3 Simple Steps to Find Love

I am no more of an expert on love than Dr. Drew, though I definitely talk less about molestation.  My background is not in psychology or biology, but If there is a mathematical formula for love, I could teach the proof to children.  My credentials: UC Berkeley Applied Math’06,  3.91.  That’s GPA, not inches.

I may not have the best track record with love relationships, but then again, who does?  That’s right, your old high school friends Dave and Suzie, who dated at 16, went to prom together, got married at 22, and now they live on a farm somewhere.  Or their house feels like a farm because of all the kids and animals.   Look, not everyone can be Dave and Suzie.  But there’s a valuable lesson we can learn from them: they simply gave up early.  There’s a fine line between committing to someone and just giving up on trying to find other stuff.  Dave and Suzie are still together, because they let their respective egos die a long time ago.  They didn’t bother wondering what else is out there or setting crazy high standards that they impose on one another.  They just love each other deeply and sincerely.  And it makes all of the rest of us sick.

That said, everyone wants to find their own Dave or Suzie.  But how do we know?  How do we know if it’s the real Dave or the real Suzie?  There has to be some test we can put them through.  Some convoluted, selfish, idiotic test of love.  Hence, the way we date in today’s society:   Games and tests that we put our ”partner” through to see if they really love us. But there is no solid test of love.  Those who pass your tests may not really love you.   Those who don’t may actually love you, but your painful tests make them realize they can do better.  “If I break up with Danny, and start seeing Thomas, will he fight for me?” Hell no, Danny, run!

I believe that a test of true love has nothing to do with what another person does for you, but everything to do with how you feel about them.  A simple test to know if you truly love someone is if you play the game ‘f*ck, marry, kill’ and you can’t decide, because would put that person in each of those categories equally.  Lust, longevity, insanity.  That’s true love.

Okay, enough preaching.  I really don’t know sh*t.  But, the other night, I looked like I did,  at Tommy T’s in Pleasanton (where I was booed off the stage a few weeks ago… Yeah, I came back for more).  I’m stopping by to do a guest set on my buddy Ric James’s show.  Ric has just gone through a terrible break up, with the girl he was with for seven years… She was his Suzie, and now it’s over.  Just entering the room, you can feel a sentiment of deep heartbreak in the air.  He picks at his chicken tenders, unable to eat, and then goes up to host the show, just talking about how much it sucks and how sad he is. “I f*@kin hate this”, he keeps saying.  And the crowd just reflects the sad energy back.  As if everyone in the room is going through it too and can’t help.  However, I am not heartbroken, so while he’s on stage I ponder what is going on while eating his chicken tenders (why let them go to waste?)

After a few more comics, I go up, and at the beginning of my set, I ask a girl in the crowd, who looks troubled– like she’s not having fun– what she’s learned so far tonight from the comedians before me.  She says, “nothing”.  I say, “Well that’s too bad!  Surely you’ve learned something!  At least some stuff about d*@k and p*@@y, you feel me!”   The crowd laughs. And then I go on to do my jokes, starting with sex puns to get these animals on board, but then moving to deeper stuff.  I do genuinely want her to feel like she’s learned something.  Why else should she leave the house?  To hear stuff she already knew?  The set is going well, but at the end she still looks wanting , so I ask, “Okay, what do you want me to teach you?  I’ll teach you about anything you want.  Anything. I used to be a teacher you know”.

She looks at me blankly for a second, then looks down, and looks up, and says, “Okay… Love.  Teach me about love.”  We lock eyes for a moment, and I understand completely.  She’s recently been heartbroken, and now she’s trying to understand love, and how to find it again.  “Okay, great.  I’ll teach you how to find love,” I say.  She looks pleased, and eager to hear.  The crowd looks at me like “there’s no way he’s going to pull this off.”

I start riffing on love, using parts of jokes I’ve already written that have the word ‘love’ in them.  They get a few laughs, but people can see I’m not really going straight for the heart of the topic; more just falling back on jokes.  So then I really try to dig.  I start thinking out loud.  “Love is a four letter word.”  The audience stares, silent.  I continue, “If you rearrange the letters in the word love, you get ‘velo.’  Which means ‘veil’ in Italian and Spanish.  Note that veils are worn at weddings.  And funerals.  So love is both uniting, and parting.  Happy and sad.  White and black.  Spanish and Italian.”

The audience can tell I’m struggling to find something with this.  I try again, “If you rearrange the letters in the word love… You can spell… Evolve.. If you add some more letters.”   The crowd chuckles at this ridiculousness.  I’ll ride with this.  “That’s right, if you add an extra v and an e to love, and rearrange a little, you get ‘evolve’.  Because real love makes you evolve as a human being!”  The crowd is on board now.

“So, to find love, you have to first evolve, then give up the extra v and e.”  People are laughing… But mostly because it doesn’t make sense yet.  I press on: “That’s right.   “If you’re a young lady looking for love, first focus on evolving yourself. You can only find love when you first evolve, and then… Give up the V… Which stands for… Vagina! And E, which stands for… Expectations.”  The crowd is laughing now, because I got them with their favorite topic… Genitalia! But they’re also still asking “what the f*@ck?”

I’m like “Right ladies? First, evolve, and then all you gotta do is give up the p*@@y a little bit, and relinquish your expectations, and THEN you’ll find love!”  And suddenly it all made sense.   All the dudes in the room are clapping.  The women are laughing, because it’s true.   I still have a few minutes on stage, but I get off at that pulse, because I’m not gonna top that.  The crowd cheers, and I can see her smiling.  I just helped some fella in Pleasanton get lucky tonight. 🙂

Okay, you may not think what I did there was funny, but I guess you just had to be there. More importantly, one week after this night Ric actually ended up getting back with his girl, and they are now getting married on Valentine’s Day, 2/14/14.  Crazy, right?  I’d like to credit my moment on stage for him calling her and saying the right things to get her back (though it was probably just loneliness).  But the point is, even guys have to evolve, let go of expectations, and then give up the p*@@y of their minds to find love. Yeah, the p*@@y of your mind.  Believe it, y’all.  True love.  Dave and Suzie.

Now, get out there and find someone to die slowly with.

Booed off the Stage at my Home Club

There’s a story comedians will often tell each other after a bad set, and that is the story of Dave Chappelle getting booed off the stage at the Apollo Theatre, back when he was a teen in the early 90’s. It’s a comforting story to a comic who just bombed, because Chappelle became such a huge success after what sounds like a bombing way worse than anything you or I (until recently) have experienced. Even back then Dave was funny, but he was young in comedy and this Harlem crowd was merciless. He recounts the experience as being one of the defining moments in his career, that shaped him into the comic he became later on. And thus, as a comedian, you hear this story and think, well, “Even if a crowd boo’s me off stage, I just might go on to be the next Dave Chappelle!”

Sadly though, sometimes you just get booed off stage because you…suck. The universe is trying to tell you something. I mean, it takes a lot for a crowd to boo someone off stage. The crowd is not just sitting in silence like a normal bombing; a booing takes effort, moving around, and raised voices. You really do have to anger a whole group of people all at once, which requires a special talent in itself. It’d be really interesting to have a competition, where the crowd doesn’t know, but each comedian on the show’s goal is to get the crowd to boo them offstage. I guarantee that even some of the worst comedians we know could not pull it off! Well, my friends, I pulled it off.

It’s the night after Christmas, and all through the house…no one laughs, not even their spouse. I’m returning to comedy after 2 nights off, which is the most I’ve taken since my 10 day hiatus right after my 1,000 days. I’m the kind of comedian who gets rusty real fast. Even between nights, I rust. If I take a full week off of comedy I’m like a junkyard, ready to trash the whole show and give them tetanus. Why, I’m not sure. But I know it has something to do with me being very antisocial. Whereas some comedians spend their off-time yap yap yapping, I prefer to bask in my own silence. Less noise coming out of me, the better. I often go through whole days without talking to anyone, and so when I hit the stage it’s like I’m coming out of a cave and learning words again. Suddenly, there’s a group of people in front of me expecting me to be some sort of ambassador of communication, and yet they’ve been talking more than me all day! I’ll stutter and jumble words, looking like I just started comedy for the first time. My brain will freeze and I start worrying that people will demand their money back. This is how I feel every time I return to comedy after a night or two off. It’s an icky feeling. And that’s why I did 1,000 days in a row, just to not feel that way for a while.

Maybe I should just start talking during the day? … Naaaaa.

So here I am, at Tommy T’s in Pleasanton, the stage that raised me in my early years, where I learned the art of stage presence, and how to simultaneously get a weird mix of a suburban and urban crowd on my side without being able to use my full vocabulary of words I learned at Berkeley. This is the club that’s closest to my parent’s house in Fremont, the club that called me up to perform every week when I was less than a year in and nobody knew who I was, the first place to headline me on a weekend, and the place where I won a $5,000 competition between 100 comics just less than a year ago. What I’m saying is, I know this stage. If there’s any stage I know, it’s Tommy T’s Pleasanton. I know what pleases them, and also what prickles their pickles (make them angry). I’d never had to resort to using the latter…before this night.

I’m the feature act tonight, and I notice from the opening sets that the crowd is not being very responsive to the comedians. But if anyone shouldn’t bomb, it’s the feature act, since it’s the prime middle spot, where the crowd is warm and not anxious to leave yet. So I go up thinking, “I got this.” Famous last words of a comedian before he/she bombs.

I get on stage and start doing jokes, not my best ones, and my delivery is rusty, but still I feel that I deserve more laughs than what I am yielding. I notice there’s a lot of chatter from a few of the tables. So I talk to them to get them to quiet down. But they don’t. Then I go into a joke about crack and ask if anyone there has ever done crack before, which is a rhetorical question that usually just gets a laugh, but this time, two young women raised their hands, and it was sincere. They really do crack, and one was very proud of it. “Hell yea I do crack!” she exclaimed as she raised her hand. Then, the table next to them started calling them crackheads and laughing, and then a war broke out between the tables, which started to result in an altercation, but then the pissed off members just left. So now the room is now divided, the right hates the left, and the left hates the right. Meanwhile I’m on stage doing a horrible rusty job of choosing the right jokes to keep the rest of the crowd engaged. I start talking to the table in the front that is listening, and it’s this guys first comedy show ever. I say ‘Give it up for this guy, it’s his first show!’ and no one claps. Jeez, this crowd does not want to be controlled.

I continue with jokes, getting a few laughs, but there are tables still talking over me. Finally, I snap, and say, “You know what, let’s get civilized here so I can tell my jokes and you guys can shut up and listen, because we are effectively ruining the show right now, you all by talking, and me by letting it happen” (or something like that). After I say this, I can sense their anger just boiling up. I go on with a few more jokes, and now they are laughing even less, because they, collectively, don’t like me. They already didn’t want to like me, and then when I suggest that they shut up, they liked me less. Except one table in the back is laughing. I say, ‘You guys are the best!’ which makes the rest of the crowd even more hostile because what I said seemed backhanded, even though I was really just trying to bond with the only part of the crowd that likes me.

So now, my show is almost in complete silence, so I just take a break to reshuffle my thoughts, and sigh it out. My brain freezes…. Crickets…You can hear me breathing. And then I say, ‘Well guys, I’ve got about another 10 minutes up here.” Suddenly crowd explodes with a massive “BOO!”. Here we go! It was as if they turned to each other like ‘Holy shit! 10 more minutes of this guy??! No way! We can’t let this happen! We need to boo him off” I was shocked by how the boo came out of nowhere, from complete silence, and furthermore that they were able to coordinate the boo so well with each other, when previously they seemed like a crowd that was not capable of working together to do anything. It was certain they all wanted me off. Part of me is saddened by this deliberate insult to my art, but the other part is surprisingly happy that I emitted a definite reaction from them for once. And now the purpose of this set is at least starting to have meaning.

So now I got a crowd of 100 booing at me, and of course, when all is falling apart, the club gives me the light. I could just get off now. But your boy likes to do his time, and I kinda want to punish this crowd some more. I keep moving forward with jokes, and now it’s like fighting a hail storm. I remember once watching a clip of comedian Bill Burr, where a crowd in Philly was booing him, but he kept going, and ripped on them for his remaining time. I’m not the type to rip on people, so I just keep doing my jokes. I have one guy and his girl laughing in the back and everyone else in silence or boo’s. I look at the guy in the front whose first comedy show it is, and he’s one of the crowd members booing the hardest! Really man? You have no frame of reference, this is your first show! Now I’m really feeling like a piece of sh*t. But I keep going. Now I’m doing jokes that I know they specifically won’t like. Higher brow, jokes about linguistics and religion. I start using words that I know most of them don’t understand, like ‘paradox’. I can feel the hate boiling. People are looking at me like I’m the Satan of comedy who has come to destroy the art form they once knew.

“I’ve got a few more jokes guys”, I say, and the crowd explodes again with an atomic ‘BOOOO!” Well, at least I’m unifying the crowd on something. A crowd that was once fighting each other is now in full harmony with their communal hatred for Sammy Obeid!

So I start going into sex jokes, stuff they would actually like, and it’s all still falling flat to their joke protest. That’s how much they hate me now, that they are hating jokes that they know deep down in their soul that they find funny. And I can sense, after a few of these jokes that they would like, they are starting to realize that I do have value to them, yet we’ve committed so hard to our enmity that we continue to play the game. Well, let’s play then!

“Last joke guys” BOOOOOOO.

Now part of me is feeling bad that I’m doing this at a home club of mine, so I say, “Okay, there’s two things I want you to take home tonight. 1) Keep coming back to Tommy T’s and supporting live comedy. And 2) go fuck yourselves.” The crowd is in shambles, full of “Oh no he didn’t!” and “Get this guy off!” I close with one of my best sex jokes, normally my strongest joke at Tommy T’s, it’s so right for this crowd that it actually has a lot of them laughing against their own will. I can tell the laughs hurt them. It was like I sprayed them with bullets, and then I walk off stage, and I’ve never seen a crowd so excited and rejoicing for my exit.

Walking off stage like that I felt all of embarrassed, failed, yet accomplished, and liberated. I stood my ground and didn’t surrender to them or tell them they were great when they weren’t. I don’t think I could have handled this experience a year ago or before. It would have crushed me. But even if I bomb now, I”m still the guy who did 1,000 days of comedy. I”ve been through worse.

And I didn’t let this experience stop me. I picked myself up and came back to Tommy T’s the next 3 nights in a row and did well on every show. Complete 180. Since the weekend shows at Tommy T’s are normally hot. A few nights later, I”m headlining the Crow’s Nest in Santa Cruz, and a guy and a girl come up after and say, ‘We saw you at Tommy T’s last week’. I was like, “uh-oh, what show?” They said, “The bad one, but we were the couple at the table in the back laughing” I said “You guys! You laughed when no one else did!” They say, “Yea we thought you were so funny that night that we looked you up and came out to this show to see you do a longer set. We’d also like to buy a CD.” I gave them a CD for free, signed with a big heart. Even at my worst, they were fans. And way to not follow the lead of the others that night. That’s what I like to know, that my fans are leaders, not followers or crackheads.

I won’t say that my getting booed of the stage in front of a hundred Pleasantonians was as horrifying of an experience as it was for the young Chappelle in front of thousands of Harlemmers, but I will say that it felt like a defining moment for me as well. One where I learned that I have power over people’s emotions in ways that I didn’t even know I did. And one where I learned that I could take a booing and shrug it off, because I have enough faith in myself as a performer. And I also learned that even when one bombs, there still may be future fans in the room 🙂

Either that or I completely failed to hear the universe trying to tell me to quit.

Day 909-910: Working with Chris Kattan from SNL

Kattan comedy stand-up

When I was a young lad, my dad would call my sister and I into the living room late on Saturday nights.  It was a treat to get to stay up that late, and it was only for one reason: Saturday Night Live.  My dad had been a fan during it’s golden era, and insisted on sharing it with us.  We saw him laughing at it, so we laughed too, and eventually it grew on us.  Some of the most memorable sketches were the drill sergeant, night at the Roxbury, and the one with the monkey, all featuring Chris Kattan.  My interest for SNL peaked in 96, and started to wane, until after 2000, when I could hardly watch it anymore.  I know a lot of people still watch it, and I occasionally glance and see some funny stuff, but it’s not the same.

SNL was probably my first introduction to the idea of live comedy.  Before that, all I knew was cartoons and Full House.  Flash forward about 20 years later, I get a call from Tommy T’s in Pleasanton, the club where I was bred.  I got into all of the Bay’s clubs fairly quickly, and the San Jose Improv was the first to put me up, but Tommy T’s was the first to give me regular weekly spots.  I learned most of my moves there and tried out new material so I could grow as a young comedian.  Tommy T’s is an interesting club, because it’s also a steakhouse, so you could theoretically go there just to eat.  Also it’s crowd is pretty atypical for the Bay, though very, very indicative of an American road crowd, with a preference toward urban comedy.  Low brow, racial, d*ck jokes all play well there.  Accordingly, this is how my set started.  But as I progressed and played with other crowds, namely in San Francisco, I started to raise the brow of my material, but I’d always go back to Tommy T’s, and make sure it was still palatable for them.  I think this has largely played into the comedian I have become today.  Because I like to write stuff that is rooted in my deep thought and logic, but still accessible by the general American road crowd.  I admit, not all my jokes are smart, and some of them are too smart for the road, but when I write, I always think both, ‘is this clever and sophisticated enough for San Francisco?’ and ‘is this simple, relatable, and animated enough for Tommy T’s?’  As a result, my winning jokes I’m able to do pretty much anywhere, because if they can span SF to Pleasanton, they can do pretty much anywhere in America.

Okay enough narcissistic comedy talk.  I get a call from the club and they want me to middle for Chris Kattan.  I plan a last minute drive up from LA with Julian, my documentary maker, and a guy we met on Zimride, who happened to be a film review critic, and though I didn’t ask for a career favor, I did proposition to him that he can pay me half of the gas money if he drives most of the way.  As a result I got to nap and work.  We get to Tommy T’s right as the show starts.  I found out that Chris Kattan is actually hosting, and I am closing.  Weird I thought at first, but makes sense, because he’s still new to stand up, and just wanted to have fun and work out some stuff, where as Tommy has trusted me to close weekend shows before.  The shows were all packed and hot, the crowds were a lot of fun, and I got to headline a weekend at Tommy T’s with an opener from SNL!  Pretty cool!  Kattan is a great guy.  Really nice, approachable, and not condescending in any way, which we often find successful people in showbiz can be.  Me on the other hand, after one weekend of headlining sold out shows, my ego grew a few notches.  A headlining ego, if you will…an ego that headlines its own show.   But then I saw my paycheck, and went right back down to a middling ego.