Day 767: Taming Animals in San Manuel

When you watch comedy specials from the past, you see nice polite audiences in theaters listening to everything the comedian is saying. The comedian can take his time to set up long complex bits and stories, because the audience has a great attention span and there’s an aura of silence in the room so everyone can pay attention. Comedy in practice is NOT AT ALL like this. Maybe on a good day. Most of the time you are competing with something. The noise of a server ordering drinks in a club. The noise of bar scum yelling at the game in a bar. The noise of comedians chatting about their hopeless lives in an open mic. Sometimes rooms of people are just drunk and theres no usher or security to keep them in check. At this point its on you, the comedian to sink or swim. Some comedians are generally sinkers in this case. They will give up. If no one is paying attention, or its gonna take a shitload of effort, why try? Some will swim. Most often unsuccessfully, but they are going through the motions. My policy is always swim to survival. I’ll try my hardest to get everyone in, and then when I have their attention I can start to rest a little.

Tonight I did the Laugh Factory Casino in San Manuel. I brought Julian, my documentary director and filmer. Security scolded us for having a camera, and said we couldn’t film in there. There was 10 cops in the room. I’d heard horror stories of this place. That they dont pay attention at all. They will eat you alive. And there’s security there for a reason. My goal was just to get them the best I could and get out. I was up first. I go quick with the one liners and fast paced stuff…but note this is an ‘urban’ room, so higher brow shit won’t fly. You gotta bring that heat from the street. How I learned this growing up in Fremont, California, I don’t know. The mic volume is really low, and people start to complain, so I start to yell so they can hear me better. Finally, I”m starting to get them in. Joke, joke, joke, joke…rapid fire. One break and you die. Finally I have most of the room in, and then I do my History bit, which is a lot of detail, but I took a risk, fully committed, and it paid off. I got the applause break I wanted. Now the whole room wants to watch. They turn up the mic, and I finish off with 5 minutes of sex bits, yes, saving the best for last. Now I’m ripping it, I close with my eating p**** segment, which is gold for this room, and walk off a champ.

It was a nice reality check, after doing a bunch of pussyfooting rooms in Hollywood for a week. Its part of what I consider a healthy regimen for being a good comedian. Sure, anyone can play to a packed room of attentive audience members. Any funny words can get laughs there. But can your words tame the beasts?

Day 766: The Internet is a Black Hole

The internet is a black hole. It sucks up our time and information, and it grows day after day. At some point the internet will have swallowed us and our reality completely. It’s hard to argue with this when both you and I are on the internet right now. Me writing this, and you reading.

Obviously it’s a Catch 22, since we need the internet for various facets of productivity, and meanwhile it sucks out many pockets of time that we could be using for devotion to something more productive. Sometimes I catch myself on Facebook, not even remembering how I got there. A classic example is heading to my computer thinking, “I’m going to check my calendar to see what my schedule is for Tuesday,” and one minute later I’m knee deep in my news feed, looking at a picture of someone’s dog. This is a problem. And I don’t yet have a solution. But it will take drastic measures. In 2009, China banned Facebook and Youtube. Same year, China becomes the world’s leading economic superpower. Coincidence? No, this is what happens when people actually do work at their work.

My i-phone is no exception. Every time I pick it up, I feel a slight tingle in my body telling me that this is wrong. My body is very sensitive and it knows right and wrong. You’ll have to trust me on this one. Sure we need phones, blah blah blah. Or do we? Either way, drastic measures are needed. But I get pissed at my friends or comrades if I text them, needing an important answer and they take longer than a matter of minutes to get back to me. I would hate to do that to someone hypocritically, and also what if someone offers me something and it’s gone in 10 minutes if I don’t respond? Meanwhile, I leave my phone on silent, because I hate having to remember when to turn it on and off. If I don’t leave it on silent, the next day I’m the asshole with the ringing phone in a movie, or in yoga class. Even worse, if I don’t leave it on silent, one night I’m deep in slumber and I’m woken up to a text of someone responding a delayed ‘yes’ to a question I asked them yesterday. It’s too risky, so perma-silent. But then I have to check it every few minutes because I have no sound notification to let me know I might be getting an important message. So, another Catch 22. How often do I check it? Every 5 min? !0 min? Do I leave it within vision to see it when it lights up? This is no way to live. Something needs to change..

And this goes for all of us.

Day 766 I had about 20 simple tasks to get done and I only completed 2, because of the internet. Do you have a similar story? Don’t be a victim.

Day 765: Tired

Couldn’t sleep in my Houston hotel last night. Not sure why. The AC/fan unit was not able to be turned off. I don’t get that. Why is ‘off’ not an option? Do people complain if they don’t have to listen to a fan? Either way, I’m not a fan.

I layed in bed for a few hours, and it’s worse when you know you have to be up early. I got in bed at 130 am and my alarm is set for 545 am. But I’m a pro at insomnia, so I just took it like a champ, layed, breathed, and acted like I didn’t care. Then I was about to fall asleep and the door opens, it’s Raj Sharma who’s sharing a room with me, coming back from drinking. He’s not loud, but it’s enough to keep me from drifting into sleep land. Then he gets in bed and instantly starts snoring. Story of my life. I lay there for 20 more minutes, finally look up at the clock and it’s 530 am already. Well I’ll get up early then! I do some stretches and splash my face, now it’s time to head to the airport.

The shuttle guy gets mad because I keep him waiting 30 seconds while I make myself some tea. Get to the airport and I’m with my friend Bry and she has an employee badge from her dad. I highly recommend having someone in your family work at the airlines. We pass up the huge Monday commuter line, and they also don’t just assume you’re a terrorist in this case. Now with the tea and the sun coming up, my day is starting. I get hungry, get some baked goods and hot drink from starbucks, I’m living the dream.

My seat on the plane happens to be the only one that no one is sitting next to, and it’s a two seat row, so you know what that means, middle arm rest up, lay down. I didn’t sleep though, it’s just not that easy, and the caffeine and noise had me up. I get some work and reading done on the plane, now we land. My dear friend Atousa picks me up and drops me at my car, which my roommate Nick West dropped off at the Getty center. I just tell the guy at the booth I’m Sammy and he gives me the keys. What if I wasn’t Sammy? Oh well. I go pick up some green curry eat it, go get a massage before class. Still don’t sleep. It’s hard because right when I’m dosing off she taps me to turn over. And then again, and she taps me that its over. ITS OVER!

But at least I’m relaxed…I hop in my car and drive to Silverlake for my UCB Improv class. It was a good class! 3 hours though, now I’m tired as shit, and it’s dark. My show is in 4 hours, but I’m still not sleepy tired. Just physically tired. So I take a bath and relax. Get nice and comfy. Go get some froyo. Hit my set at Paladinos which is 10 minutes from me in the Valley, come back home and pass the eff out!

Day 763-764: The Great State of Texas

A lot of people don’t know that below my very Middle Eastern looking disposition, I’m truly a good ol’ Southern boy at heart. I love fried chicken, biscuits, and corn bread, and half of my family is from Texas–a state that recently voted ‘fried butter’ the best item at the annual Texas State fair. Out of a selection including fried oreos, fried avacado, fried ice cream, and fried love, Texas said, why not just cut straight to the chase and put the richest possible thing underneath that fry! Yes, butter! Fried butter. I didn’t get a chance to taste it, but given my southern roots I probably would have voted for it as well. And heck, I may have voted for George W. if I lived here. I’m a sucker for peer pressure. George W., soothing, simple, and smoothe in a slow way, is essentially the fried butter of politicians, and that’s how we vote in Texas.

My mom’s mom, Dolores Iliya is half Italian, half ‘Georgian’. Not the country, the southern state. ‘As far as we trace back our ancestry, all we know is we’re from Georgia.’ Matter of fact, my great great grandfather, of the Lee family, fought in the Civil War. I’m not going to say on which side. I know…I wonder how he’d feel about me. Dolores married my Lebanese grandpa, Adil, because she had ‘olive fever’ as I call it (it really doesn’t exist :/). They had my mom and 3 brothers, all of whom grew up in Texas. My mom met my Lebanese-Palestinian dad, and that blew my chances of being white. Oh well, you lose some. But I make a mean hummus! Throughout my childhood, we’d visit my cousins in Dallas, and I picked up the Texan accent pretty well. Now I use it strictly when I talk to my Dolores. She puts up with it but the rest of the family is semi-insulted. ‘We don’t talk like that!’ I kind of overdo the accent, I admit, but I go all in when I commit to a character, which is rare.

Friday night I wrapped up my show at the Comedy Store at 1 am, I get in bed by 2 am, wake up at 6 am, and head to LAX. I fly to Dallas and meet with the Next Generation of Comedy tour, w/ Ahmed Ahmed, Fahim Anwar, K-von, Raj Sharma, and Tehran. My cousin picks me up and we go hang out at Nana’s (Dolores) place. I have a camera crew that comes and films some footage for the documentary, interviewing my grandma and grandpa. They did a great job. Then I shower and get suited up for our show at the legendary Majestic Theatre in Dallas. Nana says ‘It’s a big deal to be there. I used to go watch shows there when I was a little girl and it was segregated.’ I said well it’s going to be filled with the coloreds tonight. And it was, a lot of Middle Easterners but also some caucasians and others. Packed show, almost 1,000 people. A lot of fun. In packed theaters I generally can do no wrong. I consider myself a big game player, and thus a theater comic. When the numbers are there, I commit. And my jokes are word based, which plays well in big theaters, where the people in the back can only hear you but not really see you that well. Everyone killed it, and people raved about how good of a show it was. On the way there I needed a healthy snack and asked if they had Whole Foods in Texas, to which my cousin bragged, ‘Whole Foods was founded in Austin’. Which fine, but let’s agree that Austin isn’t as Texas-y as the rest.

The next morning I wake up at my grandma’s at 8 am to leave for Houston with the tour. We road trip it out and get to H-town, where H stands for humid. I’ve been here once, back in 2007, when I won the national collegiate forensics tournament in the category of After Dinner Speaking. My first comedic ‘win’. Tonight we played a theatre hall near Rice University. Lot’s of Persians, generally not my best crowd, but I had a decent time. I’m just feeling really tired from all the traveling. And I gotta get up at 5 am tomorrow, which in California is 3 am, to catch a flight, so no partying for me tonight! Cuz you know me! You gotta keep me away from those party’s or I get crazy!

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to eat any of my favorite southern foods while here. In fact, I’ve noticed, as I haven’t been here in 4 years, that Texas is changing. People are becoming more like Californians in a lot of ways, and it’s getting very diverse. What’s up with that?? I thought we were the Lone Star State! Never changing our ways! What’s changing us? Reaction to obesity? Immigration? Either way, my great great grandpa wouldn’t be happy about it. But boy does it make me feel way more comfortable being here! *sips a kombucha*

Day 762: Doin Somethin

People in LA are not real people. They are tainted with an agenda. Even the garbage man has a secret movie project he’s working on. Everybody is doin or aspiring to be doin somethin. But not just a simple thing, like I’m doing acting or I’m doing comedy. Doin somethin specific. Something HUGE. Something that’s on the verge of being the next big thing. At one point it was podcasting. As more and more avenues get exploited you have to find your own unique idea, before you find out someone else is already Doin your somethin.

I’ve always moped around about how I don’t have a somethin. I came here to do comedy, acting, improv, hurting my insides at open mics, get an agent, make connections, etc. But never did I have a special little project. And day after day I’d do comedy, with no day off, just sweating in my head about how I’m not doin somethin, and ultimately I won’t make it if I’m not doin somethin. Looking at others sayin ‘he’s doin somethin’ or ‘shes doin somethin’ or ‘shes doin him’, and what do I got? Uhhhhh nuthin!

And then people told me that doing comedy every day is impressive (still debating if this is true). And that I should blog about it, document it, etc. So after 500 or so days of hesitation, I finally did! And now I’m making this documentary, it’s pretty exciting. If I actually go through with this, which I’m hoping I don’t puss out, I’ll actually be making a movie! Whaaaat? Hollywoooood! But this could be a disaster, or I could give up, so why should I consider it Somethin? Then again it could be the greatest thing ever. And I have the choice of fearing failure or trying my best to make it work. And today I realized, that everyone who’s doin somethin, has that same choice. If we didn’t take the leap of faith and label it ‘Doin Somethin’ then we would just be doin nuthin. So essentially, nuthin + faith = Somethin. But you have to actually be Doin it. So Doin + faith + nuthin = Doin Somethin. That’s right, that’s how you turn nuthin into somethin in a day!

But then the last element of Doin Somethin is that you have to let people know to make it official. Actually that’s 99% of it. So 1% Doin Somethin + 99% sayin you’re Doin Somethin = Doin Somethin. Subract both sides of the equation and you get 99% sayin you’re Doin Somethin = 99% Doin Somethin, which means Sayin you’re Doin Somethin = Doin Somethin. So let it be known that its *official*, I’m Doin Somethin!

Day 761: ‘Way of the Cross’

Today started really well…I had some great sleep, which has been rare recently. I ate some delicious green curry salmon on lunch special, only 8 dolla, and it has eggplant already in it which is a gift to me. I was at whole foods and I always see their homemade soaps, I picked up this bright red cranberry pomegranate bar, smelled it and was like, I wish one day I could make love to a woman who uses this soap, then I was like f*@k it, I’ll just buy it for myself cut out the middleman!

Then later in the day I started to get depressed. It happens. I’m thinking about my career and how I haven’t ‘made it’. And thinking about my jokes and how they are all the same, word play or racial analogies, or ‘what happens if I take this statement literally, it’s crazy!’ stupid, stupid, stupid, all my jokes suck. I hate myself, I’m never gonna make it. No one loves me and no one ever will. It’s overwhelming. But alas, most comics go thru this a few times a week. And if you don’t, you probably really do suck. The better you are the more frequent the breakdowns.

So I head over to the Levantine Cultural Center to perform on the ‘Sultans of Satire’, a middle eastern themed comedy show. I’m thinking about how much I hate my jokes and how I haven’t written anything new thats good in like 4 months, and then they call me up there, announcing I’ve performed for 760 days straight, so now they are expecting me to be good and not hate myself, and that’s more stress, and now I’m walking to stage and I just give up, I give up!

And now I’m on stage not saying anything, but they like me, and they want me to speak. So I take it slow, and stuff just comes out of my mouth, and they start laughing. And it’s such a good feeling. Ooh yes. The sweet serum of laughter. And I realize that all of my pain had caused me to just surrender and be intensely present. And the crowd loved that. It raised the consciousness of the whole room. Because we were now all present, and waiting for the next thing I’d say, which I didn’t even know!

There’s this passage from Eckhart Tolle’s book, the Power of Now, which I’ve always been fond of. It’s the concept of ‘the way of the cross’. When you are suffering intensely, sometimes you suffer so hard that it forces you into the present moment. And you often learn a valid lesson, by way of the cross. For some of us, a warning, or a slap on the wrist just won’t do it. You literally have to be crucified to learn your lesson. And that’s definitely how I roll. If I could describe what’s going on in my life right now its the way of the cross. All of my pain is culminating, and its forcing me to raise the level of my consciousness.

Anyhow I told some jokes and had one of the best sets I’ve had in a while. Since last night maybe. I was pretty present then too. But the abyssmal gap between nighttimes is hell for a comedian. The day brings all sorts of darkness, ironically, and in the night there is salvation. But I’m going through lots of stuff internally, and it’s brightening my sets, when I just give in and become present, which I didn’t used to do as much last year, when I was happy go lucky.

Then I closed out a show at Golden Road Pub in Glendale, and that was awesome too. This pain really worked out for me tonight. Thanks way of the cross! Maybe being Jesus wasn’t so bad after all…

Day 760: Signed up for Therapy for More Stage Time…

In LA therapists are like personal trainers, if you don’t have one, you must not be that successful. Some of us just get therapy to tell others that we go to therapy. I decided to go to increase my hours of performance time.

Okay, okay, for real though, your boy is having some mental/emotional issues 🙁 So after some deliberation, I decided to go to therapy. It’s sliding scale, meaning based on your income, which comes out to $20 a session for me. I printed out a coupon on line and got the first session free! Yeya! My therapist was great. She started out by saying, ‘Okay, first rule is that everything we talk about here is completely confidential’. I’m thinking yea, no one’s gonna hear any of this, except ALL OF MY BLOG SUBSCRIBERS! *HIGH FIVE*

So I spilled my heart out and by the end of the session she was on the edge of her chair wanting more, which is typical when I do an hour. And also just like my performances I didn’t get paid 🙁

But I’m gonna start going every Wednesday, and pretty soon my insides are gonna be so clean! People are going to be like, damn that Sammy, so well put together. I’m gonna be like yup, $80 a month.

Later in the evening I hit 3 spots, Federal Bar in NoHo, Comedy Store, and Bar Lubitsch. Then I went out to Saddle Ranch with some new friends I made at the Comedy Store, and they dared me to ride the bull. I coughed up the $4, rode that thing to the ground, looking like a huge tool for sure, and definitely busted my taint. And there’s no therapy for that.

Day 759: The Big Black Wall Cont’d

Woke up feeling like garbage today. Maybe because of all the fro yo I pounded last night. Goddamn life of a rockstar. Today was definitely a ‘big black wall’ kind of day (recall Day 738, my grandma’s fortune reading). My confidence was low, optimism drained. But I still have to make my rounds. Held rehearsal for acting class at my apartment. Hit Amsterdam open mic…went extra early to sign up first so that I could leave to my class at 7 and make it on time. The owner of Amsterdam says I can’t start the list until 6, and its 5. I say but I’ve been coming here and starting the list at 5 for the past 8 weeks. He says ‘I’ve been owning this place for the past 2 years’. To which I had no response, and waited until 6 to start the list. Did my set, left for improv class. On the way I decided to treat myself to a half a dozen muffins from a local donut shop. I didn’t eat them all, but that made me feel better some. Improv was actually fun, as I normally hate it, but maybe I was in a better mood. The muffins maybe? Then hit a set at Universal Bar and Grill, one of my favorite places now, because it’s been good the last few times I was there. I got home feeling not as bad as when the day started. As my grandma said, I will eventually overcome the big black wall, it will just take time. And I’ll be munching on baked goods while I wait.

Day 758: ‘On Avail’

There are many ways for your ego to be crushed in Hollywood. I go through about 100 ways a day. Doing stand up for jaded crowds, auditioning in front of lifeless casting directors, and working with ‘actor-slash-model’s. I’ve been auditioning for over a year now, and the farthest I’ve gotten was a callback, which is essentially level 2. Level 1 is the initial audition. Level 0 is submitting for the role. So you can technically get rejected at level 0, before you even leave your house–that’s how rough LA is. Level 3 I thought was getting ‘booked, level 4 actually making on TV, level 5 becoming a series regular, level 6 movie star, and level 7 dead alone in hotel shower. However that is not the case, as I found out last Friday. Level 3 is actually being put ‘on avail’. Meaning they are deciding between you and a few others, and you need to be available for the shoot dates regardless. Being ‘on avail’ means you just wait. For your fate. And the less your hear the sadder you get. I find out Friday that I am ‘on avail’ for the role of South American soccer player. I know, this could be my big break. I wait the whole weekend and almost til the end of the day on Monday. Monday I get a voicemail from my agent (no big deal) while in class. On break I check the message but my phone won’t download it for some reason. So I call my agent and she doesn’t pick up. I’m like dammit just tell me if I got it! I turn off my phone and turn it on again. Now it doesn’t even show the message existing. The Gods of LA are messing with my head now. Yea I know, Gods of LA, almost blasphemy. Finally the message shows and I listen to it…but it’s all static-y! I’m trying to decipher what she says. All I hear is ‘on avail’. Dammit! Finally I figure it out…she says ‘Sammy…you’ve been removed from on avail’. Ugh. That can’t be good. After a second take in my head, I figured I was not removed because I was instead placed on the ‘booked’ list. I realized it was a friendlier, but not really, way of saying ‘you are not booked’.

And so what started as a day of hope and dreams, spiralled down into the dark abyss, that we know as the life of an aspiring actor/comedian/person in Los Angeles.

But my agent did say ‘you’ll get it next time’. And ya know what? I think she’s right. LOL.

After class I hit a story telling open mic at Hollywood Studio Bar & Grill, and told my story about moving to LA and the shady first landlord we had. At first no one was paying attention but then when I started doing accents I got some laughts! Then I went to the Improv Space in Westwood and told new jokes for some UCLA students, got some fro yo at Yogurtland and bounced back home. That’s right. I don’t let bad news get me down. I spoon cold, sweet comfort into my mouth and tell myself there’s always tomorrow. One day at a time, baby! Oh, I’ll get to level 7. Worst case I’ll skip all the middle steps and check into that Super 8 tonight.

Day 757: Performed in my PJs just to see the look on people’s..

Ok fine I did it because I didn’t want to change. I was too comfy at home on a Sunday! People have been saying take a day off, take a day off! And of course they can go to hell. And I try to explain to them that sometimes I take it easy, do a set real close to home, do 5-7 minutes, and rest the whole rest of the day, that’s virtually a day off! They say, no no, you are still getting that adrenaline up, you are still performing, not resting, it’s not a day off. So I say okay, what if I keep my PJ’s on. It’ll be like I never left home. Just get of the bath (yes, bath), change in to my snuggliest of clothes, hop in the car and drive down the street to Liquid Zoo in Van Nuys, and just take it real easy. Use a set list on stage, not even doing the extra work to memorize my set. Let them do the work by seeing me with a piece of paper (see photo). I hardly lifted my head up. This can’t be work! This can’t be strenuous! This can’t give me bags under my eyes or interfere with my sleep! But it sure as hell counts as a set you mother#@$%s. The streak lives on.

Health: 1, Streak: 757

Days 755-756: Indio is not the same as Palm Springs; Heckler gets put in jail

Some people live in the middle of nowhere and get mad when you mix up their nowhere with another nowhere. I drove out to Indio on a Friday, it took as long as it does to get to Vegas, about 4 hours. Why are so many people going east on the 10, when there’s nothing out there? Windmills? Are you serious? It’s just a desert out there. Not meant for human life. It’s January and I’m already sweating. I’m performing two nights at the Improv inside Fantasy Springs Resort & Casino. I came here last year, it’s beautiful, and super relaxing. But it’s not Palm Springs. It’s Indio Springs. Which was made clear by a woman in the crowd who got angry when I called their town Palm Springs. Then another guy yelled out ‘PS!’, implying that is the acronym for Palm Springs, which I noted leaves people hanging…”PS…that’s all’. Yea, I know, it’s called riffing. Anyhow, the shows were pretty rowdy. Namely the Saturday 8 pm show. I’m middling, so I’m doing 20-30 in the middle of the show, and people are still not settled in, and some are shouting at the stage. Later in the show, one of the guys yelling finally gets confronted by security, and he rebels by pushing over his table in a drunken rage. They grab him an escort him out the doors, where he starts to fight one of the managers and gets tackled face down and put in cuffs. They then take him to jail, where later he allegedly says he’s sorry and just wants to go home. But what he didn’t know is that heckling doesn’t pay. So keep that in mind next time you open your mouth at my show. Before he left it had come up that he was from Cathedral City. After he left, some guy from town yelled ‘That’s Cat City for you!’. Another nickname for a nowhere city. Where do these people get off? That’s right, they get off at the exits of the 10 that no one’s ever heard of.

PS…I’m not one to talk, I’m from Fremont, California, and I’ve called it ‘tha Mont’.