Friday, September 5, 2008

Chapter 00 : Rubber Chicken




EXT, NIGHT-

The Heroes’ long blond hair whipped furiously in the cross winds of the Cajon Pass as he rode an open topped ‘68 Land Cruiser down the massive roller coaster of Interstate 15. The engine was red- lining at 70 miles an hour as he cruised down the slow lane of the six lanes headed west. The Hero hits ‘play’ on his Walkman and nods a grinning head to the opening bass line of “Mountain Song” by Jane’s’ Addiction.

The script was unwritten; the story was an idea, and the hero’s arc undetermined. I was living the dream, the movie, the life of a human on the verge of…

Something.

I was reared as a good Christian boy, in a good, ultra conservative, Christian family. I spent most of my life living in a stretched out notch beneath the buckle of the Bible Belt. I had a well balanced childhood. I was caged in the iron fist of the fundamentalist paradigm, but was allowed ample doses of the saccharine sweet liberty and freedom seen on network television. Between the age of four and nine I lived in a suburb of Atlanta. Ted Turner was just beginning to crank up the wattage on the Television tower for WTCG (soon to become WTBS, then TBS). Unlike the big three networks, Turner was actively digging up the best of television history and making it available to a new generation.

I watched Mr. Ed, Father Knows Best, Leave it to Beaver, :The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, Bewitched,





To live in mental bondage, to have the Master bind the mind with threats of pain and suffering, and allusions of heavenly bliss. But that trip had a Santa factor that I couldn’t deny. It wasn’t the same kick once the theatrics ceased to pull me in emotionally. I realized that there were options of how to be in this life. I decided to seek them out.



I moved to Los Angeles on Halloween 1989. I sensed optimism in the zeitgeist of the West. “What happens in the 90’s will make the 60’s look like the 50’s “ was a catch phrase I heard at the time, and it stuck with me. I was a young American moving into the World, excited to be there.

I was 20 years old and I thought I was funny. I decided that I would become a stand up comic, then comedic actor, then movie star, then a reclusive eccentric. My optimism was partnered with my narcissism and my expectations were painfully cliché, but I carried the protective shield of naiveté as I enlisted in the army of wannabees training for action in the arena of pop culture.

I saw the L.A. Caberet sign on Ventura Boulevard and turned into the parking lot on impulse. I opened the door and entered into darkness. Cigarette smoke varnished bar lights skulked into my vision as my eyes adjusted to the room. There was no one there. I stood for a few moments, buffeted with a freon tainted air conditioning heavily fragranced by eau de bar smell.

A stocky bald guy emerges through a heavy velvet curtain, then stops in his tracks when he notices me.

“Can I help you?” he asks with tone. I asked if they had an audition night. He walks behind the bar a pulls out a piece of paper and attaches it to a clip board. Then he looks at his watch. “Sign up isn’t ‘till 6:00.”

“What time is it now” I asked.
“Have you never been here before?”
I shook my head no. “First time I’ve seen the place.”
“sign up is at 6:00. We make a line-up from the list and post it outside at 8pm. You come back then to find out if you have a spot.”
“A spot tonight?” I balked. I was looking for info on auditioning, not an audition, not yet.
“No, last night. “ the crabby dude said. “How long have you done standup?”
“Um, not long” I winced at the idea of clarifying furthur. He thrust the clipboard at me and said “Go ahead, but next time you sign at 6.” I lettered my name and handed it back. He turned and threw the list on the bar and walked through the curtain into the showroom.

I had thought about doing comedy, but that was about it. I had no act, no jokes, no real stage experience, no clue as to what to do with a spot if I got one. I stood in the quiet blackness of the bar and looked at the list. I thought about scratching my name off, but it was too late. I showed my face. I asked and I received.

I turned and walked out into the harsh San Fernando Valley sun with my head racing. I spent the next three of hours pacing and scribbling notes. I thought of things I had said at parties that made people laugh, a few tall jokes, and odd bits that were just weird.

I returned at 8:00 to check the list. There were a half dozen people gandering the line up, many more that had looked, and more that were waiting to look. I used my abnormal height to peer over the tops of their heads. There were thirty people listed for the main room. I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw I wasn’t one. Then I noticed the bar stage list. I was on it. First position. I panicked a bit and started walking in circles around the vast parking lot the club shared with a strip mall.

At 9:00pm I entered the bar and introduced myself to the Emcee. I told him it was my first time and asked who I was auditioning for. “This will be your first time?” he asked incredulously.
“Yeah” I exhaled.
“Uh, you don’t want to audition for anyone or anything your first time buddy. You’re on the bar stage for a reason. No one knows you and know one cares, which is good, trust me. Just get up there and have a good time.”

I wasn’t legally old enough to be in the bar. I ordered a whisky in the hopes I would be kicked out, but I just got a very small and expensive drink, as the emcee took the mic. He had a face for comedy. Premature wrinkles and extreme features. He specialized in groaners. He didn’t seem to be there for the laughs. Wiry and kenetic, the funny was implied. He seemed to consciously elicit groans and heckles. That was his gig. Then he stops his small-stage pacing and straightens up. He announces a first timer with a modicum of ceremony and I shoot my whisky.

After I took the stage I quickly realized that the context of making a funny with friends is far removed from performing in front of a room full of strangers. My face flushed and my heart pounded as I tried to decipher the notes scribbled on my hand. I pushed through it and got the light none too soon. I didn’t bring the house down. I walked off the stage and headed for the door when Bobby Pollack stopped me. He asked me if that was really my first time. I winced and said yep. He told me I was great and encouraged me to keep it up, then asked if I wanted to go with him to an open mic off Fairfax and Beverly. He said the audience was nice. I was certain that if I didn’t go I would never try it again.

If Richard Lewis dressed like a poor disco dancer from the 70’s and only told one-liners, you would have Bobby Pollack. Long black hair, shirt tucked in and unbuttoned to his belly, a black leather vest, and jeans with a package crushing tightness. The week before I had agreed to get into a Maseratti with a real life California Ken and Barbie and only managed to get away from them after three days of high weirdness. So, I told Bobby I’d follow him in my car.



The Mad Hatters coffee house was an art space run by a few enterprising optimists in their early twenties. It was conceived as an alternative to the bars, a place where the kids (many of whom were already in treatment before their 18th birthday) could socialize sans alcohol. I think it was the only coffee house in LA at the time. This was before Highland Grounds, Grounds Zero, The Bourgeois Pig, Stir Crazy’s, Insomnia, and long before Starbucks franchised itself. It was a hodge podge of curb furniture and spontaneous art. It was the first place I ever saw the little white Christmas lights used out of season.

Bobby and I walked in and signed up on the list. The room was full of thrift store hipsters and the consciously uncool. They had no name at the time. The labels of Hipster, Grunge, and Generation X were yet to be. Most didn’t dress down of necessity. Many were kids of ex-hippies. It was a den of the new rebellion, the anti fashionists, the trust funded gone feral.

Futons and floor pillows cushioned the audience. I took the stage still feeling the adrenal surge of my last set. I used the few things that received polite chuckles and improvised some this and that. This time I was not looking through a blinding stage light at smoke veiled, hard lined faces. This time I was faced with beaming enthusiasm from open minds and I was comfortable on stage. I naturally fell into the techniques of timing and facial mugging and extend the laughs. I found myself performing and I loved it. I was high and I was hooked.








Chapter 00 : Modern Stand-Up; A brief history:

We’ll start with Vaudeville. The Vaudeville style of theatre dominated public entertainment for twenty years each side of 1900. It was a grab-bag show of the sublime and sacreligous. The term Vaudeville may come from "voix de ville", which means "voice of the city". It was the entertainment of an emerging middle class. The bar of acceptance for the performers was largely set by the audience; entertain them or be jeered and pelted with garbage.

Vaudeville was knocked out of the large theatre venues by the one-two punch of Film and Radio. The spectacle of film was cheaper and easier for the venue owners, and radio did home delivery. The peoples entertainment was no longer interactive, and the variety was homogenized for mass appeal. *A few notable comedians that made the jump to the new Media are W.C. Fields, The Marx Bros., Jack Benny, Abbott and Costello, and Bob Hope.

The “Borscht Belt” circuit of the Catskill Mountains emerged as an entertainers hot house after Vaudeville. It attracted displaced Vaudevillians, especially the comedians, and fostered emerging talent for radio, screen and eventually Television. The list of prominent names of this school of Comedy include Milton Berle, Mel Brooks, Henny Youngman, Rodney Dangerfield, Lenny Bruice, and Woody Allen.

Long before, along side, and after the Vaudeville era, there was what became known as the “Chitlin’ Belt”. Segregation fostered the emergence of a black entertainment road circuit throughout the eastern states and the South. This artistic vascular system of venues and theatres included the Cotton Club in New York City, The Apollo Theatre in Harlem, The Regal Theatre in Chicago, and the Ritz in Jacksonville. Comedic luminaries Flip Wilson, Redd Foxx, and Richard Pryor cut their teeth on what the PC now refer to as the “urban theatre” circuit.

These early circuits were all about variety, Comics shared the stage with burlesque, dog and pony shows, musical acts, raconteurs, magicians, activists, polititions, and then some. The formats were wide and inclusive.


The alchemical roll of the comedian in the Vaudville mélange of entertainment seemed to be that of unifier, barrier breaker. Sharing a convulsive laugh unifies people undeniably, and uncontrollably. The comedians were like social lubricators for circuit shows. They we’re emcees, in betweeners, warm up acts, and facilitators.
A laughing audience is a relaxed audience. Laughter makes us high and music is fun to listen to when were high.

An Entertainment Industry had emerged with the new media. Television needed comedians. Big stage names entered the television world through hosting their own talk shows, reprising their Vaudevillian role as the grease between the wheels. Pioneers of the genre, Steve Allen, Ernie Kovacs, Jack Paar, and Johnny Carson defined the art of late night talk show hosting. They brought in their fellow stage cronies as guests and made them household names.

Television spurred the need of a place for young comedians to showcase themselves for the medium. The vacuum would be filled by Bud and Silver Friedman with the invention the comedy club; The Improvisation in New York City. The space serves as a base for a new generation of comedians to work out their act. It became a portal for the new talent to move from obscurity to celebrity. The club launches numerous careers, feeding acts into the opening maw of Television.

A decade later, Silver wins the club from Bud in a divorce. Forbidden to open another “Improv” brand club within 100 miles of the original, Bud fills the tank and heads for Hollywood.

In ’72, Sammy Shore and Rudy De Luca open The Comedy Store in Los Angeles. Sammy’s wife Mitzi wins the club in divorce soon after.

As LA’s only full time comedy showcase, it attracted the top Bananas from the Big Apple, young corn from the Bread Basket, and helped shift the capitol of comedy to Los Angeles. The Store became the new home for comedy veterans and the launch pad for future icons. It served as the front gate to TV and Film for close to ten years.

But Johnny was the Star Maker. Johnny Carson moved the Tonight Show from New York to Burbank around the same time The Comedy Store opened. Having done stand up for years, Carson was picky about the acts he endorsed with an appearance on his show, but once a comedian had a Tonight Show credit, they had a career, unless they worked overtime to screw it up. During the 70’s, The Comedy Store was the place to be seen by Carson and the rest of the Industry headhunters looking for the new funny.

These “Showcase” clubs charged a healthy cover and drink minimums, but the performers saw none of it. Performing at the Improv or the Comedy Store didn’t get you a check. It got you exposure to the Industry, especially the Store.

Comics and prostitutes were (and still are) two major aspects of the entertainment industry not organized in a union. The LA Comedians decided to strike anyway in ’79. The Comedy Store was picketed and the strike received media attention. Bud Friedman pleaded with strike leader, Tom Dressen to not strike at the Improv too. Instead, it sustained heavy damage from a Molotov cocktail and was temporarily closed. The comics heckled Mitzi from the picket line. Mitzi makes a small concession to pay a few weekend performers gas money. The Comedians then heckled each other. Some returned to the stage, some were black listed, and one threw himself off the roof of the hotel next door. The strike resulted in the practice of giving some of the talent some respect, which became a trend in clubs and theatres across the country.

The Improvisation launches “A&E’s Evening at the Improv in 1981. Cable Television was weaving across the country and taking the Improv brand of Comedy with it. The Comedy store had produced just a few yearly HBO specials in comparison; Mitzi was too buisy franchising the Comedy Store to nearby cities. Bud capitalizes on the national name brand recognition afforded by A&E and franchises coast to coast.

By 1990, The Comedy Store and the Improv had become the Hatfields and McCoys, entrenched in a fierce competition for the loyalty of new talent, and market domination. As a new comedian, we could audition for both clubs, but getting a spot at one would get you blacklisted at the other. New performers had to make a choice of which club they would not get paid at.

The Comedy Store became the black hat comedy club. Having enjoyed being the only full time comedy club in town, it was the reef on which the last big comedy wave broke, but the new swell was rising at the Improv. Improv comedians were family friendly. Comedy Store comics were more gritty and raw. This was the Regan /Bush era and political correctness was in. The national audience was being trained to just say no to anything they didn’t know.

Bud Friedman, and his partner Mark Lonow, capitalized on the conservative climate by feeding it . A&E’s Evening at the Improv, having been on the air for ten years, set the bar for most all the new cable comedy showcases. The stand up acts on MTV, VH1, and Fox, were all interchangeable with those of Evening at the Improv. They were mostly self described losers with no lovers and apolitical. There was little edge, little risk, and no guts. The standard became tight, polished, seven minuite sets of quirky banality. Comedy had been formatted to fit your screen.

The Improv became the main industry showcase and the Comedy Store receded into club status. Once a gusher of up and comers, the Store spewed Keenan Ivory Wayans, Jim Carrey, then began sputtering an embarrassment of Wayans brothers, Carlos Mencia, and eventually, Mitzi’s own spawn; Pauly Shore.

Just before the bust it had been the home of The Outlaw Comics like Bill Hicks and Sam Kinison. When they took to the road in lieu of the commercial waiting room of Los Angeles, a level of professionalism and stage integrity went with them and the black walls of the club seemed even darker.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Excerpt 10

Excerpt from It seemed Funny at the Time...) rough



To make my father’s edition of the American Dream a reality, Reality was viewed as a nightmare, one to be rescued from by God’s Will when He calls us to Heaven.

A few years after my birth, my father converted our family to a new religion. As a traveling salesman, he began to listen to a radio evangelist that spoke to his mindset. Herbert W. Armstrong, of the grand sounding “Worldwide Church of God,” preached the superiority of the descendants of Briton (the real lost tribes of Israel apparently moved to England and are the actual chosen people). Everyone else were just heathen filler in this world, or jealous pretenders to the throne. I can imagine my father driving down long stretches of paved prairie roads with his eyes focused on the rapid metronome of the striped white line. The bombastic radio prophet of the Second Coming must have been music to the ears of an Anglophilic male in the early 1970’s. Burl claimed we were Scottish, descended from the Mac Kendrick Clan. My mom says he only claimed Scotland as a rejection of England, which he hated (he thought they were pussies during WW II). My dad claims to trace us back to Lord Kenric, the Lord Mayor of London in the 1100’s. The genealogy research began after he realized he had to be a British descendant to claim his Pass to the World Tomorrow.

He downplayed, as much as possible, the blood of the native savages that coursed through his being. Burl had the gene that made the skyscraping, girder-waking Cherokees famous in the East coast construction world. Perfect balance at high altitudes with no fear. That was too monkey-like for my dad. He got high as an aviator, an eager member of the first generation born into the age of aerospace. It is the literalists’ way of getting closer to God.

Armstrong had a habit of setting dates for the Apocolypse. The end times were supposed to begin in 1936. That apocolypse was postponed to 1943, then 1972. For real this time. The moment of Tribulation was surely upon us. The Book of Revelations in my fathers Bible was well worn. The pages were full of tiny notes in the margins and glowed with yellow and blue passages he had meticulously traced with highlighters. The media was secularizing the nation; primitive beats and screams were coming from the radio, women were upsetting the natural order by clamoring for equal rights on TV news, and the Jews were surely in control of the movie industry. Outside noise was infringing on his American Dream, as it seemed to grow thinner and thinner. Heathens and blasphemers were insidiously displacing the white Christian majority. Something had to be done. There could only be one American Dream.

One of my earliest memories is sitting on my father’s shoulders looking at a throng of wildly enthusiastic people cheering for a man on a stage. He was just talking and people would periodically erupt into cheers and applause. When finished, he held both hands up making V signs with his fingers. The response was even more enthusiastic cheering. It was impressive.

The Neo-Conservative movement had yet to be called such. Complex arguments did not have to be made to win major Ruralite support. Nixon and his ilk were able to sniff out the common fears of the white American dreamers and reflect them back on the crowds with simple clarity and base conviction. In particular, marijuana was singled out as a common pleasure for the blacks, the hippies, and other disenfranchised types that so frightened ma and pa. Criminalizing the plant criminalized the fans of its qualities, and the Us vs. Them polarization of the Union gained significant steam. The irony of curtailing liberty to preserve the American Way of Life was lost in a nostalgic patriotic fever. The generation that was imprinted with the American Brand™perspective as they watched the U.S. defeat Evil on the newsreels of nickel movies failed to recognize their own hastening of our descent into fascism.



The Church defined my childhood. I was a not so eager member of a generation born into the age of the Televangelist. The faith husker Armstrong was working the same angle as Nixon. Feed the fears and harvest the trust, and the bucks. Admission to the World Tomorrow was only a 10% tithing of ones yearly income. And another tithe to pay for the family trips to annual national Church events. Oh, and a third tithing that was only required every third and sixth year of a personal 7 year tithing cycle.


My family’s particular church was good kinky fun even for the Mid-Western standards of the time. Many called it a Cult, and rightfully so. We were Kosher, observed Passover, fasted one day a year, and didn’t celebrate “Pagan” holidays such as Christmas, Easter, Solstice, Halloween, and birthdays. Sabbath was sunset Friday to sunset Saturday. To be reported breaking the Sabbath meant excommunication from the Church. To talk to someone that had been excommunicated, meant excommunication. The Sabbath was the day of rest. I didn’t find it restful. We were up early to drive 50 miles to church. My mom woke the kids, made breakfast, laid out clothes for everyone, including my dad, fed the pets and corralled us into the car (the 5 kids that is. My dad would shower dress and eat, then start the car and honk and yell at my mom to hurry up). We called it a church, but we attended services in the auditorium of a Tulsa area high school. Men were supposed to look, dress, and groom like men: clean cut, no facial hair, dress suit. Women were supposed to look, and act, like women: long dresses, little make up, styled hair, and obedient. After church was a family dinner with all the forks. While my mom cooked a pot roast and set the table, my dad would relax on the couch and watch the PBS’s World at War” docu-series. After dinner my mom did the dishes and my dad would have his one drink of the week, a Crown and Coke, and watch the ABC Saturday Night Movie.


My exposure to the world was filtered through a fear-based dogma that hounded my perceptions into a good/bad, right/wrong internment. My parents were not examples of a life style that I wanted any part of. My house was a microcosm of a Bush Presidency; secretive, authoritarian, abusive, intolerant, racist, sexist, etc. There was an inability to grasp the power of metaphor. Any questioning of the dogma was an invitation of the Devil, and was dealt with swiftly and accordingly.


“Knowing thy enemy” doesn’t have the same meaning to a Fundamentalist as it would to, say, a considerate person. Fundamentalists know their enemies, in that they know their names. But they actually know very little about whom they have chosen to be in conflict with. “Do not entertain the Devil lest ye succumb to temptation and fall from the cleave of the Lord.” (I put quotes on that, but I just made it up) It’s best to know nothing about the enemy, and better to make it so that no one ever will by destroying them utterly. For God. The enemy’s are arbitrary and necessary foundations for the basis of fundamentalisms. Defining oneself in opposition to an enemy gives the personality an identity. Fundamentalists pour themselves into the mold of evil to give themselves structure and definition. The greater the evil they conceive to fathom, the greater their heavenly reward must be, you know, after they die. Meanwhile, in this world, they wear the mask of evil they have impressed upon their minds, not allowing their face to be shaped by the beauty of creation.

Excerpt 09

(another excerpt from "It Seemed Funny at the Time..") - rough
Mearle Haggard

We don't smoke marijuana in Muskogee;
We don't take our trips on LSD
We don't burn our draft cards down on Main Street;
We like livin' right, and bein' free.

I'm proud to be an Okie from Muskogee,
A place where even squares can have a ball
We still wave Old Glory down at the courthouse,
And white lightnin's still the biggest thrill of all

We don't make a party out of lovin';
We like holdin' hands and pitchin' woo;
We don't let our hair grow long and shaggy,
Like the hippies out in San Francisco do.

And I'm proud to be an Okie from Muskogee,
A place where even squares can have a ball.
We still wave Old Glory down at the courthouse,
And white lightnin's still the biggest thrill of all.

Leather boots are still in style for manly footwear;
Beads and Roman sandals won't be seen.
Football's still the roughest thing on campus,
And the kids here still respect the college dean.

We still wave Old Glory down at the courthouse,
In Muskogee, Oklahoma, USA.

I’m an “Okie from Muskogee”. I was born there in 1969, the same year Mearle Haggard’s song of that name was released. The tune was meant to satirize the mindset of small mid-western communities that were resistant to, and fearful of, the cultural changes of the times. However, the very people being mocked in the lyrics embraced the song as their anthem.

Irony doesn’t get much traction in the minds of my people.

When I say “my people,” it’s hard to communicate what I mean, or to even know myself. America is too vast and diverse to claim as a cultural identity. Oklahoma is too narrow, and too young to have much of an identity by itself (the state is barely one hundred years old). The term Midwesterner narrows it down a bit, but still restricts my people to a geographic zone. I guess I’ll claim the rural people as my people, the culture that spawned me.

The image of the people of the Rural Province, as enforced by my progenitors, has been that of no-nonsense practicality. They grow the food, draw out the natural resources, and raise the human resources for the work of the nation, while praising the Christian God that makes it all possible. And they’re everywhere. The Rural Province spans the whole nation and looks like a slice of swiss cheese, with pockets and holes of city folk calcifying the arcadian terrain yearly with sprawl and suburb.

Practicality is relative, of course, though Relativity is not necessary to know when one believes in God’s plan. Renaissance philosophy is not required to plant corn, art won’t milk a cow, and history begins with America. Freethinkers, intellectuals, artistic types and anyone that deviates from accepted cultural standards, finds little support there. The prejudice isn’t necessarily malicious, there just seems to be little appreciation for the life of the mind. The Devil lives in those parts and the provincials know him well, because the Devil/Mind naturally resists the God delusion that serves as the foundation of the provincial perspective. To entertain the Devil/Mind means being seduced away from God by the evil unknown. (see: Chinese Finger Trap)

I know the dangers of lumping peoples into stereotypes. The spectrum of humanity fills every demographic, and Ruralites are, like snowflakes, each unique in their manifestation, though necessarily shaped by the conditions of the atmosphere at the time of their falling to Earth. I don’t claim to be a representative of my people, I only endeavor to portray my perception of my experience of my people (my perception wears 3D glasses, with one lens colored by love and appreciation, and the other scratched with animated emotional graffiti). Behind the gun-gripping, intolerant, xenophobe stereotype there are multitudes of big-hearted, hard working people that will bend over backwards to assist their fellow humans, no mater the differences. And there is the sincere earnestness of the rural folk that allows for the blending of the polarities into a grey area.
Photo:Getty Images; Alan A, Mollar

Fundamentalism tends to be big with the Ruralites. The Karma of the land compels it. The Ruralites look to the sky imploringly for the right rain, or furtively for a funnel cloud. The natural elements are more than ambiance to the Ruralite. Tornado’s, droughts, floods, and pestilence hit the Ruralites hard. One day of tempest can mean the loss of a years work to the farmers. The agricultural communities depend of the grace of the natural elements, and a belief in a relationship with an entity that holds sway over those elements. The farmer and the rancher have their heads full of real-world scenarios that demand constant attention: Livestock ailments, equipment repairs, market prices, payroll, family dramas, etc. The religion of choice needs to be easily understood, easily imparted, and easily implemented.
When the wheat starts to wither you can panic, curse, or pray. Praying helps keep the Sheriff off the property, as it promotes the domestication of humans through a belief in something greater than themselves.

-Furthur Down the Rabbit Hole-

My mom’s maternal side of the family traces their roots back to the founding of the country. My great-great-great-great-great grandfather, Colonel John Sevier, fought the British in the Revolutionary war during the crucial Battle of King’s Mountain. After that, he then fought the Cherokees in what is now Eastern Tennessee. He and a few cronies filled a power vacuum in the area when North Carolina ceded her lands West of the Appalachians back to The United States Government. The Government was slow in dealing with the territory, so, Col. Sevier and Company commandeered the place, creating the State of Franklin (or as some called it- Frankland;‘land of free men’). A Constitution was written, Senators and congressmen were sent to Washington, and Sevier accepted the role of Governor. John Sevier

A few years into Franklin’s existence, North Carolina changed her mind and decided she wanted her land back. Sevier was tempted by an offer of a promotion to brigadier general, but was persuaded by his compatriots to keep rockin’ on. Spain was nervous about a Trans-Appalachian America, so the Spanish Governor sent an offering of gold and an offer to help back Franklin in a fight for independence. Meanwhile Sevier was involved in numerous battles against the Cherokees, who were fighting him for their own freedom. After establishing fortified outposts to secure Franklin from the Cherokee’s and Shoshone, Sevier entered into some shady business with Georgia, and went to battle Cherokees and other Gulf tribes for some land of interest (in what is now Alabama) west of Georgia.

Sevier returned to Franklin after a frontier battle to discover North Carolina has seized some of his lands for “back taxes”. Sevier and the militia took a fight to the farm of prominent North Carolinian, John Tipton and laid siege for three days. It wasn’t a very bloody battle, as most of the fighters would have to return to being neighbors after. Two of Sevier's sons were captured, and he withdrew on condition of their release. He was then arrested on a charge of treason against the State.

Sevier escaped from prison, and a year later, was elected to the North Carolina State Senate as a Federalist, where he was pardoned by the Governor.

A year later, North Carolina ceded the former State of Franklin back to the U.S., again. The place was then briefly named “The Territory of the United States South of the Ohio River”, before becoming Tennessee. Prsident Washington appointed William Blount as governor of the Territory. Six years later, John Sevier was elected as the first governor of the State of Tennessee. He served three terms (the max allowed consecutively), and then sought a semi-elective position as head of the state militia. He was tied with Andrew Jackson for the position, the tie being broken in Jackson’s favor by his friend, the new Governor Archibald Roane. Col. Sevier said something about Jackson’s wife and Jackson challenged him to a duel. They met, but just cursed a lot and called each other names. No shots were fired. After Roanes first term, Sevier was re-elected and served three more terms as governor, then a turn in the Tennessee state senate, then in the U.S. Congress.
John Sevier's Knoxville plantation (photo by Frank Kehren)

John Sevier died at the age of 70, in 1811, while surveying the Georgia/Alabama lands he had helped win for the U.S. Government. His old enemy Andrew Jackson had successfully pushed the Cherokees, Choctaws, Creek, Seminoles, and Chickasaw west into Indian Territory.John Sevier


My mom’s paternal side was German immigrant stock. My great-gret great grandparents lost their lumber mill in Boonville Kentucky as collateral damage in the Hatfield-McCoy feud. They opted to take advantage of a boxcar provided by the McCoy family and relocated to Kansas. From there it was covered wagon to Oklahoma Territory, where my great grandparents staked a claim and built a sod house. It must have been shocking, the change from running a lumber mill in the Smokey Mountain forests, to living in the endless horizon of the plains, without a tree in sight.

Great Grandma brought her pipe organ to the homestead. She was insistent on having some relic of culture with her to keep her sane in the wilderness of the plains. There wasn’t enough room in the dugout for the organ, and the whole family, so my grandfather and his brothers slept in the covered buckboard through an Oklahoma winter.

At the time, Oklahoma was one of three territories in the contiguous states being used to relocate Native Americans. Oklahoma was, and still is, the governmental seat of over sixty tribes. It’s where the tribes, displaced form their ancestral lands were forcibly removed as the black lines of state boundaries rapidly divided their former homelands with geometric shapes. Jackson’s push on the Gulf tribes culminated in their forced removal along the “Trail of Tears,” to Oklahoma. Rapidly, sections of the Territory were opened to settlement by pioneers and freed slaves. Then, in 1903, the discovery of oil precipitated the Territory being “granted” Statehood in 1907.

My Grandfather became a wheat farmer and cattle rancher in Buffalo, Oklahoma (now home of the only traffic signal in Harper County). His formal education stopped at 6th grade, because there were more practical things to attend to, and he attended to them. He met his wife; a schoolteacher named Esther Severe (the French spelling and pronunciation of Sevier was too busy for the sensible plains people), just across the state line in Ashland Kansas and wooed her into the rugged life of a farmer’s wife.

He managed to keep his farm and family solvent through the Dust Bowl and the Depression. He drove combines and rode horses well into his 80’s. He sang in the church choir every Sunday, followed the Ten Commandments flawlessly. He was respected in the community as an honest and upright citizen.

His wife ran the house and family, which sat in the middle of 2000 acres of wheat and cattle. She wore a dress and the pants. She was a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse before having kids. She was the brains and the enforcer, and my grandfather was the brawn, and they were both satisfied with their roles in God’s Country. Gender equality wasn’t an issue. There was no time for that.

My dad’s side of the family is a little more mysterious. One story tells of three Scottish brothers that moved to the Colonies to avoid the Law in England. One became a Plantation owner in the South. The end of slavery was a blow to his operation and it didn’t continue as a family endeavor. One of his descendants, my great grandfather, Dr. Kendrick, moved to the South East part of Oklahoma Territory to set up a practice. He married a Choctaw woman, Stella, who had been raised by the white settlers that had found her left for dead on the Trail of Tears. Dr. Kendrick was a snappy dresser. He dressed his wife up as well. She conformed to the fashion to a point. She would wear the corsets and the hoops, but wouldn’t wear shoes in the summer months.

The relationship soured (possibly the shoe issue). Dr. Kendrick was eventually murdered. They caught the killer (his wife’s lover) when they spotted him wearing Dr. Kendrick’s distinctive boots, which were missing from his corpse.

Stella wasn’t fond of the son the marriage had produced. She locked my grandfather, Burl Kendrick, in the attic of a hotel, which she then set on fire. He was narrowly rescued and returned safely to his mother. He was later found in a streambed with a railroad stake driven through his neck. Luckily, he was taken in and raised by another family at that point.

The mountains of the Southeast part of Oklahoma provided ideal hideouts for criminals on the lam. My great grandmother was part Choctaw and Cherokee. Her house was sometimes used as a hideout for the Younger brothers, contemporaries of the James Gang. Her daughter, Dora, met Burl and they were married, producing fraternal twins, my dad and his sister. Robbers Cave- Wilburton Oklahoma

Burl was an outdoorsman. He reveled in nature, hunting and fishing with his buddies in the summer months, and traveling the world the rest of the year as a top-notch welder. He worked on buildings, bridges, and various infrastructure projects during the era when American steel was king. He, like my other grandfather, had a 6th grade education, but was an avid reader and politically active. He wasn’t much for church going, but was a member of the Mason’s in good standing. He became Justice of the Peace on the Democratic ticket in Antlers, Oklahoma after his retirement.

Dora ran a mercantile shop in the tiny town of Antlers (home to the only traffic light in Pushmataha County). She subscribed to Christianity, but didn’t wear it on her sleeve.

My dad hated camping and wasn’t fond of hunting or fishing. He detested having to visit his grandmother, who still lived in a dirt floor shack and seemed to be happy to do so. There was a new world emerging of shiny objects and modern convenience, a world of great opportunity in a brand new State, in a very new country. People were flying in machines and motoring about the land in mammary shaped automobiles. The oil fields of Oklahoma were making simple, ordinary people fabulously rich. The American Brand Dream was being realized on the heels of conquering the great Satanic Evil of the Third Reich. The tangibility of anything being possible in this great land was palpable.

My dad, at an early age, made the determination to keep the palms of his hands baby soft.

excerpt 08


(excerpt from "It Seemed Funny at the Time...) -rough (revised)


Walking through the daily carnival of the Pearl Street Mall one day, I came across a bronze plaque on a statue with the Mark Twain quote: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” I could feel the demise of those things in myself as I read.

Awed by this compelling counter culture, I began an intensive study of the controversy surrounding American drug policy. I had only heard one side of the argument to that point. I read transcripts from debates on the pros and cons of Marijuana. I studied pre-prohibition papers on the effects of LSD. I listened to the music of the 60’s with new ears. I discovered that I had been lied to by the media, the government, and the education system.

Angry and determined to find out about the issue first hand, I tried LSD for the first time at a house party. No one had to slip it into my drink. Rich found some for us and I split a dose with him. I put the tiny triangle of paper on my tongue then sat in a stairwell at the party and watched the people, and waited for something to happen.

I enjoyed being detached and observing human behavior in group situations. I liked to judge people. I had a tendency to look at people that seemed to be having more fun than me and I mentally skewered them, with a polite smile on my face. I looked for the weakness, the deficit, and attached it in my lens of perception of them. “His biceps are far larger than mine, but I’m funnier.”
“Those two look happy together, but I can see it won’t last. Someone’s gonna cry.” It was a defense mechanism I learned in 5th grade. I was an outsider, skinny, shy, and chauffeuring an angry God in my crown shakra, just waiting with his itchy smiting hand. I didn’t want to get smited. My dad had a heck of a smite, so I wasn’t eager to see what God smite was like. I was a good boy. I was going to heaven. Just a short life of restraint and abstinence was gonna get me an eternity in Heaven. “These people look like they are having fun, running around munching on the forbidden fruit of the world, but they’ll pay with an eternity in Hell. And they’ll deserve it, for flaunting their lust for life just outside my cell of belief.” It was an ugly manifestation of a deep alienation. I excelled in nothing. Not school, not sports, not art, not socially, not physically. Yet, there was an underlying sense of superiority that caused me to get creative with my thoughts. I had a fetish for fatal flaws like an entemologist, pinning my collection of critical observations all over the map of my world, ‘til I could see little else. I was living in a cocoon of stagnant perceptions that had been comforting.

Suddenly, as I sat in that stairwell waiting for something to happen, something happened. From across the room, I was judging a hot young co-ed to be arrogant and self centered when that criticism inverted and I saw a reflection of myself. It struck me with the force of a satori. I slowly panned my eyes across the room and felt a deep familiarity with everyone I saw. Male-female, black-white, hot-not, didn’t matter. All the same to me at that moment. “I am she and she is me and they are we and we are all together. Koo koo ca choo, baby,” Not what I was expecting. A connection to life had suddenly commenced and I was receiving. I wouldn’t have put it in those words at the time. The experience dumbfounded me. My defenses were vaporizing, or my cocoon was ripping, and I was more concerned about how the experience was causing me to feel than I was about the nature of the experience. I had come from a literal linear world and I had no tools with which to interpret it. The atmosphere began to roil. I was listing to all the voices in the room like crickets on a summer night in the country. I just heard one sound rising in falling in wave patterns of various frequencies. My sense organs seemed to turn on for the first time. Then there was another inversion and I didn’t hear a crowd of people, but heard all the individuals. I didn’t just see people, but read whole personalities at a glance. Then I spied a little dog standing in the open doorway of the house, subdued and looking around at the menagerie of college kids. I felt an instant affinity for the dog as it looked warily around the room and made subtle adjustments in it’s demeanor as it’s eyes rested in various pockets of activity. I identified with it. He looked at people greeting each other in a familiar way and his head rose slightly and his ears perked a bit to catch the friendly greeting tones they used with each other. When the boisterous cluster of fraternity guys barked with laughter, the dog lowered his head a bit and made a slight glance outside to confirm his exit route, I felt the same impulse. The dog looked up at me and wagged his tail once, then turned and walked outside. I looked around the room for Rich. He was talking to some friends with a nervous smile on his face when I caught is attention with my stare. He looked at the open door then back at me and I nodded. We made a hasty exit. I stopped to pet the dog, but he was not into being touched. He wasn’t unfriendly, but preferred to keep his distance. The perception inversions kept osculating and flickering. I saw a dog, and then I saw a god. Dog-god, god-Dog. God-dog, god-blonde, god-bush. God-me oh-my. Trippy.

On the walk back to our apartment I could smell Colorado and could feel the dry atmosphere leaching water from my skin. I suddenly understood the word “ecstatic”. I felt as though I had emerged from a rubber suit that had enveloped me my whole life. I was experiencing the world directly for the first time. When I turned my head I was aware of the muscles and tendons at work. I could hear my blinks. We were both grinning broadly as we walked. Gravity felt as though it had been reversed and the effort of walking was in bringing my feet back to the Earth. Like a reversed magnet the ground seemed to repel my feet and send my legs buckling towards the star filled sky. I could feel the mile high altitude of Boulder in my lungs that were working harder to process the thinner atmosphere. The wind in my face became an entity that communicated in buffets. The stars seemed to be reaching toward me from behind the hulking mountains sitting like mafia dons. Before I left Oklahoma a friend told me “The fruits and nuts of the country roll to the west, to LA and San Francisco. Some hit the Rockies and bounce over, some pool into Boulder.” I looked at the mountains and decided I was there to become a big enough nut to get over them.

We made it back to the apartment giddy and jacked. We couldn’t remove the perma-grins from our faces, which seemed to fill the apartment devoid of furnishings. Rich heated a can of soup, but I couldn’t eat. I washed the wooden spoon he had used and was captivated by the sensation of the water. I felt like I was rolling H2O molecules between my thumb and fingers. I picked up the spoon to put it in the dish rack and was stunned by the sensation of the wet wood grain. I offered to share this amazing sensation with Rich, but he refused it. I was crestfallen when he declined to feel it. I did my best to sell him on the idea of feeling the spoon, but my promotions of the experience seemed to embolden his resistance. He retreated to his room and closed his door to insure that I didn’t force the spoon upon him.

I sat down in front of my stereo and put the “Best of War” CD in. When it played the track “Why Can’t We Be Friends” I noticed a little laugh in the background after the second line. I used the tracking button to repeat the laugh, and then did it again, and again, and again. “a ha ha-a ha ha-a ha ha- a ha ha…” I don’t know how long I kept this up, but Rich eventually burst from his room and demanded that I cease, and then he returned, slamming the door. I sat in the window watching the trees breathe for a while before retreating to my room to write. I realized that I loved people. Affinity seemed to be shooting out from me in all directions and I felt connection to people. I recognized a habit of actively detaching from people, places, and things in order to feel utterly unique and special. Actually feeling love for someone felt better than securing my isolation. It seemed a much better option. The realization was simple and profound, undeniable. And illegal. I started laughing like a lunatic at the irony.

Rich came in with a snaggle toothed grin to show me a picture he had drawn of himself climbing through space on free floating smiling orbs. I concurred.

excerpt 07


(excerpt from "It Seemed Funny at the Time) rough

To make my father’s edition of the American Dream a reality, Reality was viewed as a nightmare to wake up from.

A few years after my birth, my father converted our family to a new religion. As a traveling salesman with Ralston Purina, he began to listen to a radio evangelist that spoke to his mindset. Herbert W. Armstrong preached the superiority of the descendants of Briton (the real lost tribes of Israel apparently moved to England and are the actual chosen people). Everyone else were just filler in this world, or jealous pretenders to the throne. I can imagine my father driving down long stretches of paved prairie roads with his eyes focused on the rapid metronome of the striped white line. This bombastic prophet of the Second Coming must have been music to the ears of a patriarchal Anglo-centric male in the early 1970’s.

The time of Tribulation was surely upon us. The Book of Revelations in my fathers Bible was well worn. The pages were full of tiny notes in the margins and glowed with yellow and blue passages he had meticulously traced with highlighters. The media was secularizing the nation; primitive beats and screams were coming from the radio, women were upsetting the natural order by clamoring for equal rights on TV news, and the Jews were surely in control of the movie industry. Outside noise was infringing on his American Dream, as it seemed to grow thinner and thinner. Heathens and blasphemers were insidiously displacing the white Christian majority. Something had to be done.

One of my earliest memories is sitting on my father’s shoulders looking at a throng of wildly enthusiastic people cheering for a man on a stage. He was just talking and people would periodically erupt into cheers and applause. When finished, he held both hands up making V signs with his fingers. The response was even more enthusiastic cheering. It was impressive.

The Neo-Conservative movement had yet to be called such. Complex arguments did not have to be made to win major Ruralite support. Nixon and his ilk were able to sniff out the common fears of the white American dreamers and reflect them back on the crowds with simple clarity and base conviction. In particular, marijuana was singled out as a common pleasure for the blacks, the hippies, and other disenfranchised types that so frightened ma and pa. Criminalizing the plant criminalized the fans of its qualities, and the Us vs. Them polarization of the Union gained significant steam. The irony of curtailing liberty to preserve the American Way of Life was lost in a nostalgic patriotic fever. The generation that watched America defeat Evil on the news reels of nickel movies were imprinted by the American Brand™ so completely that they failed to recognize their own descent into fascism.

Excerpt 06


(Excerpt #6 firm "It Seemed Funny at the Time) rough
-New Years Eve 1990-

The evening progressed and more drops hit more tongues, as more comedians showed up. Danny Woodburn graced us with his presence and promptly grabbed a wand I had carved, which was a staff for him, and launched into a four-hour improv performance. At 4’1” tall, his impression of a Captain Kirk doing Shakespeare was impossible to not laugh at.

Each performer had to make a signature entrance to announce that their comedy brand was in the house. Holztman came in with a contingency of Bay area comics. Among them were Lance Solo and Jim Tripp, who had just moved to town. He entered, looking at the room like a cop busting a party and started his rant: “What have we got here? A bunch of freaks! Dope smokin’ ass grabbin’ degenerates. Animals! Each and every one of ya! Holtzman in this mode had the presence of a bear, likely spiking the adrenal glands of those uninitiated in the Holtzman experience.
-rare photo of Holtzman in the wild-

We had a fire in the fireplace and there was a big circle of people in the living room involved in a good “crack” session, as the Irish would call it. Stories, banter, good-natured jabs and witty exchanges flew back and forth and around the room in rapid fire. I sat next to Tommy and Dale to check in. They were both having a good time, sporting perma-grins and beers on their chins. Tommy seemed more relaxed though. Dale was tight; legs squeezed together, arms to his side, and he had lost his neck somewhere.

(The next day I discovered the reason for Dales rigidity. As the drug began to take effect, Tommy kept sniffing the air. Eventually Dale asked him what he was doing.
“Just checking” Tommy replied.
“Checking for what?”
“Didn’t Dark tell you?” Tommy asked sincerely.
“Tell me what?”
“About the acid-shits.”
“Acid shits? What are you talking about?” Dales concern rising.
“Dark said that sometimes when you laugh on acid you shit your pants. “
“What?
“Don’t worry about. Apparently all the trippers know about it, no one will think any less of you if it happens.”
Tommy had dropped a mind bomb on Dale who spent the rest of the night on a permanent keegle.)


The out of towners were happy to be relegated to audience, except Daphne’s boyfriend Theo, whom I didn’t know so well. He had strong self-esteem for no reason that I could discern. He was an honors student at Colorado University, and probably an only child. He seemed to have no real interpersonal skills. Every time he would open his mouth the banter ball would drop out of play. He would try to match the energy of the exchange, but with no relevance. Finally, after Theo had demonstrated his oblivion to the scene beyond a doubt, Woodburn suggested that Theo take a few steps back. Theo smiled and did so, placing him close to the fireplace. Woodburn suggested that he take a few more steps back, and, delighted to be at the center of attention, he steeped up to the edge of the ashes, smiling. Woodburn directed him to step back just a little more, and he did, pushing the heels of his boots into the hot coals, still smiling. Mind you, he was one of the few that weren’t tripping. This left Danny a little stumped, as Theo’s back was against the chimney. Then someone said, “Too bad he’s not your size Danny, then the joke would have a punch line. Everybody laughed and the room resumed the joviality.

The next time Theo brought the room to a pause with some randomness, Danny started taping the wand on the floor, chanting “Geek’s in the fire! Geeks in the fire!!

Theo decided to pick on the most obvious target in the room to crack on, La La Land. His comments were unmemorable, but had the mean undertone of judgment and pettiness. La La was a diplomat and neutralized his comments without returning the energy before Danny would tamp and chant “Geek’s in the fire “ again.

The boys form Boston had been locked shoulder to shoulder on the couch all evening, wide eyed and smiling at the psychedelic circus before them, until they saw Theo picking on La La. They were prepared to take him into the yard and teach him some respect, but La La neutralized them as well. At a particular high point in the room rantings, Theo did it again. There was a nice topical ping-pong session rolling on, when Theo announced that he could name all the contents that were pumped out of Elvis’s stomach the day he died. There was the usual stunned pause, then the tamping and chanting by Danny. I told Theo that I was very interested in that information and grabbed a mock pen and paper. He smiled and started listing pharmaceuticals. I mimed writing the list, hoping he would get that I was mocking him, but he didn’t. He was the center again, and glad to stay there as long as he could, no matter the means.

La La and I went into the kitchen for a drink and a puff. I apologized for Theo’s behavior and expressed my desire to fully trounce him next time he jabbed at her. La asked me if I’d ever had problems with bullies in high school.

“Sure, I was a nerdy beanpole and got shoved around by the football players on occasion.’
“They were stronger than you?” she followed.
“Yeah.
“So they were abusing their power at your expense, then?”

I knew where she was going. La La worked the late hours as a psychic hotline operator. She was used to dealing with the gullible and dimwitted, and she did it with grace. Sometimes I would hang in her living room in the wee hours and listen to her sessions on speakerphone.

“I wanna know who my girlfriend is with, where they are, and what they’re doing!” one caller belted out one night. La managed to broaden his concept of the psychic world, placate him, and actually give him useful information (about himself), and the guy hung up feeling better, in spite of the $1.99 a minute he’d been shelling out for the last half hour (and not finding his girlfriend).

To win against a weaker rival was no victory. You become what you fight. She made her point.

It was approaching midnight and the atmosphere was peaking. When I returned to the living room, Woodburn was in the middle of the circle with the wand performing dramatic mute theatrics to the classical music blaring on the stereo. I leaned against the doorframe with Laszlo and took in the whole scene. I became a perceiving unit taking in the whole environment. I could focus my hearing on one bedroom and hear their conversations, or the kitchen, or the other bedroom.

I asked Laszlo how he was doing. “Man, I was looking in the mirror and I became Bruce Springsteen! I’m really serious!” As I was laughing, I looked through the living room window and saw a couple of low-riders with their headlight off pull slowly up the street. Laszlo noticed them as well and we watched as they stopped in front of our house and just sat there. Then, at a climatic rise in the Wagner piece, skinheads came running down the driveway across the street and the Cholos burst forth from the cars into a street brawl. Woodburn didn’t see the fight, but spontaneously launched into a fencing scene with the music. One Nazi’s head went through the back window of the station wagon of the neighbor family. “Is this really happening man?” Laszlo said, transfixed. I had to wonder myself. The silent race riot in the street was framed squarely in the picture window. Viewed from inside it seemed far away and removed from the raucous noise of the engaged jokers ringing the fencing dwarf, who was engaged in battle with the invisible.

Flight of the Valkyries couldn’t drown out the shots fired a moment later by the family man standing in the toys. The low-riders loaded up and reversed into the New Year with smoking tires, and the comedians had fresh fodder for the next hour.

Excerpt 05





(Excerpt # 5 - "It Seemed Funny at the Time") rough


The Improv wasn’t very good for my self-esteem. I was at the bottom of a heap of comedians, many of which were just not funny, but had tenure. The excitement of being recognized by the Improv was wearing off. I was still hitting every open mic I could because I was addicted to stage time. I needed a regular infusion of laughter or I would start jonesing. A good set would get me high for a day or two, while a bad set would send me into self-loathing and depression.

The few sets that I was able to land at the Melrose club were late in the evening, and I found myself performing, again, for other comics waiting to get up. I would sit in the showroom and look at a full house flowering in laughter, then watch some self satisfied hack take the stage and brutally bludgeon them with unfunnyness. They didn’t care who was coming on after him, and would take some kind of sick pleasure in walking a room. They weren’t being controversial, just bad. When I took the stage after, the people left looked like they had just been bitch slapped. The mirth was gone, and I had to spend half my set healing the vibe.

I could feel the bitterness permeating me through osmosis. I watched some of the other Farm Team members succumb to alcoholism on the cheap drinks as they cruised and schmoozed week after week. It had become a serious problem for Paul Hopkins. He would be drunk early on in the evening, and then keep drinking, and then he would get called up on stage to embarrass himself. It seemed like some kind of sick hazing ritual.

I watched Rodney Dangerfield host a taping of Evening at The Improv, and he pulled it off. He would sloth onto stage, stumble to the mic, then lean on the stand to keep from swaying, but as soon as they said “action”, he would pop up like a jack-in-the-box and deal the gig, tell the jokes, introduce the next act, then walk off stage only to slump and stumble as soon as he was out of the shot.

Paul hadn’t been doing it long enough to develop the autopilot, and he realized he had to get it together. He heroically quit drinking cold turkey. On the second or third day he had a seizure and bit his tongue clean off. He’d been drinking outside the club too.

He and Arthur F. Motmorency worked a day job together administering contractor licensing tests. Arthur described a day at work as taking checks, giving tests, then retreating to his office to drink.


-The author, Spencer Quash, James Tripp, 1991-

It was Arthur that introduced me to the material of Bill Hicks. I’d never heard anything like it. It was actually difficult to listen to, because Bills performance and subject matter was so far superior to anything I had ever heard. My own identity as a comedian was called into question in the face of Hicks dark genius. As a Stand-up, Bill Hicks was a pro. He had a powerful stage presence that oscillated between a hungry lion pacing in a cage and an innocent monkey scratching his ass. Bill knew his shit. He had an unassailable point of view that challenged the audience to join him in his psychedelic vision of another world. He spoke from a place where the genuine and relevant superceded the artificial and vain as a main objective. He has set the watermark for the art form. In raging rants he delivers a vision of love and unity. He was a poet, a social commentator of heroic proportions, and an agent of change in our culture.

We called people hacks that stole other peoples material, were overly formulaic, or relied on props for lack of other material. I was not a hack, but I was aspiring to be what English equestrians call a “show hack,” A show hack is a show horse that must have precision movements. They need not gallop, but must excel in the requirements of walking, halting, trotting, and cantering. I was realizing that I would never learn to gallop on the Improv stage.

excerpt 04


(Excerpt # 4 fron "It Seemed Funny at the Time") rough draft


The Improv announced an open audition for a new “Farm Team” called the New Faces of the Improv. The audition was two minutes long in front of a large audience and the co-owner of the Improv, Mark Lonow. If you got the ok, you came back the next week to do another two. In the course of several months two thousand comics auditioned. I was one of the thirteen chosen.

I was excited and on track. I was on my way. I had been seen. But there was a nagging sensation of the realization that the comedians that I respected most, the ones I thought were the best, didn’t make the cut. The implications for what that meant about me and my craft stayed obscured for a while. I chose to not explore them.

As New Faces we received 50% off our drinks and food at the Melrose and Santa Monica club. We were encouraged to “Hang out” at Melrose. It was an opportunity to meet industry folks and serve as backups for gaps in the line up. We were not given spots. We were atmosphere. We hung out all night waiting for the chance of a late night set in the event of an audience remaining through the duration of the regular comics. This seldom happened. LA isn’t a late night town. It’s an industry town, and people work in the morning.


The Farm Team grew, as the auditions continued for months after their inception. The auditioners stacked the audience with their friends. The audition night had no cover, but there was a two drink minimum, and the drinks were 6$ each. Audition night was a good night for the club. As New Faces we received featured spots during the audition night. I bought a shiny green suit and did my best to prove that I was ready for the cameras. Off stage I sat in the back with my hui. Week after week Lonow rejected them, and one or two inferiors made the team.

Holtzman auditioned week after week. There were a few rules for the audition and he managed to break all of them every week. We started taking bets on how far he could make it into the two minutes before he transgressed. In contrast to the squeaky clean, made for TV personas, Holztman clearly terrified many in the crowd, which was heavily tourist based.

One Tuesday Holtzman took the stage seemingly determined to pull off an “acceptable” audition. He stumbled on his first joke, and then muttered a “fuck.” Rule No.1: No Profanity. Realizing that he had said fuck, he said fuck again, louder. Mark Lonow was shaking his head and taking notes as Holtzman let loose a torrent of Fucks. We were falling out of our chairs in the back because each fuck was different and seemed to be a spontaneous reaction to the fuck before. It was comedy for the comics and we howled and cried as he managed to keep it going. The unsuspecting people between the maniac on the stage, and we in the back were not in on the joke and some looked genuinely concerned for their safety.

I followed the rules. I hung out at the Melrose club. I met an industry person. She looked like a caricature of an AVON lady, She was an agent and she said she had an audition that she waned me to go on. It was for a show I’d never heard of called “Saved By The Bell.” I met the casting director for the show, read a few lines and landed a guest staring roll in a two-part episode.

I showed up at the table reading and the scripts were handed out to the cast. We were instructed to do a run through for the director, writers, and other assorted crewmembers. The reading began and people started laughing at the lines. I was confused. My mind started racing to make sense of what was happening. The script was horrible, but everyone was laughing. My first thought was that this was some kind of bloopers skit and I was the butt of the joke. My lines were coming up and I was looking for the hidden cameras. I decided to roll with it and played along. Ed Mc Mahon didn’t reveal himself after the reading. I moved to wardrobe in a state of shock.

You can see it in my face in my first scene. I can’t believe I’m delivering the lines. I had spent years practicing and studying the craft of Stand up for a live adult audience. I took a turn at the Avon lady and found myself in the seedy cul de sac of a laugh tracked teenybopper show. I would call it the worst show in television history if I hadn’t seen “Small Wonder.”


After the shoot I met the agent at the Melrose club for a drink. I didn’t want to seem ungrateful, so I bit my tongue. She had been drinking before I arrived and dropped the fact that she had my head shot tacked to the ceiling above her bed. Then she mentioned that there was more work where that came from. I smiled weakly then excused myself to buy a half priced beer.

(Excerpt # 4 fron "It Seemed Funny at the Time") rough draft


The Improv announced an open audition for a new “Farm Team” called the New Faces of the Improv. The audition was two minutes long in front of a large audience and the co-owner of the Improv, Mark Lonow. If you got the ok, you came back the next week to do another two. In the course of several months two thousand comics auditioned. I was one of the thirteen chosen.

I was excited and on track. I was on my way. I had been seen. But there was a nagging sensation of the realization that the comedians that I respected most, the ones I thought were the best, didn’t make the cut. The implications for what that meant about me and my craft stayed obscured for a while. I chose to not explore them.

As New Faces we received 50% off our drinks and food at the Melrose and Santa Monica club. We were encouraged to “Hang out” at Melrose. It was an opportunity to meet industry folks and serve as backups for gaps in the line up. We were not given spots. We were atmosphere. We hung out all night waiting for the chance of a late night set in the event of an audience remaining through the duration of the regular comics. This seldom happened. LA isn’t a late night town. It’s an industry town, and people work in the morning.


The Farm Team grew, as the auditions continued for months after their inception. The auditioners stacked the audience with their friends. The audition night had no cover, but there was a two drink minimum, and the drinks were 6$ each. Audition night was a good night for the club. As New Faces we received featured spots during the audition night. I bought a shiny green suit and did my best to prove that I was ready for the cameras. Off stage I sat in the back with my hui. Week after week Lonow rejected them, and one or two inferiors made the team.

Holtzman auditioned week after week. There were a few rules for the audition and he managed to break all of them every week. We started taking bets on how far he could make it into the two minutes before he transgressed. In contrast to the squeaky clean, made for TV personas, Holztman clearly terrified many in the crowd, which was heavily tourist based.

One Tuesday Holtzman took the stage seemingly determined to pull off an “acceptable” audition. He stumbled on his first joke, and then muttered a “fuck.” Rule No.1: No Profanity. Realizing that he had said fuck, he said fuck again, louder. Mark Lonow was shaking his head and taking notes as Holtzman let loose a torrent of Fucks. We were falling out of our chairs in the back because each fuck was different and seemed to be a spontaneous reaction to the fuck before. It was comedy for the comics and we howled and cried as he managed to keep it going. The unsuspecting people between the maniac on the stage, and we in the back were not in on the joke and some looked genuinely concerned for their safety.

I followed the rules. I hung out at the Melrose club. I met an industry person. She looked like a caricature of an AVON lady, She was an agent and she said she had an audition that she waned me to go on. It was for a show I’d never heard of called “Saved By The Bell.” I met the casting director for the show, read a few lines and landed a guest staring roll in a two-part episode.

I showed up at the table reading and the scripts were handed out to the cast. We were instructed to do a run through for the director, writers, and other assorted crewmembers. The reading began and people started laughing at the lines. I was confused. My mind started racing to make sense of what was happening. The script was horrible, but everyone was laughing. My first thought was that this was some kind of bloopers skit and I was the butt of the joke. My lines were coming up and I was looking for the hidden cameras. I decided to roll with it and played along. Ed Mc Mahon didn’t reveal himself after the reading. I moved to wardrobe in a state of shock.

You can see it in my face in my first scene. I can’t believe I’m delivering the lines. I had spent years practicing and studying the craft of Stand up for a live adult audience. I took a turn at the Avon lady and found myself in the seedy cul de sac of a laugh tracked teenybopper show. I would call it the worst show in television history if I hadn’t seen “Small Wonder.”


After the shoot I met the agent at the Melrose club for a drink. I didn’t want to seem ungrateful, so I bit my tongue. She had been drinking before I arrived and dropped the fact that she had my head shot tacked to the ceiling above her bed. Then she mentioned that there was more work where that came from. I smiled weakly then excused myself to buy a half priced beer.

Excerpt 03


(Excerpt #3 of "It Seemed Funny at the Time"--Rough Draft)


After a few months we knew LA better than the natives as we crisscrossed the LA basin nightly, sometimes hitting multiple stages in a night armed with notebooks and tape recorders. The comics were like locusts descending en mass on new venues and eating as much stage time as possible, and buying nothing. Some places banned comics from the open mic because their sheer number and obnoxiousness.

The Mad Hatter’s Sunday night open mic was emceed by Steve Isaacs, or “Spooky” as he was known at the time. He was a great host; friendly, open, and gracious with the performers. More comics found out about this padded room and soon out numbered the shiny-faced kids. There was a growing dissonance between the eager youth and the jaded hacks. I offered to start a comedy night on Tuesdays to relieve the pressure on the performance artists, singer songwriters, poets, and others natives of the house.

This was an opportunity to gain bouku stage time. I didn’t work on my routine as emcee, but learned to be the grease between the wheels, to keep a flow, to pick up the room after a bombed out performance, or give a newcomer a chance to ride the wake of the killer set before. As a house emcee I was one of the few comics still allowed at the open mic night.

Spooky was eventually “discovered” and landed a MTV VJ gig and moved to New York. I handed the comedy night to another comic and took over Spooky’s position as the Open mic emcee. The Mad Hatter Open mic was a hot bed of underground talent. Performers took the stage to perform for performance sake. It was a stark contrast to most of the other open mics that were so infested with celebrity wannabes.

One particular evening stands out in my memory. A young guy from Oklahoma, barefoot and bearded and living out of his car, came in to play. He sat down on the stage and pulled the guitar up to his chest and tilted his head to the neck. He looked like he was embracing a lover, and sounded like it as well. The people fell silent, the espresso machine stopped, and a moment happened. We were stunned by non-verbal eloquence. Unpretentious melifluosity wove us all into a shared experience. A tear rolled down my cheek and it shocked me. It was the first time I’d cried in the face of undeniable beauty.

The Mad Hatter was my favorite gig of the week. It seemed “other,” and yet the people seemed familiar. I was training for the factory, but slumming with the circus. I felt camaraderie with the crew of comedians that I ran with, a team spirit evoked by our common goal of stardom. But the affinity I felt for this cornucopia of free expression was compelling. The Mad Hatter was a labor of love more that a business, and love wasn’t paying the rent. Soon, economics crushed the fragile oasis, and the Hatter closed.

Mad Dogs brother Dan was a bartender at Des Regan’s Irish Pub in Burbank. We drank there occasionally and became friendly with the owner. I asked to start a comedy night and Des said yes. I put the word out to the crew and invited my favorites. Instead of the usual tack of having a time to sign up, I chose to have the comics call me during the week for a spot. Then I made the set list, mixing the comedians like a DJ mixes songs.

The Des Regans “Cheap Comedy Night” started off rough. Tuesday night was dart league night. One side of the bar was the stage area, in the middle towards the back was a horseshoe bar and on the other side was the dart league. The first night the stage audience was all comedians, and they were out numbered by disinterested bar flies and the boisterous league. Being an Irish bar, the regulars had their own well-oiled routine going on at the bar already. The comedy show was background noise even though we had the microphone. We all new each others sets, inside and out, so the room provided an opportunity to lose the act and play the room, or get played by the room. My Diplomatic skills were thoroughly tested. I had thrown a party and the guests weren’t mixing well.

The bar crew turned on their stools to watch the escalating scene between sharp wits and sharp objects. The night as a whole became a dramatic comedy performance. For many performers, the jokes floated on a turbulent inner life of anger and insecurity. Laughter started coming from very weird places, as laughing-at and laughing-with blurred together. I was emceeing a spectacle, and I earned my beer that night. And every Tuesday after.

As the weeks progressed some people started coming to the bar to actually watch the show. Word got out and the locust swarm of stage hogs descended on the place and I became facilitator of a three-ring circus. Good times, good times.

Excerpt 02


(Scotty Baron and the author in front of a Methodist church that hosted an open mic in the basement)


(excerpt 2 from "It Seemed Funny at the Time") rough

Modern Stand-Up; A brief history- 19Whenever to 1990

We’ll start with Vaudeville. The Vaudeville style of theatre dominated public entertainment for twenty years each side of 1900. It was a grab-bag show of the sublime and sacreligous. The term Vaudeville may come from "voix de ville", which means "voice of the city". It was the entertainment of an emerging middle class. The bar of acceptance for the performers was largely set by the audience; entertain them or be jeered and pelted with garbage.

Vaudeville was knocked out of the large theatre venues by the one-two punch of Film and Radio. The spectacle of film was cheaper and easier for the venue owners, and radio did home delivery. The peoples entertainment was no longer interactive, and the variety was homogenized for mass appeal. *A few notable comedians that made the jump to the new Media are W.C. Fields, The Marx Bros., Jack Benny, Abbott and Costello, and Bob Hope.

The “Borscht Belt” circuit of the Catskill Mountains emerged as an entertainers hot house after Vaudeville. It attracted displaced Vaudevillians, especially the comedians, and fostered emerging talent for radio, screen and eventually Television. The list of prominent names of this school of Comedy include Milton Berle, Mel Brooks, Henny Youngman, Rodney Dangerfield, Lenny Bruice, and Woody Allen.

Long before, along side, and after the Vaudeville era, there was what became known as the “Chitlin’ Belt”. Segregation fostered the emergence of a black entertainment road circuit throughout the eastern states and the South. This artistic vascular system of venues and theatres included the Cotton Club in New York City, The Apollo Theatre in Harlem, The Regal Theatre in Chicago, and the Ritz in Jacksonville. Comedic luminaries Flip Wilson, Redd Foxx, and Richard Pryor cut their teeth on what the PC now refer to as the “urban theatre” circuit.

These early circuits were all about variety, Comics shared the stage with burlesque, dog and pony shows, musical acts, raconteurs, magicians, activists, polititions, and then some. The formats were wide and inclusive.


The alchemical roll of the comedian in the Vaudville mélange of entertainment seemed to be that of unifier, barrier breaker. Sharing a convulsive laugh unifies people undeniably, and uncontrollably. The comedians were like social lubricators for circuit shows. They we’re emcees, in betweeners, warm up acts, and facilitators.
A laughing audience is a relaxed audience. Laughter makes us high and music is fun to listen to when were high.

An Entertainment Industry had emerged with the new media. Television needed comedians. Big stage names entered the television world through hosting their own talk shows, reprising their Vaudevillian role as the grease between the wheels. Pioneers of the genre, Steve Allen, Ernie Kovacs, Jack Paar, and Johnny Carson defined the art of late night talk show hosting. They brought in their fellow stage cronies as guests and made them household names.

Television spurred the need of a place for young comedians to showcase themselves for the medium. The vacuum would be filled by Bud and Silver Friedman with the invention the comedy club; The Improvisation in New York City. The space serves as a base for a new generation of comedians to work out their act. It became a portal for the new talent to move from obscurity to celebrity. The club launches numerous careers, feeding acts into the opening maw of Television.

A decade later, Silver wins the club from Bud in a divorce. Forbidden to open another “Improv” brand club within 100 miles of the original, Bud fills the tank and heads for Hollywood.

In ’72, Sammy Shore and Rudy De Luca open The Comedy Store in Los Angeles. Sammy’s wife Mitzi wins the club in divorce soon after.

As LA’s only full time comedy showcase, it attracted the top Bananas from the Big Apple, young corn from the Bread Basket, and helped shift the capitol of comedy to Los Angeles. The Store became the new home for comedy veterans and the launch pad for future icons. It served as the front gate to TV and Film for close to ten years.

But Johnny was the Star Maker. Johnny Carson moved the Tonight Show from New York to Burbank around the same time The Comedy Store opened. Having done stand up for years, Carson was picky about the acts he endorsed with an appearance on his show, but once a comedian had a Tonight Show credit, they had a career, unless they worked overtime to screw it up. During the 70’s, The Comedy Store was the place to be seen by Carson and the rest of the Industry headhunters looking for the new funny.

These “Showcase” clubs charged a healthy cover and drink minimums, but the performers saw none of it. Performing at the Improv or the Comedy Store didn’t get you a check. It got you exposure to the Industry, especially the Store.

Comics and prostitutes were (and still are) two major aspects of the entertainment industry not organized in a union. The LA Comedians decided to strike anyway in ’79. The Comedy Store was picketed and the strike received media attention. Bud Friedman pleaded with strike leader, Tom Dressen to not strike at the Improv too. Instead, it sustained heavy damage from a Molotov cocktail and was temporarily closed. The comics heckled Mitzi from the picket line. Mitzi makes a small concession to pay a few weekend performers gas money. The Comedians then heckled each other. Some returned to the stage, some were black listed, and one threw himself off the roof of the hotel next door. The strike resulted in the practice of giving some of the talent some respect, which became a trend in clubs and theatres across the country.

The Improvisation launches “A&E’s Evening at the Improv in 1981. Cable Television was weaving across the country and taking the Improv brand of Comedy with it. The Comedy store had produced just a few yearly HBO specials in comparison; Mitzi was too buisy franchising the Comedy Store to nearby cities. Bud capitalizes on the national name brand recognition afforded by A&E and franchises coast to coast.


By 1990, The Comedy Store and the Improv had become the Hatfields and McCoys, entrenched in a fierce competition for the loyalty of new talent, and market domination. As a new comedian, we could audition for both clubs, but getting a spot at one would get you blacklisted at the other. New performers had to make a choice of which club they would not get paid at.

The Comedy Store became the black hat comedy club. Having enjoyed being the only full time comedy club in town, it was the reef on which the last big comedy wave broke, but the new swell was rising at the Improv. Improv comedians were family friendly. Comedy Store comics were more gritty and raw. This was the Regan /Bush era and political correctness was in. The national audience was being trained to just say no to anything they didn’t know.

Bud Friedman, and his partner Mark Lonow, capitalized on the conservative climate by feeding it . A&E’s Evening at the Improv, having been on the air for ten years, set the bar for most all the new cable comedy showcases. The stand up acts on MTV, VH1, and Fox, were all interchangeable with those of Evening at the Improv. They were mostly self described losers with no lovers and apolitical. There was little edge, little risk, and no guts. The standard became tight, polished, seven minuite sets of quirky banality. Comedy had been formatted to fit your screen.

The Improv became the main industry showcase and the Comedy Store receded into club status. Once a gusher of up and comers, the Store spewed Keenan Ivory Wayans, Jim Carrey, then began sputtering an embarrassment of Wayans brothers, Carlos Mencia, and eventually, Mitzi’s own spawn; Pauly Shore.

Just before the bust it had been the home of The Outlaw Comics like Bill Hicks and Sam Kinison. When they took to the road in lieu of the commercial waiting room of Los Angeles, a level of professionalism and stage integrity went with them and the black walls of the club seemed even darker.