Alright. Let me explain this as best I can. Darren Staley lives in North Carolina. I live in Los Angeles. My neighbor’s couch, on which he lives, does not exist. The people who join him on the couch are on their way to my home, where they never arrive and have no reason to go. Darren and I became friends before we met in Indianapolis, where neither of us lives. My dog, Lord Buckley Sweetlips, Greatest of All Dane Mutts (The Dinosaur Slaying Dog), whom Darren loves and wears around as a stole when it’s chilly at night, has never met Darren and is far too large to be worn as a stole. The nude photo, Darren in Repose, taken by Cat Gwynn, which hangs over my fireplace is purely fictitious. Darren is allowed to shower any time he likes, in North Carolina, where he lives. I do not feed anyone my leftovers except for Lord Buckley Sweetlips and Sir Corwin the the Beautiful Dog-faced Dog, Brindled Beast of Sylmar. Perhaps I can explain it better by telling a story. I’m good at that. I hope.
When I joined twitter, I quickly found myself falling in with a small circle of comics and writers who spent time playing loosely structured games of top-that-line. One member of that group was @crobama, a very funny man whom I’d never met but who was as capable of writing pithy and funny as the rest of us, although he tended to do two or three genuinely funny jokes and then slip into shock-value vulgarity. Nothing wrong with that, really. Just not always my thing.
He sent me a private message at one point asking if he could send me an e-mail. I gave him the address. He sent me about a page of fairly funny, deeply dirty stand-up material and asked for my opinion. I gave it. I suggested that he was writing some funny stuff but that it would serve him to write clean to start with, learn to structure good jokes first and then begin to play with the potential of shock value. I told him that vulgarity can easily become a comedic crutch and can retard the process of learning how actual jokes work. Understand, readers, that I am not morally or ethically opposed to vulgarity or shock comedy on principle. I just think it’s good to know how jokes and comedic structures function before one begins to explore such devices.
Much to my surprise and delight, the following day Darren sent me another page of material. This batch did not rely on vulgarity. Not only had he taken the note and worked with it, he had come back to me with more material for review. I was sort of impressed. I told him so. I complimented him on the new work. I suggested that he begin getting out and performing.
Next day he sent another page of material. I informed him that I could not review a page of material for him every day. I reiterated the idea that he would need to start getting out in front of an audience to hone the material and find out what worked for him and what did not. The response was a long, personal e-mail, telling me that he had not left the house in ten years, that he is agoraphobic, that there was little chance of him taking the material out and performing it. He asked me to share the e-mail with a couple of others in our twitter circle as he had begun to feel very close to us all. I did so. One of those others is a friend whom I also know to have suffered from agoraphobia. I sent him the manuscript of a humor book I’ve written about my own struggles with depression.
So, what started with the trading of one-liners at one-hundred-forty characters or fewer began to become an oddly intimate long-distance friendship.
He tweeted, “I’m going to California. @dylanbrody invited me to stay on his neighbor’s couch.”
It struck me as funny. I replied, “If he didn’t want me inviting people to stay on his couch he shouldn’t have left it out so enticingly on the curb.”
He sent me a private message: “That’s really funny. I think there’s a podcast in that.”
I responded: “I have no idea what that means.”
He explained what a podcast is to me. I told him I was not an idiot. I knew what a podcast was. I did not know what the idea was that he was imagining.
He sent me a page-long pitch. In the world within the podcast, he had come to L.A. thinking he had a place to stay on my neighbor’s couch only to find out that it is outdoors awaiting trash pickup. He interviews people on their way in to my home. Everybody feels that I’m doing him a favor by letting him stay on the couch. He’s the only one who seems to realize that he’s essentially homeless.
He explained, in the pitch, that he can do all the interviews by phone and then, at the end, I can show up and plug gigs and stuff and tell him to stop harassing my guests.
I asked Darren what this was going to cost me. “Nothing,” he said. “And I can plug your CDs at the end of every show.”
I try to say “yes” to as much as I can and “no” only when I can see a real detriment. So I said, “Sure. Give it a shot.”
He started out with a plan to script all the interviews to be comedic and inept. Then he realized that it’s easier and, frankly, better, to actually interview his guests and let the interaction develop organically. The commitment to the premise became very haphazard. Some guests play it as though they’re on the couch, others acknowledge that it’s on the phone, some vacillate between the two takes on the circumstance. Darren and I try to maintain the conceit – playing it as though I call him from the phone in my house, but he’s out there on the couch . . . most of the time. Even we aren’t all that strict about it. Running jokes have developed. I make him plug the CDs or he won't be allowed to come in and take a shower. He watches me and my wife through the windows and envies our life indoors. He and Lord Buckley have developed a strange and intimate relationship and the dog finds the nude photo of Darren -- which was given to me as a gift after Cat Gwynn's visit -- oddly hypnotic. My wife insists that I give Darren our leftovers. Darren sneaks into our home when we're out, raids the refrigerator, tries on our clothes.
A couple of months into doing the show, Darren e-mailed me that he’d left his house. He’d gone shopping at a grocery store. Then he was going to a comedy show. He wrote some material for himself and went to an open mic night.
I’m not quite sure how it happened, but in pretending to be living on a couch outside my home, Darren gave himself some critical tool that he needed in order to start fighting the agoraphobia that had kept him housebound for ten years.
A few months ago I had a headlining gig at Morty’s Comedy Joint in Indianapolis. Darren, along with his stepson and a close friend, drove ten hours from North Carolina, stayed in a hotel room and came to shows two consecutive nights. We had drinks after the shows. We hung out like close friends who hadn’t seen each other in a long while, which, technically, was sort of the fact. We hadn’t seen each other ever.
Darren and some of the others who are close to him seem to think that I was instrumental in his healing process, but I think that premise is clearly absurd. He had an idea, implemented it, found his way through a troubled time and effected his own rehabilitation. He put together a project that has allowed him to interview top-notch comics and performers, show-runners to whom I could only hope to gain access in Hollywood, artists, celebrities and a host of other high-profile guests. He’s had Paul Provenza, Kelly Carlin, Suzanne Whang, Greg Fitzimmons, Wendy Liebman, Ken Plume, Mike Royce, Evan Kessler, Johnny Argent, Jackie Kashian, Fred Stoller, Alice Radley, Rick Shapiro and Rain Pryor on the couch. He conducted the very last interview with Joe Bodoloai before he committed suicide and was lost to us all. Darren has made an extraordinary thing happen for himself.
I, on the other hand, did nothing but say, “Sure. You can pretend to live on a couch outside my home on the internet,” and in doing so, I got a fan who will drive ten hours to see me work, a friend who made me feel less than entirely alone in a strange city when I was there to perform and a weekly promotional opportunity that helps me sell some CDs and get my name out there in the world.
I just sort of wish I hadn’t first asked if it was going to cost me anything so that I could come out of the whole thing looking a little less like a self-serving ass. Now if you'll excuse me, my wife says I have to take some of this endive salad outside and offer it to Darren.