Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Excerpt 01


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


The Heroes’ long blond hair whipped furiously in the cross winds of the Cajon Pass as he pilots an open topped ‘68 Landcruiser 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 raised 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. It was good kinky fun 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 was of a singular focus, on my way to celebre’. Open mic nights, mornings scanning the trades, auditioning for anything. I segregated my experience of the world into funny, or not funny. “Can I use that in my act?” Casual conversations were eclipsed by social networking with an eye toward making industry contacts. I became a competing sperm, frantically seeking an opening to enter into the womb of success and grow. I just needed a little recognition.

On the march to Stardom I found myself magnetically drawn into a clique of comics that became like family. The fast wits and mutant perspectives never allowed for dead air. Every interaction was a duel or duet. It was constant freestyle without the Hip Hop. Answering machine messages were odd rants with hot tag lines. We formed a tribe of jesters and clowns wandering around the Southern California desert in search of the oases of laughter.

Not everyone knew they were in this tribe. Mad Dog knew it. I think he started it. I met Mad Dog at the LA Cabaret in Encino. Too new to be considered for the main room, we plied our nascent material in the lounge for a half dozen bar regulars and innumerable other stage hunters that often waited upwards of six hours for their ten minutes.

(MadDog- Hollywood, 1990)

Mad Dog was close to my age, short and stocky, and inherently cocky. He acted like he knew what was going on. With everything. An accent and demeanor firmly molded by Massachusetts, and an attitude all his own.

He told me about this “kid” he saw perform at a bar in Chatsworth the week before. This kid was fuckin funny he said. He painted a picture of Brian Holtzman as a terrible genius on the stage, someone to watch, and someone to get to know.

I was living in a tent in Woodland Hills and Mad Dog was living out of his car in Malibu Beach Park. We decided to find a place to share. We moved into a shabby five story from the 1930’s, just two blocks off of Hollywood Boulevard. Sleeping bags on the floor and furniture from the curb. We carpooled to the open mics and audition nights. Mad Dog talked constantly, mostly about the Key. “Do you know what the Key to comedy is?” he would ask rhetorically before he’d reveal the Key in a compelling and authoritative rant. I got a new key every week. Where was the door?

We didn’t know what we were doing, really. We just started doing and kept doing it. I knew nothing of the industry that I was clamoring to be let into. I had watched A&E’s Evening at the Improv for years. I figured that I’d work out a routine and enter the Mainstream through the Door of the Improvisation.

It wasn’t a novel idea. Comedy was booming and the open mic audience was often all performers waiting for their turn.

Mad Dog and I went to the Chatsworth bar to do a set and watch Holtzman. The Comedy night was new there so the list was short, plus, it was in Chatsworth. There were ten or fifteen comics at the tables and chairs, but the barstools were full with regular patrons talking loudly with their backs to the stage. They were the remaining hard-core attendees of a wake held at the bar earlier in the day. I learned this during Holtzmans set as he vied to hook the drinkers into his audience. He starts by yelling at them with Long Island parlance. The leather skinned Valley Irish returned the volley with news of the occasion, delivered with profanity and postures. Holtzman taps his watch and tells them to get over it, that there is a show on now and this was his stage time. Then he spews anti-Irish prose like confetti, playing every stereotypic chord he could muster. The barstools didn’t take it passively and there was real tension in the room, but Holtzman had them and played them like a matador until the spears of his wit intoxicated the room with humor and everyone had a laugh.

(Hotzman's reel)

Holtzman was no kid. He was a veteran of the San Francisco scene, recently relocated to LA. Mad Dog praised his set and introduced me as though I was the hottest new comic in town, too. I was learning that Mad Dog was a closet promoter that would mythologize each member of our growing tribe to every other member. He associated us. Dino Londis, Spencer, Al Berman, James Tripp, Gary Brussels, Bill Torres, Bill Dwyer, Danny Woodburn, Etc.

Comedy is a lonely business. As a comic, you are the writer, choreographer, costumer, director, performer, critic, and then some. We didn’t form an official affiliation. Maybe Mad Dog was just creating order out of the chaos of our endeavor, an animal in the clouds. But I saw it too. Mad Dog and I associated with a certain caliber of humor. There was a gap between the paid comics and the open mic-ers. There was little interaction between the classes. You were in or out. Comics come up in waves, and we were still a bit off the coast.

Or far out to sea.

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