Friday, November 29, 2013


I adore karaoke. It's drinks and music and fantastic people watching, all with a shot at the approval of friends and strangers. It is a phenomena most rare; an example of an ancient human impulse proving compatible with small scale capitalism as practiced for the last couple of decades. 98% of human civilization is sharing food and drink and stories and songs; always has been. And today, when it comes to efficient entertainment, it is difficult to imagine a more clean-burning amusement than karaoke. From the venue's point of view, the crowd is the show and the show is the crowd. No troublesome ticket sales or management of talent – the drunks arrive, amuse themselves and that is all.

Karaoke night is a more robust evolution of a singalong or an open mic night. All a performer must provide are semi-competent vocals and a reasonably vertical body posture for the better part of three to five minutes. Troublesome matters such as instrumentation, pitch and remembering the lyrics are taken out of the singer's hands. Anyone willing to sing up and wait may have a crowd and a backing track for a little while. At any given moment, anyone could delight everyone. It's a brilliant form of community sourced amusement. Every five block radius ought to have a regular karaoke night.

All of that said, many find even the low-stakes version of singing for a crowd that karaoke provides to be intimidating and bewildering. Worse yet, there are singers at many karaoke nights who don't understand what sort of show they're a part of and make performance choices that sour the vibe for everyone else. If you, gentle reader, have ever found yourself singing to an empty room that contained a flooded dance floor but moments before, please attend to the following guide. Successful live performance is an exercise in tracking multiple, constantly evolving variables all at once, all while a bunch of distracted, skeptical strangers observe and pass judgment. That's a lot of pressure for someone who isn't a performer by trade or inclination, for someone who just wants to sing some silly song. Karaoke becomes stressful failure when it ought to be a gas.

Well, stress no longer: help has arrived. I'm the best there is at what I do and what I do is read crowds. The following provisos,won through years of keen observation and bitter experience, will have you turning empty dance floors into all-out loveshacks in no time. Today, you stop clearing rooms and become a karaoke champion!


We'll begin with the core principles, which prove true in karaoke rooms from coast to coast and are simple enough to remember when you're hammered out of your mind. As in all things, winning at karaoke depends hugely on how you prepare for battle. Song selection is the karaoketeer's most crucial decision. Most song binders are thick with selections to lead the unwary astray. Cut through the distraction and win the crowd with the TRIANGLE PRINCIPLE.

In brief, the ideal karaoke song will fill out the full triangle with three key qualities: (1) it will be fun to dance to, (2) it will be fun to sing along with and (3) it will be stupid. To understand why this works, look up from the binders and get a load of your crowd. They're drunk. They're distracted. There's a show going on but none of them are specifically there to see it. You're at this weird mutant show where your crowdfolk are also your showfolk so the house is also the backstage. Your song is way down the list of things they give a shit about; they aren't there to see you just like you aren't here to see them. Look at them careening around, sitting with their backs to the stage, standing and talking and putting on their jackets to go out for a smoke. They aren't at a show; they're in a bar. They've come to sing, to see their friends sing and to get loaded. Also possibly to get laid, to forget about their jobs or lack thereof, to prepare for any number of realtalks and reckless decisions. They hope to enjoy your song, of course, but it's nothing that they're worried about. It's not like they bought a ticket and besides, they've got their song coming up to think about.

Most often, someone who bombs at karaoke was trying to blow minds when he should have started with trying not to annoy. He failed to apply the Triangle when he picked out his song and now everyone has to hear his Eddie Vedder impression for five endless minutes. Had he borne the Triangle in mind while filling out his slip, he would have picked a song that set him up for victory because it would have been a song more likely to facilitate the night that most of the room was trying to have. The crowd is there to sing, pick something they can sing with you. The crowd wants to have fun, give them something they can dance around to. And for god's sake, the world outside of this bar is grim and dour enough – no one wants to get deep with you! Give them something that's at least a little bit stupid.

Dumb songs that everyone knows are the quickest way to win the crowd. Summer jams are good. Power ballads are good. Disney songs tend to super crush. If you want to get people paying attention and on their feet, you gotta shut down the conversations keeping them at the table and it's hard to beat half the table bursting into song as a means of redirection. Also, you've got to reckon that a percentage of the room is at all times looking for any excuse to dance with another percentage of the room. Why not make that easy on them?

At this point, the contrarian might ask “What if my read of the room reveals a crowd that wants to hear a sad and serious song? What if they look like they don't want to dance, don't want to flirt, don't want to laugh and slosh around and sing together or any of that kind of carry-on. They want downbeat, contemplative music. They want to sit quietly and drink brown liquor or cheap beer and think about all the wrong they've done, all the wrong we all gotta do to get through the cold cruelty of mortality. What about a place like that?”

Well I don't know dude, that bar sounds like a bummer. Why do they have a karaoke night?


The Triangle will correct for most problems before they happen, but other problems can arise. Some songs contain hidden pitfalls and turnabouts that you never notice on the radio but are glaringly plain once you're up onstage trying to sing through them. The long surprise musical break and the Hey Jude Effect are two of the most common and can both cost a karaoketeer much of the room's vibe. However, these are also crisitunities to be turned to one's advantage if corrected for with bravery.

The Hey Jude Effect is probably the biggest calculated risk you work with under the Triangle Principle, especially when trying to select a song with strong singalong qualities. Put simply: beware the long vocal breakdown. My heart always goes out to the poor singer who puts in Hey Jude and then realizes he made a mistake somewhere around the seventh screen full of “NaaNaaaNaaaa NANANANAAAAHS.” The self-consciousness starts to set in, he starts to feel dumb standing up there reading nonsense syllables off a screen over and over again. The dancing slows, stops. (And Hey Jude dancing is usually only hippy wavy dancing in the first place; difficult to sustain without hallucinogens) Crowd and singer begin to blink at each other, wondering what one another is even doing there. What anyone is doing anywhere, really. DON'T LET THIS HAPPEN TO YOU.

Ideally, you know that a part like this is coming up in your song and you're ready for it. Maybe you stacked the stage with friends so you can chorus that shit proper and it's no problem. Sadly, the Hey Jude Effect usually catches us off guard. It's not until screen three of babble that you remember the part of the song you were stoked on where the singer just wails like a maniac for thirty-two bars or so. Lyrics are one thing but a singer's wails and caterwauls can leave the poor karaoke transcriptionist with some impossible spelling choices to make. The breakdown at the end of When Doves Cry usually contains a word that looks something like “doobiedoowowow” which is a fairly serviceable transliteration but somehow lacks the full verve of the noise that Prince makes around that part of the song.

You gotta treat the surprise long vocal breakdown like any other ambush: the only way out is through. If you don't remember exactly how it goes in the real song, follow along as best you can and make it your own. The crowd knows you aren't Stephen Tyler; they'll be happy if you just go for it. If you're super lost, look around and see if any of the front ranks of audience has been singing to themselves or to their friends at the table. Often, parts like this are a build up to the part of the song that everyone knows so if you start making some eye contact and inviting gestures, you stand a chance of someone who knows the song better bailing you out.

The super extended musical break is a similar problem. A long guitar solo is awesome when a live band is playing because you get to watch the guitar player really open it up. In karaoke, it's just a long stretch where the singer has nothing to do. And if you just stand there, waiting for it to be over and staring at the crowd, the whole idea of getting tipsy and singing by numbers in a dark room full of strangers starts to seem kind of ridiculous. AVOID THIS. In my view, there are but two remedies for a long musical break: total retreat or fucking going for it.

Keep your drink as near to you as you're allowed so you can fall back and take a few sips while the karaoke band guy tries to sound like Eddie Van Halen. Let the austerity of the empty stage serve as a backdrop; anyone dancing will scarcely notice your absence. They will, however, keenly feel your awkward, confused presence if you just stand there tapping your toe as if anyone believes you've been keeping count. If you're not gonna retreat then you've gotta do some stage moves, even dumb ones. Dance around, air guitar, pull a coin out from behind someone's ear – some damn thing besides just standing there!


Huhuhhuh, hey dude, wouldn't it be funny if I put in a song but instead of singing it good I shrieked it like really bad on purpose? Like really loud and bad for the whole song huhuhuhuhuhuh everyone will be like OH WHAT? Right? Huhhuhuhuhuhuh.”

NO. NO, YOU DIE. STUPID ASSHOLE YOU DIE. Don't ever do this. Never fucking do this. I hate this shit so much; it makes me want to rush the stage and confiscate the microphone. No, karaoke isn't an actual show. And no, you're not a professional singer or even a good one. But there is a crowd there, your voice is amplified and it's gonna go into their ears. The expectations at karaoke night are suborbital; they are very easy to meet. When some asshole can't be bothered to not even pass the bar of “don't be awful on purpose,” I feel like it should be legal to kick him in the chest and take his wallet.

In that last paragraph, I used the male pronoun quite deliberately because it is almost always dudes who pull this shit. Here's how it goes: they get up, get about halfway through the first verse of their song then they realize there's a crowd watching them and they get scared. They piss their stupid pants and shriek-sing the whole rest of the thing. What they're trying to say is “hahaha, I care so little about this performance that I'm shitcanning it on purpose hahahaha look how far outside the box I am, losers!” but what winds up coming across is “This no-stakes song terrifies me beyond belief because I'm so scared of getting caught trying something and failing that I never try much of anything, including putting forth the barest effort at making this song pleasant for anyone else in the room. Fuck you for being here and fuck this karaoke host for putting my song up. Hope you like ear pain! Actually no, I don't hope anything because I'm fucking spineless!”

It's a bullshit coward move pulled by bullshit cowardly people that have never taken a creative risk in their lives and resent the people who can. It's a crime against music, against conviviality and against the eardrums of everyone within the sound of their yowling. He is worthy of contempt for subjecting the room to the piercing proof of his cowardice. If he thinks his mockery touches on the amateur vocals that fill out the rest of the show then he has sorely missed the point of the evening.

Karaoke ain't about good singing; we have concerts for that. It's about a room of friends and strangers having a good time patching the entertainment the night together. Any game attempt to add positive inputs to that system are all to the good. Accidental loss of vibe is not to be encouraged, but it no cause for scorn. Active attempts at deflating the fun, however, are not to be tolerated.

Thursday, September 12, 2013


Fenris Ulf has heard the stories, of course. The songs and prayers and speeches, yes, those too. Ulf hid behind a ridge or crept low in the underbrush or sat still as a shadow just above the traitors and listened. He noted the scents of those enraptured below, the decadent creatures who would have Narnia again occupied by their great king of cats. Tyrant Aslan, the colonizing lion from beyond the sea who they would have curled up on the true queen’s throne. Low forest creatures called out the name and hoped the aristocratic centaurs and unicorns would be impressed. The captain of her majesty’s secret police scoffed in the dark before giving the order to move in every time, wondering how many of these traitors were even old enough to remember the failed, false reign of Aslan.

Ulf remembers. He was barely more than a pup in the twilight of Aslan’s occupation, but he remembers. Narnia sits at a juncture point in the multiverse where at least four pagan dimensions worth of mythic creatures crash into one another. Some of these creatures can traverse the whole world simply by imagining themselves in the place they want to be. Nymphs are forever deconstructing and reconstructing some of the kingdom’s most crucial architecture. Throughout Narnia, there are countless points where the membrane of reality is dangerously thin, where creatures from yet more worlds can come wandering in. The pretender’s sycophants call Aslan’s reign a golden age because they’ve only lived it in the stories of the privileged. When Ulf remembers Aslan’s reign, Ulf remembers chaos.

Aslan plays at the throne but prefers the pageant of the monarchy to any of its responsibility. Even the most obsequious of the traitors admit how prone Aslan is to wandering away from Cair Paravel. What good is a ruler that won’t rule? What right had Aslan to power when the lion would not wield it and impose order? Narnia of old was a failed state where not even the very shape of the countryside could be relied upon from day to day. And Aslan’s reasoning for this neglect? A prophecy that claims Narnia’s four thrones await four children of Adam and Eve; that Aslan is only to be steward until humans return to seize power.

Ulf knows what humans do to wolves.

This prophecy – this conspiracy – will be nothing but a traitor’s fantasy so long as Fenris Ulf lives. Before Great Queen Jadis brought the Winter’s Peace to Narnia, half the creatures who now curse her would have lived as vassals to the half that now bid them to praise the lion. Their ingratitude to the true queen and their toadying to Aslan the occupier, Aslan the pretender, make Ulf sicker than anything he can think of. They gather for these pitiful meetings, low creatures letting high creatures spin them pretty stories about a careless lion who would cede their realm to humans. They dream of a golden age that none of them saw, all the while disdaining the hundred years of peace their true queen has won for them!

Ulf has confessed to this only once, and only to Queen Jadis herself, but breaking up these meetings is one of his truest pleasures in this world. Usually the strength of the traitors is so pathetic that he need not even be on hand when her majesty’s secret police capture the conspirators. At such times, Ulf won’t give the order to strike until he’s circled round downwind of the meeting. He loves to sit where the scent of the traitors’ hope is thickest, where he can hear their heartbeats rising in exultation to the pretender. There is nothing so sweet in all of Narnia as the sound of that joyful drumbeat collapsing into panic when the queen’s police spring from the treeline. There is nothing Ulf savors so thoroughly as the scent of their hope flaring over with terror. On a night like that, Ulf won’t walk down to review the prisoners until well after the wind has changed.

Their excuses for trying to break the Winter’s Peace are all tedious variants of the same flimsy story. To be truthful, Ulf scarcely makes note of their reasons for defying the queen beyond their admissions of having done so. As voices quaver, as their lying eyes search his face for pity, Ulf wonders to himself where this next conspirator will go in her majesty’s statue garden once she has carried out their sentence and turned them into stone. He has helped her to populate and arrange it for years now and is developing quite an eye.

Monday, September 2, 2013


Morning bootup. My roommate with his hood over his head, grabbing his Pepsi bottle by the neck from the fridge door. Me in track pants, fumbling with the coffee pot. I pour coffee into the only mug I use, this monstrosity with the New York City subway on it that can take half the pot in one go. He heads outside to light a cigarette and that’s our morning dosages sorted. The planetary rotation that, according to our calendar, is called the second day of September in two thousand and thirteen, year of our lord (‘common era’ if you’re nasty) has been underway for eight hours.

The sun has reached Olympia, meaning the entire continent has been under photon bombardment all morning. Eight light minutes from the vapor of our atmosphere, there’s this terrifying mass of hydrogen and helium, its heart made of billions of atom bombs going off on top of each other every second, its skin made of cooling solar supercontinents that drift, collide, crack and crush down into the core to explode outward again. We call it the sun. It has done lethal violence or regarded with fatal neglect every other planet in its orbit. Our planet has the staggering good fortune to spin at the exact right distance that most of the planet stays the right kind of melted. The core is molten rock and metal which spins fast enough to generate a magnetic field, repelling the worst of the cosmic death rays space throws at us. We live on the cool outer crust of smoldering slag that careens through the cosmos and call it Earth. Water has been available here in the full gas-liquid-solid sampler pack in such abundance for so long that we went ahead and made most of our bodies out of it.

Right now, I’m using water to deliver caffeine molecules to my stomach and intestines. I’m vague on what happens next but the net result is a boost in heart rate and mental clarity that I did not earn. Situps or yoga could have brought me to roughly the same place and I wouldn’t have the soft core existential crisis of a coffee crash to deal with later. A more responsible and honest means of getting my eyes to open for sure but sometimes it’s nice to sit and sip a liquid that will handle things. Long ago, my great great grandcells began to divide and duplicate, building up complexity, eventually splashing onto dry land once there was dry land to splash up on. They took their show on the road and became mammals, primates, humans - us. Human coats and claws and tusks are nothing to speak of at all and we’re the most dangerous animal on the planet because we figured out how to build or steal all the coats and claws and tusks we needed. Our senses are dull and dim but our tools can see in the dark. We’ve built eyes that can look deep into the dark beyond the magnetic field and layer of orbital water vapor that keeps the dark from killing us all. My guts and this coffee are compatible. The liquid can do the waking up for me.

Our tools peel back the dark, it’s true, but we still do most of our scurrying around when the sun is out and we can see what we’re doing. When the dark comes back, we’re going to need somewhere safe and clean to go with a bit of light and a bit of food waiting for us. We need food and safe places to survive, which is probably why we’re in such mortal terror of losing them or even sharing them. Thousands of years fine tuning the hive and it still doesn’t have a good place to put all the humans it produces, that’s the story. There are eighteen million, six hundred thousand unoccupied homes in the United States and three and a half million humans without a home to occupy. One million, five hundred and seventy-one thousand and thirteen humans are in our prisons. That’s roughly five million, two hundred thousand human beings that generally make nice people who drink coffee in the morning feel nervous and guilty.

There are four humans in this house and together, we generate enough money to occupy it legally. Would we resent it if the 5.2 million humans the hive can’t seem to sort in were simply given a safe, clean place to be? We work to maintain ours but we also know those other 5.2 million people also need one. There would still be 13.4 million vacant houses left over. Would that be enough? In late republican Rome, debt could get so brutal that a plebeian could lose possession of his body and become a slave. Sometimes, such an end was designed right into the terms of their loans. Other plebeians, in general, didn’t look at such slaves as the victims of a rigged and exploitative economic ideology. They said “what losers” and scrambled to avoid joining them.

I slept somewhere safe and clean last night and I get to drink a cup of coffee in my track pants before dealing with today. It’s obscene that I should be so much luckier than five million and two hundred thousand other human beings in my own country, and that’s without even really looking at the chart. That’s without considering the situation of the billions of other humans surviving elsewhere under the same thin layer of vapor and electromagnetic energy. I’m just some fucking guy: I could have been born anywhere, into any other life. My bag of coffee grounds is from the co-op and there’s a picture of a smiling grower on it but what do I know about how this stuff got to me? I just put it in the machine and poured in the water.

There are days I spend at work; to be sure I’ll have another month in the safe, clean place that contains my possessions. Other days I spend on projects and obsessions because my soul goes sour if I don't. The sun only passes over this hemisphere for so much time; there are only so many scurrying hours in a day and only so many for sleeping at night. I get to do that sleeping under a roof of more-or-less my choosing because I’m extraordinarily lucky. I’m alive to experience a roof or a bed at all because I’m fantastically, cosmically lucky. There's a life I'm trying to build and I'm getting damned close to having all the pieces.

But right now I’m trying to make excuses for my sloth and ignorance because I know that every hour spent goofing off is one I could have spent helping out or at least reading up. I’ve forgotten what I was trying to say with this but that I’ll try to have the decency not to complain about anything I get to experience today. There will never be another second day of September in two thousand and thirteen and there are things that will not be done if I don’t do them.

I drank all the coffee and now it’s time to go.

Thursday, August 22, 2013


You're an actor who doesn't like the way he looks. This means you've got some work to do.

You start with a cup of coffee and probably the news and thus probably some rage and after a few minutes of that, you put on some music and step away from the computer. You can't get enough summer jams and girly pop lately – you're into autotune, into synthetic drums, into treacly lyrics about modern western courtship rituals. Twenty year old you would be ashamed but twenty year old you wasn't any fun. These Ke$ha songs are fantastic and that's why millions of people love them. Do some yoga.

Your room is small but arranged in a clever fashion. You have exactly enough floor space to lay your body flat and expand at least partway. Therefore, you have enough space to change your body. The window stays open because it gets too hot otherwise and if the neighborhood doesn't like Ke$ha there's only so much to be done because you're pretty sure she's helping save your life right now. You do a sun salutation and thread in some extra poses where they fit. If you skip a day, your back and legs will complain of that now. You stretch slow and listen to your limbs and, in time, they settle down and straighten out. There's a Robbie Fulks song on now. It isn't a summer jam but it is about courtship rituals and the fiddling is just wonderful. Do some cardio.

This shit is the worst because it involves sweat and when there's too much sweat on you, you're at risk of feeling here in your room the way you often feel about your body out there in the reality. Too much fat clings to it, hangs off of it, jiggles around it. It fucks up your shape and the way your clothes fit and makes it harder to move through the world. Your body has converted a lifetime of poor dietary choices into a surplus of this squishy, useless flesh that no one, you most of all, ever wants to touch or look at. When you move your body, it converts this fat and this fear into sweat and those first few moments of it running all over you can lead to despair because you're skinned in this liquid reminder of how far you have to go.

When a fellow is round and sweaty on TV, he is never the hero. He is some jerkoff that's in over his head and probably fucking up. His absurd corpulence is there to provide contrast for the hero's square jaw and flat stomach. The upshot is that he usually gets funnier lines. It's the whole Falstaff thing and you hate your place in that equation like poison. You're beyond tired of being a chubby goofball for anyone. You're a comedian but you hate being the punchline.

Anyhow, sometimes you do some burpees til you heart pounds then you go just a little longer. More often, you just dance around to whatever dumb shit your Grooveshark station feeds you. This is less efficient than the burpees but you seem to stop hating yourself and start having fun much quicker this way. A day may come when you dance this freely in public, around people even. Not in 2013, obviously, but maybe once the rest of this gut is gone and you're sure you won't be the spectacle of the dancing slob. For now, do some strength training.

You like this part a lot. The same genetics that make you so apt to gather fat also mean you build muscle like a maniac if your body is given the proper inputs. You can input fifty pushups like it's nothing nowadays, so long as you divide it into two sets. Fifty is your minimum - you stop counting when you hit it and just concentrate on completing the motion over and over. Likewise situps – you don't count these at all anymore, you just go for a couple songs or until your upper abs finally get tired. Then it's leg lifts or pullups or squats or planks or some compound motion like that. The only weights you own are these little twenty pound dumbbells that you don't use anymore because they really only get the arms and buddy, you've got problems all over. The upshot of being heavy is that your body itself is a challenging weight to lift and if you lift it and resist it enough, some of that fat weight becomes muscle weight and thus helps you hoist the rest of it. Sometimes, while doing plank or pushups, you'll look down and see your gut and hairy man tits hanging off you. They're all smaller than they used to be and beneath them, you can see the shape you want to take beginning to form. Nonetheless, you do a lot of this strength training with your eyes closed. When your form or endurance begins to falter, you picture Kirby Crackle enveloping your arms, legs, hips and spine to pull you back into alignment. You imagine the life of a loved one depending on the completion of the set you're on. This usually does the trick.

Some days you finish all your sets and do a little extra on account of being so jacked up. Your Grooveshark feed is easily 75% funk and soul which, combined with testosterone and endorphins, makes you feel like you're made of light and sexy saxophone. Other days you do most of your sets but get tired or bored or distracted and wander away. Yet other days there's too much shit to handle and not enough time so you try to at least walk up some steep hills inbetween errands and and appointments. When feeling especially ambitious and powerful, you take these hills at a sprint and imagine the Crackle propelling each stride.

You eat lean protein cooked in coconut oil. You eat salad and make your own vinaigrette because the stuff at the store is just a bunch of corn derivatives mixed up in a bottle. Last time you checked labels, the phrase “maltodextrin suck my dick” came flying out of your mouth before you knew you were getting upset. Cargill and ConAgra and Anheiser-Busch and Yum Brands and Pepsico and Mars and Hershey and Monsanto and all those evil fucks have been attacking your mind, body and soul from birth. Sugar and pleasure and reward are powerfully bound in your brain – the knotwork of synapses began tangling when you were still very small, when colorful cartoon characters offered you salts and sweets and you would get so angry at your parents for protecting you from these treats. General Mills sent Lucky the Leprechaun and Captain Crunch to turn you against your parents and since you were a toddler who didn't understand what these multinationals were up to, you fell into the trap and played along. You grew up a fat kid and assumed that everyone hated you for it. Today you know that your parents love you and that Monsanto recently began working closely with Acadami, formerly known as Xe Services, formerly known as Blackwater, which is a company that fields armies of killers for money. The thought makes you want to do more pushups for some reason.

You avoid beer and bread. You try to eat almonds instead of salty stuff and fruits instead of candy. Your ice cream habit is still pretty bad but it's the last bad habit you haven't trimmed back yet. The clothes you wore on a different body look absurd on this one so you bought a new wardrobe, almost all of it in black. The image in the mirror is changing – you can tell because you're not blind and looking right at it. Your jaw is squaring up, your shoulders expanding, your man boobs now B cups at worst. You know this because you can look right at it and compare it to photographic evidence from before you started your program. The image in the mirror is different. The image in your mind has barely changed at all. When you're out dealing with the world and lack the psychic resources to keep your brain attuned to reality, you default back to this idea of yourself as a big sweaty bag of fat and shit and gross. You still feel like apologizing to everyone who has to look at you. Your reflexive posture is still that of someone trying to hide his squishy middle. You know that your body has changed but you also know that when women talk of the men who catch their eye, those guys never, ever, ever look like you. If you stay on your program though, someday you might look like those guys.

Courtship anxiety is of course a terrible driver for a health program so you try not to think about that stuff too much. There was a time not so long ago where you had to get damn near black out drunk to not know or not care that you were really gross. You can still remember one such night more than ten years gone when a woman you knew tried to introduce you to a friend of hers and before you could say a word, her friend made a face and a noise and walked away. It made you feel the way those games of “You Germs” tag did back in grade school. You can't remember a year or even a week of your life without that feeling but you do pretty good at evading and managing it nowadays. You don't think about dating or intimacy very much because your job and your art are vast enough to fill your whole head up if you let them. You hate being looked at or photographed but you love being in plays and doing standup comedy. You love putting on shows. It doesn't make any damned sense but you're going with it in the same way a drowning man will lunge for even the illusion dry land. Keep this up and you might survive.

Seven months ago you realized you were dying and were paying corporations for the privilege. The booze and the food were killing you and you were broke because you thought you needed them. And of course, the drinking you did because you were ashamed of being fat was in part keeping you fat which is just fucking perfect, right? Seven months ago you decided to try something other than slow, pathetic death. You're close to escaping now, closer than you've ever been. You like when people notice but you don't like to talk about it too much because you've been close before and you don't want to jinx it this time. You're in your thirties and might not have another chance to escape if you don't seize this one.

You didn't have comedy and theater helping you last time you got close, you had mere health and courtship anxiety. Not enough to do the job, turns out. Now part of you thinks that Shakespeare is counting on your strong quads and it's working so you don't question it. In the real world you disgust yourself but you've played characters who thought they looked okay. You've played characters who have flirted as if it could go somewhere; you've played characters who don't mind taking off their shirt somewhere they might be seen. You've played with the concept of being acceptable and attractive in imaginary – that is to say, safe – settings and some of that seems to have bled into your real life. You've accepted that the training of your mind will lag behind the training of your body but you know that it can be trained.

You don't try to bury the way you feel under food or drown it in booze anymore. Indeed, you can't recall the appeal of drinking yourself blind or eating yourself sick any longer. It stopped making sense and you thank god for that. These thoughts, these ideas that have been with you for decades, you know them now for the injuries they are. You train against them sure as you train against the stiffness of your limbs, with patience and resolve. You like being strong for its own sake – to leap, to climb, to smash! It feels good to know you can lift most stuff; it changes the way you move through the world. You know that this feeling isn't available to everyone and you try to live in awareness of that.

You had to drop off the face of the earth for awhile to get this ball rolling. When you run into friends, they ask what you've been up to and you give a glib answer (“living the dream!” or something equally dumb) because the real answer is not compatible with small talk. The real answer is that you're spending part of every day making art and teaching yourself a new idea of yourself. You're learning to like you and everything is changing because of that. You don't know why it's working but for now it's enough to know that it is.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

ROCKY RUN for OLYMPIA, WA (beginner level)

1. Do a bunch of yoga before you leave your house - a super sun salutation with any extra stuff you know and also a bonus round of lunges / downward dog.

2. Walk to the Capitol Lake Loop. As you get close to the trail, begin humming the ROCKY THEME MUSIC, which is classic. Not Eye of the Tiger, which is hack.

3. The music will make you want to start jogging so go with that feeling. Likewise, if you want to switch from humming to singing the Rocky music, this is the time. Stop running and singing at the base of the switchbacks up to the Capitol.

4. Do a quick sun salutation. More of a sun wave-at-from-bus-window or sun nod-hello-in-silence, really. No extra stuff, just make sure you're still bendy.

5. Do a few burpees if the yoga slowed your heart down too much.

6. Run up the switchbacks at the top speed you can maintain all the way up the hill.

6a. KEEP RUNNING, YOU BUM! IT'S NOT THAT FAR. Knock fatigue back with mental focus and do it like ROCKY. Think about how your friends are counting on you to be strong and GO THE DISTANCE. Think of how cool your town is and how good most of it has been to you and how you're gonna show the rest of it you're NOT A BUM. Is there an Adrian in your life? That is, someone you would holler and holler for over all the reporters and photographers and glory you thought you cared about after Apollo Creed punched you blind in the fifth act? Think about that person. THINK ABOUT THE ROCKY MUSIC but go easy on the singing. And if you're in great difficulty, think about how getting to the top of the hill will destroy the Soviet Union and probably also some other oppressive shit in your world.


7. Get to the top of the hill. This is not the BIG FIGHT but the third act climax where Rocky proves to himself but not yet the world that he can GO THE DISTANCE. Nonetheless, you made it! Do your stupid little dance. Feel free to yell "DRRAAAAAAGGGGO!!!" if this round was especially satisfying.

8. Do this 2-3 times a week. If you don't live in Olympia then pick a hill that has a symbol of your town at the top of it and RUN UP THAT HILL LIKE ROCKY. If you don't live in a town where you can do yoga in public without people being weird, move to a cooler town.

Sunday, May 12, 2013


My kindergarten teacher did not see the brazen encroachment of my cubby, nor the disregard shown for the stitching on my jacket when I tried to snatch it back from the lad making off with it. To tug back, the nerve! No, all teacher saw was me knocking a scallawag down to get my shit back. No miranda rights, no trial by jury of my peers - off to Time Out I go.

The facility was a box with three tall walls. The penitent was to sit facing into the box, thinking about what he did and missing recess. Inside, teacher had pasted up some smiling sunflower wallpaper. Which started to really bug me, the longer I sat in there. Who wants to look at smiling goddamn sunflowers at a time like this? Whole reason I'm in Time Out is on account of this ugly coat tugofwar / shoving match thing that I didn't even start and now that little prick's out there recessing while I've got a bunch of blossoms grinning in my face.

Come to think about it, would anyone in Time Out want to see this shit any more than me? Doubt it. Time Out isn't where go when you're acting like a flower can smile at you in this harsh world. I'd never seen this wallpaper anywhere else in the building; teacher put it in here special. What the fuck is that about? What does she get out of making sure I look at these flowers? Am I supposed to come out of here smiling like one of these things when I should have been here in the first place?

Just what the fuck sort of reprogramming bullshit is this kindergarten on any way? We're not gonna talk about property rights or cubby security, we're just gonna point which ever kid teacher saw making a ruckus last at some smiling sunflower wallpaper and hope they come out ready to docile. That's how grownups solve things, gotcha.

What I'm trying to say is that when it comes to social conditioning through iconography and the prison industrial system, I caught on early.


I was three, four tops when this happened so a lot of the details are sketchy. Chelan, Washington - our old house up the hill from Lakeside park. My mother and I were getting ready to leave for the day. She was looking down into her open purse; I had my boots and jacket on. I wanted to ask her something but it was hard to pick my words so I stopped and didn't say anything so I could pick my best ones. Then I heard the words in a good order and felt really confused because I hadn't moved my mouth or made any sounds! It happened again and I looked at my mom, who was looking through her purse and hadn't heard anything.  

Holy shit I could talk in my head! No one but me could hear it! I forgot all about asking mom anything and kept trying to to talk without talking because I kept expecting it to stop working but it didn't! I don't remember a word of those first thoughts but I remember feeling shaky on my feet, exhilarated and a little guilty at my spontaneous development of a super power. Could everyone do this? Was this what they knew and I didn't about picking good words? I hated getting them wrong but now I could say them just to myself first and say the right ones when I was ready for people to hear them.

We were leaving to see some other kids - couldn't say whether it was the park, preschool or a friend's house. All I remember of the rest of that day was wanting to practice head talking, which I was quickly seeing as a means to avoid anyone ever hearing me say a wrong word again. Once I was sure none of the other kids could hear it, I started to wonder if I might meet someone who could someday.

"That would be a mess, probably!" I said to myself.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013


1. CONSIDER THE SOURCE or, a Helpful Primer for Reactionaries

Hello friends. What follows are the beliefs a comedian you’ve never heard of. Talking about sexism online can start a lot of arguments so I’d like to open by heading off those most tedious. First and foremost, understand that I’m not telling anyone what they should and should not joke about – life is a series of decisions we make for ourselves, free speech is important, something something Lenny Bruce. Point is, if you’re someone who takes offense at the notion there are things they should not joke about, please take a deep breath and keep your fedora on. No one is telling you that. Keep telling your rape jokes and also your sexist jokes, I’m sure they’re hilarious and original.

Aside from the core motivation of making people laugh, every comic works to accomplish something different with their act. Therefore, everything that follows is only an account of how things work on Earth-Morgan, a place where Batman always sounds like Kevin Conroy and Farscape was never cancelled. Think whatever you please; I assure you worse is true. I have a lot of dumb ideas, am completely full of shit and am probably just trying to get laid, whatever, yes, fine.

Due to it’s utility for inviting the reader to consider ideas in a similar sequence as the writer once did, much of this will be in 2nd person singular, addressed to a universal “you.” This does not mean I’m interested in an argument with “actual you.” Try to remember that. I had the absurd good fortune to have been born with the genes western civilization decided on as favorites for humans centuries before my birth. The United States puts the needs and experiences of people who look like me ahead of everybody else, and this is especially true in standup comedy. It’s super creepy and, to my mind, a situation where Spider-Man’s rule about great power and great responsibility kicks in.

You might disagree. I don’t care.


Okay folks! Write your loved ones, put a copy of Gloomy Sunday on the Victrola and load a single bullet in your father’s old revolver – it’s time to review some rape statistics. Let’s start with 207,754 – according to the Department of Justice, that’s the number of rapes that occur every year. It breaks down to roughly one rape every two minutes, in case you were curious. 38% of those perpetrators knew the victim. 97% of them won’t spend a single day in jail. 54% of their assaults won’t even get reported. Victims are 6 times more likely to suffer PTSD, 26 times more likely to abuse drugs and 4 times more likely to contemplate suicide.

Is that a lot of numbers? Then if nothing else, make note of these key figures for comedians. One in six American women has been raped or has suffered an attempted rape. Some models try to correct for the rate of unreported assaults and put the number closer to one in four. Furthermore, one in twenty college aged men will admit to rape in anonymous surveys, so long as the word “rape” isn’t used to describe what they did. Now, one can never quite know how statistics like this will apply to any given room; I certainly don’t think that if there are forty men and twelve women in a crowd, that means there will be two rapists and two rape victims present every time. But that’s rather the point, isn’t it? You can never know for sure, but you can know where the statistical trendlines are. So, are there six women in the crowd? Are there four? Then it’s worth asking if triggering one of them is the artistic achievement you would like to make with your act. Did twenty guys show up, maybe more? If one of them has committed sexual assault, would you like to be the comedian who helps him to excuse and minimize what he did? Are these the sorts of connections you’d like to make with the crowd?

Comedy does not occur in a vacuum. The stories we tell each other matter and the stories we tell about each other matter. And while everyone knows you’re a decent guy there’s no denying that a lot of guys haven’t been. Like, thousands and thousands of generations of guys, all over the world. Because of the actions of men and the social structures men have created and enforced the world we live in is fucked up and dangerous for women in ways that it is not for men, without question. Providing cover to this multimillenial crime spree is a toxic cloud of stories and ideas about how men are meant to run and benefit first from the world and how women don’t own their bodies or their futures. This is called the patriarchy, which I like to picture as an oily black HP Lovecraft insanity monster with the eyes of a thousand wasps, crouched on top of our reality and sucking out the joy with his horrible proboscis. You might prefer to go with something in a lich or classic tentacle. Point is: it’s real, it’s awful, it’s made of stories and ideas and it hurts real people. It hurts you, whoever you are. The stories and ideas we add to our culture can make this monster stronger or help kill it.

What you need to understand is jokes that minimize rape and jokes that denigrate the female experience in general exist along a spectrum of ideas in our society that tell women that they don’t own themselves. Your body is not yours – it needs to look just so, weigh just so much, must be demurely covered when men say so, must be seen when men want to look at it, must keep a fetus in it should one ever wind up in there, must be made available for sex lest its occupant be known as a frigid bitch. If you wait around for a man to sexualize you on his terms, you’re a “good girl” or a “lady.” If you sexualize yourself on terms of your own, you’re a “slut” and probably had it coming if something bad happens to you on account of how you stepped out of a social compact that no one ever consulted you about. This is why minimizing the damage done by sexism and rape isn’t a great thing. Because we live in a culture that considers women's bodily autonomy not such a big deal, we live in a culture where women are routinely assaulted.

I used to run a regular comedy show at the Royal Lounge in Olympia, WA. In the early days, we had a small, loyal crowd that I watched very closely and solicited for opinions on how to build a better show. Something I heard while asking questions like that really stuck with me. A friend said that even if a woman had never been raped then she still has likely had at least one really creepy experience in their lives that violated their boundaries and made them feel awful for a long time afterward. And on the off chance a given woman has been spared such misfortune, then she definitely knows someone who has not been so lucky. So for those things to be true and to then sit in a room full of mostly dudes laughing at a dude onstage making light of this horrific thing they’ve been through? It doesn’t make for a fun evening out.

One can make the argument that running the risk of triggering a single audience member for the benefit of amusing the rest of them is acceptable but I do not find that a compelling point. Even if one is only practicing comedy for comedy’s sake and not particularly worried about the impact of their words, they will still find that sexism becomes a problem for comedy as an art. I believe that sexism prevents standup from being everything it can be as an artform and that making people feel weird and unwelcome at a comedy show is absolutely counter to the function comedy has served historically.


Stop me if you’ve heard this one: there’s this group of people who all know each other, or who are all about to get to know each other. But there’s a misunderstanding! And some hijinx! Some of the older folks help out but boy, some of them sure don't. Gosh, our culture has some weird social mores, huh? Turns out there are some painful imbalances in the community the characters share or are building but they work through it by going through a bunch of dumb shit together. And when the dust settles, they’re so happy that they're One again that the denouement contains at least one wedding.

It sounds familiar because when you boil the meat off most comedy stories, you find similar bones. Shakespeare’s comedies and every corny fart flick an SNL alum ever made share the same driving element: there is a community filled with tension that gets released in a ridiculous way. That done, the attractive young protagonists are free to marry and start a family. I’m trying really hard not to add a million paragraphs about theater to this already long piece so I’ll hammer through this quickly here and if you want to know more, buy me a drink sometime and I’ll talk about this until you hate me.

Before film, there was theater. Before theater there was, well, theater but of a much less formal sort. You can’t really pinpoint when people started performing stories onstage because before that, they were performing stories at festivals or in traveling bands and before that it was just fires and shadows and songs. The performers of the traveling dithyramb festivals inspired Greek theater, which inspired the Roman, which became the Italian. The stock character stories of Italian commedia dell’arte players were Shakespeare’s first comedic inspiration, blah blah blah, Western canon. But it's all one big continuum of story and performance that tracks back to just plain making up stories around the fire because goddamn it's cold out and we're hungry so it's a good thing we're together. Over and over again in classical comedies, the same core idea turns up: these were stories about communities creating and healing themselves. Absurdity shared returns us to our common humanity and the community may again live together in balance.

A standup comedian isn’t precisely a comic actor but they’re still dealing in laughter, one of our single most powerful social bonding agents. Think of the things we say about our favorite comics. “The material was so relatable!” “She said what everyone was thinking!” “The crowd was really with him!” We’re trying to make friends with the crowd and keep them on our side by letting them in our jokes when we’re onstage. It’s this weird simulation of bullshitting with your buddies and saying dumb stuff to each other but with a lot more lights and one of you has a microphone. What we’re doing is working with the raw materials of friendship and bonding. We laugh together; we are together. What we find funny collectively says something about the sort of collective we’re trying to be.

Looking at comedy as a storytelling tradition reveals just how incompatible sexism is with the pure practice of the art. The idea is to get everyone on the same side, laughing about common struggles. Catharsis is achieved and everyone feels a little more human, a little more present with one another. So to use comedy to tell women in that crowd “you aren’t safe here” or “your experiences are less important here” or “we minimize your suffering here” is a direct contradiction of comedy’s most powerful aspect. Shit, even the word “comedy” sounds like “community” said through a mouthful of potluck food. Using comedy to merely prop up the experiences of the privileged and to tear down anyone not conforming to society’s favorite genotype is to miss the point of comedy spectacular fashion. It’s also harmful: to real people in the real world and to the artform itself.

If you don’t believe standup has a sexism problem, go to any open mic and get back to me. Could be you’ll get lucky and go to a show that makes you wonder what the hell I’m talking about. More likely you’ll get to see a little something I like to call the Damaged Male Parade. Comedy is a very attractive artform to people who are in a lot of pain – the rate of catharsis one can achieve through writing and telling jokes is quite high. For my part, I can say I was pretty much a dead man walking when I got into standup. (In fact, that’s a good way to describe my vibe onstage those first few times). Men will vastly outnumber women and the male experience will be the one you hear the most about throughout the evening. A lot of these guys are hurting, a lot of them blame women and at the open mic, they’re working out material inspired by that.

All of which is totally valid, of course! But consider what that means in practice for your average open mic show: dude after dude slouching up to the microphone to say “bitches, amirite?” before extolling all the many ways women are horrible creatures who destroy lives and have silly wants and needs. Now, these are jokes and people should be able to laugh at themselves so “can’t you take a joke?” is a valid but somewhat misleading question. A better one would be “can’t you take an average of ninety jokes in a sitting, one after another?” Or, “can’t you take this protoform of what may one day be a joke but is presently just an intensely off-putting expression of my frustrated desires and unrealistic expectations?” Or, “can’t you take an alternating series of jokes and protoforms that undermine the humanity of your gender told in a dark room by a succession of dudes to dudes for dudes spread throughout an entire evening? Why aren’t you laughing?”

The net result of this is that you don’t see a lot of women in the crowd at open mics. You see even fewer onstage. And when you do, there are better than good odds that the host is gonna treat that like some kind of crazy anomaly and draw all sorts of undue attention to her gender. The intro is often some form of “hey dudes, get ready to male gaze this lady performer that I’m about to bring onstage in a degrading way!” Now, while it’s true that a lot of this bush league shit gets squeezed out of the game the further up in the ranks you look, the consequences of this sexism can still be seen in pro comedy. I’ve seen friends of mine introduced as their sexual organs at shows allegedly run by professionals. I’ve seen paid, ticketed shows where the host made sure to sexualize the bill’s single female comic at every possible opportunity. When open mics are nightmare boyzones, this “as below, so above” situation starts to develop where sexism is considered a normal part of comedy. The idea that women are intrinsically unfunny is still treated as a credible idea in some circles and it’s a goddamn embarrassment.
I’m not sure when it happened, but there’s this idea out there that comedy needs to be offensive and shocking to be entertaining. It somehow got into our heads that standup was exclusively about pushing the envelope of good taste. Master practitioners of the form like Louis CK, Bill Hicks, Doug Stanhope, Greg Giraldo, George Carlin and so on show us that it’s possible to make just about anything funny. Here’s what no one tells new comics, though: we’ve all seen CK, Hicks, Stanhope, Giraldo, Carlin and all the rest. They worked for years to get that good. Everyone starts out with this fantasy of being the guy who blows them all away with the stuff he’s willing to joke about; I know I did. But then you get that setlist to the open mic and discover that everyone else wants to talk about jerking off. Everyone else had a bad break up, too. The edge hasn’t been the edge for awhile. The edge has been crowded with untalented assholes ever since Howard Stern went on the air. The edge is boring as shit.

Because comedy culture is so committed to boxing women out on an amateur level, far fewer play the game long enough to rise through the ranks and affect the tone of the form on a professional level. Standup’s sexism is cyclic and self-reinforcing, which is how sexism works in general. As a result, the prime voice one hears in standup comedy is still straight, white and male. Lameness nips close at the heals of homogeny – art that comes from a narrow range of perspectives is not art that’s being everything it can be.

To reiterate one last time, the purpose of this article has been to articulate the thinking behind how I practice comedy and why I think it’s important not to reinforce societal sexism. A common objection to articles like this is that free speech must be absolute and the great thing about comedy is that it can be about anything. Well, I grant that point and throw it right back at you. Yes, comedy can be about anything. Language and story are incredibly powerful tools which can give the savor of experience to mere words, can make true absolutely anything that can be imagined. When you tell a joke – that is, a story – you’re plugging into a practice millennia old. You’re taking part in something that began around cookfires under cold, bewildering skies when all people knew of the world was that it was full of shocks and could kill them in an instant. We told our stories to share our experiences, to better understand and change the world we were in and to reinforce the idea that we were all in it together. When you tell a story, you are adding your unique experience and perspective to that same tradition. Is your imagination so pallid that you can only conceive of propping up privilege with your gift? Is something dull and hurtful all you have to add?