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Talking About Willie at The Moth: Funk Like That Never Dies

July 30th, 2011 by Jeff Simmermon

I used to live in Richmond, Virginia, in a row house that was exactly the color of a bunch of dirty old Band-Aids. My rent was $175 per month, and a schizophrenic street mystic named Willie used to come over several times a week and demand to hear Rick James’ “Ghetto Life.” He and his lady would dance to it, over and over, all day long until we had to kick them out.

I told a story about the experience at The Moth at Housing Works Bookstore in SoHo, NYC back on June 23rd — you can see video of it here:

Willie is one of those rare people who is both a classic archetype and a completely unique individual. I can see how someone might see my story and think I’m reaching for this cartoonish stereotype of an older cracked-out street character, not unlike Chappelle’s Tyrone Biggums or Richard Pryor’s Mudbone. Except I’m white, too, and I worry sometimes that I could be perceived as indulging in a reductive racist stereotype on top of whatever else is going on in that story.

Then I think “fuck that, just because I’m white doesn’t mean I don’t get to have a real, complicated friendship with a black man who is literally too funky to function within mainstream society.” It really happened, you know. You change things around a little to make your memories fit a story arc, but Willie is real as hell.

Possibly too real.
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Hogan’s Heroes – Revenge by Sitcom

April 1st, 2011 by Cyndi Freeman

My fascination with Wonder Woman started when I was a kid. Wonder Woman’s first season was set during WWII and she was a brunette just like me and kicking Nazi ass. This was the same year that I was learning about the Holocaust in Hebrew school

My other favorite show was Hogan’s Heroes.

There was no chick who looked just like me, but they were cool guys thwarting Nazis. This prompted me and a friend from Hebrew school named Janet to write our own script entitled Wonder Woman Meets Hogan’s Heroes. Alas, I do not have any documentation of this fine work of art. But for months we acted out the scenes that we crafted in her basement.

So while doing my research on my Wonder Woman show, I did a look into Hogan’s heroes and discovered. Almost all the Nazi characters were played by Jewish actors, many of whom had lost their families at the hands of the Nazis. There is a tribute site that has been set up for them – Hogan’s Jews - It is an informative and entertaining read.

But, here are some other things I’d like to share. Now the show has always had its critics and I have always disagreed with them.

Several years back The Boston Globe printed an article written by reporter Renee Graham, she had this to say about the show,

“Call this political correctness if you like, but under no circumstances should a film of `Hogan’s Heroes’ be made. For those who don’t remember, this was the 1960′s World War II comedy starring Bob Crane, Werner Klemperer and John Banner that presented the Nazis as the biggest cutups since the Keystone Kops. Let’s be clear here: Nazis are never, ever funny. Ever. So it’s with great joy that I report that the film version of `Hogan’ is on ice, at least for now.”

Where I respect her disdain of Nazis (yick!) I accept her outrage but counter it with this:

“I was never crazy about Hitler,” says Mel Brooks. Who was? But even now, more than 50 years after the fall of the Third Reich, the man who masterminded the extermination of more than 7 million people is still handled with care, as if the magnitude of his crime demands no less. Brooks had the guts, and gall, to realize that the simplest way to demolish Hitler was to mock him.

“If you stand on a soapbox and trade rhetoric with a dictator you never win,” says Brooks, 75. “That’s what they do so well; they seduce people. But if you ridicule them, bring them down with laughter–they can’t win. You show how crazy they are.”

Hogan’s Heroes was revenge through sitcom.
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A Giant Lizard Ate My Pants: “Into the Wild” on the Moth Podcast

February 27th, 2011 by Jeff Simmermon

I had the honor of performing in The Moth’s GrandSLAM back in January at the Highline Ballroom here in New York City. The night’s theme was “Into the Wild.” Naturally, I told another story about the brief period of time I spent working as an assistant to a kangaroo shooter in the Australian Outback.

I’ve been to that well before, and I think I’ve about beat that thing to death by now. Still, I’m glad I was able to squeeze another story out of it.

It’s not every day that a giant lizard tries to eat your blood-soaked pants. And the opportunity to talk about having a giant lizard steal my pants on a kangaroo shooting trip doesn’t really come up in conversation at the office all that much either.

So I’m really glad I got to use that little gem for something. I’ve probably forced it a few times too many over the years.

The Moth was awesome enough to include my story in their podcast today, too. I’ve wanted to make their podcast for years, and it’s a pretty huge honor. I feel like running down the hall at work high-fiving people, but I’m pretty sure that opportunity’s not going to present itself either.

Here’s a video of me telling that story from today’s Moth podcast at the January GrandSLAM, in case you’re stumbling in off the Internet and wondering if I am, in fact, a bald-headed white dude with glasses and a suit:

If you want to see more stories, you can do that here, here, and here.
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“The Bender” by Schaffer The Darklord

December 10th, 2010 by Brad Lawrence

A friend of mine, Schaffer The Darklord, who is very creative, asked one of our other creative friends, director Burke Heffner,  to help him do something very funny. Then they asked a bunch of other folks from the burlesque scene to lend a hand (including Cyndi and me – though I have a lens flare for a head, thank you Burke – Peter Aguero, Magdelena Fox, Jenny C’est Quoi, Boo Bess the Baroness, Rosie 151, Mary Cyn, Stormy Leather, Victoria Privates, Big Heath, and the list goes on.)

Anyway, they succeeded in making something very funny. It is an over the top parody of the life of a Nerdcore rapper who can’t decide if what lies before him is a slippery slope or a toboggan run. The result is goofy, fun, and not necessarily safe for work.

Our journey begins with Nelson Lugo and Hard Cory trying to get our protagonist home safely…

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Happy 97th Birthday, Daro

December 7th, 2010 by Jeff Simmermon

My grandmother’s name is Helen Abicht, but we all call her “Daro.” Today is her 97th birthday!

She and my grandfather helped take care of my sister and I when we were growing up. I feel so lucky to have lived close to them and had them as a constant, steady presence in my life for so long. Daro grew up during the Depression, and we always had so much fun with her without spending any money at all. She knows something that a lot of parents today don’t: it doesn’t take money or electronics to have a good time. Making ice cream, painting a picture and writing a story with someone you love is the deepest, best kind of fun you can have.

She’s full of all kinds of wisdom — and doesn’t think much of people who get bored easily.

I visited her in her apartment over the Thanksgiving holiday and asked her to share her secret for having such a long and happy life. Here’s her answer:


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Nelson Lugo at Standard Issues

December 2nd, 2010 by Brad Lawrence

In preparation for the upcoming live show, I have decided to post something you won’t see from someone you will see. Because I take the direct route to nothing. Which is probably why my high school career went the way it did.

So at the live show, you will see a very talented magician and burlesque host. He will be performing magic. In this video I am posting, he is not. He is telling a story. His name is Nelson Lugo.

As part of Cyndi’s neverending quest to make burlesque performers tell a story and storytellers strip, we had Nelson over at Standard Issues in October.

He did a great job, because he is a charming man. However he did wear that hat. So this is more radio than video, in certain ways.

Oh, and you should drop by billyjoesboy.com. Because I am a brilliant literary mind who could desperately use the traffic bump.

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After Thanksgiving Dinner, “Hell Comes to Breakfast”: Watching Dude Movies With Dad

November 29th, 2010 by Jeff Simmermon

I wear the coat that my dad wore on hunting trips with his dad back when a man could kill his dinner with his son for Thanksgiving. Dad never put any dead rabbits in the pocket in the back, and he never took me hunting, either. Consequently, that coat looks just about as good as new and doesn’t have a rabbit-sized scab stretching across the back.

We did plenty of dude stuff together when I was growing up — shot guns, chopped wood, built stuff, threw a baseball and salted slugs on hot afternoons when the A/C was busted and nothing was on TV.

Now I’m all grown and I live in Brooklyn and have a landlord who’s supposed to fix stuff at my house. Note that I said “supposed to.” I ended up getting into art and computers, stuff Dad wasn’t necessarily all that into before his eyes started giving out.

But the one thing we do together every chance we get: we watch some serious dude movies. I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating. “No Country for Old Men,” the first two “Godfather” flicks, any of the Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns are all religious canon in the Simmermon household. “A-Team” reruns will do, too.

I shot this on my iPhone the day after Thanksgiving while we were watching “The Outlaw Josey Wales.”

Me and Dad and 'The Outlaw Josey Wales'
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Tracy Rowland’s Return to Standard Issues Storytelling

November 16th, 2010 by Brad Lawrence

I was trying to get Tracy Rowland for Standard Issues from the moment we started the show, but she always had some conflict, like moving to LA. Then that cleared up and now she is back on the correct coast and here she is from our latest Standard Issues show.

In this story, Tracy like so many American girls abroad, accrues some very strange bedfellows.

In related, but more self-promoting news. I am currently experimenting with travel essay over on my blog so have a look.

Filed under Brad Lawrence, Brooklyn, New York City, Storytelling, Travel, Video, Zen having Comments Off

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Picking Up Armpit Steaks For the Man: Telling a Story For “Burned” At the Moth

October 31st, 2010 by Jeff Simmermon

Ever notice that when you’re checking out at a grocery store a few cuts below Whole Foods, all the cashiers and baggers are asking each other the same thing?

What time you going on break? When you getting off today?

That’s because working as a cashier and bagger at a grocery store SUCKS. Like any other job that secretly sucks, it’s not the work itself that’s the problem. It’s the other people. It’s the other people, and all that stuff in between the cracks of the job description that nobody tells you about but everybody deals with.

I worked as a bagger at a Food Lion in Norfolk, Virginia for a few summers during high school and college. Calling a bagger a “bagger” is like calling a garbage man a “truck driver.” The job title describes a skill set that’s technically crucial but utterly irrelevant once your face is right in the steaming stink of things.

Not everyone in the neighborhood had indoor plumbing. A lot of ‘em were walking around with bad plumbing, too, and it was well known that the restroom was open to the public. I kept it pretty clean, most of the time.

I regularly broke up fights between winos right there in the store. And I was expected to help run down and detain shoplifters. That part was hard for me.

I told a story about working at that Food Lion onstage at Southpaw back in March at a Moth Slam. It seemed to go over pretty well, anyway. I felt comfortable and the laughs felt right:

Hope you enjoy it, more to come soon.

Archives Posts

Screw the BRCA2 Mutation: My Breasts are Fabulous and I’m Keeping Them.

October 14th, 2010 by Cyndi Freeman

In honor of breast cancer awareness month, I thought I’d share this video of my personal story with you about my breast cancer scare and how having the BRCA2 genetic mutation (the Breast Cancer Gene) lead to me twirling tassels on the burlesque stage.

I don’t want to give too much away here, so all I’ll say is that I am not having my breasts removed. I like my breasts. A LOT. My boobs are fabulous and I’m keeping them.

I performed this story at The Story Collider at Pacific Standard in Park Slope — also home to our show The Standard Issues

Side Effects – Cyndi Freeman from The Story Collider on Vimeo.

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