Wednesday, October 26, 2016

It was the Worst of Gigs...And the Best of Gigs

Last year I performed at the Marion County Fair. It was the worst gig I’ve ever done, and I have done some shitty gigs. I once performed at a Beef ‘O’Brady’s in Scottsburg, Indiana. I once performed at a prison in LeGrange, KY, where halfway through five inmates walked out (this was exceptionally upsetting to watch, as it quickly dawned on me that they were just going back to their cell).
 I’ve done some shitty gigs, but this was by far the worse.
And it’s not that I didn’t know it was going to be bad, I just thought it was going to be fun bad. I imagined I would get there and find out I was opening for a pig. “First you’ll come up,” the booker would say, “warm them up a little, and then we’ll have Blue-Ribbon Betsy come out. She’ll do an hour…an hour fifteen…and then we’ll eat Blue Ribbon Betsy, then we’ll all go home.”
That’s what I imagined it would be like. But it was so much worse.
First, I get to the Fair. It’s a nice fair. Very quaint, Southern. There is a “performance artist” with a chainsaw carving planks of wood into faces of Confederate Generals; there is a booth where they serve deep-fried, doughnut burgers for people who are impatient to get a heart attack; there are rides that seem legitimately scary. I don’t mean fast, I mean unregulated. It was the first time I was terrified to go on a Ferris Wheel. 
Also, there was harness racing. Harness racing is similar to regular horse racing except the horse is attached to a two-wheeled, wooden cart sat in by a morbidly obese man in sleeveless flannel. Like a white trash version of Gladiator.  
There were 12 tired looking people on the bleachers watching this.
They weren’t betting on the horses. It was purely for the cruelty.
But the weird thing is no one was at the fair.
Like 30, 40 people tops.
So I asked the guy running the Event- an elderly gentleman in camouflage and a Sam-Elliot-thick moustache named Bill- where everyone was.
“Well,” Bill began in a Southern accent that bespoke years of worry and doom, “it’s been hard to get people to come to the fair over the years.”
“Bout 10 years ago…there was a tractor pull, and a pole flung out, went through a guy’s head in the bleachers, and out the back of his skull.”
“He didn’t die, but he’s never been the same since.”
“Two years later, one of the carts fell off the Ferris Wheel…That person died.” He scratched his moustache. “Ever since then, it’s been hard to get people to come to the fair. That’s why we had the comedy show tonight. We were hoping it would get people out. As you can see…that didn’t happen. But we’re still gonna have the show, but don’t bring up the guy with the pole, cause he’s here tonight, and he’s sensitive about it.”
“Where is the show even happening?”
He pointed to the race track. “Once the horses are done racing, we’re gonna drive a pick up truck up to the race track, and you’ll perform on the back of the truck to the people on the bleachers.”
 I started to worry that this was going to go very badly. Performing on the back of a pick-up truck? I was a comedian, not George Wallace running for governor.
And also, there were only 12 people on the bleachers, and they were about 200 feet away from the race track. Even if they laughed hysterically at every joke, you wouldn’t be able to hear it. And contrary to how most comedy clubs are designed in this country, hearing laughter is crucial to a good show. Comedians are damaged people. They need to hear the laughter. They need the validation.
This was going to go very badly…

The show begins. First, Bill drives the pick up truck on to the race track and stands on the back of it.
“How yer all doin?” he asks.
I looked back at the 12 people on the bleachers. No response.
“Well before we begin, a couple quick announcements. Horse Number 4, Harriet, the one who crashed in the second race. I’m afraid we did have to put her down.”
“With that out of the way, you ready for the comedy show?”  
“Our first comedian is…”
More silence. But this was a silence I had grown accustomed to my entire life. People- first teachers, then hosts at open mics- staring down at the name “Raanan Hershberg” trying to wrap their heads around this Jewy tongue-twister.  
“Ladies and gentlemen,” he finally said. “Give it up for Ronald Harrington.”
Somehow, in a matter of seconds, he had managed to completely De-Jew my name.

 “How’s it going?” I asked, after spending the last three minutes awkwardly scrambling on to the back of the pick up truck.
Nothing. Just breeze. I couldn’t even see the 12 people’s faces. I wasn’t even certain they were alive. Perhaps they were all the patrons who had died in freak accidents at the fair over the years- all placed in sitting positions on the bleachers. Just 12 Weekend-at-Bernie-Corpses staring blankly at me.
 I had never been so far away from so few people before. 
“Good to be here,” I said. And then I went into my set.
Not only was it silent, I couldn’t even make out their facial expressions. Some people can enjoy shows without laughing. Old, white men in particular. Not too keen on laughing. Laughter- they seem to say with their blank stares- that’s for black people and women.
But I couldn’t make out anything. After 10 minutes, I finally stopped.
“Look, I can’t do this,” I said to the 12 outlines 200 feet away from me. “Comedy is about interaction, it’s about communication. Not this. I need to know if you like these jokes. That’s part of it. It doesn’t matter that I’ve done these jokes a thousand times. It doesn’t matter. See…I hate myself. So I constantly need validation. I have a damaged Ego. That’s why I am standing on the back of a pick up truck on a race track in Marion County performing for 12 people two hundred feet away on bleachers. I need constant validation. Or I need to bomb. One or the other. But this- I don’t know what this is. I don’t even know if I’m doing badly. So here’s the deal…If I make a joke that you like, just raise your hand. Okay…Raise your hand now if you understand what I’m saying?”
The 12 people raised their hands.
So they’re alive. I know that at least. I took a breath, and said my next joke.
I don’t remember what the joke was, all I remember is the distinct image- now burned permanently into my brain- of no one raising their hands. 
“Great…before it was a mystery, now I know I’m bombing.”
And just then…one outline, to the far right, sitting alone, raised their hand. Not completely up in the air, more of a half-raise- like the equivalent of a mild chuckle, or when someone says “That’s Funny” but they don’t laugh like a douchebag.
But it did something to me. It gave me the confidence to keep on going. I had made an interaction. I had made contact.
I did another joke. Two more people raised their hand. I did another joke. One more person raised their hand. I did another joke. 4 people raised their hands! 4 out of 12!
I was killing.
Finally, I got the end.
“Thank you so much,” I said to the 12 outlines two hundred feet away that I had finally learned how to communicate with. “I learned a lot tonight. I learned that my Ego is so damaged I don’t even need laughter to give it a boost. Any form of communication will do. I also learned that there will never be a time in my life where that void or whatever it is will be filled. I will always be looking for validation. From anyone. No matter the situation. I hope you enjoyed this thing I did. Or some of you enjoyed it at least. I hope some of you liked it…

Did you?” 

Saturday, January 19, 2013

F.D.A. Approved

             Every day I take a little speed
            I find that it helps to motivate me 
            And whenever my stress gets out of hand
            That's when I down some Diazepam 
            But you don’t got to worry about these drugs I do
            Cause they've all been FDA Approved

            And whenever I think back on all the coke I used to do 
            Man, I must have snorted half of Peru
            And I used to smoke so much weed
            Sober felt like being high to me
            But now I’m a good Samaritan through and through
            All my highs have been FDA Approved

            My parents used to think that I had a problem
            All my friends were so sure I had hit rock bottom
            But now they just sigh and say I'm doin' fine 
            Who knew you could be high and still walk the line?
            Oh but you can, you can, the minute you choose
            Drugs that have been FDA Approved
            Back in the day when I'd take a puff of haze
            It would always end with me in handcuffs getting hauled away 
            But if you don’t want the Law to throw you into prison 
            You better show 'em cops that your pot comes with a prescription
            Oh, you can have your cake and sell it to buy drugs too 
            Just as long as those drugs have been FDA Approved

            And now that I'm finally back to being a member of society
            Certain things are required of me
            If I jump off a ledge, I better land on my head
            Cause suicide’s a crime if you don’t wind up dead
            And my body, well, it ain’t mine to abuse
            Not until the abuse has been FDA Approved 

Friday, January 18, 2013


       Not worth considering for too long
       but I'll confess
       when it comes to fantasies to help you get through the day
       this one is the best.
       A final decision in a life made up of so many indecisions
       A firm direction in a life so full of second guesses  
       A journey, a decision, a statement
       Going off book, missing your cue,  
       The fast forward button on a movie where the ending has already been ruined for you
       Something hasty, something impetuous,
       something alluring
       Especially on a day
       That isn’t just not exciting
       But on days when excitement itself feels boring 
       A real incentive, a go getter, an Uplifter
       The definition of a game changer
       Growing tired of always changing
       in a game that never does 
       Throwing away your heart after watching it
       get handled
       by someone who can’t love
       The need to do something for once
       That doesn’t get undone
       The embodiment of giving up
       A sigh to end all sighing
       A lie to end all lying
       A middle finger to all those posters about how you should never stop trying
       Something to do on a rainy day
       when the only board game in the house is monopoly and you already played it five times
       Exercise for the lazy
       The last work out
       The last Yoga Class
       The last bout  
       The last place where they still accept cash
       The last waltz,
       the last time you rent the Last Waltz,
       The last midnight, the last dance, the last time you get cum on your pants,
       The last time you miss the buss, the last kiss,
       The last time you do anything else
       The first time you’ll do this
       The last time you’ll do it too
       Something you know you won’t have any problem committing to 
       A resting place for the wandering Jew
       Throwing the chessboard over 
       when you know the other player’s got you beat in five moves 
       Cutting the strings off the guitar where that guy in the Picasso painting is
       forever playing the blues 
       Watching the future get crushed underneath the waves of the past
       Leaving the track before you have to see your horse come in last 
       A change to end all changes
       The last wind that uproots the last grain of wheat,
       The missing puzzle piece in the puzzle you can’t ever seem to complete, 
       A choice in a life where you feel as if you haven’t chosen anything 
       Sometimes a good reason
       Sometimes because you can’t see the forest from the trees where you’re screaming 
       Sleeping the whole day through
       so you won’t have to wake up to another dream that doesn’t come true
       The last thing to forget
       The first thing you won’t regret
       Cutting off your nose to spite your face
       Throwing the baby out with the bath water
       Moving back in with your mother and father   
       Looking at the sun after it becomes too blinding
       Seeking death while death is still seeking the place
       Where he still thinks you’re hiding
       Dumping out the food before it spoils 
       Unshuffling this mortal coil 
       Lifting the world off the back of a turtle 
       Buying a one way ticket to the 7th Circle
       Unwinding the clock, unlocking the wind
       Unraveling the clouds, unknotting the sea
       Losing everything you’ve ever found
       To finally find out what losing really means
       Freeing up your time
       Clearing up your schedule
       Giving away all the things you said 
       you’d give away in your will
       A good exit line at a party that you’ve been dragged to against your will
       And everyone there are people you’ve been forced to talk to 
       So you lock yourself in the bathroom
       And you feel trapped- mentally, spiritually, metaphorically,
       And also cause you just locked yourself in the bathroom
       And you look in the mirror and never have you seen clearer
       The bars of the cage that you’ve never not been looking through
       And life is a dream someone else is dreaming for you
       A roulette wheel that someone else placed money down on
       for you
       A sinking ship you never bought a ticket to
       And there’s never been a place you’ve been that you weren’t dragged to
       There’s never been a book you didn’t read because you had to
       Someone you didn’t love because love forced it out of you
       And just then
       You remember 
       That you can leave this party anytime
       And that, though it wasn’t your decision to attend,
       It can be always be your decision to fast forward to the end
       And if bailing casts a shadow on the party for the other guests,
       Well sometimes it can be quite liberating to not give a shit. 
       To wedge the end into the middle of whatever thing it is 
       you’ve awoken to find yourself in
       And suddenly, you can breathe again 
       And your face looks much brighter in the bathroom mirror
       And that trapped feeling is no longer the expression you’re wearing
       And the heavy luggage you were holding you realize is no longer that heavy
       or maybe it’s that you’re not holding it any longer
       And you smile to yourself
       And go back and join the party.