For a while now I’ve wanted to write more personal writing pieces, but never quite gotten there. Every blog I’ve tried to make has either felt forced, or neglected. Monthly is my best answer to that problem. In an effort to weed out over-posting for the sake of content creation, and posting one thing every 5 months and looking like a person who’s neglected a website, I’ve created a blog that this year will get exactly 12 entries. One for each month. I don’t really know exactly what it’s going to be about, except that I’ll probably be in it.
March. You disappeared surprisingly fast this year.
I’m honestly surprised that after 3 years of stand-up this is something I haven’t said sooner, but around the beginning of the month I participated in my first storytelling showcase. It was a bizarre experience, but not for the reasons I anticipated; namely:
Storytelling audiences are the best.
Often trying new things and tweaking aspects of my performance result in these weird divergences I usually look back on with a combination of embarrassment and reverence. When I co-hosted a bi-weekly showcase I was put in a position where I was able to try out a lot of new material, which resulted in an attempt at looping comedy, which is shorthand for copying Reggie Watts. At the the very best that had mixed results. A couple months ago I tried doing a 15 minute set dedicated exclusively to talking about places I’ve visited. That one straight up fell flat. This experience was markedly different.
First off, the show that I performed to was sold out, and apparently this is a trend. In order to have a snowballs chance of getting into one of the shows I performed at, you absolutely need to be signed up on the show’s mailing list, and then the minute tickets become available you need to drop everything you are doing and hope you’re next to a computer so you can buy some. Of course, there’s no reason that a packed house can’t be bad. I’ve played for large groups of people before and been served icy indifference on many occasions. Not the case in this situation.
Of the hundreds of times I’ve gotten on stage I’ve never performed to a warmer, more accepting group of people.
Often comedy is a thing defined by it’s expansive bust periods with momentary pockets of boom. This was one of those pockets. There have maybe been 5 or so shows where I can remember winning the crowd over and maybe getting a slightly bigger reception in the end, but from a cold open I’ve never been in front of so many people who were so excited and enthusiastic about the concept of performance. It was one of those moments that makes you completely reevaluate what an open mic is. Toiling away in front of bar patrons, and people that sometimes you genuinely don’t want to disturb forces you to construct this shield so you can hide your vulnerabilities, which is hard considering some of the best stand-up demands openness and willingness to put yourself out on the line. I’m also completely open to bombing since that’s how you learn, but it was nice to just get up in front of an audience and know that they’re unflinchingly on your side.
On the other hand, storytelling shows are also comedy crack. They’re fun and super supportive, but from a performer's perspective I think you might learn less. It’s all reaping, and essentially the zero gravity of performance headspace. The free floating, stress free environment is amazing, but a prolonged exposure to it atrophies your bones. You forget about “performance spaces” like The Chinese Village on 82nd & Washington. A place that instead of having understanding, NPR donating Portlandians, instead, has Larry: A diehard regular who is always drunk, and always looking to ruin you. In those spaces you have to try, and that’s a good thing. Could you host a storytelling show in front of Larry? Maybe. Would it be the same show that I performed at? Probably not.*
And then sometimes I wonder, “What is the endgame to the storytelling circuit?”. Clearly it’s popular, and on some sort of primordial level people seem to flock to storytellers because they know some sort of life lesson is being passed on, even if that life lesson is about some guy having to clench the tip of his wolf’s dick to stop it from pissing in his apartment.** At the same time, stand-up in it’s own right is the white knuckled problem child of the live performance family, which would make storytelling the even more oblique, red-headed cousin. Overall I am glad that somewhere in our genes evolution has drummed into our heads the want to listen when someone is passing on knowledge they’ve accrued. Again, even if it’s wolf dick knowledge.
March 12th was unofficially, the first “nice day” of 2014. I say this not because the weather was particularly stunning, but because it was the first day I saw ‘not wearing a shirt in 57 degree weather guy’. I should specify that this is not one particular person. Really, it’s more of an abstract concept; a landmark of sorts. Pennsylvania has Punxsutawney Phil, and Oregon has white dudes who unnecessarily remove clothing in balmy weather. It delights and confuses me. Delights, because in a way it’s sort of the truest form of Portland weirdness. Not a Portlandia weirdness, more like a ‘I live in a van but have a salaried job’, weirdness. It also confuses because even though it does get hotter in the summer, I never seem to see as many shirtless dudes walking around. They’re these weird creatures that only seem to absorb UV rays during a particular window of the year. Too cold, and they’re still too layered to even remember they have skin. Too hot, and they’ve already transitioned into your standard “Dad Shorts” ensemble, that’s probably more efficient at releasing heat, and results in a less obvious sunburn. The amazon has that flower that only blooms once a year, and Portland has Tanner, a man somewhere between the age of 25-40, who nobody can figure out how homeless he his.
Here is a design I made for my friend/fellow Portland comedian Dan Weber.
I started it on the 10th and after a lot of tracing paper, scanning, scaling, and coloring, finished it on the 17th. It is my most recent dip into freelance graphic design, and probably the most satisfied I’ve been with a concept built from the ground up.
When Dan first approached me about coming up with a concept for his podcast, I felt what I usually feel whenever someone asks me to design something: Fear and excitement/dread. The excitement/dread part depends on how well I know the person asking me, and since I see Dan several times a week and know he’s a cool, reasonable person I was excited at the prospect of doing some work for him. And yet, regardless of which emotion I feel, it’s always tempered by a resounding feeling that is for labeling purposes known as “fear”, but more of a “Don’t fuck this up”, vibe.
I don’t know why it’s such a knee jerk reaction, but I can’t help but feel twinges of anxiety when I’m coming up with logos/designs/branding concepts for people. There’s something uniquely terrifying about being presented with an idea from a person, and then being asked to distill that idea into an abstract yet overall more complete concept, and then after all that having to wait for their approval. As of March 2014 ‘Opening Client’s Response E-mails’ holds a spot in ‘Top Fears’ database right below ‘Living An Unexplored Life’ and ‘Re-dislocating My Left Knee’. It's definitely a cousin or distant relative to ‘Explaining A Misunderstand In An Unfamiliar Language’. I just hope that when I do get opportunities to create things like this I don’t completely mistake the feel my clients are going for. To present something to someone and have them be like, “Ugh. That’s not what I meant at all.”
Fucking woof, man. Just the worst.
I am really excited by how this turned out, though. Hopefully more of me doing this in near future.
*I once performed to an audience of two lesbians at the Chinese Village. They were amazing and laughed the entire time. Sometimes the inner ‘burbs surprise you.
**Real story that got told