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Don't Shit Where You Eat! ™

Review: Jim Gaffigan and “Flakrim?”

Comedy Posted on Mon, May 15, 2023 14:50:09

Went to see Jim Gaffigan last week in Stockholm. He was very good, much better than his latest Netflix special, and the subject matter was surprisingly lacking in food. He had a few chunks on the Bible, though, and I get the feeling that comics hit the Bible when they’re having a hard time filling out an hour. I saw Louis CK do the same thing last year.

And that’s all I want to say about Gaffigan. This post is really about his opening act. When comics visit Stockholm from overseas, they sometime bring opening acts with them, or just go without. Sometimes, the promoter will book local talent as an opener, and this adds a little sting to those of us in the crowd who are comics. Not only are we not on stage, we know the person who is.

I had no idea if Gaffigan would have an opening act or not and my jaw dropped when I heard the announcer say, in heavily accented English, “Ladies and Gentlemen, please put your hands together for Jim Gaffigan’s opening act: Flakrim!” I’ve known the guy for years and, seeing him on stage, felt one part jealousy and two parts pride. His full name is Flakrim Fejzullahu and I’ve advised him for a very long time to adopt a stage name, so I chuckled to myself that the announcer didn’t even attempt to say his last name.

Gaffigan is a rare bird these days, squeaky clean, and I assumed- correctly, it turned out- that someone had told Flakrim to be clean as well. He did his set in English and didn’t even say as much as bitch. He did a 9/11 joke, however, and I was impressed by the size of his balls that he would try to pull that off and happy for him that it worked.

I met him five years ago when I went out deep into the west of Sweden, to do a spot at Karlstad Komedi Klubb (which is called KRP and not KKK, for some reason). He was hosting that night and my immediate thought was, “Oooofff, I guess this counts as good in Karlstad.” Not to put too fine a point on it, he was TERRIBLE. Talking to him later, though, I found out that, not only had it been his first time hosting a show, it was the second or third time he’d been on a stage at all.

Eventually, he made the move to Stockholm and hit the grind hard. He proved himself very quickly as someone who could be counted on, on stage and off. I saw him very often at Power Comedy Club and, one night, he told me he was jealous of the thickness of my beard. I told him that mine used to be thin until I slathered my face with honey before going to bed. I could tell he didn’t think I was joking and that, if I didn’t say anything more, he’d give it a try, so after an hour I told him I was just fucking with him.

After Gaffigan was done, I caught up to Flakrim in the lobby. As we were talking, an older American woman stopped as she was walking by to tell him he was good. She asked him his name again and, after hearing it, replied, “Flakrim?” with a scowl on her face. She said it like, “Seriously? That’s the stage name you’re going with?” It’s a curse, being right all the time.

He’s a good dude and still practically a teenager, so I’m glad it’s going well for him. But since it’s going much better for him than for me, I kinda wish I let him go to bed covered in honey.

Committing to the Bit

Comedy Posted on Mon, May 08, 2023 05:24:26

Ok, now over two weeks without snus and hopefully the worst is behind me. I went through nearly a week solid of depression; last Monday, as I wrote the last blog entry, I was in the middle of it, which slightly explains the whining. When I’m at my worst, I like to imagine what I would say to someone who really pissed me off, and how they would respond. And how I’d respond to that. And how they’d respond to that. And on and on until, twenty minutes later, I’m furious about an imaginary conversation that will likely never take place. I love my brain sometimes.

By last Thursday, I felt lighter than I had in a week, and since I had a shift at On Air anyway, I asked for a spot at Big Ben after. Man, I’ve been to Big Ben more this year than the past two or three years combined. As I don’t like going to Big Ben unless I’ve got new things to work out, the fact that I’ve been there so often the past several weeks really says something.

I’ve got 99 problems and being a snob is one of them. I’m really trying to lighten up but I can’t help myself and I think I’m getting worse, or maybe it’s just because I’m not used to hanging in the open mics as often as I used to. Sometimes, I’ll see a rookie onstage and my chest hurts. I wish I could be laid back enough to just be happy for anyone who wants to use their time to do whatever they want instead of judging comics who have just said the exact same joke the exact same way for the thousandth time or the new guy spending over a third of his set on anal sex or literally dozens of other reasons.

Then again, maybe it’s withdrawal that makes me less patient. I did bark at two other comics who decided to have a long and not particularly quiet conversation during someone else’s set. Fortunately, they both thought I was kidding and also stopped talking so much, so win-win.

My main goal was to try a new approach on a new bit. I mentioned in the last entry that I have a new bit about race that I really like but, unfortunately, it didn’t go the way I’d hoped the first few times. Long story short, it starts off about Black actors cast in traditionally white roles in TV and movies. My first crack at it, I complained about Rocky being replaced by Creed and it did okay, but the crowd wasn’t very comfortable with a middle-aged white man talking about race.

I tried a new approach last Thursday, this time directly attacking white people who are upset about “Blackwashing.” Just one problem- I didn’t like this version as much as the original and I think it showed. This time, the crowd was just as uncomfortable at the start, but I didn’t get them back at the end like I did the first try.

Mind you, I tried one approach twice and another once. This isn’t nearly often enough to demonstrate the worthiness of either, but I hope I’ve been in standup long enough to trust my instincts. If we don’t enjoy our material, if we don’t believe in it, the crowd can tell. Not only that, we have to believe in it enough to really sell it, to go the extra mile to prove to everyone that it’s funny.

Based on these experiences, I have a third approach to test this Thursday at Big Ben, if I can. In theory, I like this approach even more than the first version, and that should help. Or maybe it won’t and I’ll just have to accept that I’m not talented enough to overcome my whiteness when joking about race.

Anyway, last Thursday’s set was thoroughly average, which didn’t help my grumpy mood. (It was also in the aftermath that I barked at the Chatty Cathys sitting near me.) I felt like going home, but at another club several days before, there was a visiting comic from LA and I didn’t stay for her set. She was also at Big Ben that night, so I decided to stay and watch.

She started with, “The Swedish word for kiss is ‘puss’ and for pee is ‘kiss’?! What a country!” and I could not leave Big Ben fast enough. Snob, as I said.

Use Your Delusion

Comedy Posted on Mon, May 01, 2023 06:02:37

As of this writing, I’m ten days snus-free. That first weekend was rough, but I’m glad to say that going cold turkey has worked out well for me so far. I say so far to be safe, but I feel confident I’m done with that shit. I’m an all-in kind of guy.

As for mood swings, they seem to have calmed down, although I have been pretty fucking irritated the past few days. Okay, week. I’m not always the most patient of men at the best of times and maybe nicotine was a helpful aid while dealing with nonsense.

I’m currently annoyed with audiences. I’ve been in a creative mood lately and have a lot of new material but, sadly, little opportunity to work it all out. That is actually a bit of a blessing though, as it forces me to prioritize what I want to do on stage. I have a new bit I’m very excited about, where I complain about Black people appropriating white movies, like replacing Rocky with Creed. “I know it’s unrealistic for a white man to be the heavyweight champion of the world… but couldn’t we have that? Movies are fantasy! Is it so much to ask that, in the movies, white people could still be good at sports?”

It goes on from there (and gets funnier). In reality, I’m making fun of white people who unironically cry cultural appropriation because the Little Mermaid is Black now. I’d like to do the bit with subtext, with things between the lines. Problem is, I’m a middle-aged white guy, and the second I bring up race I can feel every asshole in the room tighten. I’ve tried the bit twice now with the same result- as the bit continues, the crowd understands where I’m taking them and they relax, but I don’t want to bomb for ninety seconds just for them to finally catch up.

Since I care about the bit, I’ll have to lead off by saying I hate when white people cry about Black versions of white movies. I wouldn’t have to do that if this was the Eighties. Hell, I could even throw in a few n-words with no worries. Goddamn sensitive crowds these days, forcing me to write better material and be a better comic.

My annoyance with comics continues as well. Not all, mind you, but more than I’d like. I wrote several months ago how my patience had run out with comics who constantly complain and I can’t say dumping tobacco has helped my state of mind in that regard. A big part of the problem is that, while I try to limit my attention on social media as much as I can, I still see more than I did even a year ago. And there’s so much whining going on. My hate-favorites are, “Waah, I get booked at every club except one or two,” and, “I’m not afraid to tell the truth!” but only about things that directly affect them.

I’m also increasingly irritated by comics who suffer from, let’s say, Reverse Talent Dysmorphia. There’s always been and always will be comics who either can’t honestly evaluate their own talent or simply refuse to do so. Hell, I might be one of them. What I don’t do, however, is yell from the mountain tops how amazing I am while posting clips and material that illustrate the opposite. It could just be that I’m extra-sensitive these days, but it feels like that subculture of delusional comics is getting larger.

Thing is, being in the upper echelon of success as a comic in Sweden, it’s not like it counts for a whole lot. That is, you could be a very successful comic and it more than pays the bills, but it doesn’t mean you’re a household name. When I think of all the comics I’ve seen obtain at least a little mainstream success, there’s only one I would say managed to achieve that by latching onto more competent comics. But hey, it takes skill to successfully pull off being a Pilot Fish to someone else’s Great White. Anyway, very few of them spend any time whining on social media.

Get busy living or get busy whining, I guess. Don’t worry, the irony of blogging about whiny comics isn’t lost on me. Give me a fucking break, I’m going through withdrawal.

Memoirs of an Invisible Man

Comedy Posted on Mon, April 24, 2023 04:45:52

As I begin writing this, for the past 48 hours (and for the first time in eleven years) I have no nicotine coursing through my bloodstream. I was never a smoker, but after a few beers I’d often get an urge to smoke. I’d bum one off someone, sometimes more than one, and I’d always feel like garbage after. Thing is, when I really got into the grind of standup, I was at one bar or another four or five nights a week, so my smoking frequency skyrocketed.

I decided to give snus a try. A little pouch of tobacco to stuff between one’s gum and lip, it’s a very civilized version of what Americans call chew and very popular here. I tried it and it was great! I got the same feeling a cigarette would give me but without the stink, the terrible taste and I felt fine the day after. When I felt guilty for bumming snus off others so often, I bought my own to have, but only to use in the clubs. Then never earlier than lunch. Then first thing when I woke up. The descent into addiction was remarkably fast.

After six months or so, I tried to quit, cold turkey. Didn’t have any in the apartment to tempt me. Unfortunately, I had no distractions, either, as I was in the midst of a long period of unemployment at the time. I sat on the couch and could think of nothing other than the fact that, after a five minutes’ walk, I could be at a store that sells snus. I gave up on my fourth day.

Not long after, my kid discovered my addiction and was rightfully pissed. She made me promise to quit but was generous by giving me until summer (she found out in winter). I thought that was an easy promise to make, as I knew we’d be going to the US for a month that summer. I wouldn’t bring any snus with me and with nothing available to me there, I’d have a month to get clean. We got to the US that summer and, on the first day, I walked into a convenience store and found snus. I gave up on the third day.

Now, over a decade later, I thought the time was right to see if I could quit, and my reasoning is bizarre, to put it kindly. It was a longshot, but I had a chance at a promotion, to finally get full-time employment after yet another extended period of unemployment. I knew a few others who were obviously more qualified for the promotion than me, but maybe I’d get it anyway! And then one of the others who was obviously more qualified got the job.

It was okay, but it hurt. It would’ve made a big difference for me, but instead it’s back to the grind and trying to find a grownup job again. I couldn’t get it out of my mind, though, what could’ve been. In other news, my gums were irritated from snus; despite alternating sides of my mouth each time I use a packet, my gums have receded quite significantly on both sides, since I constantly have snus in my mouth while awake. Last Thursday morning as I left home for the gym, I decided to not take a snus. I’d give my gums a break and, if this would be the start of a quit attempt, I’d be thinking too much about snus to think about the job I didn’t get.

I once worked for a few years as a “brand ambassador” for a company that sells quit smoking products, each item being, more or less, pure nicotine. The founder of the company had a dream that every government in the world would provide nicotine to everyone for free, because nicotine is a wonder drug and not addictive at all (he claimed that tobacco was the problem). If you’re too up, nicotine will bring you down. If you’re too down, nicotine will bring you up.

The past few days, I’ve been all over the place. Depressed, short temper, I want to crawl into bed and sleep but also can’t sleep. One feeling has become amplified more than any other- feeling invisible. It’s something I’ve grappled with the past few years, to varying levels of success. Feeling that no one notices me or cares about me, that nothing I do matters. Sometimes I can laugh at myself and relax, other times my ego gets the better of me. It’s like the one thing that makes me anxious more than anything, the volume dial got cranked to eleven. I didn’t want to think about that stupid job anymore and, hey, I got what I wished for.

During my first day without snus, I hosted a game show at On Air and a new guy sat in to watch. It’s part of the way we develop as hosts, to sit in on each other’s shows. Afterwards, we both went to the employee break room to get changed and leave for the day. One of my co-workers told the new guy all about the bar where everyone from On Air hangs out and asked, since the new guy was clearly getting ready to leave, why not come along and hang out? Nice of my co-worker to make the new guy feel welcome! Except no one ever told me about the bar everyone hangs out at. Not only was I also getting changed, I was standing within arms’ reach of the new guy, but I didn’t get an invite. Am I that much of an asshole?

Day Two, went to host a comedy club. Before the show, went to the bar with the club owner, got a beer, met some others who were there. A guy who works at the place came up to say hi to the club owner… then placed himself at the bar between us. Successfully amputated from the conversation like a sixth toe, I walked away. Checked social media, noticed a new ad for a comedy night in a few weeks I’ll be on… but didn’t make the poster.

A few minutes into my opening set as host, I could tell that I was all over the place. Mumbling even more than usual, talking too fast, my head wasn’t into the game. I hadn’t planned to mention that I was trying to quit snus, but said it as an excuse and was glad for the reaction I got. At the same time, I was really angry… over nothing. I even yelled “Fuck!” a few times in the bathroom to blow off steam, even though I had no reason to be angry.

Day Three began after a night of poor sleep and all I could think about was feeling invisible. Ignored by my co-workers, not being able to hang out with others, not being worthy of being on a comedy poster. I was so unhappy that it was then I started to write this blog entry, hoping it would make me feel better by venting, but even then I knew I was clearly being affected by withdrawal. One aspect of humanity I’ve touched on is how thought and emotion don’t always go arm in arm, which I was thinking about as I sat on the couch, typing away. Meanwhile, on the other side of the room, my wife was eating the longest and fucking loudest lunch in history. Christ Almighty, I could feel every crunch of every bite, every smack of her lips, and I was also laughing at myself because I knew my mood was chemically affected.

I felt better and better as the day wore on, more at peace even if snus and invisibility remained top of mind. Sure, it sucks that my co-worker didn’t invite me to hang, but he was probably just trying to be extra nice to the new guy. And if he had invited me? I would’ve appreciated it, but I likely would’ve ended up nursing a beer in near silence before bailing out. Getting cut out of the conversation when I was hanging with the club owner? I was never part of the conversation in the first place, I was quiet and on the sidelines while he talked to other people. Not making the poster? My face would sell zero tickets, plus I wasn’t invited to be on that night, I asked to be on.

Throughout all of this, I’ve had very little urge to toss in a snus. Well, that’s not exactly true. I’ve had a lot of urges, when I first wake up, when I’m having a drink, at the end of a meal, because that’s when I typically use. But when I get those urges, I don’t have an urge to actually do it. Maybe I’m done with snus after all. I can’t help but wonder, though- when I was at my lowest this past weekend, if I’d stuck a snus under my lip, would that have brought me peace?

As I type this sentence, I am at the start of Day Five. I had my first solid night’s sleep, my pity party is over. There are good things in my life and there are shitty things in my life, just like everyone else experiences. I’m guessing that, as I near my 48th birthday, I’m not suddenly going to a beacon of charisma and the life of the party, but being invisible isn’t always a bad thing. Hey, ninjas are invisible and cool…. what could be cooler than a middle-aged white man comparing himself to a ninja in a blog?

Anatomy of a Scene: The Godfather

Comedy Posted on Mon, April 17, 2023 04:58:48

Thought I’d take a break from standup this week and talk instead about film, another interest of mine. It was my intended major in an aborted attempt to attain a Bachelor’s Degree. I was going to be a Cinematographer. Just one problem: as a Freshman in 1993, I went at the worst possible time; film was dying, about (but not yet) to be replaced by digital. If I’d gone a few years earlier, I would’ve gained a proper education in film and then adapted to digital. A few years later, I would’ve learned digital from the start.

I once had an assignment to complete a five-minute short on 8mm film. I took the commuter train an hour into the Boston suburbs to buy eight rolls of film from the nearest possible source, shot every planned scene over three days (hoping, but not knowing, if the footage would turn out as I wanted), brought the film back to where I bought it so it could be developed, returned again four days later to pick it up, then spent nearly twelve hours in an editing room, physically cutting and taping the film together.

All that for a five-minute, black and white, silent film. Ten-year-olds today can shoot far more complex movies using their phones in a fraction of the time. For free.

Well, I still love movies, and today I want to talk about a scene from The Godfather, one of my favorites. Early on, crooner and actor (and obvious analogue for Frank Sinatra) Johnny Fontaine appeals to his godfather for help. His godfather being Vito Corleone, a powerful Mob boss. Fontaine knows his singing career is on its last legs and he’s standing on the edge of obscurity. However, a script came his way and he discovered a role that would be perfect for him, one that would revitalize his career. Unfortunately, the head of the studio hates him and would never give him the part. Fontaine explains all this to Corleone before burying his face in his hands and, on the verge of tears, says, “Oh Godfather, I just don’t know what to do…”

Angry, Corleone grabs him, slaps him. “You can act like a man! What’s the matter with you?!” He’s embarrassed for his godson. The world of the Mafia is a macho one indeed and someone from that world could even say that Fontaine “was acting like a little bitch.” Toxic masculinity aside, there is something to be said for men and women alike to face adversity with heads held high, even when- or especially when – the obstacles are unsurmountable. Dignity has value.

Lucky for Fontaine, that even when humiliating himself, he still had a powerful patron willing to help. A patron with a trusted advisor who would try to make a deal with that studio head. When those talks failed, the patron had an enforcer, a huge brute of a man, decapitate the studio head’s favorite racehorse and slip the head under the man’s bed covers as he slept. Now, I’m a heavy sleeper, but to do all that and the guy doesn’t notice until he wakes up the next morning? That’s fucking ninja shit.

So, Fontaine gets what he wants at the price of his dignity and the question is, was it worth it? I suppose only Fontaine can really answer that. Hmm, maybe there is a connection here to standup after all. In standup, as in life in general, no one gets everything they want. It’s up to us to decide how we handle that. Accept and move on, or hang onto every slight, real or perceived, and seek petty retribution?

Mel Gibson as William Wallace famously said, “They may take our lives, but they’ll never take our freedom!” In that spirit, a club owner might not book you, but they can’t take your dignity. Dignity is only something you can throw away.

Don’t Fake It ‘Til You Make It

Comedy Posted on Mon, April 10, 2023 05:21:03

Last week, I did something for the first time in so long, I can’t remember when I did it last: I went to a club on a night I wasn’t booked, hoping to get on, not knowing if I would. Sounds almost quaint, doesn’t it? Notwithstanding the fact that someone of my stature should obviously get a spot every time he asks [ahem] it seems far from the norm in the Stockholm scene. This is coming from someone who barely inhabits the open mic clubs these days, so take this with a grain of salt, but my impression is that most comics, even rookies, don’t go to clubs unless they know in advance they’re guaranteed a spot.

That might just be prejudice based on my experience with Power Comedy Club. The concept was simple- show up, get a spot, and as long as anyone (and I mean anyone) was still watching, the show would go on. I think there were two nights in two years we had to end before everyone on the lineup got a chance on stage; three-hour shows were the norm, four-hour and longer shows were not uncommon. And yet, in a world where niche clubs open to promote diversity, only the concerted efforts of myself and my partners kept the nights from being exclusively male, white and straight. One night in particular, I brought a woman from the audience onto the stage just to have one penis-less participant.

And so it was that, on a Thursday with no other plans, I decided to take a chance. I took the hour-long commute to get to the club an hour before showtime and, luckily, managed to get a seven-minute spot. Then I took the hour-long train trip home. Ah, the glamour of showbiz.

A few things motivated this adventure. I mentioned in a previous blog post that my services had been engaged to coach a would-be rookie prior to his debut and, the week earlier, he’d booked that debut on a Thursday at Big Ben Comedy Club. It also happened that I was working at On Air Game Shows the same night, but would finish in time to make it to Big Ben before the show started. Being in the city already, it was easy to run over there, also doing something I rarely do these days- I went to a club when I wasn’t booked and had zero intention of trying to get a spot.

Although I’d made my standup debut by competing against other rookies in Bungy Comedy, Big Ben was where I got my real start twelve years ago. At the time it was open on Thursdays and Sundays only; it would be years before Thursdays became International Nights and more years still for the club to be open three nights, then four, then every night. I vividly remember the first time I went there, just to check it out. It was so packed, I literally had to climb a wall in order to see the stage. Unfortunately, I couldn’t hear much. The physical layout of the room has changed over the years, but the sound system stubbornly remains terrible. Part of the charm, I suppose.

Back in those early days, while my grind was at its peak, I practically lived there. Those days are long gone, of course, and it’s a bit of a shame. Being a regular at Big Ben is like being a regular at a gym, but in January- you see a lot of new faces each day that you’ll never see again. One of the authors of the well-intended but ultimately failed Code of Conduct (I should really do a deep dive into that someday) based the rule, “Greet every comic in the club, every time,” on her own experience of walking into a club (I’m guessing Big Ben) and, despite the fact that she was a seasoned veteran, no one said hello to her.

This is someone who I believe began performing before I did, yet I’ve met her maybe four times in twelve years. It’s just comic nature. Unless you’re super social – and, as I’ve said many, many, too many times before, comics are social retards – comics who don’t know you from Adam’s off ox don’t want to talk to you until they’ve seen you do well on stage. I had this exact experience at Big Ben a year or so ago. I showed up for the first time in months, sat with the other comics, next to someone I’d never met, who didn’t even look in my direction. I went on stage, did well, came back, she made eye contact, smiled, said hi and complimented my set. It’s just the way of things and as much as I’d like to say I’m above it, I’m not.

This trip to Big Ben a few weeks ago was no different. Again, it was my first appearance there in several months and I’ve been there maybe eight times in the past few years. I said hello to a few people I kind of know or at least remember meeting before, but otherwise sat anonymously watching the show. No one was like, “Oooh, there’s Ryan Bussell, a 12-year veteran!” because of course they didn’t.

A handful of rookies I’d never seen before went up before my protegee made his debut and, watching them, it reminded me greatly of just how important confidence is to a performance. I got to see a few forms of it in action. There’s zero confidence, which is self-explanatory. There’s false confidence, where someone has much more confidence than the material deserves. There’s role-playing confidence, where a rookie speaks and acts like a professional comic they’ve seen on TV, the rookie thinking that’s how they’re supposed to sound and act as well. Thing is, the audience can see right through someone who is falsely confident or pretending to be so.

My guy went up and was the first with just plain old, natural confidence. Not falsely secure in his material, but confident because he has years of experience in public speaking and at least being funny from time to time. He wasn’t introduced as it being his first time, he didn’t mention it himself, but that confidence had a big impact on the crowd and it went really well for him. For a rookie, I reminded him then and continue to do so. You know how it is with rookie egos.

I once dated a woman who came from a musical family. Her father and sister were amazing musicians, but she didn’t play any instruments herself. I asked her why and she said she loved the theory of playing, but not the practice. I’ve met many rookies over the years with a similar mindset, impatient and wanting to be good right away, and my guy is one of them. After the gig, he told me he’d come up with a strategy for gaming the system, that would potentially guarantee future bookings whenever he wanted, which I won’t reveal here. I responded with, “Well, you could do that, or – hear me out – you could just show up, ask for a spot, and be prepared that they might say no.” He looked at me the same way he did when I said he’d need to go on stage at least fifty times before he’d be any good. Some things just can’t be taught, I guess.

He was booked again the following week and I decided to go, even though I had no other reason to be in the city that day, even though I love being at home very, very, too much. It wasn’t entirely unselfish, though. I never sit down to write new material cold, simply wait for the Muse to do her thing, and a day prior I finally got inspiration.

The past several months I’ve had a lot of random thoughts swirling around my head and suddenly a way to start a set occurred to me. As I thought about it, I realized I had a twenty-minute set without even trying. Shit, this could be a whole damn hour. Only problem is, I have no intention of putting a show together. I’ve been encouraged to do a special and I love the idea, just one problem: no one would show up. At this point, doing a show would just be an exercise in ego stroking, and it’s a bit counterproductive to try to masturbate one’s ego to an empty room. The adage, “What if they threw a war and no one showed up?” comes to mind.

While I live at Maffia Comedy these days, I don’t like testing new material as a host nor for a crowd that pays a not small amount for tickets. Again, a quaint thought, I know. Big Ben, then, is the best spot for me to try out new ideas, but the prospect of a two-hour commute to maybe get a few minutes is rarely attractive. I also fall easily into the trap of looking at the room through nostalgia goggles, thinking more about how I remember the room being (and my memory being overly flattering) than how it is.

But I went last week and I got on and the new stuff went well, so I’m happy with the night. Maybe I’ll try to get there more often. On the other hand, my PS5 isn’t going to play itself.

Fevered Egos

Comedy Posted on Mon, April 03, 2023 04:16:47

”I’m just trying to rid the world of all these fevered egos that are tainting our collective unconscious and making us pay a higher psychic price than we can imagine.” – Bill Hicks

To paraphrase Hicks and Allen Ginsberg, I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by fevered egos.

Being a 48-year-old straight white man, obviously I love Breaking Bad, a show that demonstrates how destructive ego can be. The first episode sets this up perfectly- we see Walter White, a Chemistry teacher, lecturing his students. Here he’s in his element, no pun intended, and he humiliates a dumb jock in front of his peers. Teaching doesn’t pay all the bills, though, and we later see him at his part-time job at a car wash, on his hands and knees, scrubbing the hubcaps of an expensive car… owned by that same dumb jock, who watches with glee.

You may not be surprised that I think of this frequently at Maffia Comedy Club, where I host the show and then put chairs away after it’s over. The club has a history of offering spots to rookies in exchange for helping out and, for a short period last year, the thought that other comics might think I only get spots because I work there really got me down. I’m glad to say I got over that, although I think it’s more apt to say I got over myself.

A friend back in high school leveled this criticism at me, “You think you’re the center of the universe and you don’t even like yourself that much.” As I entered the world of standup two decades later, I realized that this applies to nearly every comic I’ve ever met. I’ve said a million times before and will say a billion times again that it takes a special kind of broken to seek approval from drunk strangers. Ego and insecurity have a bizarrely symbiotic yet destructive relationship, fueling each other one minute, wrecking each other the next.

It’s up to every comic to determine their own worth, but it’s an understatement to say this can be very difficult. I’ve met many comics over the years who overestimate themselves. Mind you, I’m basing this not on my own opinion of their comedy – humor is subjective – but on how well they do in front of audiences. I’ve seen comics get nothing but polite chuckles, if even that, yet walk off stage with chest and ego inflated. In my experience, the comics who are most vocal about not getting what they deserve are often among the least deserving.

I know a comic who would absolutely crush set after set, show after show, miserable because other comics wouldn’t recognize his brilliance. Upset that lesser comics got opportunities denied to him, blind to the fact that those same comics didn’t get his opportunities. No thought on what he had, focus only on what he didn’t. He’s very open about being a narcissist, though, so if you’re reading this- yes, I am talking about you.

I know a comic who would get five-minute spots in exchange for helping out, that decided after awhile that they’d rather not perform at that club until they were good enough to be booked without helping at all. They missed a few years’ worth of opportunities as a result, but also developed over that time in other clubs so much that they reached their goal. Not only do they get booked without helping, they’re about to headline for the first time.

I saw a comic given a brief spot do twice their time on stage, because it was unfair that everyone else on the lineup got longer spots. Rather than focusing on a short, powerful set, killing from start to finish, that would all but guarantee an invite for more spots in the future, they opted for a longer set with prolonged silences and polite chuckles. For all I know, they might’ve thought it was a huge success. It’s also likely that their insecurity made their ego explode.

Self-worth and self-esteem are vital. So I’ve heard, at least. We shouldn’t do things we feel are beneath us, but perspective and self-awareness are also important. Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.

Last year, I was offered a spot at a club in exchange for helping out. My ego screamed, I SHOULDN’T HAVE TO!!!! but I said sure. It was my first invite to the club and I thought, what the hell, don’t have anything better to do. It’s their house, I’ll go and be the only unpromoted comic on the lineup, prove myself, maybe get a promoted spot in the future. I went and felt like it was mission accomplished. Later, I got another invite to perform… in exchange for helping out. I politely declined.

That club owner may feel that I’m at a level where I need to help out in exchange for spots. I disagree, but I don’t think he’s an asshole. Maybe his opinion of me will change in the future, maybe not, and that’s also okay. Hell, I might be bored enough to accept a similar offer from him down the line, and that would simply be my choice.

A few years ago, I was offered my first and perhaps last spot at RAW Comedy Club, 25 minutes. I initially planned a 25-minute set but pared it down to 20, as I knew it would be better to focus and take my time rather than pad it out to the gills. It ended up being, hands down, the best gig I’ve ever done. The club owner wasn’t there and, moron that I am, I didn’t film it, but I doubt it would’ve mattered. In addition to the fact that I have tens of social media followers, the club owner knows me, we’ve gigged together, he’s seen my posts, he knows what I have to offer and nothing makes him think to invite me back, and that’s also okay. I’ve seen other comics in similar positions blast him openly on social media, because, as I said before, some see a closed bridge and blow it up to feel better about themselves. What’s the point, though, other than assuaging a bruised ego?

“We all love ourselves more than other people, but care more about their opinion than our own,” said Marcus Aurelius. Psychologists often put it more bluntly- no one cares about you as much as you do. Get out of your own way and accept that it isn’t that you’re not getting what you deserve, you’re getting as much, or possibly even more, than you deserve. Want more? Work harder. Be undeniable. Maybe you’ll get more, or maybe not, because luck has more to do with than you’d like to think. Life’s unfair, kiddo, so run your own race and spend more time appreciating what you have than pining for what you don’t.

People achieve undeserved success all the time and maybe, someday, you’ll be one of them. Fingers crossed!

Lush Swedish Life

Comedy Posted on Mon, March 20, 2023 06:14:09

17 years. I’ve lived in Sweden for 17 years. I know I just talked about that in last week’s post but damn, it’s still on my mind. I keep wondering if I somehow got the math wrong but nope, I definitely moved here 17 years ago.

An aspect of Swedish life that’s always fascinated me is their relation to alcohol, which has come up now and again throughout my writing. I could probably do a deep dive and research to really understand it, but I prefer not knowing all the answers and maintaining the mystery. For example, did they really drink so much that the government had to step in and set up a monopoly on liquor sales, with limited hours of operation on Saturday and none on Sundays?

Don’t get me wrong, I actually like the government liquor stores. Walk into the typical package goods store in the US and you wouldn’t feel surprised when you get shot. By a gun, I mean, not shots. Stores here are nice, generally well-stocked, and the prices are so low compared to bars that you feel like you’re making money by shopping there (which maybe goes against the goal of reducing drinking).

The only downside, other than their limited hours, is that they don’t have refrigerators. That decision is clearly motivated by keeping costs low, but amusingly they say it’s part of their mission to discourage drinking. I don’t see many bums needing to wait for their white wine to be chilled and beer is typically imbibed at a warmer temperature than in the US. We like our beer ice-cold so we can forget that our biggest brands have zero flavor.

I’m writing about booze this week, not because I’m an alcoholic thank you very much, but because it has a huge impact on audiences here. The Sober Swede is reserved, doesn’t want to stand out, can be reluctant to laugh in front of other strangers for fear of revealing what they find funny. The Drunk Swede is often a sloppy mess. Neither state is good for comedy and we hope to perform for crowds somewhere in the middle.

Because they don’t want to stand out nor, God forbid, for a stranger to talk to them, Swedes fill a club starting from the back row and only sit in the front when absolutely no other option is available (or drunk; see below). I was recently at a show for Greeks living in Stockholm and they started in the front and worked back. I imagine Swedes would accuse Greeks of doing it backwards, but Greeks are used to that criticism.

For the same reason, heckling is extremely rare here. But once the booze begins to flow, some Swedes overcorrect and decide they want to be part of the show. I should like this, in theory; I do think Swedish comics can have it way too easy, so it should be good that they get a curveball thrown their way now and then. Unfortunately, a heckle from a drunk rarely leads to a good joke. Much more often, it just leads to the heckler being insulted and being too drunk to understand that the comic (and everyone else in the room) hates them.

Last weekend, I checked the tickets of a group when they arrived and knew right away that they would either be great or a problem, as they had obviously pre-gamed hard. Despite being amongst the first to arrive, they sat front row center, which added to the uh-oh feeling. One of the women in the group heckled the host only minutes into the show and ended up on stage with him (by his invitation, at least), but fortunately it was a fun and spontaneous happening that all enjoyed.

On the other hand, this encouraged the woman to heckle other comics. Bill Hicks once told a crowd, “You’re not part of my act. Your involvement is limited to laugh, applaud, and a blowjob from every woman after the show.” Doing crowd work always has the negative potential to encourage crowds to heckle and even that could be okay except it’s usually only the drunks who have the liquid confidence to do so. After getting shut down quite harshly by another comic, this particular drunk sat sullenly quiet for the rest of the show. Afterwards, however, she held court, remaining in her seat while the room was emptied of furniture, loudly insisting to anyone who would listen that she wouldn’t take shit from anyone and was glad she shouted her feelings to the comics.

She probably remembered nothing the day after, God bless her.

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