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SPEW

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Fri, Jan 06


IT WAS THAT GODDAMNED EYE-ROLL

@ 12:00 AM

[This SPEW used to start with a paragraph containing a link you could click.  The link would take you to the Tumblr post by a young comedian who had a problem with the way I handled a heckler/videotaper at an open mike I was performing at. 

The opening paragraph also created the fiction that I was engaging in a polite, reasoned dialogue about the responsibility of the performer towards the audience and emotions and feelings and blah blah fucking blah.

The person has since taken the Tumblr post down, blithely stating, “…I just felt it had run its course and didn’t really need to be out there anymore.”

Well thanks, asshole!  I guess I “just feel” that the friendly, introductory paragraph for this entry had “run its course” and doesn’t “really need to be out there anymore”. 

But my response to your Tumblr, I think, really really really needs to still be out there, which is the reason I wrote it in the first place.  I never had any intention of winning back your approval, since you quickly showed yourself to be the same sort of opportunistic, fame-hungry climber I’ve gone out of my way to avoid throughout my career.  (That thing you wrote over on aspecialthing.com, about how you were “…crafting your response” to this SPEW?  Yuck.  The mind reels…)

So allow me to admit to some opportunism of my own.  I saw your entitled, sub-literate Tumblr post as yet another opportunity to hammer into the public’s head this simple, why-do-we-even-need-to-state-it-idea:  Don’t film performers during their sets.  Period.  Especially at open mikes which are a place where we try to work out new material, in its roughest form, and don’t want it preserved in that form unless we choose to.  There is absolutely no response too harsh, no public shaming too severe, and nowhere too low to sink when slamming some idiot who digs into their pocket for a camera phone and begins, with all of the focus and passion of a monkey picking its ass, to film material you’re struggling with at their convenience.

I’ll finish here so you can begin “…crafting your response.”] 

I just re-read your Tumblr post.  It was sensible and well-reasoned.  I see every single point you're making. Based on what you saw, you nailed me and the night I ruined.  

 Based on what you saw.

I let what seemed to be a minor insult to my precious "comedy" escalate into a hateful, personal attack and, much worse, fester into a public motherfucking of someone who'd left the room and was no longer there to defend herself.   It doesn't track, does it -- how did my initial, sincere, "Could you please not tape this?" warp-spasm into the vitriolic, "Time has not been kind, madam" shit-flinging?

Maybe this will fill in the gaps.  Or not.   

I have the liberty of telling my side of this, but you retain the freedom of deciding for yourself what to make of me.

What you didn't see was the girl's attitude the second I called her out on her taping.  

For starters, whatever camera phone she was using had a piercing, distracting light on it which she merrily aimed right into my eye.  

Worse, here's when she started taping:  halfway through a new, longer joke that I'm working on -- a very embarrassing recollection from my younger years that I'm very nervous about performing and still very unsure of how to unspool.  This was only the fourth time I've ever performed it, as well as the fourth time I've ever admitted this incident in public.  So it still feels like a very nervy high wire walk for me.  There's times when I lose the audience and have to get them back, freeze up, and wonder if I shouldn't have just kept this whole incident to myself.  I'm walking into new territory with this one, and it's scary and I feel very raw and dry-mouthed when I do it.

I can't stress this enough:  she clumsily brought the camera out and started taping after I'd done half of the story.

So now I was facing someone walking around -- a clumsily, socially blunt someone who clearly has no boundaries or sense of esthetics or shame -- with half of a half-formed, very personal and embarrassing story I'm trying to hone into something good, just sitting on a device in her pocket.  A device which, anytime she's had one drink too many or is in whatever weird mood she may or may not get into, can whip out and play this to -- well, whoever.  

So in that single act I've lost control of which version of my story has been turned from signal to noise, as well as who decides when, where, and to whom it's shown.

It's the equivalent, to me, of sitting at a table in a coffee shop or library, writing the first draft of a short story, or screenplay or, were I a musician, song lyrics, and having someone walk by, snap the sheet away from my fingers, snap a pic with their camera, and then say, "Hey, I'm a fan of your stuff.  I want the new thing you're working on permanently on my phone now.  I'm deciding when it's 'done.'"

To make it even more infuriating, she then said -- after I politely objected -- "You're going to want this later," as if she were the rational, intelligent one in this exchange, and I was some neophyte who was doing his first open mike.  Yes, that's egotistical of me to say, but fuck it.  I've been doing this for twenty three years.  Ego was what got me started.

This is not the first time this has happened to me.  Here are some other delightful encounters with "fans" (and anyone who thinks this is a new phenomenon brought on my the advent of camera phones needs to read Harlan Ellison's essay "Xenogenesis", available in The Essential Ellison which is, as the title says, essential reading):

My Weakness Is Strong special.  

Two weeks before the special was set to air, someone contacts me and says the first ten minutes are already up on YouTube.  Sure enough, I do a search, and there's the blurry, first 10 minutes of my special, shot with a camera phone from what looked like the 30th row.

I contacted the filmer, politely asked him to remove it and -- wow!  He did it!  He apologized and said he was a "huge fan" and didn't realize he'd made a mistake.  Aaaaaannd...you know, he's got these other thirty or forty other short films on his YouTube channel, so could I maybe watch all of them, write up a critical assessment for each one, and maybe introduce him to my manager or agent?  When I wrote back and apologized, saying it would be unfair of me to say, "Yes" when I didn't have to time to do any of that, he wrote back (and I quote): "That's cool.  Kinda bummed though -- I DID take that video down for you."

The Crystal Ballroom, Portland

There are very few cities more fun to perform in than Portland, Oregon.  Let me say that right off the bat.

I was near the end of my set when I decided to do a chunk of new stuff I was working on.  It was such an amazing crowd, and I was in such a good mood and, to be truthful, was feeling greedy, and didn't want to let them go, they were that good.  And I knew this would be a good chance to try out, for maybe the third time, a chunk of new stuff I was only mildly confident with.

And I let the crowd know that this is some new stuff I'm going to try out, and that I've got a closing bit ready that I know works in case the new stuff tanks.  The crowd laughs gets excited and makes me feel great and I go into it.

And just as I start, a faux-hawked "culture jammer" with a cameraphone and, I'm sure, an American Express Platinum Card in his Rag and Bone jacket, rushes to the lip of the stage and starts filming me.

"Oh, can you not do that?  This is new stuff and I don't want it getting on the inter -- "

He says, "I don't have an internet connection."

"Well, uh..." I'm thrown by this.  "Uh, this is new stuff I'm working on, and uh, I mean, if you want it for your personal use, as long as you don't upload it..."

He sneers, "Why the fuck would I want to watch this shit?"

Now I'm thrown even more.  I'm too confused/enraged to even engage the illogic of his statement, and then it hits me -- he doesn't want to tape my new material.  He wants to tape me getting pissed off, and upload that.

Before I can say anything else, two security guys come up and, like Visigoths with ballet training, deftly whip his camera phone from his hand, pop out the memory card, daintily hand it back, and escort him down the center aisle.  As the "culture jammer" is being led away, he turns and gives me a withering, Jamba Juice-healthy smile.

Now flash forward back to last night, upstairs at The Palace (which I'll return to, every single Thursday that I can, to work on new stuff, for free).  You saw me ask the woman, again, to not tape me.  And you heard her say, "I'm deleting it now."

But what you didn't see was her say, "I'm deleting it now" with the same, withering smirk I saw in the Crystal Ballroom.  In other words, "I'm not deleting this, and fuck you."

And you didn't see her roll her eyes at her two friends, who rolled their eyes back, and nodded in agreement when she mouthed, "What an asshole."

Now, from that point and beyond, I should've kept my cool.   And I didn't.   All of my past resentments toward the entitled and beautiful and dismissive and cruel and, especially, the ones who confuse a "dark sense of humor" with "being mean" -- all of these resentments rocketed out of my pores likes bats fleeing a collapsing cave.  That part, the eruption that continued even after they left?  That's on me.  I should've been cooler.

But it was that goddamned eye roll.  And that smirk, as if through the arrow-slit of a castle the smirker had no right to live in.

 



 
 
   
   
   
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