Three years ago, I was in a suicide prevention play for soldiers that ran for about six months. It was an amazing experience for a million reasons and I look back on it every so often, very fondly. I connected and built great relationships with my cast mates and real soldiers, learned so much about myself as an actor and a person, and possibly even helped save a few lives. The point of the show was to try to educate our troops on mental health. To eradicate the stigma around therapy. To eliminate the fear of simply asking for help and its potential repercussions. A line we frequently said in the show was, “If you see something, SAY something.” Ask your friend if she’s okay. Ask your friend if he’s thinking about suicide. Ask your friend for help if you’re the one who needs it, and recognize the strength and courage it takes to do so. Stand up alongside your buddy, fight for his life– but not just on the battlefield. Also at home, where stress and depression can be just as worthy adversaries. It really was a powerful thing to be a part of. Sometimes we’d see soldiers break down. On comment cards, a lot of soldiers said they saw themselves in the situations we depicted on stage, and felt better armed with this information. Many were thankful for the message and guidance. And I must say, it was also pretty damn entertaining.
Every Tuesday, a ragtag bunch of four (or more) actors and a half-bionic stage manager would schlep up to Fort Hood at 6am. We would then perform three (or was it four?) shows throughout the day to a house full of “theater-goers” whose responses were unpredictable and whose attendance was mandatory. Also, it was an interactive show. So most of the soldiers looooved to keep us on our toes and make their buddies laugh. Sharing the stage sometimes got a little crazy but most of the time, it was so much fun. Every Tuesday evening, after several hours and a few performances– each one so different from the last– we’d break everything down and make the long trek home, usually getting back sometime around 6pm. Tuesdays were always long and grueling days, but also so rewarding. I made great friends over the course of that show (and, well, also some good money!).
Between shows, and during the long drives, we actors found ourselves with tons of free time on our hands. Looking back, we killed this time in some pretty fun and creative ways: telling stories, watching YouTube videos, running lines, doing impressions of each other, playing Paper Ball Horse and Sporcle and Scrabble, rescuing cats, tasting MRE’s, writing rap songs, sleeping, singing, and challenging each other to do strange tasks, like climbing up a really high, rickety-ass ladder. On one Tuesday in particular, a very talented actress and my lovely stage-wife, “Specialist Keffer,” challenged me to do stand-up. The conditions were that I had to write it during our breaks and go with her to an open mic to perform it THAT NIGHT. Trying my hand at stand-up comedy had always been on my Fuck-It List (which is like a Bucket List, but less dire– just things you’d really love to do in life if you could only muster up enough courage to say, “fuck it”), so I accepted the challenge. I wrote the whole thing out during the first break, then accidentally deleted it, then wrote it over again during the second break (which actually turned out to be a decent way of rewriting and editing things, because you remember the really good stuff and the crap’s just gone), tried it out on my cast mates during the third break, and then tweaked it when I got back to Austin. Then I took a nap.
The place was called Kick Butt Coffee, up near Hyde Park. It was mostly populated by other open-mic comics and a few stragglers– innocent coffee-shoppers who just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. I was so nervous. I was shaking and flop-sweating and probably didn’t make a bit of sense to anyone who might have tried to engage in conversation with me. But I did it anyway. I got up and told my jokes. I. Did. It. And get this: people laughed. It was such a rush, such a high. My adrenaline was surging. Granted, a great many of my jokes fell flat. I was new, I was learning. And so sometimes, crickets. But that’s how this works. You just tweak it a little more, or try the material out on another crowd, or cut it all and write new stuff. But anyway, this was my first time. My very first foray into the world of stand-up comedy and I did not bomb. I did not puke all over the stage. I did not pee my pants and run away crying. Nay. I kicked ass that night at Kick Butt Coffee. One moment that sticks in my memory was when I was doing a couple impressions and someone shouted out, “Do Morgan Freeman!” Now, I love my Morgan Freeman. And I’m fully aware that it is in fact a terrible Morgan Freeman. Nonetheless, I love my terrible Morgan Freeman. But at that moment, I freaked out. I didn’t yet have the confidence or the light-hearted, “who cares?” attitude I’m getting more familiar with these days. So I actually said no to the guy, chickened out, and went on with my bit. Shame, I wish I’d done it anyway.
Kef and I did so well, some of the other comics invited us to try our stuff out at another place. This time, it was at a bar. Not some namby-pamby coffee shop, but an actual BAR. That’s the REAL Deal. And… I think it’s safe to say… we pretty much killed there too. FUN FACT: “Killed” is something comedians say when they think they’ve done a really good job at being funny. Yeah, so, Kef and I killed. A few days later (maybe a week?), Keffer invited me to join her for an open mic at a bar downtown (the Real REAL Deal!) called the Velveeta Room, a bar notorious for having a really cold, really tough open-mic audience. K, sure, why not…? I got there late so I was one of the very last to sign up. And since I was a newbie, I was only allowed to do a three-minute set. I drank a lot and watched a lot of comics go up on the stage and do their thing. Some were pretty good, some were pretty bad, but the rumors were true: this crowd was brutal. I was getting worried and nervous and I thought about taking off. But I convinced myself to go for it anyway. Then, right before they were supposed to call my name (I’d memorized the name of the guy before me so I’d know when I was on deck), they called up some other dude. And my heart sank a little. WHAAAA?!? I had just rebuilt my self-confidence back up and recommitted to doing this and now they’re skipping me? I thought maybe I’d been bumped to the next week’s open mic as penalty for my being late. Either way, I was wrong. I would still get to go. But first, this guy.
I wish I could remember his name so I could google him, just to see what line of work he’s in now or if he ever did stand-up again. At this point, he must have been in college. He got on the stage stumbling drunk. And this dude was awful. He might have been a riot with his buddies over at the frat house, but definitely not with these strangers at the Velveeta Room. As they say in the stand-up world (FUN FACT!), he “bombed.” Nobody seemed to dig his racist, sexist, homophobic stories (which could have possibly worked ironically, if he hadn’t been so truly and unabashedly all of the above), and all of his “jokes” were met with well-deserved silence or groans. I remember one highlight from his “set,” a story where he had to pee really bad while drunk at a party. In telling this story, Unfunny Dudebro felt the need to hold the mic to his pants and give us all an unnecessary visual, utilizing the microphone wire to simulate his piss stream. Brilliant stuff. It was painful to watch and given this audience, I began to worry for his safety. This nonsense went on and on. They flashed the wrap-it-up light. He ignored it. They flashed it again. They even flickered the stage lights but he kept on rolling like an unstoppable train wreck. Eventually, they cut off his mike, cut the lights, and the emcee had to essentially pull his ass of the damn stage. It was horrible. The crowd was hostile. And I was up next.
Here are my reasons for writing and sharing all of this:
1) Between Fort Hood, doing stand-up, and everything else (RED, Spain, etc.), that was a pretty intense and important summer for me. Lots of crazy experiences and stories, good and bad, all over the place. So many of these memories, I want to write down before they all start to fade. Anyway, this whole stand-up comedy portion of that summer in particular has been rolling around in my head more constantly for the last few weeks. Mostly because…
2) I’m thinking about doing stand-up again. In my attempts to finish a screenplay and sell it and make all my dreams come true, I keep getting distracted with jokes. Some of which are actually kinda funny too (well, they make ME laugh). I have tons of fragments and ideas written out in my Notes app under the heading “Scratch.” And lately, I’ve been getting this burning urge to get up and try it again. I’m curious to see how I’d do at an open mic in L.A. (the REALREALREAL Deal!!), and this blog is a sort of self-pep-talk. So if you think I’m moderately funny, stay tuned. I might invite you to come see me try out some new material. It’ll most likely be a last minute heads-up on some random Monday night. At like 1:40am. You probably can’t make it.
3) I just recently got video of the whole thing. Just before I arrived at the Velveeta Room, I put a quick post about it up on Facebook. I wanted to let people know that I was doing it, and give a little notice, but I was too scared to send out any real invitation and didn’t really think anybody would come. But a handful of people did, some of my best friends in the whole wide world. Aaaaaand… they recorded it. Three weeks ago, during my AMAZING trip to Texas (be sure to check out THAT awesome blog post, when I write it, if ever), Cody finally gave me a copy of the video. And so now, I think I’ll share it with you. Remember though, it’s dated. Like three years old. And I feel like I should warn you: it’s a comedy show, so there’s some language in it. If you’re easily offended, and/or one of my more conservative cousins, you probably shouldn’t watch it. Just don’t. Really. I drop an arsenal of F-bombs, to say the least, and that might be upsetting to you. Okay, well, you’ve been warned. Otherwise, all of you (all 3 of you) who might be reading and watching this, feel free to enjoy it. Maybe even have a laugh. And if you don’t, feel free to be nice and not blow up my comments with negative jerk crap. And if you’re not nice, feel free to write something funnier, stand up in front of a room full of strangers, and see just what you’re made of. Make sure you send me the video.
Without further ado, I present my clunkier, chunkier, innocent, and inexperienced 2010 self. Telling some jokes.
You’ve been a lovely audience. Leave a comment. Try the veal.
I recently moved into a new apartment. The reasons for the move are long and complicated and I’ll just save all that for another post. This one’s about spiders. So I moved into the basement apartment of a friend’s house in Glendale. It’s okay so far. Kindof out of the way, definitely a hike from my various jobs. But so far, I like the area and I really like the apartment. I’m getting used to it. First time I’ve ever moved into a new place to live by myself. And it’s interesting. It’s also really scary, lonely, depressing, and cold. But interesting. I’m facing my fears, and facing myself. The fear of death, the fear of being alone, the fear of dying alone in my apartment and nobody finding me for a few months. I’m not good at being alone. But I’m working on it. I’m making progress. I’m making it my own and working through this whole, hard process.
Somewhere around, I dunno, Day 2 or Day 3, I decided it was high time I took a shower. Nice, hot water… shampoo… cleansing… relaxing… it was great… and then… SPIDER-ATTACK! SPIDERS EVERYWHERE!!!! Really, there was just one. On the wall nearby. I saw it and told myself I could deal with A spider. I’ll just mind my own business, have my shower, and I’ll be out of it’s way. No biggie. So I stared at it. I continued to shower, but I kept an eye open and on it. I had to make sure it didn’t randomly decide to attack and KILL ME while I was washing/rinsing/repeating. Then I looked up and noticed a web in the corner, with like 8 other spiders. I have to admit, I did let out a little embarrassing scream. For like 3 seconds, I froze. I tried to calm myself down. “They’re fine! They’re not hurting anything! Spiders probably don’t like getting wet anyway. So they’ll keep to their corner and you’ll keep to yours and it’ll all be over soon.” I tried to breath, tried to bathe in the opposite corner.
Then it dawned on me that I have no clue what a Black Widow looks like. Or a Brown Recluse. And there may be at least 9 of these murderous bastards dangling over my head right now. And I freaked out. They were no longer “keeping to their corner,” but biding their time. Planning their attack. Figuring out the best way to kill me where I stand. So I destroyed them all. I raged, naked, in the shower, splashing water everywhere, dancing around so they don’t manage to land on me, shuffling my feet to make sure everything goes right down the drain to Hell where they belong. I killed an entire family of spiders that day. And I don’t feel bad about it. Because they’re disgusting.
I don’t know where it came from. I think it’s always been there. I used to make fun of my sister for supposedly having Entomophobia (a fear of insects), a defense she would proclaim and seek refuge in anytime my brother and I would torture her. But seriously, I mean she said she was even afraid of butterflies. Ladybugs, for chrissakes. Anyway, I’ve always secretly hated and feared the spiders. In my adult years, it’s become less of a secret. It’s also become less of a quiet fear and more of a paralyzing, screaming, kill-it-before-it-kills-me, panicky type of nightmare. I’ve embarrassed myself on many occasions, running away in fright, begging someone else to kill them for me. Oftentimes, it’s been a girl. And that’s embarrassing. I’m a man. I don’t know why I can’t stand them. I’ve had a spider bite before. It hurts a little but it’s no big deal. Mosquito bites suck way worse and I’m not afraid of them.
I remember watching Arachnophobia with Jeff Daniels when I was a kid and being absolutely terrified. And I’m pretty sure that movie actually really really sucked anyway. I also remember my brother making me watch some old movie where a town was attacked by giant spiders. Ugghh. Still makes me shiver. Worse than Freddy, Jason, or Leatherface, were spiders. Even Charlotte gave me the willies.
Later that night, I went to bed. I kept thinking about spiders crawling all over me. Climbing in and out of my nose while I sleep. Laying eggs in my cheek like the girl in that horrifying Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark story, “The Red Spot.”
I couldn’t sleep. I saw a spot on the ceiling that might be a spider, so I’ll have to watch it. I decided spiders like corners, so I drug my bed out to the middle of the room. Still couldn’t sleep. They spin webs! They can just fly right over and kill you! Tossing. Turning. Miserable. I went to the bathroom and found a spider had made a home between the plunger and the wall next to the toilet. Evil bastard. He was too big though, so I took a picture of him and left him there for the moment.
I got back in bed and saw that the spot on the ceiling was no longer there. I knew it was now coming for me. So I tore out of bed and ran outside to smoke and do some research, ummm, on the web.
Knowledge is Power
I found tons of people who have Arachnophobia, sometimes debilitating cases. Panic-attacks, hyperventilating, vomiting, etc. Glad I’m not there. But the sudden rush of fright that takes over and makes me lose it still is there, and I have to fix it somehow. I know it’s irrational. So I decided to first admit it: I have Arachnophobia. Blehh. I found several blogs with horrible horror stories (and pictures), often still making me feel skeeved out. I found one thread that recommended finding Jesus as a way of overcoming paralyzing irrational fears. Does that mean spiders come from the Devil? I’ll accept that. Then I found a site detailing several strategies used to help overcome phobias, like hypnosis, acupuncture, virtual reality therapy (?), and cognitive immersion therapy. This last one involves trapping the patient in with whatever he’s afraid of and letting him LOSE HIS MIND, then hopefully come out okay. Sounds like a hoot, but I think I’ll pass.
I came up with my own strategy. In movies, you always see a hitman tell the new guy not to look the hit in the eye. Don’t get their name, don’t find out anything about them, because it makes it harder to complete the job. When you take into account the other person’s real life, it becomes much more difficult to end that life. So that’s the approach I’m taking. First, I looked at a ton of disgusting pictures. This is what an evil Black Widow looks like. And this is the flesh-eating Brown Recluse. Know them. So if they ever show up, you can obliterate them. Fortunately, the family I killed were not these assholes. They are these: Cellar Spiders (which makes sense, as I now occupy a cellar). Here’s what I’ve learned about them:
- They are virtually harmless.
- They kill other scarier spiders.
- They trap and kill flies and gnats.
- They find and eat food particles dropped on the floor nearby.
- They spin silk, which makes for a much uglier little web.
- They hang upside down from their webs.
- When predators/prey are close, they vibrate in their web to confuse them.
So essentially, objectively, yeah, some pretty cool stuff. I especially like the idea of them killing the spiders I hate more. And cleaning up after me. Having this information let me breathe a little easier. I know my fear’s irrational and I know I want to overcome it. And I know it’ll probably take some time and baby steps. So I went back to the bathroom and stared at the spider next to the toilet plumbing. I talked to it. I thanked him for killing the other spiders that I hate worse than him. I thanked him for taking care of the crumbs around the house. I apologized for slaughtering several of his possible relatives. Then I made a deal with him: I would allow him to hang out and continue to live in this apartment rent-free as long as he maintained his cleaning chores, stayed over by the toilet, and left me the hell alone. Then I named him Mario.
I make sure he’s there every day. It brings me a little comfort. If he were to disappear, I’d probably freak out a little bit. I have a pet spider named Mario and if he runs away and I find him again, I will kill him on sight. But we get along for now. I talk to him from time to time. Thank him for upholding his end of our arrangement. Compliment his ugly web. I took another picture of him the other day and it worries me a little.
It worries me because it looks like he hasn’t moved. He might in fact be dead. Which wouldn’t suck, but at the same time kindof would. I blew on his web to see if it’d make him vibrate. No response. But today, another spider showed up. He built a home a ways above Mario’s and is a lot bigger. It makes me a little anxious, mostly because he’s bigger and he now makes the count of tolerable spiders in my apartment more than one. So he may not last very long. I may eventually have to annihilate him. But for now, for the moment, he can stay too.
I named him Luigi.