I just got some video footage from a Moth show that I did back in September that I’m extraordinarily excited to share with you. I’ve mentioned my stint in Royal Quiet Deluxe, chicken band, on here before, but as a refresher: I used to live in Richmond, Virginia and play the typewriter as a percussion instrument while a few chickens improvised keyboard pieces in toy pianos. For real. It was extraordinarily difficult to build a fan base, and I can say with great certainty that the Reverend Al Sharpton was not a fan AT ALL.
It’ll make more sense in the video, I swear.
I have told this story in various incarnations over the years, but I happen to feel that this performance at the Moth at Southpaw in Brooklyn on Labor Day this year really nailed it. Hope you enjoy it:
If you’re interested, you can actually hear two tracks that we recorded at practice here:
If you happen to see this today, and want to see more like it live in person, I’m putting on a show with my awesome and talented friends tonight at Union Hall in Brooklyn. There will be stories like this, burlesque striptease and a sword-swallower. For real.
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.
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:
The Moth’s podcast this week features a story told by the Reverend Al Sharpton. It’s funny, sad and moving, and one of the better stories that I’ve heard on the Moth podcast in some time. He’s an amazing speaker — I mean, he wouldn’t be who he is if he wasn’t — and the whole thing is a real joy to listen to. You can hear it yourself here:
I was at a dinner with Al Sharpton and a number of heavy hitters in Virginia’s African-American community, and someone made the terrible mistake of asking me what I did. I got way too into it and ran off at the mouth forever. And I could see Al Sharpton rolling his eyes and thinking what all black people think from time to time:
My first job after college was as a rude little gingerbread boy in a touring children’s theater company. We did three or four shows a day across Virginia, DC, and Maryland. I wore a costume with adorable fake raisins trailing down the front, a little hood with faux icing on it and burst out of a plywood oven.
It was my job to escape from a large, sweating woman in a fox costume, and usually I did. Sometimes my costume would be damp in the dryer from washing it the night before, and I would dry it in the microwave, 30 seconds at a time. I got sick, ran out of money, and tried to sell my plasma to make up the gap but nothing worked. I was doomed to become some sort of indie-rock influenced Krusty the Clown.
Every time I smell apple juice, vinyl nap mats or canned chicken soup I just want to run right into traffic and let an 18-wheeler carry my tortured soul back home. I like little kids when I can get to know them, but seeing hundreds of them in a day just reduces them into this shrieking, messy mass for and I really don’t like the person I start becoming.
If you’re doing something as a joke you’re still doing it, and you might end up kicking a kid in the face. I wish I could say that I learned that from that experience, but really it took about ten years.
I told this story at The Moth at Housing Works bookstore in SoHo back in early September, 2010. It was possibly the most fun I’ve had all year and definitely made the whole experience worthwhile.
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:
I’m prone to exaggeration for damn sure, but I am not lying at all when I tell you that the story presented below is one of my favorite stories I’ve ever seen at The Moth. For real.
Brett Pederson is from Minnesota, and happened to be in New York on business. He told me that he’s a big fan of the Moth podcast and was pretty stoked to go to a story slam in person. And he figured “what the hell,” and just kinda went ahead and winged it, threw his name in the hat and told this story.
I don’t usually recommend that folks wing a story. It usually goes really, really badly. But man, am I ever glad to be wrong here. Brett’s story has kind of a Wells Tower/Cormac McCarthy thing to it — stoic, manly dudes working out their feelings by setting stuff on fire.
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.
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.