Jen Lee is a friend of mine from The Moth, and I just love her stuff because she pours it out straight from the heart. She’s not trying to be liked, she’s just trying to be true to the story itself. She’ll talk about some difficult stuff, and the way she handles it is masterful. She’s not an emotional exhibitionist and she’s not trying to launch her comedy career by making light of dark stuff. She’s a writer who happens to publish with her mouth, and every time she tells a story it’s different and better than the last time.
This is a video of Jen Lee from a Moth slam a few months ago. The theme was “Good Intentions.” Jen grew up as a fundamentalist Christian, and here she explains the hilarious, embarrassing reality behind swallowing fundamentalist doctrine and saving it for marriage — and makes it sound like it’s not necessarily so bad. She’s so funny and awkward and sweet here, and I just had to give her a huge hug when she was done.
I have, over the last year, stepped away from my street artist, punk rock, DIY background and actually done something in the way that things are done. I put together a book proposal and started writing a book. And I was an over night success. The End.
This process can make you feel like an ant trying to work its way to the top of a Jello Mold from the inside. You have meeting after meeting and the agent might come and go with nary a nickel on the bedside table. (I am pretty sure mine has gone, if anyone sees him tell him, y’know, call me?) There are going to be parts of the business that glimmer like the city on the hill and others that smell like a dog run on a hot summer day. And, in the end, it just becomes easy to sit and stare at a phone.
But that is the restricted lane, toll road to a nervous breakdown. I have had to make myself remember at times that the work is mine and mine to do and mine to keep doing. You can’t wait around for people, unless you decided to be a writer because being suspended in misery is just what you’re into. In the end, I like what I do and I hope that always co exists with the business of editors and agents and publishers. If it doesn’t, I have taken a wrong turn.
All of this is to say – Having worked on the book for the better part of the last year, I am now sitting on a heap of material that I can use for the various weird projects I am involved in all over the city.
One of my favorites is The BTK Band, a fully improvised live music, storytelling, burlesque extravaganza. This project started out as a rough ride on an overgrown trail with a flat tire and is quickly becoming one of the tightest and most innovative live shows happening in New York. I can toot that horn, because most of the credit goes to the rest of the outfit and its leader, Peter Aguero.
But we are here to talk about me. This video is something I put together from an audio recording of one of the performances and it represents a piece of the book transformed for a new use. So enjoy that, and then check out my blog because there are a bunch of shows I am doing this coming week that I am really happy to be a part of and they are all listed over there, and there are sample chapters from the book, too. – Enjoy.
One more thing, If you are enjoying Cyndi and I on the blog, we will be appearing together as our burlesque alter egos, Cherry Pitz and Johnny Angel, at Seth Lind’s Told on Monday the 19th, 7 o’clock, at Under Saint Marks Theater. We will be there as wigged, lycra clad relationship counselors. You need our help.
We’ve got a couple more mules kicking in the stall here at the And I Am Not Lying stable.
It’s all well and good for me to log in at a whim (which is apparently every three weeks or so) and blog about my feelings and stuff, and for D.Billy to contribute his take on art and design, but we’ve been getting a little stale.
Not blogging is a lot like not working out: it’s pretty great until you look around and realize what happens when you haven’t been doing it for a long time. You’ve got all this free time, all this energy to do other stuff, and then you start feeling a little flabby and the next thing you know your traffic’s fallen off and you pants don’t fit and nobody is writing you little notes about how great you are.
Or what an asshole you are. There’s no middle ground online.
We’re experimenting with a few things here, and one of the biggest most exciting things is the addition of two new bloggers — Brad Lawrence and Cyndi Freeman. They’re both great friends of mine, and part of what makes New York’s underground performing scene weird, wild, but ultimately cozy and comforting.
Cyndi actually gave me my first shot as a storyteller at a tiny little bar out in Bay Ridge, a place so far out on the R train I thought I was going to have to have my passport stamped. It was at this weird little divey biker bar with a coffee shop and Internet cafe sort of tacked onto the side. You had to be careful when you went into the bar side to use the bathroom — the door opened up directly into the line of fire for the dart board, so it was entirely possible to walk in with a full bladder and end up with a pierced ear. Or eyelid.
She’s encouraging, loving and generous, with a bottomless patience for truly crazy people — she’s also a Moth Slam champion and fantastic storyteller herself. She helped me edit one of my Moth stories the night before I competed directly against her in a Moth Grand Slam. For Cyndi, it’s about helping people and building the community.
Cyndi’s also working on a one-woman show about the life and times of Wonder Woman, which she may actually perform in a Wonder Woman costume. She does gigs at sci-fi and comic conventions dressed up as Wonder Woman sometimes, so it’s not really a stretch.
Brad Lawrence and Cyndi Freeman are married, see – -and they co-produce Hotsy Totsy Burlesque and The Standard Issues together. I know — it’s adorable. And it’s some wild, weird, and fertile crossover territory, too.
Brad is a two-time Moth Grand Slam champion. He did it back-to-back, too, sort of a greatly scaled-down version of Ian MacKaye starting both Minor Threat AND Fugazi. Brad’s pretty much one of the most charming, laid-back dudes you could ever hope to meet. You can take the guy literally anywhere and he makes it all better, because he’s seen so much worse. He’s got his own blogging concern over at Billy Joe’s Boy, and book proposal in the works. He’s also a member of the BTK Band, New York’s only improv-comedy storytelling rock band, and one of the only bands that can guarantee every single audience member a hangover whether or not they even drink anything.
Here’s Brad, telling a story at Seth Lind’s “Told!”:
Brad and I have pretty much the perfect 21st-century dude-friendship — we’ve done home improvement projects together and drank whiskey and shouted together at burlesque shows, and he’s also helped me move. You cant’ ask for a better guy than that.
I’m really stoked to have these two join us. Not only do I love them as friends, I respect the holy hell out of them as artists and I love their weird eclectic tastes. I hope you guys do, too.
I told this story at my friends Brad and Cyndi’s “Stories at the Creek” a couple weeks ago. It’s a work in progress for me. I’m trying to turn this year’s cancer battles (well documented on this blog) into a story I tell on stage, and this is the first crack.
Like I say in the video, I’m not sure if I’m ready to talk about this or not, but I’m ready to be ready to talk about this, and that’s as good a start as any. I think that telling stories based on our memories helps us get control of them and bend them to our purposes — something I’m really eager to do with this particular experience.
I wouldn’t have told this or posted it if I weren’t ready to see this as material, something to be honed and edited with the help of sharp-eyed, caring friends.
This thing’s a whammy, too — two ten-minute videos about cancer and depression. Not exactly the light and fluffy feel-good romantic comedies I’m known for performing, so brace yourselves. Maybe this is like watching “Requiem for a Dream” (not to flatter myself): good once, but a total fricking BUMMER.
Long story short, I’m used to telling funnier stories with big laugh payoffs, and this sure isn’t one of those.
I’ll be performing a story at my man Seth Lind’s story show TOLD! tomorrow night at Under Saint Mark’s Theatre. My story’s always a work in progress — it’s about the time I was a kangaroo shooter in the Outback. My close friends are so tired of this one, because even though I had the actual experience back in early 2004, I have only just recently stopped talking about it.
So if you’re new to this blog and you live in New York, come on down. It’s the right price, too: Free dollars and free cents!
Seth runs a pretty interesting show, too. He brings a lot of what he’s learned from his day job at “This American Life” to the experience as well as his training in comic improv, creating a show that’s informal and experimental, a little bit talk show and always really, really interesting to see.
Here’s the description straight from the show’s Facebook page:
Hi. You are cordially invited to the ninth installment of TOLD, the free monthly storytelling show at Under St. Mark’s Theatre.
This month… ‘The Rough Guide’ – riveting stories from out on the road. Our totally sweet performers include:
Actor and Comic Book writer CHRIS KIPINIAK, who will show us that a trip to Egypt can have more in common with the plot of ‘The Hangover’ than you might think. Well, part of the plot of ‘The Hangover.’ Tyson doesn’t sing.
Moth Grandslammer DAISY ROSARIO, tells about a crazy drug trip… not the kind you’re thinking.
Comedian KEVIN ALLISON (The State) with a tale of arriving at a place where I know you’ve been, and deciding to do something I hope you haven’t.
And JEFF SIMMERMON, who just had a story on “This American Life” last week, tells about heading Down Under… to be a hired killer. For real.
Plus, if the tech gods and schedule gods are with us, MELANIE HAMLETT will join us between stories via live video feed, to report in on her current cross-country adventure living in her truck.
Hope to see you there.
TOLD #9: The Rough Guide
Monday July 20th – 7PM
Under St. Mark’s Theatre
94 Saint Mark’s Place
FREE FREE FREE
Hosted by Seth Lind
Produced by Heidi Grumelot
Presented by Horse Trade Theatre Group
So, it’s as official as it gets. I just heard from the producers today who confirmed it as a “go,” with the caveat “anything can happen, but we’re looking good.” I’m going to have a story on this week’s episode of “This American Life,” and I couldn’t be more thrilled about it.
On Saturday night I lovingly sauteed a pile of mushrooms with garlic and half of an onion. Then I chopped up some carrots, rubbed about 5 pounds of beef with sea salt (after browning it in a hot iron skillet) and put the whole thing in the oven to roast.
After that, I made a huge pile of chard — again with garlic and onions — and washed up all the dishes and swept the floor. I took a long shower during which I performed my weekly head-shaving ritual.
Then I yawned and started freaking out for real.Those yawns were the voice of God intoning through my body, using my skeleton like a tuning fork to say “YOU HAVE DICKED AROUND LONG ENOUGH.”
All that cooking and showering and shaving was just the elaborate and stylized Kabuki ritual that I perform whenever I’m supposed to be working on a story. They’re all a big deal for me, but this particular show is a bigger deal than most. I’ve worked for about a year to be in it.
I wrote the story a month ago, tested it out with the BTK band, then let it marinate.
Marinating is important. You’ve got to let the details settle, let the over-explanation filter out. I tested the thing on Jim and (my two close friends and storytelling superheroes) and they helped me sandblast it a little more.
But Saturday was when the real polishing had to happen, and it almost happened too late. Which is the way these things always happen. I can’t do a damn thing unless the deadline is dangling right between my eyes.
So I had a couple belts of Scotch-laced espresso (wakes you up but calms the nerves) and stayed up until 5 AM writing, editing, fretting, obsessing. I copied the whole thing out on a legal pad with a magic marker just to learn it a little better, lips moving like a slow-witted sixth grader just to burn it into the synapses more.
And I’m still worried it’s not enough.
Last time I told a story onstage I forgot the critical part, the two sentences that made the whole thing hang together and make sense. It got some laughs, got a few compliments, but you can tell immediately if something hits or not. If it doesn’t, that walk back to the chair is a fricking DEATH MARCH.
So now I’m antsy. If I can think of something to do to prepare, I have to do it. Immediately.
I jumped out of bed at 3 AM to make some edits that came to me in a dream last night. I’m rubbing my script on the subway with my fingertips. I fingered its yellow pages gently this afternoon while I walked on the stage at the Highline Ballroom this afternoon, just getting the feel for the place. I’m testing the thing out at Stories at the Creek tomorrow night — Tuesday, March 23rd.
If I seem nervous, it’s because I am. I’m tense and a little gassy and I can’t think about anything else.
But my God, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Living at the edge of your own ability, half-sick and terrified because something beautiful’s about to happen … that’s how to do it. Screw all that Buddhist bullshit about eliminating desire. I want to make art and bash myself against the bulb until I’m burning up and then start all over again. Feeling nervous is a sign that I’m on the right track.
In 2003, back before online dating was remotely acceptable, I met a woman from Perth, Western Australia over the Internet. As many of you know, I ended up selling all my stuff and flying across the planet to meet her in person. It was pretty much the adventure of a lifetime, and even though parts of it were really hard, I don’t regret a moment of it.
This is me, telling that story recently at The Moth:
If you’re just here from BoingBoing, you can see other stories I’ve done at The Moth here:
I’ll be telling a story onstage at the legendary Stonewall Inn next Wednesday night, if any of you are so inclined. This is perfect, actually — I have a big show coming up in late March, and this should be a perfect short-term deadline to write the story, test it out, and generally get my shit together.
The show is with Peter Aguero’s BTK band. I know Peter from The Moth and other live story shows in New York — here’s a bit of copy about him and the band: Read the rest of this entry »
I spent most of the NYC ComicCon lurching in circles with my mouth half-open, hunting for a copy of Detective Comics # 587 and spending way too much money on plastic bullshit that reminds me of my childhood. The experience was spectacular.
I haven’t been to a comic book convention since 1991, in Virginia Beach — the whole enterprise was dusty, pasty and pungent. Not now, baby. Now that comics, computers and sci-fi are billion dollar businesses, nerds are out of the basement and blinking in the klieg lights. Pop culture’s always been a byproduct of marketing campaigns, but we are now in a golden age of hype and shiny bullshit.
Today’s thirtysomethings were the target audience back in the ’70s and ’80s when Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and other pop mythologies did the first Triple Lindy into the collective consciousness. Now we’re just old enough to have kids who get just as pumped about Star Wars as we did, and fetishizing fictional universes is a family affair.
Whenever alien archaeologists unearth whatever temples we leave behind, they’re gonna think that Spiderman was our God and stormtroopers were some kind of high priests. Frankly, I’m thrilled. Digging through comic boxes and buckets of chipped action figures gets me all stoked and unstuck in time and I get the same sense of wow, cool wonder that I got when my dad took me to see Star Wars for the first time.
But this thing was for everybody. Really, it was just like the Mermaid Parade except indoors and marginally less sexualized. The people-watching and the costumes were spectacular and totally worth the admission price.
This is my favorite photo from this weekend’s NYC ComicCon, but there’s a lot more after the jump: