I found this adorable piece of pragmatic relationship advice from a child on the floor of my subway stop this morning:
My family all loves each other, and gets along pretty well. Which means that my holidays are usually pretty great, but rarely make for much in the way of great material. Four generations of people that love and respect each other kind of puts me at a disadvantage for a career in the arts. I try to work around it, though.
What follows isn’t really a story with conflict and an arc and surprises and stuff. But this chapter in my family’s history is so magnificent that it needs to be recorded somewhere. So I’m annotating a series of photos that sum it all up.
In-law jokes were for hacks back in the ’60s. Everyone knows that. But one of the things that nobody ever tells you about getting married is that if you get lucky and pick it right, you actually get to join a whole new awesome family in addition to your own. And if yours sucks a little, you kind of get another shot.
I started the holidays with Maggie’s family in suburban Maryland – here we are, opening some gifts early. My soon-to-be father-in-law gave me the entire run of Battlestar Galactica, which I’ve actually never seen – pretty solid!
For those of you that don’t know, my aunt and uncle own and operate a Christmas store in Smithfield, Virginia. It’s open year-round, and it’s not one of those chintzy chain stores you see at your more pathetic shopping malls. Uncle Jimmy and Aunt Elaine have an entire wardrobe of Christmas-themed clothing, and wear this stuff all the time, like it’s completely normal. They also usually have a little glitter or fake snow from a shedding ornament stuck to their sweater, glasses or something the way that other people might wear cat hair.
Here are a few shots of the shop:
My friend Barry Bless sent me this video from the end of “Paris is Burning,” and I just can’t stop watching it. It hits me really deeply as an artist and performer — I hope I have the wisdom to accept what Dorian Corey is saying here one day, but I don’t think I’m there yet:
I found this painting that I made in college on the wall at some old friends’ house in Richmond, VA this weekend. I haven’t seen it in years.
I actually got into writing and storytelling through visual art – when I was majoring in painting, I was obsessed with comics, Southern folk art and outsider art, Congolese power figures and sacred Voodoo and Santeria art. In voodoo and Santeria (as I understood it at the time), practitioners go into a trance and become the spirits they’re communicating with, and create altars in the home that are both doorways to a particular orisha and a living representation of the orisha itself, made from found objects.
I got really into writing stories on my work, making comic book pages out of junk I’d find in the woods and getting into a sort of trance-like state in the studio I had in my barn and letting whatever voice was talking take control of my hands until the thing was done. Eventually the words took up more and more of the the work and I just started writing. Then, telling a story wasn’t necessarily a craft so much as a thing that came out of a state, like a ship sliding out of a rip in the universe.
I think this was done on an old road sign that I found deep in George Washington National Forest. I know I got that image from an old comic, and I definitely recall writing all of this in one go, with a Sharpie. No drafts, no revising, crossing out, no wondering what the audience would think or trying to be likable. Just moving forward.
Here’s the piece:
The text reads:
“On that dark day when the Sun rises in the West and decides to set in the East, these gargantuan striped giants will appear suddenly from ??Elsewhere?? and set to the business of devouring the earth. Neither animal, vegetable, nor man-made machine, they are insatiable, and know no reason or moral code. They only know that they must perform the impossible: fill their ravenous GUTS.
The Fantastic Four and the entire Marvel Universe subscribe to the belief that GALACTUS is the eater of worlds, but I tell you with the straightest of all straight faces that GALACTUS is a mere DUST MITE compared to these black-and-white beasties.
We could, and probably will, head for the hills or lie screaming in storm cellars with paper sacks over our heads during that fateful time, but it will only make our moment of consumption more frenzied and embarrassing.
We may as well die picnicking as pleading to a recently discovered God. Mankind will finally realize what the insects knew all along: Nature knows no right or wrong.
Our constant struggle with good and evil set us apart from the animals, but on that day, we will finally be free from that boring struggle and I just hope that more people than just me have the sense to enjoy it.
This used to have two bicycle fenders painted to look like the creatures in question, glued to the top. They broke off pretty quickly, though. When I look at this, I feel a blast of nostalgia for a time when I could disappear into a barn for several hours, sure. But I also miss having that degree of concentration, and that practiced flow. It’s take me about 90 minutes to write this post, and half of it is simple transcription.
Mostly, I miss my old brain: the one that knew when to think and when to get out of the way and let the art fall out.
**UPDATE** We have added comedian Paul Oddo to this show. Paul recently won the Boston Comedy Festival, and we’re stoked to have him!**
Man, Brad, Cyndi and I love doing shows in Washington, D.C. We get to see old friends, the Black Cat treats us incredibly well (you can tell it’s run by musicians) and the people seem to be pretty into it.
We’re coming back to the Black Cat in DC on Sunday, December 9th at 8PM. This time we’re going to be in the big upstairs room, too – which is pretty much an actual dream come true for me. Rather than sell out the small room downstairs and add a second show, we figured we’d do it all at once up there.
Here’s a poster I made for the thing, inspired by one I saw for “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly”:
As always, the show will feature storytelling by me (Jeff Simmermon), Brad Lawrence and Cyndi Freeman – who will also be doing a few burlesque acts. We’re really, really excited to have New York’s boylesque superstar Go-Go Harder join us onstage that night, too.
“What’s ‘boylesque?’” you may ask, followed by “Who the hell is ‘Go-Go Harder?’”
WELL. Among other things, he’s one of NYC’s first, foremost and finest male burlesque performers – and one of the subjects of this article on the boylesque phenomenon in the New York Times.
Here’s a quote from the piece that I loved:
… “Audiences go crazy for glittered nipples,” he told them. “The hipsters can’t handle it.”
This is not a night at Chippendales, and, according to Mr. Harder, that is a good thing. “Boylesque celebrates a large range of bodies with different sizes and shapes,” he said. “This idea of seeing nontraditional masculine men onstage is very new, and I feel boylesque is changing that for the better.”
We’ll also be joined by comedian Paul Oddo, who recently won the 2012 Boston Comedy Festival.
Tickets are $12 in advance, $15 at the door – get ‘em here: Tickets for And I Am Not Lying at the Black Cat on December 9th. The room is going to be mixed seating and standing, with roughly a hundred chairs on the floor, and the rest standing room only. If you need a seat, you may want to plan to get there early.
If you want to check out a trailer and put it on your blog or something, you can do that here:
And, if you happen to be working for a media outlet and want to write about this, you can find our electronic press kit here: And I Am Not Lying EPK
Hope we see you at the show!
I went out biking and took a bunch of photos in Manhattan a few days after Hurricane Sandy hit. New Yorkers are pretty burnt by all the ongoing coverage, in addition to being shocked and devastated at all the wreckage and destruction. But it’s hard to tell if the rest of the country – or world – is seeing the same things we are.
I haven’t been to Staten Island or the Rockaways yet to help, so I can only document what I saw and felt. When I go there to help out, I’m not going to be waving a damn DSLR around, either.
It’s almost impossible to describe how eerie and dystopian Lower Manhattan felt in the days before the power came back on. This is a shot of Canal Street, between Broadway and Lafayette that I took on my phone:
Shortly afterwards, a guy slowly coasted right down the yellow lines on his skateboard. The sound echoed off the shutters.
For those of you that don’t know this block, it’s one of the most constantly crowded streets in Chinatown. Any trucks, buses or cars entering or exiting the LIncoln Tunnel trundles down this block. I once sat in traffic for 90 minutes on this street, traveling one block every 10 minutes or so.
There are usually street vendors slinging hot dogs and chestnuts, African guys trying to sell you knockoff handbags, people selling plastic crap off of tables, guys trying to get you to trade in cash for gold, and then it’s just wall-to-wall tourists coming down to buy all the knockoffs and I (heart) NY shirts by the pound. One time I saw a guy waving a bubble gun around, shooting a stream of bubbles into traffic and shouting “IT’S BUBBLE TIME, DAMMIT!”
The only vehicles on the street the day I was riding around were ambulances, cop cars, and National Guard trucks. A few people scurried from one building to another, and others huddled in long lines to get bottled water dispensed by men in camouflage off of an armored truck.
It felt like a sci-fi disaster movie. Like “Escape From New York,” or “I Am Legend.”
I rode north on Fifth Avenue, past the Flatiron, and suddenly, everything changed. There was an invisible line at 30th Street, and once I crossed it, suddenly New Yorkers were walking around in the streets eating ice cream, talking about “it’s just so hard to date in this city” into their working cell phones. Like somebody had switched the channel in my brain from “I Am Legend” to “Sex and the City” with a less attractive cast.
And even though I had power and heat in my apartment in Brooklyn, and everything in my life is fine – just passing through the eerie disaster area for an hour and entering that bubble made me HATE those people up there, so much.
I ended up in Chinatown at dark. The power was coming on in the Village, but Chinatown was still black. I’ve never seen the city so black and dead, just a soup of darkness. Here are a few shots I took in Chinatown that night. The orange sky is reflected light from the rest of the city – and in several of these, I’m standing on a dark, narrow street and aiming towards an area with electricity:
Every blog gets the occasional spam comment, wherein a ‘bot poses as a reader. No big deal. You report it (or just ignore it), and you move on. But we just got ALL OF THE SPAM in one particular offender’s arsenal, submitted as one single comment, and I think it broke my brain. There are some really choice turns of phrase in there, though, and I thought y’all might enjoy having a look. I’ve bolded some of the bits that I really like. (And because it amuses me further, I imagine this all being spoken in a terrible, but very cheerful, Russian accent.)
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Hey, folks – I screwed up an earlier version of this post and flyer, and posted the wrong time. The show is definitely at 9 PM on Wednesday, October 3rd.
And I Am Not Lying had a monthly run at Union Hall in Brooklyn starting at the beginning of the year, and it was going pretty well. We put on a stadium-sized show down there in the basement, and the audience got a LOT of show for their ten bucks.
One of the things we pride ourselves on is putting on a show full of surprises, so you never quite know what’s going to happen — or what just happened. I want people to walk out of there thinking “holy crap, I don’t even know what I just saw, but I can’t wait to see it again.”
Maybe like a David Sedaris reading crossed with a KISS concert. In that spirit, we booked a grand finale from dear friends and burlesque legends Mat Fraser and Julie Atlas Muz for our May show. And they brought some seriously strange heat from another dimension with an act that was wild, rude, daring, dirty and sweet all at once.
Maybe like a John Waters movie screened at a Flaming Lips concert.
But the act was really, really intense, really, really wild, and there was maybe a lot more frontal nudity in it than Union Hall’s owners would prefer. I can’t imagine that it tickled anybody’s prurient interest – strangers were hugging each other and screaming with laughter, jumping up and just running around the room and yelling in general. I’ve never seen a crowd do that before in my life. I felt like Mat and Julie took us all to a gutter on a higher plane of existence.
But rules are rules, and we got asked to leave. A lot of bars have to protect their liquor licenses, and that’s just the way the world works. I’m not going to lie to you: it hurt, really bad. It stung all summer. We took the time off, did a bunch of shows out of town, and geared up for …
… A triumphant comeback, at a new venue, where the only rule is: ABSOLUTELY NO GLITTER.
We’re BEYOND stoked to announce our triumphant return to NYC in our new monthly residency at Under Saint Marks’ Theater! We’ll be bringing the best storytelling, comedy, burlesque and sideshow on the first Wednesday of every month at 9PM!
And, at the request of Under Saint Marks’ theater, we’re going to be kicking off our residency with a special visit from Mat Fraser and Julie Atlas Muz, performing the act that got us BANNED IN PARK SLOPE!
For tickets, go here: http://www.tinyurl.com/notlying-10-1
To find the theater, click here: http://goo.gl/maps/d7IXg
This month we’re starting off in fine style with:
Unfortunately, I can’t make this show — but I’ll be back in November, and I hope you guys are, too. Let me know how it goes – it should be pretty bananas.
We did a show at The Middle East in Cambridge, MA last week – sponsored by WBUR, Boston’s NPR station. They even recorded me and pulled together a cool little plug on the radio for it – you can hear that here: And I Am Not Lying: Live, Raw Storytelling.
We were joined by the Boston Typewriter Orchestra, a bunch of folks who play the typewriter musically a hell of a lot better than I did it when I was dabbling in the genre.
The show sold out, which was a hell of a kick – there’s nothing like busting your hump for a month and seeing it pay off.
I’m booking all our stuff out of town now and arranging all the press, too. It’s always a hurricane of phone calls, emails and text messages, last-minute changes and just … STUFF. I’ve never once had a show where there wasn’t a surprise, a change, a sudden boulder of bullshit falling at the last minute like a turd-studded iceberg of waste from a crack in a passing jetliner. At this point, I get a little nervous when it doesn’t happen.
And getting people in the door is my primary source of stress. I’m trying to get to where I don’t take empty seats personally, but it’s a long, slow journey.
We’re not at the point where we can count on a sold-out show, or really any kind of turnout at all. People don’t know the name of the show yet, and I ain’t exactly a draw on my name alone. This isn’t like music, where people bring friends to see a band based on the genre.
You can say “hey man, there’s a really sweet reggae band playing tonight, let’s check ‘em out,” and you’ll get some good walk-in. With comedy, you can say to your friends “hey, this venue that regularly books comedians is having some comedians perform tonight. Let’s go have some laughs,” and you might get some decent walk-ins.
We have no established genre. The best thing someone can say to sell us is “hey, this guy that was on This American Life three years ago is going to say a lot of SAT words and also a lot of cuss words, and it may be really funny but it may also be kind of depressing. Also, they might have some people do burlesque performances in addition to other storytellers who also have a lot of feelings they would like to share.”
You’re not going to hear Conan O’Brien say “We’ve got a very charming and thought-provoking storyteller on the show tonight” anytime soon. People that aren’t into The Moth or This American Life think that storytelling is either standup comedy or some dude in a bowtie and a seersucker suit at a folk festival talking about growing up on the farm.
So when I see a line stretching out through the door of the club, through the restaurant and out the front door, curving around the block and around the corner I just want to jump up on top of the bar and spike a football. I always try to walk along the whole line and just drink it all in.
All these people made tonight their date night, their going-out night, and they did it because they wanted to be THERE, with us, seeing something a little new and weird. I wanna kiss every last one of them, at least until they start fooling with their phones.
The first half of the show was a dream. I’ve been busting ass on actual joke-writing to build a standup set ever since a tragic crash-and-burn a month or so back. And to deploy those jokes on a roomful of cheering, happy people – it was like riding a gold-plated surfboard down a sunbeam. Everything was cruising like a dream during the first half, every performer killing and the Boston Typewriter Orchestra rocking it …
We are coming to Boston next week with the help of WBUR!
This is my hometown and it is great to be coming back with such an amazing line-up of folks. Arts critic Bill Marx has just interviewed me about the show and my many years performing in Bean-town, you can read that right here: http://artsfuse.org.