While in New York, I wanted to do one thing: See all the comedy.
I wanted to dive into sewers and gnaw on any semblance of tee-hees and haw-haws. I brought a book of comedy with me. I watched YouTube clips of stand-up comedians on the ferry between Manhattan and Staten. I would have made sweet, sweet love to great joke (if it consented).
That’s why I drove from Wisconsin to New York.
Stand-up comedy in New York–where people need it, as my Socrates of Comedy, Doug Stanhope, once said.
Everynight, my ladyfriend and I paid a few bucks to sit inches away from my idols at the Comedy Cellar. We went everynight during the week. And during the week, this is a few of the weekday highlights:
Ray Romano (unannounced); Aziz Ansari (“I’m working on some new material, like this new Skittles bit.”); Judd Apatow (guy behind Freaks and Geeks, 40 Yr-Old Virgin, etc.); Todd Barry (whom I’ve seen multiple times, including his ballsy tour of pure crowd work, which was turned into a Netflix special and sold on Louis CK’s website.); Judah Friedlander (of 30 Rock fame); and others, who are still legends, but my fingers are sleepy.
Aziz wore loafers and spoke my mind about relationships and Skittles. Judd included me in his banter/jokes about 3-ways. Ray Romano had a beard. Judah F. did . . . his hilarious thing, which is an odd mix of crowd work, jokes, and improv. (From my understanding, he is there almost everynight, performing comedy. If not there, Gotham.)
All of these TV images, suddenly, they materialized a foot away from me. At Comedy Cellar, if you’re front row, you are right there. Spit row. Two chairs a foot or two from the comedian.
For years, I’ve spent thousands on seeing every comedian I could. I have so many pictures with comedians I can’t keep track. Jeselnik to Doug Benson to Timmel to–you name her/him.
Then within a few nights, I was rubbing elbows with the Kings and Queens.
And they didn’t give a shit.
I’d followed these comedians careers from start to current. I subscribed to email lists, social media updates–anything and everything. And there I was, sitting at the bar upstairs after the shows. I ordered double vodka with lemons. At the table behind me sat Ray R., Todd Barry, Louie CK, and Judah F. HBO, Netflix–their stars. They just chatted about the mundane. I tried my best to be normal, like everyone else in the bar. The bartender said these guys and gals were here so often than no one paid them any mind.
“But have you seen Shameless? Have you read Judah’s book? Watched 30 Rock? Seen ANY of Aziz’s work? Parks and Rec? Any standup?”
The bartender shrugged. “It’s New York.”
I thought. Louie lived a few blocks away, according to the bartender. These guys did this all the time. The regulars.
Bartender said, “So we just leave them be.”
However, I wanted to meet Louie. Like a true tourist. Like a true idiot fan, I wanted to create a false reality via photography on a shitty phone camera. I wanted to come home and tell my friends.
I couldn’t work up the courage. My girlfriend saw Louie leaving. She noted it. I said, “Can you ask him for a picture with me?”
I couldn’t work up the courage to ask a stranger for a photo.
She gently tapped him on the shoulder. His eyes flitted to his SUV, which idled outside.
“My boyfriend is a huge fan. Would you mind?”
The comedian–oddly without his facial hair–looked to me. Then to my girlfriend. I could read his mind. What a weird dude. What a coward. Is this a murderer? Is this a–
Like his “character” on his eponymous TV show, he politely declined. “No. I’d rather not.” And he turned and walked off, shaking hands, nodding, and bro-hugging bouncers and fellow comedians who hung outside the Comedy Cellar’s doors.
I felt rejected. It was nothing personal. No doubt, he got the question incessantly. On a walk with his daughters–Will you take a pic for my Twittergrammingabook?
I understood it. And I felt the false relationship we had. It is and was one-sided. His jokes might resound with me, but he is not like me. He does not want to be. He wants to stay rich. He wants to raise his two daughters well. He wants to live normally, but instead of teaching or working at a factory, he delved successfully into a career that is personal and self-indulgent. That is a risk. A huge one. At some point, his daughters will see his early work, and the vulgar stories he told about them. And I’m sure they’ll take it in stride. After all, how can he hate on a dad who makes millions and is a solid father?
But here’s what the relationship was and is :
Business masked behind the extremely personal material.
“Listen to me. Thank you for money.”
But after a time, after the comedian becomes huge, the thank you is meaningless. A formality. Going to church on Christmas and Easter.
Must be, especially for guys like Louie. For guys like Jeselinik, whom I saw several times in Madison, WI before he had his TV show or his first comedy album. I have two pictures with Anthony Jeselnik. The third show I went to was massive. People screamed out his punchlines before he did. And if you know his comedy, timing and attitude is everything.
His success killed his own show. His fans ruined his jokes.
When I had my girlfriend ask Louie for a picture, was I contributing?
I put him and other comedians on pedestal on which they don’t belong. I’ve heard negative things about him from other comedians. I’ve heard about this and that about this comedian and that comedian. And part of it is probably true. At some point, you are no longer the struggling comedian. You’re the celeb. You’re the actor. You’re not like your fans anymore. Louie even says in one of his specials, “I’m not like you.”
And he isn’t. No. He and they aren’t. But that’s okay. It takes a lot of self indulgence and promo to get there. They earn it. But really, why do I care about a guy who looks like he works at UPS or a cheese factory?
I am deluded by media.
I allow myself to fall in love with anything I can relate to. It comes in waves. One week, I love a novelist. Then, a musician. Then, a comedian. But these artists, they are just UPS workers whose work is amplified because they sense they are different; because they sense they have a unique view. It partly is a vainity thing, without a doubt, and I think that is obvious with the influx of neurotic comedians and writers (Jonathan Ames, Marc Maron, Larry David, Richard Lewis, etc.). They are obsessed with and love themselves. And when a fan connects, it is a one-way relationship. Then the money pours in (maybe and eventually), and bam! You got a fella or gal creating a TV show around themselves.
Me. Me. Me.
But practicality means turning down the fans that pay your rent. And I get it.
But here’s my thought:
I’m going to break free.
Screw Stanhope (although I ordered and will read his newest book the moment it was announced, before it had a title). Screw Louie. Screw them all. They connect with me. But why am I sending my love? That is their job; connect with dolts who live non-traveling, non-million $ lifestyles. So, why am I doling out $80 to see jokes that’ll be on Netflix/HBO in a few months?
Like a creepy lover.
Every move you make.
I’ll be watching you.
Nah. I’m done with that.
I love these jokes. These falsified personalities. But I’m done trailing them online; I’m unsubscribing and detaching from them. I’m done cowering in their sweaty shadows.
I’ll pay to see your show.
But that’s it.
I will thank you internally for what you’ve contributed to my life. But you’re just a fraction of it. Just like I (and all your faceless fans) are slivers of a fraction of your income. Without us, you’re nothing. And for that, I’m certain you comedians are thankful. You must be. But you’re people. We’re people. Why in the world am I having my girlfriend ask a middle-aged, overweight comedian for a picture? It is not like the red-head and I made a connection; at best, if I had gotten the pic, he would be irritated. Is that what I want?
Like Zeus and other fictional creatures, I’ll appreciate my idols from a distance. If they come around, I’ll probably cough up the cash to see them. My love for comedy is too huge. But beyond that? Get out of here. Big-Name Comedians, you’d say the same.
I’m still collecting those comedian photos. They are still my idols.
Bill Burr–who will never read this–one day I shall see you live. I’ve watched your most recent Netflix special several times, and I have laughed-out-loud again and again. And for that, what can I do but thank you. You do what you’re great at. And when I go to the gun range (rarely), I can’t help but think about picking a .22 rather than a revolver.
Note: I just forked over $200 for Louie tickets for a few of my friends and myself. I really want them to experience live comedy.$200 won’t kill me, and it won’t make a difference to Louie. He probably lights cigars with that elusive $200 bill with Aaron Burr’s photo on it.
Makes me wonder. Ever have a run-in with a celeb? Comedy or otherwise?