Monday, September 29, 2008

Specal K with Ba-na-naaaas.

I have a new post in the works about things I've been thinking about lately and some recent unfortunate events that are sure to amuse you all even if they were horrific for me. But for now I'd like to share this with you:

Friday, September 12, 2008

My aunt keeps her shoes in the oven, too!

What exactly is a Maui Taco? I'm still not sure. All I know is that the place that makes them has a basement wtih a stage and a weekly gathering of New York City's unsightly's - including myself. For that one week, at least. Perhaps more in the future, but I'm still recovering from my first experience in front of that disheveled graffiti tin-roof background and duct-taped microphone.

The Maui Taco is indeed a taco eatery, although I did not partake in any of their menu items. I can't eat before I perform. Well, I can, but I've found that my time before getting on stage is best spent looking over my tentative set list than umm. . . well, you understand what I'm getting at. No need to be rude. Let's just say I still get a bit anxious before I perform.

I brought a few friends along for moral support in case the place turned out to be some kind of scary dive bar. In high school I did attend open mics at such places, but never by myself and always with my two 30-something trench-coat wearing bitter yet endearing male comedian friends. And, especially in the city, I was determined not to make a go of it alone at this juncture. My mom makes sure to relay every story about young college girls being raped and mugged in late-night Manhattan.

When we got to the outside of the "venue" -and I use this term loosely - I was confused. It looked like an indie version of a Taco Bell. I kept apologizing profusely to my companions, warning them that this wasn't a regular show, open mics are usually sucky, and not to be alarmed. I promised them that I would do whatever it takes to make up to them this possible several hours of torture. As a comedian I am used to such drudgery, and once once goes to an open mic one realizes why many comics are so bitter and "tortured" and angry by the time they make it. Go to one on a Tuesday or Wednesday night, and stay the whole time no matter what. You're bound to ooze frustration. But it's part of paying your dues and any performer should never complain if they're getting an opportunity to step on a stage. But I still believe it's okay to realize that watching one unfriendly yet unfunny and uncleanly performer after another drunkenly swagger onto a stage that barely sits six inches high off of the floor is a pretty shitty way to spend a night. Getting your own five minutes during which other breathing human beings are forced to listen to your words is definitely worth it, however. I think in a later blog post I will get all "deep" about how weird it is to be alone in front of people with only your words to woo them and get them to like you. The performer is basically in control of the audience's lives for however long they stand up there. But back to the Maui Taco.

The host was drunk, 80% of the other comics were at least a couple drinks in, and the friends I brought were the only non-performers in the dank, dark basement dungeon of forced, uncomfortable laughter. I felt right at home. When I first moved to New York City I had been afraid to perform here, even at the no-pressure open mics. I imagined that everyone would be very cold and snooty and look down on me as a young know-nothing loser who doesn't know a tag from a call-back. So wrong I was. The open mics here are E X A C T L Y like they are in Albany. Awkard but kind of exciting, small audience, small stage. I think it must be universal. It's an interesting experience; everyone pretty much keeps to themselves and talks to whoever they came with. They sit at tables alone while scribbling and clandestinely peering around. There's always one or two comedians that will come over and introduce themselves, and it turns out to be just a passing greeting or something "clicks" and you end up having a really long exchange about your crazy families until the event commences.

Here's a few realy embarassing pictures of me and a couple of my best friends from high school at various open mics around the Capital Region:

My really realy old Webshots!

I would have just posted a couple here, but Blogger is being a douche.

It's nice to connect with other people who have similar inner-workings of the mind; others who are not afraid to share things about themselves at the expense of being considered Odd in "normal" situations. The reality is, once you find someone like that to converse with, you're not weird at all. You fit right in. I kind of befriended this one young woman who used to go to NYU just like me, and she told me some of the darkest, disturbing details of her life and how she got into comedy. I shared some similar stories -although I'm not sure I topped her long family history of debauchery and drugs. Still, I've always felt that in order to be a really good performer, you have to have some kind of burning sense of redemption and miscellaneous yearning working for you. That moment was the first time in a while that I thought, "Wow, this is it. This is where I'm supposed to be. (Not specifically at the Maui Taco, I think I'm at least ready for the Alaskan Enchilada). This is probably the only place where I won't consistently get that 'awww you're kind of funny but really weird and take it a little too far' look." Just ask me about performing at the sonic boom that was Gould Plaza. And any recitation or group hang-out with new people I've ever attended.

I'm so grateful for my friends who came to support me, but there was a point when I felt them getting bored and creeped out by the excessive and aggressively not funny dick/boobie/vagina jokes. I don't really hear them anymore. Whenever there's someone who's having a difficult time onstage, it's best not to dwell on it and I always make sure to laugh heartily at anything they say that might have some kind of potential. What I actually really liked about this particular open mic was that if you had good material, you got laughs. I've been to way too many places where the comics just sit there stone-faced, even trying not to laugh, just because they're too absorbed in their own stuff.

I do believe that mis amigas gained something from the experience. Not only did we "fuse like a family," as any emotionally harrowing experience spent in a beer-stained basement that reeks of sour cream and old salsa (just listen to Colin Meloy and his musical account of male prostitutes), but I think they learned a bit about why I am the way I am. Most importantly, they learned never to eat nachos constructed with a Hawaiian flare.

Here's the video from that night. Thank you Katy for posting it! I look pretty terrible but I'm willing to blame it on the poor lighting choices made by the interior designer of that classy cellar of a room. No, I don't know why I did a jig in the middle of my set, either. It's a compliment that the camera shook a bit at some parts because it means at least Katy was laughing.

Remember, similar to the disclaimer I fed my friends, it was just an open mic. But it's still somethin'.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

How do I reach these KEEEEDS?!

I've noticed that my conversations with people go through phases, and that no matter who I'm talking to I always end up mentioning the same 2 or 3 key events or thoughts that are galloping through my brain's pastures at the time. It's as if I need to bounce my words off of anyone who will listen to make sure all that I'm thinking is acknowledged and examined from other perspectives. Another reason behind it could be that my endeavors as a comic have programmed my mind to organize itself into set lists. Once I have those two or three stories/anecdotes/quandaries, I have to try them out on as many audiences as possible until everyone I know is aware and amused by them - or until I get sick of telling them. So, dear reader, I'd like to let you in on my current Mind's Set List. It's a little longer than I would normally work into conversation with any given person, but that's perhaps because all of this has built up within the past couple of weeks of getting back into the school/Broome Street groove.

My first "bit" has to do with something that I'm avoiding by typing this very post. I should be reading a book called SMALL VICTORIES for my class, "Education as a Social Institution." How vague and uninteresting the title is. Guess what the book's about?! I bet you can't. Unless you've seen "Dangerous Minds," "Freedom Writers," that Matthew Perry Hallmark Teaching Movie, or "The Dead Poets' Society," et. al. There's even a South Park episode that mocks this format (it's where I get the title for today's rant). I love inspirational teacher movies just as much as the next over-privileged, spoiled, sentimental little white girl, but I'm sick of learning about it in classes that are supposed to prepare me to be a teacher.

The book is about a young white woman teacher in an urban school who figures out that she needs to "get down with the kids" in order to get them to do their schoolwork. She swears with them, calls them on the phone, brings in food, and does everything but write them a rap song about Walt Whitman. (This has been done, however. See that Matthew Perry movie, he raps about the PreZidentZ.) Her whole goal is to get them out of the Lower East Side and away from their screwed up lives. I appreciate her efforts (she's a real teacher) and I understand her troubles (I actually worked in the very high school she taught in), but I'm just so sick of the plot. At this point I've already had to read a billion of these accounts, including "Educating Esme," which is oddly about another young white woman with red curly hair in a tough New York City school. Her and Jessica Seigel are one and the same. Every NYU education class brings the same discussions and never lets us ever try to solve them for ourselves.

Yes, schools are bad here. Yes, the students have shittily scary lives. Yes, it's a social class issue. Yes, the school system is corrupt and screws with the funding. And that's as far as the classes go. We're never allowed to think of solutions to these problems. Our heads get filled with lofty progressive education ideals and discussons about "mislabeling" students as "learning disabled" when they're really just "learning differences."

If the student needs extra help and cannot function without it, it's a disability that needs to be addressed. When you call it a "learning difference" the effected students and parents could brush it off by saying, "Oh, why are you bothering us? He doesn't need extra help, he's just different." It's one thing if a kid has to go home and sing his vocabulary words to himself to learn them, it's another if he physically can't move his hand to form the aphabet with his pencil. He needs assistance.

With the amount of time that has been spent discussing the "proper terminology" for various problems and worrying about everyone's feelings, phone calls could have been made, help could have been found, and those problems could have been solved. It probably doesn't help that I have fairly radical views about what a good teacher should be, but that's neither here nor there and the explanation of these views deserves another forum entirely.

My second and third and fourth preoccupations are kind of entertwined.

Don't make fun of me, but only just recently have I seen the film "American Beauty."

But I think it's in my top three favorite movies of all time. It makes me wonder why I never thought of/wanted to see it. I think it had something to do with the picture it's famous for. When I read the title and saw the picture, I automatically assumed that Julia Roberts was going to be in it and it was going to have something to do with a woman and a man and they're Hugh Grant-ish dialogue. I didn't realize it was a young girl and not a well-known Hollywood starlette covered in roses.

Pardon me, but I must say: HOLY FUCK was I wrong. I had no idea it was going to be this dark, penetrating, poignant film that would make me sob. And fall in love with Kevin Spacey.

And no, people who know me well, it has nothing to do with the age difference between Lester Burnham and his little rosebud. In fact, the movie argues against their situation. It has everything to do with the idea of saying "Fuck it!" and finally doing what you want. . . and that decision's consequences, good and bad. It's about appreciating the sweetness behind everything and being overwhelmed by it. And realizing that the pain from the raw beauty of everything you see every day is better than not feeling anything at all. The argument and execution is perfect.

Spacey's delivery of lines is so precise and, forgive my annoying oxymoron, seriously comical, that I giggle in all the right places. This exchange is one of my favorites:

Carolyn Burnham: Uh, whose car is that out front?

Lester Burnham: Mine. 1970 Pontiac Firebird. The car I've always wanted and now I have it.
*thrusts fist into the air*. . . I rule!

Never much of a crier, I watched this movie practically three nights in a row and weeped every time. The first time I kind of sobbed, but it could have had a little to do with the rum. The second and third times, however, there were no outside circumstances. This sounds a bit over the top, but I think I can honestly say that something inside craved to see it again. Every time he picks up that picture frame, the string connecting my heart and brain gets plucked, signaling the buckets that had been filling up behind my eyes to spill out their warm liquid. It's an overwhelming feeling that's incredibly intense, making me feel excruciatingly awful and euphoric at the same time. Few other things have ever made me feel this way. Actually, only a couple other fleeting things I can think of. But it's something so rare that I am compelled to share.

I get the same feeling when I think about the ocean. Whenever I get fed up with the life that's directly in front of me and spitting in my face, I've been known to always mention my desire to "go to the ocean and never come back." Escaping completely is not even an option for me (a baby was born 4 years ago and one is on the way - not mine, of course, though I still feel attached to them), but just thinking about it makes me feel powerful.

This brings me to my next topic: being a mariner. I've always loved the water, but ever since the Bryan Waterman (one of the Faculty Fellows in Residence at the Residential College at Broome Street) took us sailing on the historic schooner The Pioneer, I've caught the sea-bug. I desperately want to learn how to sail. Working at the South Street Seaport is something I've already looked into, and I hope to hear from them soon. There's a possibility I could volunteer on a ship and learn to sail with them. The idea of floating out there, away from everyone and everything, is very appealing to me. When I was a kid I loved building forts and sleeping and eating cheese and crackers and milk in enclosed spaces. It made me feel warm and safe and special. (I kind of get the same feeling from reading about certain periods of history and visiting historical sites, perhaps it's linked somehow...).

Recently I've just learned of a program called S.E.A., through Boston University. You spend 6 weeks on the shore in Massachusetts and 6 weeks on a 136ft ship. The students are not only there to study, but they are the crew and the cooks and the scientists. To be away from land for that long is something I'd be very excited about. An act of deprivation and survival and hard work, along with that feeling of starting with nothing is something I've always wanted to experience. I've never had to physically work all that hard ever in my life, and for once I'd like to. As Jack Kerouac said of the Merchant Marine, I want to "work the lard off my belly" and probably gain a new perspective on just about everything.

In the same topic of isolation, I've also deactivated my Facebook. I think of it as a big step into adulthood. I'm not saying I won't regress and that I'll never get back on the wagon, but for the time it just feels good. I've wasted too much time clicking around, being creepy, stalking the same people's pages over and over again that it's unhealthy. I know I'm not the only one who looks for hidden messages in other people's activities and statuses, and it's just an odd way to spend one's days. Being contacted out of boredom is annoying and I'd rather people only contact me who really want to, not because they feel obligated to reply to whatever I may have posted / or if I "wrote on their wall." So sure, I guess it has a lot to do with wanting to remove myself from the norm. But it aso has a lot to do with my personal willpower. I became caught up in stupidities like "OMG What pictures do I have up? What funny link can I post next? I have to make sure everyone knows all of the cool music and movies I like so they know I'm cool." It was pretty pathetic of me and I feel kind of embarassed about it. But, it's okay. Once I learn how to use Facebook without abusing it I will be back. But it might not be for a while. In the meantime, I sure do seem to have an abundance of time to get my reading done!

And I am reading MOBY DICK, for my Conversations of the West requirement. The book is verbal crack. It definitely does not help me in my ever-present desire to figuratively "jump ship" from everything I'm doing right now in Manhatto and scramble onto a real ship as fast a possible. Melville is The Man.

More later. Much more. But the hour is late.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

My apologies.

This blog has taken a turn for the worse. It's been annoying blathering about nothing. And there's no excuse for it. But it will redeem itself shortly. In the meantime, enjoy my current favorite comedian: