Why an album? Why now?
I’ve been asked that a few times, and those questions confuse me. I guess there are plenty of reasons not to, but why wouldn’t I jump at an opportunity like this? This is what REAL comedians do, right?
I’m releasing an album because I am a fan of comedy. Comedy has kept me company in my room, late at night, on long drives and harsh flights. I counted on George Carlin, Brian Regan, Mitch Hedberg, Steve Martin, Bill Hicks, Eddie Izzard, Dave Attell, Chris Rock, Greg Giraldo, Richard Pryor and so many more to talk me through those moments and make me laugh. Somehow I found them all simultaneously challenging AND comforting.
I like comedy. I love good, smart comedy, especially if it’s about the dumbest stuff. What’s one more CD thrown into the global comedy mix? I hope that my album somehow stands out. I’d like to think that someone will sift through the clutter of excellent stuff and mediocre stuff out there and stumble upon my work. I’d like to think that I’d briefly keep that person company too. Maybe it’s another angry, lonely kid who could really use the laugh.
Maybe this is my chance to give a little something back to this big cosmic thing that I love. A little something so that I too “may contribute a verse.”
I’m releasing an album because I have this fantasy that an industry insider will hear it and ask, “Where the hell has this guy been?” Well, he’s been quietly (and not so quietly) slugging it out in clubs, bars, schools, and conference rooms in 27 out of 50 states for over twelve years. Taking workshops, crafting material, weeding out the derivative and “easy” jokes, and working hard at getting good. Although somewhat accomplished, the rejections FAR outnumbered the victories…always, seemingly, in the VICINITY of the elusive, mythical Big Break, but falling short for one reason or another. A guy who wanted to quit on an almost daily basis. A guy who didn’t quit.I’m releasing an album because I want to make something “real.” As a child, I remember seeing my dad’s Political Science thesis on the bookshelf. It was bound and his name was embossed on the spine. I didn’t know it wasn’t a real, published book, but it looked like a real book and it made me proud. A Tool and Die man, my mom’s father made things. I spent hours and hours in his workshop watching (and helping) him make boxes, toys and sculptures.
Like my mother’s paintings, my father’s businesses, my grandfather’s woodworking, my mother-in-law’s quilts or my wife’s theater costumes, I want to make something real…a piece of evidence that says, “This is what I’ve learned while I was here.”
I drew comic books in middle school. They were six pages of cartoons that told a story…more Mad Magazine or newspaper comic strips (Calvin & Hobbes, Bloom County, Far Side) than superhero comic books. I drew a new one every month. And it wasn’t enough that they told a funny story; they had to have a cover with official looking titles and logos and publishing dates and a cover price (50 cents). I included ads for fake products…they had to look like real comics.
Dutifully (and patiently), my dad would take my original pages to Office Depot or Kinko’s and make me copies, front and back. For whatever reason, this was important to me and so it became a part of our routine. My dad never made me feel like this was a waste of his or my time.
I would staple them and sell them at school. I still have the originals in some box somewhere.I’m releasing an album because time is short. I’ve lost friends, acquaintances, and heroes…all who had something more to say. Not to be morbid, but I want to leave something tangible for my friends and family while I can.
I spent my last birthday very sick and awfully scared, and I didn’t share this news with many people. For nearly six months, I suffered from what would eventually be determined to be a virus that kept evading diagnosis. It started with an ache that turned into a weakness that turned into a loss of function. I had no idea what was going on with my body…no fever, no cold or flu-like symptoms. Early blood tests alarmed enough medical professionals to warrant specialists and more, expensive testing. The first two months were the most painful. I had no idea what was wrong with me. How long will this last? Will this be permanent? It didn’t help that I tend to panic.
I shook. My hands hurt and my fingers lost their ability to grasp. I couldn’t hold a pencil or click a mouse, so I was afraid I would never draw again – my identity in jeopardy. It was nearly impossible to drive for a few weeks.
My speech became slurred, so I was afraid that I would also lose my ability to perform. I kept going on stage during that time (just not as often), but I never mentioned being sick. I think most people assumed I was a little drunk, which no one questions in the world of professional stand-up comedy.
My arms were useless. While I could once be counted on to haul heavy stuff, I was struggling to lift my 2-year-old son who couldn’t understand why his dad just wouldn’t pick him up. My legs had no strength. I couldn’t walk, sit or sleep.
I was the big guy who didn’t have the best looks or biggest brains, but he could draw, make people laugh, and could help you move furniture. For a short time, it looked like I wouldn’t even have that stuff anymore. I was angry, feeling betrayed again by my own body.
Every time I talked about it, I would cry. So I didn’t talk about it.
Once, while paying yet another large sum to the clueless rheumatologist’s receptionist, the overhead radio started playing 38 Special’s “Hold On Loosely.” I laughed so hard right there in the waiting room. The Universe was cracking a joke.
Eventually, the mystery illness faded away. Pain was mostly gone and my strength came back. No more blood work or CAT scans. No more rheumatologists or neurologists. No more shaking and slurring. At least not for any medical reasons.
My material is an autobiographical time capsule. It is what I feel and how I think, though slightly exaggerated in some cases – it’s why I’m careful about what and how I joke about things. There will be a day when my sons – if they get curious or bored enough – could listen and have an unfiltered view into my heart and mind during this point in our lives together. They’d realize that this was what I was doing with my time away from them…why I couldn’t be home as often as I wanted to be. Why I was so tired and cranky in the mornings. They could listen and hear all the things I found funny and infuriating and special and confounding about them as children. How desperately lost at times I felt as a father. How much I love my family.
Maybe they’ll listen to it and understand me in a way that I don’t understand my own parents. They won’t have to rely on fading memories…I will be telling them in my own voice, in as entertaining and honest a way as possible hopefully. If this helps them know me just a little bit better, than I have to believe that none of this has been a waste of time.
Finally, I am releasing an album so I have shit to sell after shows.
I don’t know what else to say about this last weekend. It was the culmination of so much writing, performing, planning and worrying. Just like life, the best laid plans don’t mean anything once the “show” starts. The “show” has a way of steering in the weird, awful, random, drunken, amazing directions it wants to go. And just like life, my first reaction is usually anger…anger that things aren’t going my way, that someone’s idiotic interruptions are derailing my crafted thoughts, that I have lost all control.
Then I realize that I had no control to begin with. The best I can do is roll with it…maybe smile and try to enjoy it. Stay standing.
I really don’t like the moments immediately before going on stage…I’m way too much in my head. I also don’t really like the moments immediately after my set. My blood and adrenaline are still pumping…I compose myself to greet and thank everyone who files past.
My favorite part of my set is about three-quarters of the way in, when it’s been going well. The audience has been laughing and playing along and I’m not struggling to “fill the time.” I know that if they’ve enjoyed the show so far, they have NO idea what kind of awesomeness awaits them. I don’t feel like a rock star…I feel relief. It’s a relief that comes from believing that I haven’t wasted anyone’s time. That I was worth the price of admission, the drive, scheduling the babysitter and everything that you ask of a person when you invite them to sit down and listen to you for a bit.
I can’t stress how appreciative I am for everyone who has patted my back, sent a kind word, laughed and clapped, and said, “Yes.”
The bad shows made me better. The good shows made me want to be better.
I love that a group from the 8 o’clock show stayed for the 10:30 show and that I was able to give them two different hours. There has to be an album or two in what we got.
And those albums will be funny. If nothing else, they won’t suck.
I can’t wait for you to hear them.