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.
Brad and Cyndi run Hotsy Totsy Burlesque on the third Tuesday of every month at the Delancey, right there at the base of the Williamsburg Bridge in the Lower East Side. Cherry Pop Burlesque happens at the same place, the fourth Tuesday of every month, and I can’t recommend either show enough.
You can pay as much as you want in this city any night of the week for entertainment, but for eight bucks you can get right into something wild and weird that you won’t find anywhere else in the country for ten times as much cash.
The storytelling and burlesque scene have a fair bit of overlap in New York. Emotional nakedness and physical nudity are close relatives, and folks like Brad and Cyndi (our new bloggers) work hard at both. Ultimately, both communities are powered by passion and a love for the art form. Lord knows we’re not in it for the money.
That’s why I came to this town and it’s why I’ll either die here or leave a piece of my soul behind when I have to leave this magical, filthy island.
The ladies at Cherry Pop Burlesque were kind enough to let me photograph a show a few months back. What follows here is a loose collection of observations and photos from that night. You can see an expanded photo show here, too.
Seeing burlesque shows at the Delancey feels like something from the bad old days of New York that made me want to move here in the first place. It’s seedy enough to make any loving mother uncomfortable, but not so seedy that I wouldn’t take my girlfriend.
Even the sign for the basement gets me all excited. It’s at the end of a long, red hallway glowing like the understated gateway to hell. Or at least the world of sin that tent revival preachers used to warn against/advertise. This photo reminds me of the Pink Room with maybe a little less overt menace.
If you’re reading this now, there’s a decent chance that you heard my story on the “Pro Se” episode of This American Life. I’m told it’s being re-run this week, which just tickles me to no end. It was an honor and a thrill to be on that show. When I told my sister about it, she got all stoked and said “That’s right, dog, build the legend. BUILD. THE. LEGEND.”
If you took the trouble to follow Ira Glass’s mention of this blog, you probably liked the story okay. I originally performed it at The Moth’s Grand Slam back in April of 2009. There’s a video of it here, if you want to hear the story again or watch my hands wave around while I tell it or something:
If you liked that one, I’ve got a bunch of other stories that you might get into, too:
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.
Man – it’s been a while since I’ve been on here. On the one hand, I’ve been trying to focus more on writing more stories — which, if you want to do it well, is pretty much the opposite of blogging.
And on the other, my God, the Internet just sucks my soul out through my eyeballs. So much blather, so little quality.
But whatever. I’ll be performing at Seth Lind’s “Told” on Monday, June 21st. Show starts at 7PM, but here’s the exciting thing: they’re filming the thing as a TV pilot! It’ll take up some extra seats and they’ll shut the doors for real once the theater fills up, so you might want to get there a bit early.
I’m honored and flattered to be asked, really. I’ve been kinda below the storytelling radar for a while, and this is a great chance to bust up out of the darkness.
Here’s the list of storytellers and more, cobbled from Seth’s promo e-mail:
I talked to a bunch of folks about it ahead of time, none of whom could make it out. Fair enough. Zach’s a nice young man, and was kind enough/self-promotional enough to post the video on Vimeo. Here it is, see for yourselves:
It’s late and I’m screwing around instead of writing. I’m tired, too tired to get any meaningful writing done, but not so tired that I can’t sit here and stare at my lava lamp and wait for it to really start gooping around in earnest.
What I’m supposed to be doing is preparing a story for the “How I Learned” series, which I’ll be performing in at Happy Endings (302 Broome Street, Manhattan) this Wednesday, January 27th. The show’s at 8, doors are at 7, and there’s no charge. Happy Ending used to be a seedy massage parlour in Chinatown/Lower East Side, but now it’s a cool bar with pretty good drinks, most of which have names that are cheeky double entendres. I’ve found that if you get there early, it’s a good time. Stay too late and the Ed Hardy Army starts to creep in, though.
Don’t let the outside fool you — there’s no sign that says Happy Ending. If you get to a place that looks like the photo on this post, you’ve got it.
I can guarantee that I’ll be reading/telling a story. What it’ll be is eluding me right now …
Last May, I used this blog to announce to the world that I had developed a very sudden and statistically rare case of testicular cancer. I had surgery, had the thing removed. Which remains, to me, a totally unacceptable way to lose a testicle. Maybe at the tip of a pirate’s saber, or while wrangling a giant octopus deep under the ocean, those’d be okay. But a regular old organized cellular rebellion — fuck that.
I wrote a series of posts that talked about my condition, what I was facing, and how I was holding up. It seemed only natural to me at the time, the best way to keep friends and family posted while I was dealing with something I really didn’t want to talk about on the telephone any more than necessary. Folks commended me for my bravery, for my sense of black humor and optimism, and told me how well I seemed to be healing up.
And yeah, in a way I was healing up. But in this other way, I really, really, wasn’t.
As my body was healing up, my mind was slowly donning a space suit made out of 400 pounds of wet laundry that never dried up and never, ever came off. Food all tasted the same, and I’d find myself flying into sudden rages when individual air molecules struck my skin.
Every night I’d lie awake and just look at the dark air above my bed, watching the little glowing fireflies that live in my retinas while an enormous black bird whispered very, very destructive and completely logical things into my ear.
Actually, I have a story about that part, which you can see here — the audio’s a little problematic, but you should get the gist:
In early 2004 I was an assistant to a kangaroo shooter in the Australian Outback. Pretty much the only experience more bizarre and terrifying would be if I were to have worked with a kangaroo shooter at the National Zoo.
Before you go getting all fired up, remember that kangaroos are pests in Australia, and people eat their meat all the time. And meat does not just cheerfully lie itself down on the burger bun, either. Kangaroo meat is as free-range and organic as it gets, but you’ve still got to do a fair bit of old-fashioned killing to make it happen — and the process is disturbing, gory, and pretty hideous. Not unlike the rest of nature, the parts they don’t show you on the television programs.
But not a day goes by that I don’t think of that experience in some way or another. It taught me a lot. I learned to get tough, how to do some hard, hard work, and how to put aside all my pussified city liberal ideas and face the realities of the food chain.
I told this story at The Moth on October 22, 2009. I’d told it at the Moth last year, as well as at The Liar Show, Risk!, and Seth Lind’s Told. I’ve also told parts of this story to pretty much anyone that will sit still in my presence since early 2004. I think D.Billy, my co-blogger here, has seen me tell the thing each time, too.
I’ve pitched it to This American Life twice now, and had Ira Glass personally tell me to my face, that while he really likes the story as long as he is a broadcaster in the United States of America, it will not appear on his show. He was actually really nice about it – and he’s right. The story, in its original and best incarnation, has tons of appalling gore in it, the killing of defenseless baby kangaroos and uses the word “cunt” more times in ten minutes than most Americans have heard in their entire lives. And cutting that stuff out kinda neuters the whole enterprise.
If I’m this sick of telling this story, I can only imagine how tired my friends are of hearing it. And I’ve sure made a lot of hay off the experience on this blog.
Unless something tremendous happens, I feel like I can safely say that this story’s been done to death and put to bed here in New York City. It feels good to be all the way through this one and kinda wipe the slate clean for a batch of new stuff.
On the other hand, I’m about to go to Australia again for two weeks starting Saturday. And if I can claw my way in front of a microphone after a couple or six VBs, this thing might rise again. If any of you know of storytelling shows or reading series or something similar in Adelaide or Melbourne, please let me know. I’d love to try this or other stories in front of an Aussie audience.