s like Tarzan. You can put him in a suit but he still wants to go back to the jungle. That’s how I feel.

SB: Did you ever go to confession?

LM: I did but when you’re seven you don’t really know how to confess anything other than the standard. They basically give you an outline for what you should talk about. Like, “Here’s the last time I went to confessional. I’ve sinned this many times and whoever is on the other side of the fence says, ‘Say your ten Hail Mary’s, then you’re good.’”  I haven’t confessed in so long it’s probably like (on an emotional level) if I went to a dentist right now it’d just be a cavity ridden mouth. I wouldn’t even know what to confess. I wouldn’t know where to start.

SB: Do you feel to some degree though that you are doing that onstage?

LM: Yeah, I guess so… in the Catholic Church you talk to the priest and he’s the guy who communicates your sins to God and I think that’s kind of how it went. I never really got into it.  My sister is super Catholic, I don’t know if the word is “orthodox.” She has six kids and all that stuff. I talk about it on stage a little bit. I feel like her version of church is a fear of something she did in her past. I mean she wasn’t that way and now she goes to church like it’s homeschooling her kids. I don’t know. She’s got something in her past that I think she feels guilty about and I think religion is her way of handling it instead of dealing with it on an actual intellectual level.

SB: Is she your only sibling?

LM: Yeah, I haven’t seen her in a couple years.

SB: Where are you originally from?

LM: I was born in Austin and then grew up in Nacogdoches, Texas, and then moved back here at seventeen. I graduated high school a year early just so I could move here earlier. I had had enough of living in a small town.

SB: When did you start hitting open mics or what was your entrée into stand-up?

LM: I’d always been a big fan of comedy. My dad had Bill Cosby albums lying around and I’d listen to them and I’d take his routines to school in 5th and 6th grade because his material is super clean and I’d quote it at school and I’d pretend it’s my material. Then I started watching Conan O’Brien in ’92 or ’93 when he first started coming on. I would stay up and watch him and tell his jokes at school. And then I moved back here in ’97. And Charlie Sotelo (who books SXSW Comedy) had a TV show called The Show with No Name. He’d put up these bootleg clips of comedians. So I got to see actual…

SB: Bill Hicks.

LM: Yeah, Bill Hicks, Dave Attell, and probably Louis C.K. Like the first tapes of people doing open mics; early clips that showed me that comedy wasn’t what you saw on Comedy Central or late night television— which is a very clean tight five minutes.

SB: And when did you first start hitting open mics? 

LM: In 2004. I was going to summer school. I was doing some engineering algebra— calculus or something. I was sitting on the bus one day because it was just one class and I had to commute by bus. I would just sit there and write all these things. “What am I going to do with all this material?” And I realized the only thing that ever kept me from being a comedian was like, “I don’t know how to write material. I don’t know how to be funny.” And that stuff probably wasn’t even funny but it was enough to make me be like, “I got to get on stage.” And I looked up the Velveeta Room and they had open mic, the notorious open mic. I was like, “Shit, I don’t know what to expect.” Then I went there for a month before I actually got on stage for the first time. And I went up last and did three minutes and completely forgot everything I’d written down. I thought, “I’ll just memorize it and go up on stage,” and the light hits you. I don’t know if you’ve ever been onstage but it’s like being bathed in amniotic fluid, like things floating, and you can’t see the people. It’s just a very otherworldly experience the first time. And then I think like literally a week later I dropped out of college because I thought, “Okay, I found my calling.”

SB: And where was college?

LM: UT.

SB: So despite forgetting your prepared material, that first experience definitely made you feel like, “Okay, this is my calling”?

LM: Yeah. I didn’t drink at all. I just sat there and watched the entire [show]; it was about two and a half hours before I got on stage. And as soon as I got on there, like I said, I forgot everything and I started talking about stuff and trying to bail myself out of a set that I had planned on doing. And it got laughs. There were only two or three comics in the room at that point (it was like 1:30 at night). I got on stage and a couple people told me I did well. Then I walked back to my car and I felt like I was floating, like you see Dracula floating. I realized I was really high off just doing that one set for three minutes in front of four people and I’ve been chasing that feeling ever since [laughs].

SB: Need more and more to match that first taste. I’m kidding.

LM: Yeah, my dad high-fived me when I told him I dropped out of college to do comedy.

SB: Honestly? That’s so excellent.

LM: One of my most proud moments was him high-fiving me. I think he wanted to do comedy when he was a kid. He grew up in Nacogdoches, which is where my grandparents lived so we went back to be with them until they passed away. Then we stayed there like another thirteen years. But he had been in a talent show at his school. He wrote his own comedy set. He was a big Bill Cosby fan even back then and he would listen to whoever was on the radio and he wrote his own set. And some kid came in and did another popular comedy act that was going around at that time verbatim. And my dad lost to that kid and I think he lost his aspirations to be a comedian. But he was like twelve years old at the time.

SB: That’s so cool that your folks supported you. Can you talk about the period when you’re starting to hit open mics and then if you were working at Macy’s at the time?  What was the period between starting out and getting to where…?

LM: Becoming part of the regular scene? I think there were two angles to this. I was 24 at the time and I had been in a relationship for four years. And the life I’d had, everything leading up to that point was very specific to a particular way of life. You go to school, you get a job, and all that stuff. I was going to college to get the good job and hopefully make good money and live with my girlfriend and maybe get married and so on. I did comedy that one time and everything else became irrelevant up to that point in my life. The relationship suffered horribly for three years because we ate our feelings. We’d go out to eat every day because it was either that or just sit in silence and eating out helped get rid of that. So pretty much everything just fell off. She and I didn’t have the emotional or intellectual ability to say, “Well, this isn’t working. We should probably break up.” It became more like, “Well, we’ve been together this long, we have to stay together. Our families are going to think this and that. We’d always had holidays together.” And rather than just break up, it just went horribly wrong.  And then college stopped. I was working at a place called Garden Ridge in South Austin and I was a cashier. Then I worked in data entry, which I preferred because I don’t really deal with people very well. I mean, at a customer service level. At Garden Ridge you shouldn’t be here in the first place. This store could close down today and your life would not be any worse. And I’m like, “You want to come in and complain that the silk flowers weren’t up to speed? Go fuck yourself.” And then you start looking at everybody with the initial attitude of “go fuck yourself,” even if they’re sweet people and that’s not how I want to view humanity. So I sat in the back and pretended I was working.

SB: To what degree did performing stand-up afford some sense of hope or positivity while having a sell-your-time-for-a-wage job? As you know, musicians, all sorts of creative types, may have a crappy day job but that’s not how they identify themselves. They have this other endeavor but until you get some traction with that creative endeavor… how was that?

LM: It didn’t give me a sense of hope because I didn’t know any better but the novelty of comedy gave me a sense of, “This is cool, it’s still cool. I’m having fun.” When you sign up at the Velveeta open mic you go last the first couple weeks. And then you get your first good spot and you’re like, “Ah shit, I have to bring my “A” game because there’s still going to be a crowd when I go up.” That’s kind of how you get into the scene. You just show up and show up enough until eventually you’re funny. It’s a meritocracy but you also get grandfathered in after a while. So, I was moving up that way. I was asked to host a week or do a guest spot, a seven minute spot on a Friday. I was super high. I remember calling my girlfriend and saying, “Oh my god, it’s coming true. We’re going to make it.” Sort of like Johnny Cash in that movie Walk the Line, when he finally gets a record deal— that’s how I felt. Now I do guest spots whenever I want, it’s not the same. I don’t even know what would make me happy at this point comedy-wise. I mean, I do— having a steady career right now in comedy. But yeah, I moved up that way. There were progressions.  There was a way to judge that you’ve moved forward so that was enough for me to be like, “I got a day job but I’m having fun and I’m really enjoying life now.” It doesn’t matter what you do for money as long as you enjoy your life. Now, I’m kind of stuck in this pattern where it’s like having a job is more like, “Am I just going to be in this pattern for the rest of my life where I have a day job and kind of do comedy?” It’s just weird because the reality of my world doesn’t really apply to the reality of most people’s worlds, which is you have stability in your world and you work 9 to 5 or you work some steady job where you get a paycheck at the end of the week or the end of two weeks, however long. And I get paid every once in a while; it’s a freelance lifestyle. I can’t punch in anywhere and say, “I’m a comic now.” I’m a full-time comic now but I can’t prove it to people because they’re like, “Well that’s what you do in life. You get a paycheck every week. Just get a new paycheck, pay your bills and that’s how it works.” But I’m like, “You have tools and you have a job that specifies what your life is.” Whereas the only tool I have is a crippling sense of anxiety and a sense of maybe I shouldn’t have dropped out of college [laughs]. That’s the only tool I have to make my job work.

photo: Cassie Wright

SB: I believe your Leap Year and March 1st performances, that these two dates are the second time being a headliner here [at Cap City Comedy Club]?

LM: Right.

SB: And in all sincerity, you are a headliner with really outstanding material. And I don’t mean this question to be a Catch-22 for you to have to impart braggadocio or modesty but I see you as a unique and gifted headliner, rightfully earned. But do you have a sense that being a touring headliner is right within reach? This question is kind of shitty but do you know what I mean?

LM: That’s the tough thing because I understand I can stand onstage for an hour and make people laugh and it’ll be a fun show. But that doesn’t mean anything, really, in comedy. There are a lot of people out there who aren’t talented who have somehow figured out how to put on a blazer and smile and give people what they want and then they stand around after the show and hand out business cards. I don’t know if that’s what it takes to get more gigs. I don’t understand if there is a formula but if there were I probably wouldn’t want to do it because I don’t want to do the formula. I don’t want to follow someone else’s success. Just because I headlined here doesn’t really mean anything. It’s only currency in this town. You can’t spend it anywhere else. It might be cool for a while. But in New York, nobody cares that I headlined a club here (and not that they should). There’s just a specific set of currency tools there— like if you’re doing a late night show, if you’re a writer for something, or if you have a really fun show that sells out every week or every two weeks. That’s the stuff that works there. And so maybe if you have that stuff, you get in with headliners in New York who can take you on the road; that’s how it started here with me. I knew a bunch of comics who were already touring like Matt Sadler, JR Brow, and Matt Bearden. And these guys were headlining and they were like, “Hey I got a one-nighter, you want to come and feature?” So I would go to Texarkana, Arkansas, and realize half my set didn’t work.  And that would cause me to tweak it and figure out how to make it broader and then the next time I did that town (or the next night I would do another one-nighter) it would be better. I would be able to relate to people and show them that I don’t have Austin humor— I have humor. But I don’t know how to sell that to people who book clubs. I don’t know how to say, “I’ve been on television.” I’ve lied to club owners, “Hey, I’ve been on Conan O’Brien, blah, blah,” and no response. Nobody gives a shit.  You have to have management or something or an agent that gets that gig.

SB: It’s awesome Comedy Central rightly put you on Live at Gotham to be seen and have video to show but did you feel a tangible benefit from that?

LM: I would have if I hadn’t stopped doing comedy immediately after [laughs].

SB: After winning the Funniest Person in Austin Contest in 2010, which was the 25th year of that contest, did you then go on an East Coast tour with Bryson Turner? And was it also with a couple other guys?

LM: Yeah, the contest ended in May and I did the tour starting in August through October. We went at the late end of August, did September, and then got back to Austin on October 16th or so.  Then the local guys [Matt Bearden, Bryan Gutmann, Martha Kelly, Eric Krug, Bryson Turner plus Lucas] recorded the podcast with Marc Maron [WTF Episode #120]. That was kind of the highlight, crescendo or whatever. And yeah the tour was Bryson Turner, a guy named Jason Marcus out of Boston and then M. Dickson. Her name is Emily Dickson but she goes by “M” because people always call her Emily Dickinson.

SB: What was the name of the tour?

LM: The Quarter Life Crisis Tour.

SB: And how was that put together?

LM: M set it up. M and Bryson had met, I think, in North Carolina at a festival. They set it up.  And Jason out of Boston was able to get a couple gigs together. And Bryson put a couple gigs together and M put a couple gigs together. And it all worked out that they all kind of fell into this.  I was standing outside the Velveeta and Bryson was like, “Hey come over here. Let’s talk for a second. We’re doing this tour. We think you’d be perfect for it. You would be kind of like the voice.” I was the oldest one on tour. I was 30. Quarter Life Crisis is like 20’ to 30’s. And I feel like in a lot of ways that tour broke me but also rebuilt me because we would stay up driving for 30 hours at a time. We did a 24-hour straight drive. No sleep and that would happen every night. We’d have to go to the next town. We’d leave after a show or get like maybe four hours of sleep, drive all night and watch the sun go down and come right back up. We’d hang out in the lobby of the hotel until 11:00 A.M. when they’d start getting new people in for the day or you can get rooms at 11:00 in the morning of whatever. After so many nights of sleeplessness, something happens and everyday blurs into the next. It’s like a photograph with multiple exposures. You can’t remember what happened on what day. And something happened in my head, I think, where all my material started getting smeared together and I hit a certain level like, “I don’t need to make people laugh anymore. I just want to start talking.” All this weird artistic bullshit went through my head.

SB: I wouldn’t call that bullshit. Was that tour at more traditional venues, like traditional comedy clubs, or was it a mix?

LM: We did two comedy clubs, the Improv in DC and one that’s no longer around called Comix in New York. The rest of them were little theaters, like little black boxes, 25 to 100 seaters.

SB: I kind of stepped on your previous comment. When you’re onstage, I view you now as having a conversation with the audience. And you seem comfortable with a pause of any length and also with letting audiences get quiet. Do you feel like that is true or am I misreading?

LM: I think it’s context specific. At Cap City, for example, silence means people are paying attention. If you’re doing a bar show silence can quickly turn into just chatter. So you’re pacing has to be different. I think as a comedian (if you’ve been doing it for a little while) you think all silence is bad. Here it’s just nuanced. There are different types of silence. Like Eskimo snow, it’s just different words for silence. Like this is a good silence, you’re in control. As long as you don’t give up control of the room, the room is yours. I have seen people stand up onstage and be silent and get laughs from it because it makes people uncomfortable and it’s another tool you have. You can make people uncomfortable and make them laugh at things they’re not expecting to laugh at.  And you’re in control. It’s like a weird sort of torture. Every comedy show is you emotionally torturing the audience. But instead of making them cry you’re making them laugh.

SB: I especially like comedians whose material is dark. I hate to throw out the word “taboo” but you do delve into edgy stuff like drugs and guys who are into underage girls (but in a funny, insightful fashion and not one of advocacy). And you are ribald at times but I’m not suggesting this stuff plays as intentionally “shocking.” But to what degree are you consciously thinking, “Oh, this subject might get this reaction?” 

LM: Right, then what is the motivation if it’s not to shock? Why pick taboo subjects if you’re not trying to shock people?

SB: What do you think?

LM: First of all, I feel like there’s no topic you can’t talk about on stage. And I think people get trained to react before thinking a lot of times. So when I talk about underage sex, for example, to me it’s a great challenge to talk about this in a way people will accept. Just accept and not judge immediately. I think if I’ve got the audience on my side then I’m doing something right on another level. Anybody can tell jokes but not everybody can be likable. And in the hands of the wrong person, my material would probably come across as hateful or just very suspect. In my hands however it’s honest for me. It’s how I look at the world. So a taboo subject is a good way to gauge whether the audience likes you or not or if you’re approaching the subject the right way. Left and right politics only exist to define itself as left and right politics. In reality, when we’re standing in an elevator, nobody is going to be like, “Fuck that guy, he’s a leftist whatever.” It’s trying to take that immediate knee-jerk power out of people’s hands and replace it. If I can train you to think for yourself while I’m onstage so that you can relate to me, then there’s nothing we’re going to talk about that’s going to be offensive. The more offensive thing would be if I sold you guys out by giving you stupid material. To me, that’s more offensive— throwing people’s intelligence under the bus for 45 minutes and then coming out and posing with them. Like, “Yeah, I’m a great comic and I got business cards.” There’s a weird sociopathic nature to that.

SB: Let’s go back to that tour where you made the conscious or subconscious decision to speak more honestly about the things going on in your life and your willingness to come at this from the way you want to come at it.

LM: I think the impetus for that was probably from dropping out of college; it was like, “Well, I’m choosing this.” So if I don’t do it the way that makes sense for me than why did I drop out of college? If I’m doing something that anybody can do then I’m not doing what I want to do. The first time I ever felt alive was doing comedy. So why would I shit on that? Why would I not do what I want to do? But on the tour (and like I was saying about the fact we were staying up so many hours) there was that element of when you drink to be onstage to get comfortable with the crowd and you sort of break down that wall between you and them because sometimes if you go to a comedy show, you’ll watch comedians who just stare at the back of the room the whole time.  They don’t really acknowledge the crowd. Something about that not sleeping and being sleep deprived and going immediately to do a show, the wall was already torn down. When every day feels like the last and you can’t tell when this day started and the last one ended, you don’t really see yourself as different from the crowd anymore. When I say “the artistic bullshit,” how do you translate a general sense of “We’re all here together, let’s acknowledge this,” into funny? Artistry is great but it also has to have skilled hands to pull it off. And so I think early on, at that point, I just got comfortable throwing everything to the wall to see what it was that I was actually trying to say and do. I don’t know, I just felt delirious half the time anyway. There might have been some delirium in there, some sort of weird PTSD that comes from driving 16 hours. I don’t know.

SB: It’s certainly a heightened, altered state of mind where you’re kind of floaty from long distance driving.

LM: And your ego breaks down, too. To go back to the torture thing, people who are tortured eventually just break and they tell you whatever you want them to tell you. After that many hours on the road, you just break and you just tell people exactly what you want to tell them. There’s no ego at that point, you can sit in the silences a little bit more. You’re not so dependent on something having to happen right now because with 16 hours in the car you don’t skip songs. You’re going to listen to every CD you have at least four times so don’t skip songs.  It’s like the same thing. Just enjoy the length of things. I don’t know. I don’t even know what’s happening now [laughs].

SB: [Laughs]. It’s all good. I think it’s a real feat to pull off being confessional and conversational. But then too, a lot of times you’ll make an astute observation that by design in and of itself wasn’t going for a big laugh or designed to be a punchline, which is not to say you’re not up there garnering laughs throughout the whole show. They might lead to something or be a transition, but am I off-base?

LM: Those are scary; the ones that get laughs. I say this thing, “I’m 32, it’s not old but it’s the oldest I’ve ever been.” And that gets a laugh. I never understood why that gets a laugh. But I’ll keep telling it but that’s what’s scary when you don’t understand why something’s funny because it’s like I’m in control of this, right? And that’s the scary part about going into taboo topics. So for example, I might one day have (if I haven’t checked in with myself) like a Rush Limbaugh opinion where suddenly everyone is turning against me. People [would be] like, “Wow, you really just got racist on that one.” And “Nah, it’s a point I’m trying to make.”  Like, “No, you actually just said something horrible and you don’t realize it.” And I think that’s what racism or ignorance is: You don’t realize you’re doing something insane. It’s a danger of picking certain topics because you’ll be like, “No, the point is it’s okay to set your house on fire after you kill your kids because of this.”

SB: Okay, comedians are rightly loathe to describe their style but your style strikes me as not neurotic but that you have a “Hello darkness, my old friend” flavor where, for example, in the grief loop, if it’s like denial, anger, bargaining, then acceptance— it seems like a nice portion of your set is coming from this kind of dark acceptance of things.

LM: [Laughs] That’s funny, I hadn’t thought about that. I got the Montreal Just for Laughs Festival. And I’ll probably never get it again because the person I was for the first couple years of comedy was the guy who had something to prove on a comedic level, like on a peer level. I was driven to be considered funny and I wanted my friends to think I was funny and I wanted to be working here. Then 2007 came, the relationship had ended, and I met somebody else. I had never really been in stupid love. I hadn’t been in high school love. Like all the things you do in high school, playing the boom box over your head in front of her. I had never gone through that. I just never thought there was ever going to be that or it didn’t even dawn on me that it actually existed. It was almost TV-like and then went really bad, really quickly.

SB: And what went really bad?  The style you were doing?

LM: At the time, the material I was doing was not like set up-punch, but catered more toward seven-minute sets of tight material and less rambly. Then I met the girl and it was like immediate infatuation. We both were doing stupid teenage stuff together. And then that fell apart. It was the first time I realized that things don’t have to work out. Just because you really want something doesn’t mean it’s going to work out. And no matter how much you cry or beg or plead, it’s not going to change anything. So I pretty much quit comedy after that. I just didn’t have it in me. Nothing felt funny to me anymore. I feel like I’m a pretty good conduit for what I’m feeling. If I’m feeling in a good mood, all my material would be a different way than if I were in a bad mood. And when you just feel that level of despair and sadness, I’m going to ruin whatever reputation I do have by just going up there and being sad all the time. It might be fun but it’ll be fun in the way you see severed heads on the side of the road after a car crash. You stare at it but it’s more rubbernecking comedy at that point… That was September 2007 when I quit. And that’s when everything I had been working towards started taking off. I’d gotten Montreal. I took 2nd place in an NBC “Stand Up for Diversity” showcase. They flew us out to LA. I got Live at Gotham a few months later on Comedy Central and I moved to New York. And I hadn’t been on stage for like three weeks when I did the Gotham. All the things I had worked for were now not even important.

SB: And when did you move back to New York?

LM: I moved there in May of 2011. I’ve been gone from Austin pretty much except I came back to record a CD on October 21st and 22nd 2011, at the Velveeta Room.

SB: Cool. Is somebody like Stand Up! Records putting that out?

LM: Yeah, Stand Up! Records, [label president] Dan Schlissel is a good guy

SB: For sure. You spoke about drinking since you’ve been back performing in Austin. I heard this is a common thing from people who move here from other cities that have an established scene or from people who move from here to LA or wherever; they realize that the Austin comedy scene has a fairly inherent…

LM: A drinking problem? [Laughs]

SB: What are your thoughts? Do you find that to be true?

LM: I flew in on a Thursday. Got in like at 12:30 at night and my friend Ryan drove me and [NYC-based comedian] Brooke [Van Poppelen] directly to a bar called Bender Bar & Grill on [State Highway] 71. We immediately went to the bar, squeezed in as many shots as we could. And we drank on the plane. I don’t like to fly, so I drink anyways. Then after two drinks you’re like, “We should have another drink.” I feel like now I just perform to justify drinking. It’s not that bad. The thing is I’m not a bad drinker. I know how to handle myself. That’s actually the other problem when I started doing comedy (added to just having the dilemma of being 24 years old and doing comedy for the first time)— drinking heavily for the first time, too. I drank before but never at the level comedy pulls out of you. And so all your feelings become distorted and you don’t know how to respond to them anymore. You don’t know which ones you should trust. I was out every night until 2:30 or 3:00 drinking and hanging out with people that I wanted to impress. That probably created the biggest hurdle.

SB: You commented that it’s less expensive to buy a bottle of beer here.

LM: Totally.

SB: Do you think the fact that there’s this sort of drinking/party element to what is an exceptionally great comedy scene— is that somewhat from it being quote unquote less of an industry town? Or do you think it’s just a tighter knit community here or it’s just Austin’s kind of a, “Hey, let’s have fun” town? 

LM: It’s hard to say because I know in New York I can’t afford to drink every night there. And I don’t have to drink to perform. I enjoy it and I’m actually better when I don’t drink because I don’t slur as much. I paid $7 for a Corona in New York the day before we flew out. And the next night, I probably spent maybe $4 on three drinks. It’s a very enabling town. There’s a statue of Stevie Ray Vaughn here! [Laughs]. He woke up every day and supposedly had coffee with whiskey or something in it. I mean that’s when you know. That’s a bad sign. There are guitars all around the city painted different colors. This city’s built around drinking, I think. The culture’s very strong here.

SB: And that’s how live entertainment largely makes its money.

LM: We did a show in a place called Kick Butt Coffee last night. I mean the people working there may not like our comedy, they may not think we’re funny. But the fact is we come in, we buy beers, and we tip. It’s a Wednesday night, which is traditionally a slow night. So it’s kind of a symbiotic relationship because coffee drinkers probably don’t tip. They tip maybe change. But I tip a dollar for every beer I buy, gladly. So what should be a slow night is great. Then we take our act to the next show and we do it there and we drink some more. And like I said, I don’t know which one we’re actually doing, comedy or drinking? But I don’t think it hurts the scene. I think what hurts the scene is, yeah, maybe there isn’t industry and so every day is Casual Friday in Austin. There’s no like “You got to get dressed up!” But I think the lack of industry creates a lack of ego in this city. When you have industry you’re always threatened by… your successes are defined by what somebody else’s failures are. Like, if somebody didn’t get something then you might have a better chance of getting it— so you kind of root for everybody to fail. On some small level you’re always like, “Why are they always picking that person to do that?  I could be that person.  Nobody ever looks at me.” You don’t have that here.  Only once or twice a year you do. Everybody’s friendly. If you’re around during the [FPIA] contests, watch the comics. They’re definitely changed. They’re friendly and they love each other but everybody’s threatened by who’s going to win it this year. “That guy wasn’t as funny.”  “I didn’t get advanced.”

SB: Well the FPIA contest has become this colossal thing.  Everyone brings his or her “A” game.

LM: Hopefully [laughs]. There’s some train wrecks.

SB: [Laughs] There’s some whittling down. It’s a long process.

LM: Right.

SB: You also half-kiddingly noted from the stage, “I get paid in alcohol.” [Laughs] I mean, not exclusively.

LM:  [Laughs] Yeah, there’s a little bit of money.

SB: …You’re not wheeling a keg home but that is a factor with performing.

LM: Last night we also did a show at a place called Nasty’s. It was after the Kick Butt show. And the guy who put it together comes out with two pitchers of beer. “Here you go everybody.” Everybody who did the show got a free glass of beer.

SB: Austin is a comedy town— from the audiences, the media support, to our talent, to Out of Bounds, the New Movement, ColdTowne, SXSW, and now with the Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival. I think because everyone’s not going to a commercial or sitcom pilot audition every day; there might be more of a sense of stand-up as the end game in and of itself or at least not inherently a steppingstone. There are certainly a lot of examples where a comedy or music scene flourishes and does really creative things when they’re insular (for lack of a better word).

LM: I compare it to a New Zealand platypus that has the duckbill and lays eggs. That’s how a lot of comics are here. It’s interesting but what do you do with it? I don’t understand how to market this as a thing. The scene is insulated and there’s definitely freedom to grow here. The currency here is being funny and being creative. It’s not like what you have done. But in another way, I don’t think I would have gotten Montreal if I were living in New York when I did the auditions. I don’t think I would have gotten Gotham (maybe I would have). I might have been more driven if I had started there. But all the things that motivated me here would have existed there just in a different light. I would have been doing shows…or there might have been an industry or management who would have known me for years. But the thing is if you’re in Austin, you’re always the new guy who comes out of nowhere to get those spots. It’s a very great way to standout living here. But it’s also limited because there is a ceiling. And it depends on what you want to do. For me, I would love to be on the road and live in Austin. But I can’t even get on the road and I don’t know what the steps are, like I’ve said before. All the comics I enjoy have been on TV at least once. That’s where New York comes in handy but I feel like I’m too damaged to be on television. I’m not going to be on a sitcom.

SB: Despite all of his Letterman appearances and his special genius, Bill Hicks was embraced by Europe well before America started to catch on. For Doug Stanhope, touring and not so much TV  (The Man Show notwithstanding), I think, afforded him the space to do his…

LM: I think it brought bigger audiences to see Stanhope. It may not have been the people who he wanted to come see him but he then was able to reach out to the few people that did stick around and became that new fan base of his. What he’s done is pretty amazing. He’s figured out how to, for lack of a better word, market his image and his persona to people who need that. I think he offers a very good service to society right now but he also has a very bleak point of view, as you were saying— the perpetual state of accepting the darkness. Look at what Bill Hicks did and everybody thinks about how great he was. Look at what Jon Stewart is doing on a nightly basis. And has the world changed?  I mean at the end of the day then it comes down to them being able to sleep at night. So no matter how much you try to change people or try to change the world, it’s pretty much the same as it’s always been. And what direction is it heading in and how are we helping that?

SB: I’m just wondering as an exercise… I can’t think of a name for what I would call your style of humor but it seems to hinge on the notion of the reality of how shitty life can be sometimes (first world shitty, needless to say). Your stage presence isn’t dour despite trading in darker material. But there’s this awareness of, I guess, the reality of how messed up things can be. And I don’t know that that’s a named genre? You know what I mean? But, why am I feeling a need to label something is a great question for me to ask myself. But somebody with your intellect or goals, working crappy retail back when…

LM: I’ve been told I work in retail because there’s some mental disorder where you work lower jobs so you can feel better. Like if you have a bad job and you’re, “This place would crumble without me.” [Laughs] You can tell yourself that all day long and have a great feeling.

SB: Well, put it this way though, I don’t feel like you’re pining to sit in a cubicle looking at Excel spreadsheets all day.

LM: Right.

SB: I feel like you are charting your own path. It’s a more difficult path but perhaps more rewarding eventually, if not now.

LM: My goal is two-fold when it comes to the audience. I want people to laugh at me and I want them to think, “Wow, he [really] said something.” It’s the reason comedians do comedy: to be liked and to be appreciated on some level. But you don’t want to be appreciated by people who don’t know why they like the things they like. And in my bits I try my hardest to do this, I try to show people that there is power and small victories in life— even the bad things. There was a comedian last night who stopped in the middle of his set and he said, “I don’t like who I am as a person,” and it got the biggest laugh. It was just this very sincere and honest moment. But it was the way he said it. And in AA that would be somebody talking about the worst thing in their life. Last night it was the funniest thing ever. How do we take these things that are supposedly bad and make them into small victories?  Because everybody has things they deny but it’s like why do you deny them? They can be good if you frame them the right way. So I try to frame things the right way.

SB: Would you indulge me with your joke about Goths who wear black?

LM: Yeah, the back-story was that I was being shown around Macy’s the first day and I just remembered everyone was wearing these nice uniforms and how sad they looked. As I’ve gotten older there’s far worse things to wear than black to express how depressed you are. Try wearing a confetti color polo as part of the required uniform at Red Lobster. How’s that not more depressing? At least black is slimming.

SB: [Laughs] Classic Rumplestiltskin!

LM: When you’re a kid you’re told to wear nice clothes to church. And as you get older you realize nice clothes don’t represent anything spiritual. They represent you being oppressed in a lot of ways. The best jobs in the world are the jobs where you can wear whatever you want. I think it’s the best life, too.

SB: Where are you at now with your feelings about living in New York?

LM: Eric Krug, a good friend of mine, asked, “How’s New York treating you?” I told him, “I live there and I tell jokes. That’s about it.” And then I’ve heard it said better: Whether you’re moving slow or fast, the goal is to keep moving. But then again the problem I have with New York is I don’t feel the desire to impress people there. Like crowds, yes, but you don’t perform for crowds very often. You perform for tons of other comics because they’re the only ones who come out to the shows. Very few shows have actual followings. And I’ve already gone through that phase of wanting to impress peers and stuff. And I got credits and, to me, the best thing is writing a funny joke and writing something I’m proud to talk about onstage. But I don’t have to live anywhere to do that. I’ve got my point of view regardless. I think the only thing is running the risk of becoming bitter and I don’t want that to happen because that’s when you start doing the racist jokes and you think you’re funny.

SB: I don’t think you’re in danger of getting anywhere near that point. Your second appearance on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast…

LM: I haven’t listened to that.

SB: It was different. You weren’t in his garage; y’all were on the road.

LM: Right.

SB: I believe I recently heard that his podcasts have been downloaded at least over 40 million times. Did you have a palpable sense of that exposure after [Episode #198] was available?  Did the phone ring a little more?

LM: I don’t think so. I mean, I can’t speak for how Maron feels but I think he did the podcast just for something to do. And then the phone started ringing after [a while] because people were downloading it. He’s a great interviewer. He gets interesting people. Comics in general are very fruitful. They have a lot of great stories and insights, stuff they’ll never say onstage but just as important or maybe more so…

SB: [Laughing] Tell me a great story.

LM: [Laughs] But It took him a while for people to pay attention. The podcast episode came and went. I was on the same week as Andrew Dice Clay. The day it came out I was doing an open mic at a comedy club called the EastVille Comedy Club in New York. I’m doing an open mic and I posted it on Facebook. “You heard me on WTF, now you can catch me at open mic today. Free show.”  And then Maron texted me, “Are you actually at an open mic?”  “Yeah, I’m here right now.”

SB: People genuinely cheered for you when you won the FPIA.  Do you get a sense that Austin’s rooting for you? Or, to paraphrase, our warm wishes and smiles aren’t really paying your bills.

LM: Right, it’s hard to say because I promoted this show all week at Nasty’s. And you know we got there and we had a good crowd. In a month, if I stayed here, this would not happen again.  People are good at promoting their comedy as a model or something and I don’t understand how that works. I don’t understand how people get followings. I don’t understand if what I’m saying is sort of one of those things like, “Yeah, we saw him. We don’t need to see him again…” I was thinking about the set, Thursday last week, I think I opened it up by doing a joke about killing myself [laughing] or like trying to convince people to kill themselves.

SB: Refresh my memory. You did the joke here [on March 1st] about what we’ve done with having to pay a parking meter until midnight and then blowing your brains out as an act of protest so a jorts-wearing meter maid would at least have to clean his uniform. Was there a different suicide joke?

LM: No, that was pretty much it. It’s like, yeah, the next time you come back to your car and it doesn’t have tickets on it: You’re welcome. That’s my contribution. Now that’s how I made your life better. I say, “Just pay it forward, good karma.”

SB: Not that’s just material and not a signal, right? Buddy? Pal?

LM: Yeah, that’s the funny thing. It’s like, is it? No [laughs]. That’s one of those things that’s not really that sad. It’s sad but, yeah, I don’t know, I’m not there yet.

SB: Didn’t George Carlin’s do like 20 minutes on suicide on his last HBO special? Some people tuned out but I loved that George Carlin could be so dark.

LM: Yeah, he was a bleak guy, too. He didn’t see humanity as being anything beyond the time between living and dying. I mean people die so dumb anyways. If there were like honorable death in the world, maybe it would feel more important to live? If people died more doing what they loved, maybe our lives would mean more.

SB: You have a line saying what comedy feels like which slew me. Is it still kind of the case for how you feel right now?

LM: Yeah, comedy is like the first time you ask your girlfriend to watch you jerk off. Like, “She’s going to be into this.” And you look up and she’s not happy. Not even at all. “Well there’s 45 minutes of my life I can’t get back.” I feel that way sometimes. I wrote that line one night as a way to save a joke that didn’t work. I was like, “Yeah, you’re going to love this bit,” and then people are like “Why is this guy doing this?” You know, “You might as well just be like a homeless man on a bus jerking off.”  Like, “Why is he doing that?”  Oh, I guess I’m being self-indulgent. But I think that’s the thing, too. I feel like masturbation isn’t as fun when you get older [laughs]. So, it’s like I don’t want to do this as much as you don’t want to see it. It’s like you see people in a centrifuge and they spin and throw up. That’s how it feels. Why would I subject you to that? It is a way to save a joke. I don’t feel that way too often though.  I feel like I’ve gotten better at explaining my point of view in a way that is relatable. If not, they don’t cry at the end of it at least.

*

Lucas Molandes is Marc Maron’s special guest at The Mohawk on Thursday, April 26, 2012.

Doors at 8pm / Show at 9pm.

Stay tuned for other appearances and announcements.

To purchase tickets for individual performances as well as festival badges ($129) and VIP badges ($799), go to www.moontowercomedyfestival.com. You can also get them at the Paramount Theatre box office or by calling 512-474-1221. The box office is open Monday – Saturday 12pm – 5:30pm and is closed on Sundays.

lucasmolandes.com

Tagged , , , , , ,

Interview with Larry Doyle: Thurber Prize for American Humor-Winning Author, Essayist, Screenwriter & Ex-Simpsons Writer.

LARRY DOYLE (photo: Courtesy of the Author)

“Humorists” can exude cleverness with a generalized air (e.g., Mark Russell, am I right, kids?) but Larry Doyle is an impossibly clever literary humorist who is howlingly funny. He is perhaps most known for his comic essays that have appeared in the New Yorker since 1990 (Here, Here, & Here) but millions of non-credit-reading Simpsons viewers may be unaware of his four-year tenure (seasons nine through twelve) that garnered three Emmy wins. Yet, with genuine humility, Doyle declines to take any real credit for his writing/producing work on The Simpsons.

On the page, Larry Doyle sutures words together with a surgical precision (cuz surgeons are hilarious, kids?) and devoid of frivolous language. His inventive style is notable for a mastery of assimilating and recontextualizing pop culture (and culture-culture) in service of astute satire, parody, and silliness. His first novel, “I Love You, Beth Cooper,” set in Doyle’s Illinois alma mater, Buffalo Grove High School, rejiggers the teen comedy genre with such wit, pathos, and freshness that it won the 2008 Thurber Prize for American Humor. This book grabbed me from the get-go and the following passage from Page 1 gives you a wee taste (which I like to think falls under HarperCollins’ copyright exception for “brief quotations embodied in critical articles [“two thumbs!” Ed.] and reviews):

*

“Ed Munsch sat high in the bleachers, between his wife and a woman who smelled like boiled potatoes. Potatoes that had gone bad and then boiled. Boiled green potatoes. Ed thought he might vomit, with any luck.

Anyone could see that he was not a well man. His left hand trembled on his knee, his eyes slowly rolled, spiraling upward; he was about to let out that exact moan Mrs. Beber had just before she escaped when his wife told him to cut it out.

“You’re not leaving,” she said.

“I’m dying,” Ed countered.

“Even dead,” said his wife, at ease with the concept. “For chrissakes, your only son is graduating from high school. It’s not like he’s going to graduate from anything else.”

*

Doyle’s second novel, “Go, Mutants!” (HarperCollins, 2010), is a wildly creative imagining of a society that has survived the 1950’s sci-fi B-movie attacks and invasions but where subsequent thriving integration with biological monstrosities remains precarious… but high school angst endures. In November of last year, those non-litigious superchamps at Harper Collins published “Deliriously Happy and Other Bad Thoughts” which compiles over twenty years of Larry Doyle’s comic pieces from the New Yorker, Esquire, the National Lampoon and previously unseen “pieces left out of this collection.” “Deliriously Happy” is quite simply one of the funniest books that I have read and it unassumingly illustrates that Larry Doyle is handily one of America’s premier comedic talents. Mr. Doyle spoke to Comedy Moontower from his residence in Baltimore.

Steve Birmingham: How does it feel having “Deliriously Happy and Other Bad Thoughts” out? In a matter of, I don’t know, a pound, pound-and-a-half, you have more than a couple decades of your work compiled.

Larry Doyle: Yeah, it feels almost too narrow. Doesn’t it? Like…

SB: No, not from a reader’s standpoint.

LD: … here’s the tombstone. I’m glad to have gotten it in collection form because we were already at the tale end of being able to publish a book like that. Those things just don’t sell and this one didn’t either. I think going forward it’s going to be very hard for people to even put those things together, so I was very happy that they were willing to do it.  So that felt good and it’s a way of looking at the shelf and saying, “Oh, there’s a lot of the pieces that I’ve written.”

SB: I read that you tried your hand at stand-up. Do you recall some of the topics you covered?

LD: [Laughs] Painful memories coming back. I actually tried to do thematic monologues, which really didn’t work because I wasn’t very good at doing them but I would do rants. Probably the worst one was on suspecting that Santa was a Communist [inaudible]. You know typical stuff: breaking up with your girlfriend and being depressed.

SB: When you say thematic monologues, it was then less joke, joke, joke and more like…

LD: Telling a story or a lot of times I would do something in a persona of somebody; very similar to the things that I write for the New Yorker now.

SB: I’m such a fan of your work and think you’re so incredibly funny. Was stand-up something you just didn’t care to follow after a while or is it something that you just didn’t feel was going to be your natural outlet?

LD: It was something I was incredibly bad at. And I really did try to do it for a couple of years. Not like as a job (I was in college) but I kept going back there− once a month at least, and then more in the summer… and just embarrassing. I would get heckled by my friends.

SB: May I ask why you thought it went so poorly given your comedic talents on the page?

LD: Well, I would say it was a combination of the jokes not being very good and then that they were being delivered poorly. I have no stage presence; I have like a negative stage presence. As a writer, it doesn’t really matter much and in fact when I do readings my lack of affect becomes my persona. Because I can’t perform, I just try to turn that into something that looks like an asset. I was just really bad at it, there’s no getting around how poor I was at it. I would say in general, the whole humor writing thing was something that I certainly started from a not-naturally talented place, I don’t think. I was really awful when I first started trying to write.

SB: Well (to speak to your humility and talent), bad jokes and poor delivery unfortunately have not stopped a lot of comedians from…

LD: No, what was really funny was that the first night that I went on (you know, you get on at the end of the night on open mic night), one of the guys for whom it was also his first night got up and I’d say he was even worse than I was and he seemed to have one joke that worked. He played a hick. I think he was a hick but he also played one. And his joke went like this [with Gump-like vowel elongation], “Like they say… that thunder is the angels bowling but then what’s rain? The angels pissin?” So if you’re drunk enough, you’ll laugh at that joke. About twenty years later, I’m walking down the street in Chicago and I walk past this place called Zannies and there’s this guy, it’s the same guy! Only now he’s twenty years older and he’s the MC. So he just kept at it and now he’s the MC. And I couldn’t help myself. I go in there and watch and he’s going in-between acts and he’s doing all of the shitty things that MC’s do to get hated by the other comedians. What he’s supposed to do is if someone bombs, he’s supposed to go out there, throw his best material out there, to get people laughing at him then bring up the next guy.

SB: Exactly

LD: Or if somebody does really great, he’s supposed to go up there and just really quickly switch over. Instead, he was doing the exact opposite. He was leeching the energy off somebody that did well to do big chunks of his act. And if the audience was dead, he was like, “Okay, now it’s your turn.” But anyway, he’s up there and he’s sucked out all of the whatever someone has managed to do, so he’s doing a chunk of his act and he’s dying, just dying. And I could see (cuz I’ve watched stand-up enough), him going for “I’m going to have to pull out my saver.” And so he goes, “You know they say…” [laughing]. He does that exact same joke and he gets a response. I guess that you can get kind of far with dedication.

SB: I guess stand-up career by way of attrition?

LD: Yeah, a lot of them really do just work at it as hard as they can and for a while there (partially when I started) you probably could’ve been pretty shitty and made a living at it.

SB: So this was the comedy boom?

LD: Yeah, when every single old discotheque was being turned into a comedy nightclub.

SB: Larry, I learned that you have a master’s in journalism and worked for UPI’s Chicago desk as a medical and science reporter for a number of years. What lessons did that experience carry over to being a humor writer, essayist, and screenwriter?

LD: I tend to use words that I don’t know a lot when I’m writing. The great thing that UPI did for me (and whatever skills I picked up journalistically), I guess I did pick up some that I apply— especially in the more complicated writing I do. Even the shorter pieces some times have a decent amount of research that goes into them, and I like them to be right. I like when a character is talking, I like that character to not use words they wouldn’t use and to use the particular regional kind of vocabulary they’d blah blah blah. So I think that helps a humor piece work. But the main thing that it did for me, frankly, was when you’re working a wire service it is due now and it cured me, probably forever, of ever getting the kind of writer’s block that some people get.

SB: I believe you’ve long been a comic book fan and I was wondering if there was competition or a tough sell at the interview to land the First Comics editor-in-chief position?

LD: I don’t know what the competition was; it couldn’t have been very strong because they gave it to me. And I actually used a journalism trick to get it. I had liked comics when I was a kid but I wasn’t really following comics. I saw that there was this job opening for this comic book to be the editorial director of First Comics and in fact it wasn’t for editorial director. What I didn’t realize is that the editorial director who was interviewing me was out the door, so I was being interviewed for a lower-level position that everyone knew was going to be his position. But I went into the interview and [LD to himself] I wonder if the guy is still alive? Rick Obadiah was the publisher and the owner of the company and he was a really nice guy. But one of the things about him is he really liked to hear himself talk. And so I did this thing that you sometimes do when you’re interviewing people, which is if you want to get them to say something sometimes you just shut the fuck up and you leave empty air sitting there and they’ll start talking. And so he asked me this question about the future of comics that I didn’t really have any idea about (nor did anybody really), but anyways in his mind there was a correct answer and I didn’t answer it right away. I sort of was outlining my approach  [laughs] kind of thing and just leaving enough space into which… I basically turned the question back to ask him and then he told me what he thought about the future of comic books and then I told him what I thought about the future of comic books, which sounded a lot like what he thought.

SB: Is there something you learned that you took with you from writing for the Pogo comic strip?

LD: Well, you would think that I had learned not to try to bring back any classic thing again but obviously I did not. That’s what I should’ve learned.

SB: I’m sorry, why would I think that you’ve learned not bring back something classic?

LD: I don’t think it was a good idea and I don’t think we did a good job. I think it would’ve been better left alone. We took it because we had been trying for years to get a comic strip syndicated and here this came along and they wanted someone to do Pogo and we loved Pogo. And they were going to hire us to do it and I think that we talked ourselves into the idea of doing it. The argument in our heads went something like, “Well, they’re going to bring it back anyway, so it might as well be by people who really love the strip and aren’t going to ruin it.” And then we ruined it, I think. But then, what is it, eighteen years later; I’m deciding that I’m going to do Looney Tunes again. [Laughs] You’d think I would’ve learned. I even came up with a second argument for why it would be okay to do Looney Tunes and that was, “Pogo was the work of one man, one mind.” Right? So it seemed to me, especially having worked at “The Simpsons” at this point, that the right collection of people could do really good Looney Tunes because Looney Tunes wasn’t just Chuck Jones. There was a collection of them and they all worked together and I thought that we could recreate that collection. I thought we’d probably be given the chance, which we really weren’t. We might’ve been able to do it but it was very difficult to do the way they had originally done Looney Tunes because nobody was paying attention to what they were doing and we had the full force of Warner Bros. on top of our heads the entire time. So it became trying to create the kind of anarchy in the old Looney Tunes with somebody questioning every joke. Other people didn’t get that. It just was not going to probably end well and then there were management issues where I kind of had a bad relationship with the head of the studio. And it blew up at some point. I’d say it was 90% my fault.

SB: Can you talk about your tenure in 1991 as an editor at National Lampoon? I believe Matty Simmsons fired the then current staff in 1985 and you likely started after the brief Tim Mattheson-led joint was at the helm. 

LD: I wasn’t the first one in, but Jim Jimirro (head of J2 Communications, which may or may not still exist) bought the National Lampoon with the idea of bringing it back as a monthly magazine. And I think he was planning on building a comic empire around it. His previous experience though had been marketing the very successful (perhaps not prime comedy) videos called “The Dorf.” That had been his primary success in comedy. Anyway, so he hired George Barkin who among other things had been an editor at High Times magazine and had written stuff for the Lampoon and was good friends with Ratso Sloman, who was the previous editor of the National Lampoon.

SB: My understanding is that you did put out nine issues that year.

LD: We did and then we got fired. First, George got fired and then we were doing it without him for a little while and then we got fired.

SB: What was your regard to the Lampoon environment with the name being licensed out at that time? Did you still feel a sense of lineage to founders Doug Kenney, Henry Beard, and Rob Hoffman and the subsequent heyday of other contributors and editors, or was it another era but still, “Hey, the National Lampoon!”

LD: I thought at the time and I think I’m right about this that there would have been a market for that magazine done well and that that magazine could’ve been used as a platform for what would’ve eventually been online stuff, movies et cetera. I think that we were very close to the sensibility of the Lampoon and there was definitely plenty of material still out there. The problem was probably that the brand was just too damaged. It had a dual problem, one of which was it had nudity in it from the early Seventies on and the world had changed a bit and you couldn’t really get advertising any more in a magazine that had nudity in it. We were being racked with Juggs where we just didn’t compete very well on the wanking potential and people who might want to get it for other reasons would never see us. The National Lampoon was similar probably to Sports Illustrated where it was the kind of magazine that guys could have out in the open but still get their swimsuit issue. The bottom line is they couldn’t get the advertising back on track. They had originally committed to the idea that we wouldn’t put any nudity in the magazine until we repositioned it editorially We were just going to try to clean it up enough that we could approach Coca-Cola. It was still a pretty filthy magazine in terms of the prose but that didn’t really matter to advertisers. Jimirro lost his patience and to some extent, I think George wanted to do a much more high-minded magazine then the Lampoon had ever been and that didn’t go over well at some point.

SB: Could you talk a little about your tenure as a deputy editor at Spy magazine? That was such a sharp magazine and I’m unfamiliar with any behind-the-scenes descriptions.  And was part of your time there with Tony Hendra [whom many know from his role as Spinal Tap’s band manager, Ian Faith]?

LD: The very end was, yeah. I was there very happily with Kurt Andersen as the editor and he decided to leave because maybe he could see the writing on the wall and so they brought in Tony. And Tony was not acting, in my view, in the best interest of the magazine, and so I left. That’s a pretty simple version of the story but that’s pretty much what it is. He wanted to change the mastheads. He basically wanted to change the magazine to be more like the National Lampoon. Spy had made its reputation on being true and he wanted to add a lot more made-up stuff: Foto Funnies and stuff like that. And I just didn’t feel like Spy should be the National Lampoon.

SB: With your recent Time column “Why You Keep Seeing the Same Movie Over and Over Again,” plus protagonist J!m [sic] in “Go, Mutants!” lamenting “cinematic sausage” for “mass ingestion,” and that he loves “most movies that were made before they were all terrible,” (as well as the entire human/humanoid/mutant student body seemingly having no regard for “plex” content.  And from your essays like “Let’s Talk About My Movie” and “An Open Letter To All Academy Members,” you excel at film/media criticism/mockery. Can you talk about why this is such a rich area for your work?

LD: Well there’s the rather obvious one, which is I work in it. If I worked in an insurance office maybe I’d be putting out comic [laughing] insurance forms or something. Movies and TV are the predominant art medium now for better or worse. They’re more important than music and visual arts. In some ways, if you’re writing about the world and our culture you are writing about those things but the real reason behind it is I’m writing about those things because they interest me. In “Deliriously Happy,” you’ll see that they’re also quite a few pieces about books and there are quite a few probably more comic essays that revolve around questions of science then you would ordinarily see. But those are my interests. If I knew opera (which I don’t), I’d probably write comic opera pieces.

SB: You have a writing credit for “The Simpsons” “Girly Edition” episode [Season 9, Episode 2]. I thought the kids’ news broadcast was a great satire on TV news’ style versus substance. Were you involved with that story line? It also seems like Mojo the Helper Monkey has your fingerprints?

LD: That was my first script for “The Simpsons.” Obviously, most Simpsons episodes are very collaborative but you still have one writer who goes off and puts together the script and gets to put as much of their stamp on it and they can. I don’t know if any more than a quarter of what ended up on the air was written by me, by myself. But the idea to do the helper monkey thing was originally the idea I came to Mike Scully with (who was the head writer) and then the kids’ news thing was something that he had wanted to do and we put them together. I might have brought some of the satire about those kind of non-news news things to it but the original idea to do a thing about Bart and Lisa being on a kids news program together was Mike Scully’s idea.

SB: I read “I Love You, Beth Cooper” in total awe of your precise and whip smart sense of humor and I also couldn’t help but think that the book was going to make a great movie. Was it in fact a script or treatment in the first place?

LD: I didn’t finish it but I wrote most of a screenplay that my agent didn’t think was going to sell and then I talked to a book agent who said that maybe I should write it as a book. I think he’s right that it wouldn’t have sold in the absence of a book and the fact that it was a book is what sold it and, so I wrote it up. It changed a lot but I wrote it as a book and immediately people in Hollywood were interested in it.

SB: Despite you penning the I Love You, Beth Cooper script, and I sincerely do not mean to sound disrespectful (and I know this sounds shitty) but I’ve thus far elected to pass on seeing the movie since, for me, the book was such a sublime, wonderful experience. And when I saw the poster and the trailer, I just questioned whether the tone was preserved and/or translated. What was your level of satisfaction?

LD: I probably don’t want to speak to that. I wish the movie had done better and I think everybody was sincere in their wanting it to be a good movie. Although, the truth of the matter is that I’ve been involved in several movies, not all of which have turned out well and I don’t think I’ve come across an instance of somebody who didn’t care.

SB: Understood, and to this point too about saying that I personally didn’t think that the way the poster looked or that what the trailer presented, for me, was capturing why I love the book so much: there’s a good history of wonderful films that kind of had sub-par marketing. I think you’ve even noted Adventureland. I would point to Dazed and Confused, which wasn’t a PR triumph and I’d even point to Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.

LD: I like Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.

SB: Oh yeah, me too.

LD: And that was sort of dangerous because I had read the graphic novel and liked it. The movie went on too long, kinda. But I’d say that there were a lot of things I liked about the movie more than I liked about the book.

SB: I saw Scott Pilgrim on DVD. I hadn’t read the graphic novel and I knew Edgar Wright was a really great director, but as somebody who’s not terribly interested in video games (and I’m likely not the target audience), the marketing didn’t highlight how stylized the film was. And there had been some other recent Michael Cera films… I’m going to stop talking.

LD: I think that there might have been a bit of Michael Cera fatigue and that’s a shame because, I agree, I think it was a fun movie and it deserved to have done a lot better than it did. Although I Love You, Beth Cooper was a pretty spectacular failure upon its initial release; it appears to have done really well on DVD and in secondary stuff. It has an audience for it, which you can see if you go the Facebook page.

SB: Awesome. I have to see the movie now. It was just a matter of having such a perfect experience with the book and sort of leaving well enough alone. But I’m glad to hear that it has (like Dazed and Confused and HBO’s Mr. Show with Bob and David), found a second life on DVD. And I wanted to ask what are the main challenges of adapting your books to the screenplay format? Also, parts of “Go, Mutants!” are written in script format, but would direction-based jokes like “In BLACK AND WHITE, and not art” be lost in translation?

LD: Yeah, you just don’t do them. You come up with a different thing. For example, in “I Love You, Beth Cooper,” you don’t notice it because you’re hearing his internal voice but there’s a large section of the book where [protagonist Denis Cooverman] barely does any talking at all (he’s so scared) and so you can’t really have a main character acting that way in a movie. So we had to translate that into ‘he becomes a nervous talker’ but he talks too much but that was a translation you have to make. In “Go, Mutants!” there’s all sorts of levels that I don’t think you would put in a [screenplay]. If “Go, Mutants!” was like a Harry Potter-sized success, they’d do the test to get all those things in but if you’re just making this thing into a movie, you would jettison a lot of the political stuff. There might be seven or eight character storylines and I don’t think you’d want to do all of them in a movie. It just wouldn’t be satisfactory.

SB: Can you talk about receiving the 2008 Thurber Prize for American Humor? Its namesake and the other recipients put you in pretty, deservedly, rarified company.

LD: It was really exciting, I honestly didn’t think there was any chance I was going to win. The two people I was going up against both had produced really, really great books and I could think of really strong political reasons why either one of them should have won instead of me. Simon Rich was really young and so it just seemed like a great reason to give him the award and Patty [Marx], I also think she did an award-winning book [“Him Her Him Again The End of Him”] but she was also female and they hadn’t given the award to a female, so I thought that maybe that would be the way they would go and I was rightfully shocked when I won… but quite pleased.

SB: Does “Thurber Prize-nominated author” translate into the economic uptick, à la the Oscars? Although I’m sure it is sincerely an honor to be nominated.

LD: Because I was paying close attention, we did actually do pretty well off of that. I mean the magnitude is much different but we still did really well. I think it helped quite a bit.

SB: The paperback version of “Go, Mutants!” has an index of allusions, influences, suggestions and assorted ephemera (my word). You reference Larry Doyle’s childhood obesity [in the index] with the introduction of the Larry “Jelly” Sweeney,” character— the “big tub of purple goo in husky-boy clothes.” Is this factual or an embellishment, or both?

LD: I was a fat kid. I wasn’t super-obese or anything but I was fat enough that among my group of five friends, my nickname was “Fats.” So that’s fat, right?

SB: Since that reference was made to Page 40, I just have to compliment and share this passage with our readers. [Per a physical description of Manhattan High already in progress] “… and a central bell tower that had remained locked ever since Dr. Terwilliker, the old music teacher, had castrated dozens of pupils up there, using the pealing bell to mask their girlish screams, in hopes of creating an unstoppable five-hundred-boy soprano army, his plans becoming vague from there. Either that or the tower was locked because the administration didn’t want kids messing with the bell.” Is this an example of an idea that just materializes or has to be refashioned? And how much of that notion holds true for most of your writing?

LD: A lot of ideas materialize but that one is a reference to [1953’s] The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T., the only movie Dr. Seuss ever wrote.

SB: Man, I missed the reference. I was just tickled with the humor.

LD: [The movie] is about Dr. T. who tries to train 500 boys to play the piano at the same time. So he’s like an evil music teacher and then I obviously added horror movie elements to the whole [inaudible].

SB: Potential marketability of the high school setting aside, your first two books have elevated the genre’s bar. How similar was your high school experience with protagonists Denis Cooverman and J!m Anderson, and do you still think a lot about high school?

LD: I was writing about different things even though they were about high school. The first book was really, for me, about ritual and the second book was about tribe. And the reason why the second one is set in high school is because the first one was very successful. I had five books that I could’ve written as the second and I listed those five books for my agent and publisher and they picked the one that was set in high school. So that shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody.

SB: Would the New Yorker likely reject something in the vein of your “Huck of Darkness” piece from the National Lampoon (which presents lost episodes from “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” where Huck is twice violated) for thematic reasons? 

LD: They would reject that for all sorts of reasons. First of all, the material itself they would never run. I mean it’s porn basically… but done in the style of Mark Twain! So they would never do that. It’s also, I’d say, five times longer than anything they would run, and also stylistically, it’s a different style of doing things than I’ve ever seen them do. I wrote it when I was at the National Lampoon (that’s why I was there), and it was written specifically for the National Lampoon. I don’t think that I would’ve ever even tried to send something like that to the New Yorker.

SB: Is “Life Without Leann: A Newsletter” your first piece to appear in the New Yorker [Jan. 15, 1990] and if so, can you describe the editorial process and was that also your first submission?

LD: It definitely was my first submission [to appear]. I had submitted a bunch of things and eventually I sent something in and I didn’t get the usual rejection. I got the usual rejection with a little handwritten note on the bottom of it and that gave me a name to send stuff into, Julia Just was her name. And I eventually sent in a version of “Life Without Leann” and they wrote back a letter not actually rejecting it, having issues with it but not actually rejecting it. I was asked to revise it and I didn’t do so for more than a year because I had this thing that was not rejected yet by the New Yorker. And so I just held on to it for about a year and then about a year later when things were going pretty poorly in my life, I still had this unrejected New Yorker piece so I decided that the best thing to do would be to revise it and send it in and get it rejected because that’s how my life was supposed to be. The inconsistency of it was very bothersome to me. And then they took it but then it had further editing, I’d say at least six months of editing after that.

SB: Also, are there distinct things you’ve learned from editor-writer collaborations or is perfecting your craft largely do to continued writing?

LD: I think I’ve learned a lot from different editors about how to do things a particular way I’ve definitely learned a lot from Kurt Andersen who was my editor for a long time both at Spy and at New York [magazine] and I think I’ve picked up a lot of his sensibilities from the types of things that he brought to the table in terms of how I might do things. I think that I learned a lot on the ground at “The Simpsons,” just being around that many great comedy minds allowed me to soak up some approaches to comedy that I hadn’t thought of before.

SB: To me, your writing is extremely concise. It seems that you have a knack for garnering monster laughs from a minimal amount of words. It seems like this is your inherent style but is that the case or is that also something that’s been gleaned from working with editors?

LD: Some of it’s from working with editors and some of it’s from the requirements of the form. I used to write 1500 word pieces when the New Yorker published 1500 word pieces and now I write 800 word pieces because that’s what the New Yorker publishes.

SB: That’s about the average Casual length?

LD: Yeah, I’d say they go between six and nine hundred maybe.

SB: You won Emmys for two of the four years you we’re with “The Simpsons”…

LD: I won an Emmy one of the other years but I wasn’t eligible for it.

SB: Why is that?

LD: I wasn’t high enough up. I was a story editor and you had to be a producer and above to get the Emmy.

SB: Wow, thank you for highlighting that. Do you have a favorite moment or bit that you wrote for “The Simpsons”?

LD: Gosh.

SB: Or do you not have one?

LD: I don’t really have one. If you ask me what my favorite Simpsons joke is I can tell you what it is but I wasn’t there when they did it. I’m not going to get it right but it was in the “Lisa the Vegetarian” episode [Season 7, episode 5), which is also one of my favorite episodes and was written by David Cohen. Homer is badgering Lisa about, “Why would you want to be a vegetarian? Where would we be without the animal that gave us bacon or the animal that gave us ham or the animal that gave us pork chops?” And Lisa goes, “Dad, those are the same animal.” And Homer says, “Oh yeah right, Lisa, a wonderful, magical animal.”

SB: Is there a joke or bit you really liked but never got on air?

LD: I’m sure there were hundreds of them but I don’t remember, I’m sorry. We went through a lot of material on “The Simpsons” that didn’t get on the air. Many of the jokes that everybody laughed the hardest at wouldn’t be allowed on television.

SB: You earlier mentioned “attention” with Looney Tunes. My understanding is that with James L. Brooks’ involvement with “The Simpsons,” that he was able to establish an environment where there wasn’t a lot of attention.

LD: It was not an environment; it was a contractual reality. There was no executive input, besides people who worked on “The Simpsons.” The studio and the network had no say on what went on the show except for standards and we kind of ignored most of those anyway.

SB: With “The Simpsons” just celebrating their 500th episode, when is the last time, if ever, that you’ve thought about the impact your work has played as part of the global pop lexicon?

LD: I don’t. I had a great time on “The Simpsons.” I was there for four years and I’m really happy that I was there. I consider my contribution to the show to be minor. There are jokes and lines that I wrote, obviously, there are things that I contributed to the show but I had no significant influence on the direction of the show. The characters were already fully-formed. The only character I think that I introduced directly into the show was the Cat Lady. In a backhanded kind of way, I think I also introduced (although she was mostly George Meyer’s idea anyway) was the [corporate business woman] Lindsey Naegle character (who is played by Tres MacNeille) and she’s in all sorts of different things; in other words, whatever we need her to be into she’s into. But she had kind of appeared in a short form a couple times but her first fully-blown character appearance was in “Girly Edition” but, like I said, she wasn’t even my idea. I’m proud of having worked there but I really don’t think of it as like my legacy. “The Simpsons” isn’t something that I really can take credit for. That doesn’t mean that a single piece of PR about anything I’ve written doesn’t even mention that I worked for “The Simpsons,” but I can’t really take credit.

SB: A lot of the characters in your writing dream; it seems to be a common thread in your essays and books. How much, if at all, do dreams play a role in coming up with ideas?

LD: I don’t know, I hadn’t noticed that. It may just be [laughs] the clichés that I keep returning to. I like writing dreams because you can be doing something relatively realistic and still have crazy things happen in your dream. And sometimes dreams are a good way and, again, they’re almost like crutches but they’re a pretty good way to expose what characters are really thinking about things without having to come right out and say it. And in “Go, Mutants!,” it’s a metaphor for the whole thing. The reason why those things are in script form is because I sort of turned the world inside-out. The world of “Go, Mutants!” is the world of the movies made real. Right? And to play with that I have [J!m] dreaming in the forms of the movies that are the inspirations to the book. Each one of his dreams is taken from either a specific genre of horror film (like the first one where the monster is chasing the girl through the hallways of the school) or directly lifted. There’s a scene from Frankenstein in there. There’s a scene from It Came from Outer Space in one of the dreams.

SB: What writers do you find funny and also who were some of your influences?

LD: There are a lot of writers today that I find funny. Simon Rich, who I mentioned earlier, is very funny, as is Patty [Marx]. I thought Simon’s novel [2010’s “Elliot Allagash”] was great and all of his writing is very funny. Other writers I like but I consider influential even if no one else can see the influence… Thomas Pynchon and Donald Barthelme. A writer that I really like now who Barthelme made me think of is George Saunders.

SB: Whom I hate to say I am unfamiliar with.

LD: You should read him. He’s really great. It’s not pure comedy but it’s really great. Get his first book, which is a book of longer short stories called “CivilWarland in Bad Decline.” There’s no big surprise to the people I like. I like Charles Portis who wrote “True Grit,” but also…

SB: “Norwood”?

LD: He wrote “Norwood” and one of my favorite books, “The Dog of the South.”

SB: Excellent. Last question and it’s pretty random but I like asking people about generations generically. There’s always overlap but I guess you’re technically a Baby Boomer…

LD: I’m right at the end.

SB: I’m technically part of Generation X, not that we got together and decided to call ourselves that. And we weren’t a market force, given the number of Baby Boomers. So, a lot of my cohort had a little disdain for Boomers with exceptions of course (especially if someone was in an awesome garage or punk rock band or artists like Richard Linklater, who I think has a couple years on you but gets lumped into Generation X). I’m curious what difference you see between the two generations, if any?

LD: I don’t recognize them as real things— is the best way to put it.

SB: Nice, that’s really well put.

LD: I think that there are identifiable generations but I think that they’re probably much smaller than media tends to put them through. For example, Baby Boomers would include everybody from people who went into corporate America in the late Fifties to all the hippies to people who grew up in the Seventies, which is me. Right? All of whom had very different experiences and very different kinds of lives and so Generation X includes…

SB: It can go back to being born in ’65, I think is how some mark the earliest… not to interrupt.

LD: Right, that would put you into everything from people who came of age in the Go-Go Republican Eighties to grunge people to Silicon Valley type people, and the other thing too is that when you talk about a generation (even within any one set of time) there were people living completely different lives and having completely different identifications.

SB: Absolutely.

LD: Like in the late Sixties or Seventies, everyone thinks [everyone was] a hippie, well no they weren’t. There were a lot of people who had very conservative upbringings at that same period of time and whose friends were all very conservative and who never smoked pot. So, those are the kinds of things that define you rather than this sort of rather larger label. In the Baby Boomer generation, at least it defined a specific demographic phenomena but the Generation X thing doesn’t mean anything. It’s sort of self-defined by the media because they call it Generation X, meaning it’s the lost generation kind of thing? It’s only lost because they weren’t paying attention to it.

SB: Touché, that’s why we’ll joke that we were discovered by a Time magazine cover story [“twentysomething.” July 16, 1990]. Some Boomers, not all, had this notion that rock stopped and we were clobbered with classic rock (which is an oxymoron) while the best bands of my generation were completely ignored by Rolling Stone et al., and not that we were looking for their validation.

LD: What you’re saying is true and has always been true. Rolling Stone shouldn’t have been your magazine.

SB: Precisely.

LD: It’s like me grousing that when I was growing up Reader’s Digest didn’t cover any of the things I was interested in.

SB: [Laughing for the umpteenth time] Well put and I appreciate all your comment and insight on this and it’s not like “Oh, sour grapes!” It’s just something I enjoy talking about with people younger than me, close to my age, and older.

LD: One other thing on the generational thing, I’m supposedly a Baby Boomer; if it’s ’65 I’m still at the very, very tale end of it. So, I was never really part of the generation that I’m supposedly a part of and [I] felt some affinity for the other generations. I guess “on the cusp” is what they call it, like in your horoscope maybe. You’re not really a Scorpio— you’re a Scorpittarius. As a result, you had a popular culture that was covering itself and that was sort of alien to you. But you were also distinctly another level down. Keep in mind that until the Sixties and Seventies really took hold, the youth culture was not covered by the mainstream media (that you would recognize that much). And when it was, it was always done in the most patronizing way and it didn’t begin to dominate until those people started becoming adults or until they became so big that it couldn’t be ignored anymore. But in the Sixties, you would be hard-pressed to find a review of a rock band in the New York Times. It just didn’t happen and the movies that were the big movies that would get covered were movies like Becket and Doctor Dolittle. They weren’t Easy Rider. So it’s always been the case that the adult culture is not covering what’s going on in the youth culture very well. And part of that is often by design of the youth culture because they want their thing to be alien to the adults in some way. And it’s not always a rebellion issue; it’s a “this is our thing” issue. They want to have something that they can identify as being different and hopefully somewhat mysterious to somebody over a certain age. For me, I never felt like a Baby Boomer. By watching what was covered in the media I always felt like that I was just getting a free preview of what was coming up. Now I’m hearing all about Alzheimer’s. Sweet! Right? People are writing all about that. So I’ve got that going fifteen years down the road. Retirement is now in every single article. So I’m getting kind of a preview but it’s still not my life right now.

*

Visit Larry Doyle’s web site HERE

 

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,