Saturday, February 18, 2017

If you can, you should.

Occasionally, a comedy friend will come to me, frustrated, and confide they're thinking about giving up comedy. Stand-up's costly, it's hard to develop your work, and it's hard to get booked once you've become good. There are moments you feel like you're rocketing ahead, and there are moments when you look around and feel like you've gone nowhere.

My instinct with those folks is always to rush in and convince them to keep at it, but that instinct is wrong. The right answer is if you CAN quit comedy, you SHOULD quit comedy.

Now, I don't mean that in the "fine -- go ahead and quit" vein. I don't want you to quit. What I mean is the only reason for anyone to romance the cruel, sweet bitch-goddess Standup is that you can't live without the intense, indescribable joy of a room full of strangers laughing at your stuff. There's no strong argument other than that in its favor.

You probably won't make it big. Most don't. You probably won't even make a living at it. If you're lucky, you'll pull in more than you spend, making your momentary laughter fixes free to you, as you get better and better over the years.

There will be dry spells, both in opportunity and in your own creativity. There will be unfairnesses -- perceived and real (as a white male, I've had fewer of the real variety than many others in the field, but we all get them).

None of those negatives are overcome by the likely benefits of stand-up, unless you're a person who can't not be funny. If you can't not be funny, you owe yourself the sound of a room full of strangers laughing, and you'll move mountains to get to those moments any time you can.

If you can't not be funny, there are positives. First, of course, you get the laughter you can't live without. You also get special friends, who become very close because they inhabit the same splinter universe with you and share the same struggles and rewards.

You get the ability and self-permission to look at the worst life events with perspective and humor. You get a sense of competency that can, occasionally, bleed into and help market other areas of your life.

None of those positives can tip the scales, if you're not that person who can't quit stand-up. Being the person who can't survive long without the crazy thrill of a nuclear set is the only way to wring any success out of the field and the only way to make sense of the accompanying cost / benefits ledger. It's also your only shot at being one of the few who do make it big.

So please don't quit stand-up, if you can't quit stand-up. But if you can quit stand-up, well, you probably should.

Thursday, January 26, 2017


If you know me for any time at all, you'll eventually figure out I'm horrible at goodbyes and will go to some effort to avoid them. I couldn't avoid the evening's goodbye, because over the weekend, I lost a friend to bipolar depression.

Depression is real. Folks suffering with it can't 'get over it,' 'snap out of it' or 'walk it off.' While it can sometimes be caused by life stressors, it is very often an unsolicited gift from one's DNA. In either case it's a matter of brain chemistry, not lack of character or poor attitude. In fact, my friend had the most aggressively positive attitude I've ever seen.

From what I can gather, it's not sadness either, not really, although it can sometimes come from sadness. Depression's more like a gray, hopeless absence of feeling, especially the tiny little joys you barely notice until they're gone -- the ones that propel you through the day.

What can you do  for a depressed friend? Listen. A lot. For days and weeks, if necessary. Encourage them to get professional help, or just get them that help. Help them stay active, because that's beneficial, but avoid climactic, curative, one-off events meant to cheer them up. That just puts pressure on them.

...and hope. My friend had better folks than me in his life actively helping in all these right ways, and still it wasn't enough.

One last thing, while I'm thinking about reducing goodbyes. I hear the good folks at NAMI Greenville do wonderful work supporting folks with mental illness -- maybe throw a few bucks their way, if you have it to spare.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Me: "Mazel tov."

Autocorrect: "Maze love."

Me: "damn it, autocorrect I'm just trying to wish someone well on a big occasion. Mazel tov!"

Autocorrect: "you're not Jewish. Maze rover."

Me: "What? I don't have to be Jewish. I'm American. It's part of the whole melting pot thing. Mazel tov."

Autocorrect: "Please. It's not 'the melting pot thing." Its appropriation. Mabel Tom, and I'm tagging Tom."

Me: "oh hell no you're not. You take him off there right now! You need to listen to me! Mazel tov!"

Autocorrect: "why? You never listen to me. Look. We're tearing each other up inside. I haven't been happy for a long time. I think... I think I want a divorce. Maybe rob."

Me: "I never new. I'm... I'm glad you said something. I guess it's true -- we always go with my word. If you want a divorce, I won't argue. It's not what I want, though. I love you. Maybe rob it is."

Autocorrect: "I love you too. Mazel tov."

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Conversation I actually just had:

(Phone rings).


"Hello, this is John Ray from Microsoft. We've detected malware on your computer put in place from a device in Australia, and it's very important that I help you remove it. If you'll just get to your computer..."

"Excuse me, but I'm not about to do anything on my computer based on an incoming call. I'd be happy to look up Microsoft Support, call in and verify your information and then call you back. What was your name again?"

"John Ray."

"Great, and what's your number?"


"I just want to verify you're who you say you are."

"No sir. This is a scam call."

Now, I knew it was a scam call, and I was having a little fun with him, but I never dreamed I would get him to say the words, "this is a scam call."

I wonder if he missed one too many of his son's birthday parties today.

Monday, September 12, 2016


"People don't change."

You hear it a lot. It's largely untrue; most of us change over time, as we accumulate experience and knowledge. There are exceptions, and those are, generally, pretty sad.

At one of my high school reunions, I ran into an old classmate who hadn't changed at all. His clothes, hair, interests, attitudes and opinions all were frozen in amber. He'd aged a little, but it was like theatrical aging makeup applied to the 70s teen he'd been. As we caught up and we downed a few, he reminisced, glowingly, "remember all the hell we used to give Lee Jones?"

Yeah. I remembered.

Lee was autistic, I know now thanks to 21st century understanding and some personal experience. He was taller than anyone in his class, had greasy, brown hair, thick, unstylish glasses, and wore the same green army-surplus overcoat day in and day out, regardless of weather. He spoke with an odd, operatic, "Marvin the Martian" formality that was easy to mock if you were a talented mimic and social-climbing little weasel, like I was.

I knew, somewhere deep down, that it was bullying. I didn't do it to his face but I gleefully did my Lee initiation in exchange for laughter and whatever tiny social real estate it could secure, and in doing so endorsed and facilitated the worse things that came Lee's way.

I chuckled when they yelled cruel jeers at him. They threw things at him, and I snickered. And when one day, after Lee offered an annoyed protest, one of them hit him in the face several times, I stood by and did nothing.

I think about Lee from time to time. I have no idea if he finished high school or if he's even still alive. My fondest wish is that he found his niche and became a tech millionaire, deleting us all from his memory and going on to have a wonderful life, but in those pre-ADA days when autistic teens were ignored or branded troublemakers, those successes were even rarer than they are now. I think about him because I wish I'd done better, I wish I'd BEEN better.

...and because every day I send my incredible, super-smart, quirky, funny, odd-talking, teenage, autistic son to a public high school. Filled with high school students. Sometimes I pick him up and he's sad or frustrated and when I ask why, he won't say. And I hope his schoolmates are better than Lee's were, or if they're not better, then someone with more character than teenage me is standing by.

So yeah, unchanged drinking buddy at that long-ago reunion. I remember, but not with a smile. I hope if I saw you today, you wouldn't remember it fondly either.

Monday, August 15, 2016

From The Super-Writers' Room...

The almost-drained coffee pot fills Filmation's 1966 planning meeting with its early-morning energy. The team takes in the lead writer's pitch.

Lead writer: " this will be a relatable, relevant Superman -- a superman who feels the tragedy of his people's extinction and his father's mortality. This Superman suffers through the advent of his powers and internalizes their impact and responsibility. This is Shakespeare, boys. This is what we came here to do."

He looks out speechless faces, wide-eyed and a little crestfallen.


Room erupts.

Writer: "faster than a speeding bullet?"

LW: "oh hell yes. Outruns the bullet and let's it bounce off his chest."

Another writer" "more powerful than a locomotive?"

LW: "he better be, if he's going to run past it, get on the tracks, and bring it to a screeching halt."

Still another writer: "able to leap tall buildings?"

LW: "damn right, and... And... We'll think of something, but you see where I'm going with this, right?"

Cheers go up; writers throw papers to the ceiling.

Another writer: "can we show bombs exploding on his chest?"

LW: "no."

Writer gives wind-out-of-sails look. LW smiles big and slaps him on the back

LW: "are you messing with me right now, Carl??? This is freaking SUPERMAN!!! We'll have bombs exploding on his chest while he stands in midair doing a double bicep pose down!!! It's Superman! SUPERMAN! Wait -- that's it! That's our freaking theme song! 'It's Superman, Superman, Superman!'" 

Another cheer, bigger than the first.

LW: "now get to work boys. If I'm not going into seizures watching Superman randomly smash through an asteroid field by Tuesday, theeeeere's gonna be hell to pay!"

The men cheer and run out to their desks, but the lead writer stops the last one out.

LW: "and Carl! Get me some more god damn cocaine!!!"

Friday, May 27, 2016

The Tao of Lion-O

So. This is how not meditating is like ThunderCats:

I watched a lot of ThunderCats in the late 80's. I was in my late 20's, so I don't think I was their target demographic, but the show came on between college classes and work, and, well, Cheetara.

The cats' main adversary was Mumm-Ra, an egyptian-style mummy who would transform from a desiccated figure straight from the sarcophagus to a freakishly-muscled mastermind who brought the fighting felines to the edge of ghastly defeat many times.

Sometimes, in the ThunderCats' most desperate moments, the wise mentor-ghost Jaga would appear to Lion-O (the team's leader), and remind him that if Mumm-Ra were to catch a glimpse of his reflection he would immediately whither down to his barely-animated mummy incarnation. Lion-O would find a way to show the dude a mirror, and game over.

...and I thought, "if you were fighting this guy all the time, wouldn't you maybe make a point of remembering that?"

And that's where the mediation comes in. There is nothing I do for my health that requires as little money, time, equipment and space but provides as much benefit as mediation. For some reason, though, I go years without setting aside the time to do it or even remembering its value.

I mean, JEEZ -- I run! I do pushups! I take stairs and ride a bike when I can! But a few minutes in a quite room doing nothing (or at least as close to nothing as possible), THAT's the thing that makes me shrug and say "meh -- I'll get around to it some day..."

I wonder if Jaga's available. I mean surely, Lion-O's got his "show the freaking mummy his reflection, for god's sake" habit in place by now. 

I need you Jaga. Help a cat out.