Tuesday, March 31, 2009

At the moment (well, not this very moment. I'm dreading going in to work at this moment), I'm about 60% through my second longform writing piece, chronicling the final days on the road for a 50-ish, washed up comedian in the early 1980s, when the "comedy boom" was busting at the seams, waiting to unleash crap comedy on the planet for the next 15 years. This is taking some research and, as I dig into the changes in the comedy world throughout the 60s and 70s, little gems from my past (like the post prior to this) have began leaking outta my noggin'.

So, alongside my chronicling of my training for Hundred in the Hood, I'll be spilling small pieces from two careers back.

1993. I think. My hair was rather large, so it had to be '93 or '94. At any old rate, I'd booked a one night, two show engagement opening for Bobcat Goldthwait in Milwaukee at some random club that didn't regularly do comedy. I have to admit that I was psyched. Bobcat - outside of the "AAAUgHGHAAAAHHhha!" bullshit - is an incredibly talented comic who, more often than not, injects his liberal viewpoints into his shows, and evocatively at that.

I get the call that the first show is at 8:00, and I and my then girlfriend hit the road around 5:00 to give me plenty of time. Well, when we arrive, the booking agent (short, round, mustache, hoarse voice, named "Roz") starts freaking out.

"Why weren't you at sound check?!?!"

I hadn't heard of a sound check. Besides, THERE ARE NO INSTRUMENTS ONLY MY SINGULAR VOICE, JACKASS, I thought.

"We almost hired (another comedian) to replace you. You're lucky you got here early."

Looking around the club, the word "lucky" didn't instantly spring to mind. It was a HUGE sports bar in an utterly shitty part of Milwaukee (and if you've been to Milwaukee, you know that's saying something). Indeed, I had been anointed with blessings by the Comedy Gods to play at such a locale.

Upstairs was the "VIP" section, which meant they served Heineken and had left scattered trays of veggies and chips everywhere. At the front of the lofted space was the green room. I was told to not enter this holy and sacrosanct vestibule, as Bobcat was preparing his set within. Instead, my girlfriend and I were to sit with the other "VIPs", which all appeared to be local, morning DJs and some of the hotter strippers from around town.

Fine. After 4 years in comedy, I'd been treated with far less respect. Like the time the owner of a chain of successful Chicago clubs chastised me for eating tortilla chips in between shows, informing that I was lucky he didn't charge me for them, even though the headliner had sold out an entire week at $15 a head.

I digress.

The place swelled up and every seat is taken...by some of the seediest motherfuckers I'd ever laid eyes upon. Seriously. It was the kind of crowd that starts a bar brawl that ends with some dude's head getting mashed into the jukebox. My intro is read, I run down the stairs at the side of the stage and commence my comedy-ing.

I don't think it went too terribly, but I do remember that not one second of my 30 minutes was ever easy. That's what opening for a name-comedian is like: Everyone is saving their yucks for the guy they shelled out $20 to see, not for some lame, faceless loser who isn't even allowed in the green room.

Remember: "Lucky".

I made sure toss out some of my more (and I cringe with recessing testicles merely typing this next word) "edgy" material, as I knew Bob would probably find it funny. At one point, I heard him cackling from upstairs. I know this because he was the only one laughing, so singling him out was a breeze. Most of the bikers in the room grew bored and I sensed their anxious anticipation too see the Police Academy guy who would most certainly blow this dipshit out of the water with his patented "AUGGhOOOooOFFFFANNnnG!!" material.

Suffocating beneath a blanket of discomfort, I wrapped up my tattered 30 minutes and the emcee trotted onstage, shaking my hand as nearly every hand in the place lightly slapped the other. Like a golf clap, but with less sincerity. I thankfully plunged into the darkness from the spotlight and was greeted on the steps by Bobcat:

"Really funny, man. Why aren't you in the green room?"

"They said I couldn't hang out there."

"What?? Go ahead. I'll see you after my set."

My girlfriend and I then crossed the thresh hold. And it was glorious.

KIDDING! It was a plain room with two sofas and some more scattered fruit and veggie trays. This was the Forbidden Zone. We plunked ourselves down and watched as Bob began his set on the stage below.


Not eating shit constantly, mind you, but Jesus, he was getting hammered up there by drunken hicks screaming his patented "OoOoOOOOAAAUUghhHHhh!!". He couldn't get in a word edgewise. For 45 minutes, we watched him pull out all the stops, and I recognized that he was now trying to piss them off. Meanwhile, we were laughing our asses off. After all, the guy is funny. And those sofas were comfy.

In between shows, we chatted and got to know each other, and he was then interviewed by a college paper reporter who asked, "Who are your comedy influences?" Bob looked up at me with a blank, "You got any ideas?" look, so I replied, "You were big into Max Gail, weren't you?" (which instantly became his answer).

Our second sets probably went worse than the first, but it's all blended together into a singular show of suck in my memory. At the night's end, my girlfriend had forgotten her purse in the green room as we walked to the car. When she tried to get back in, two bouncers stopped her and told her that no one was allowed in the green room. Luckily, Bob heard her and she was allowed back in...as soon as two, young, attractive girls exited.

Years later, Rolling Stone put out a comedy issue, in one section, asking comedians about the worst nights they'd ever played.

Bobcat Goldthwait made mention of a biker/sports bar in Milwaukee a handful of years back.

Monday, March 30, 2009

1990. I was 20 years of age, living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, working 35 hours/week at a sandwich shop for minimum wage and performing stand up comedy 5 nights/week - mostly for free - at open mikes. And my apartment (just up the steps and through the front door)?

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It was a two room studio I paid $305/month to rent. The main room was about 3 x the size of a generous closet, but the kitchen was ENORMOUS. Good thing, as then, as now, I LOVE cooking*

*warning: I sometimes lie

One night, while a friend and I were performing at (ya ready?) "Sir Laugh's A Lot Comedy Castle" (not a castle at all but, in fact, the bar at a Day's Inn hotel, located not in rural England but off a highway in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin), we were approached by an older gent with a proposition.

No, luckily, not that kind. At least not this time.

He was hosting a St Patrick's Day bash at a local rented hall and wanted Jason and myself to each do two, 15 minute sets before his son's band played. And he was going to pay us $250 a piece to do it. Quickly calculating - using my massive brain - I realized that was two weeks worth of pay from my dayjob.

We met him at said hall one afternoon to see what awaited. It was HUGE. Seriously, almost as big as my kitchen. He showed us the layout: Where the stage would be, how there'd be poker tables set up in a select area, blah blah, all I heard was "250 DOLLARS FOR 30 MINUTES OF WORK".

St. Patty's came and we arrived to a packed, and I mean it, PACKED hall. Easily 300 people, and every last one of them drunk, gambling, and yammering. As green as I was in comedy, I sensed things were not going to go as previously imagined (me, onstage, commanding belly-laughs and howls from an attentive and appreciative crowd who, after, would likely hand me business cards, begging me to weave my comedy magic at their upcoming corporate events). No, this was gonna be like performing my act at a hockey arena. While the game was going. And I was the goalie.

I drew the short straw and went up first. It's hazy in my memory, being so long ago, but one thing I do remember? I was PISSED. The 15 minutes dragged on for 16 months. I couldn't even get anyone to look at me, much less listen. So I droned on and on, my singular audience response being, "Bring on the band!"

I sloughed off and Jason took the mike. I was livid, embarrassed, defeated, and needed a gallon of green beer. Jason ate it worse than I did, if memory serves. And then he intro'd the band. The place went haywire as the opening strands to "Rockin' Robin" filled the cavernous drunken hall. I will never in my life hear that song and not get a sick feeling in my gut.

Jason dashed to the back of the room and sat next to me, I imagine saying something to the effect of, "One down, one to go!", but I'd had it.

"I'm not going back up there."


"Fuck that bullshit, no way."

"But you'll only get half the money!"

This is when I walked up to the (now drunken and slurring) guy who'd hired us and told him, "No way am I going back up." He didn't seem very surprised, nor did he even pause before handing me the $125 that I now felt like I'd earned sucking off lepers in an alleyway. Jason offered to do the full time for the money, and he complied, so I sat and watched him die endless deaths, over and over, wildly attempting to get the crowd's attention and failing time and again. After 30 minutes of brave attempts at wackiness, he closed his "set", came to the door where I stood and waited, and we left.

It would be 5 long years before I came to my senses and quit comedy. 5 years of gigs that made this one look like I had played Carnegie Hall.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Long Run

The phrase itself - "the long run" - is uttered daily by thousands, nay, TRILLIONS of human beings inhabiting our fair Earth and a small quark on the outer reaches of the Milky Way Galaxy (please note: Most things typed in this blog are pulled from the galaxy known as "My Ass").

(Guy with Powerpoint presentation): "So you see, that if the spending trend continues over the long run, by April, most of our users will turn away and effectively..."


"The long run" is the barometer with which we gauge something's sustainability. As a distance runner, sure, I can comply. But the concept that in "the long run", something can be tested and then categorically listed as "failure", well, that doesn't hold very much water. Unless water is selling, in which case, SELL SELL SELL!

Take my long run of 20 miles yesterday:

By mile 8 out on the trails, I was feeling horrid and certain that this was going to be a painful experience. And in the moment, sure it was. But by mile 12, I was back in gear and feeling like a million, muddy bucks. Why? I will now reveal to you my new favorite song on my iPod playlist:


Hate me yet?

This plucked me out of the doldrums and suddenly, I was transformed. No, not into a young Alberto Salazar, but a 14 year old in the year nineteen hundred and eighty four, when parachute pants disgraced the face of fashion and the Chicago Cubs clinched the division for the first time since the year 1258.

I cannot properly map out the ups and downs experienced during a long run...yet, here I am, attempting to do just that. Patience and hope (and if you're sick of the word "hope", which I hope you are not, replace it with "bravery") help to expose all that can be experienced in "the long run", in just about every arena in life. If, at mile 35 you think all is lost, keep pressing forward and see how mile 36 feels...and 37...and so forth.

I guess I'm writing this with much on my mind. It's probably more therapeutic for my brain and self than anything else in these uncertain days. I have to trust that in the long run, the bad and scary patches will ebb and flow, just as in happier days.

Okay, NOW you have to admit that you hate me, even just a little bit.

Friday, March 20, 2009

My runs this week were as follows:

Tuesday: 8 miles at 8:51/mile pace

Wednesday: 4 miles at 8:39/mile pace

Thursday: 8 miles at 8:51/mile pace

These paces are all assuming a flat, road run, which none were. So my splits on the 8 milers were somewhere in the 9:20 range. As for the 4 miler...uhhh...

See, it started out mellow enough: I arrived at the trail with plans to run an out and back of 4 miles. Then, she came whizzing past me as I locked my car. She being a 40 something woman in amazing shape, cruising by and uphill at a pace I assumed was somewhere in the neighborhood of my proposed pace.

So I gave chase. And then realized that she was somewhere in sub 8 minute miles. Naturally, I slowed and backed off, reminding myself that my pace was to be about 1 minute/mile slower than muscley, fit woman's trotting pace.


It's this competitive side of myself I'm nurturing. In a previous entry, I talked about how even in kindergarten I was non-competitive. It's time for this to change.

In the sport of ultra running, I've gotten quite used to the fact that yes, while I'm fast in big distances, I'll likely never finish in the top 10% of the pack, so I've grown content at hanging somewhere in the top 25% of finishers and having fun in the outdoors with the other crazies. But somewhere within those confines, I have to remind myself that it's totally acceptable to "compete" against others. It doesn't take away from the other elements of the sport that I enjoy. It adds to them.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

As you may know, or not, but will be finding out....nnnnnnnnnnnow!, I received my running coach certification last autumn, which I've done very little with, but I *have* altered my own training, so I figure that's my money's worth right there.

And as you may know, or again, not know, but will after a few more splashes of verbs, nouns, and more commas than your eyes care to deal with, I'm also registered to run Hundred in the Hood this September. This is my second 100 mile run endeavor and - for reasons unbeknownst to me - I want to train properly for it.

Go figure.

I really enjoyed the wisdom and humor possessed by the teacher of my running coach certification course, so in a sweeping act of irony, I went to the very website where I myself am pronounced as a certified running coach, grabbed his email address, and sent off to see what he could do for me.

He's building me a training program that I believe, in my heart of hearts, is going to kick my ass like the guy who rearranged Leroy's face in Croce's chart-topping "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown". Having never run on anyone's schedule but my own (waking up, hungover, delaying the long run until the following day, etc), this has lit a bonfire beneath my ass. The last two runs he scheduled for me I ran to the nearest 1/1,000th of an inch. I clocked and logged my times on the interactive site. I've written down trail conditions and how my body felt while out there. In other words: I STARTED PAYING ATTENTION.

Right now, my weekly running totals hover between 40 and 45 miles. When training for San Diego 100, my mileage topped off around 63 miles in a week. My coach has revealed his plans to get me up around (are you sitting down? Relaxed? Take a deep breath...now exhale...goooooood....goooooooooooood. Woop, I digress...) 80 to 85 miles per week.


I have complete faith in his knowledge (having run probably dozens of 100 milers himself, and placing in the top 10 usually) and in my capabilities to train at this level. Who knows? I might surprise myself out there.

And so it begins: My obsessive blogging about training for another 100.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Flushed and Itchy

No, this is not the name of my sophomore album release, the one poised to follow "Flaccid Banana". It's a reality I'm facing:

Certain India Pale Ales cause me to break out.

I've found I'm not alone, as a regular customer at County Cork also experiences this emotionally traumatic reaction. Thing is: I love the very IPAs that cause my face to blow into a reddish hue and send creepy-crawlies to tingle my skin. The exact same ones:
Pliny the Elder,Broken Halo, and my beloved Tricerahops.

Perhaps part of love is knowing when to say goodbye.