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Welcome to the Dylan Brody Blog

  1. Pandemic - a poem Dylan Brody 23-Aug-2014
  2. Writing the Dead Dylan Brody 21-Aug-2014
  3. In the Style of Alex M. Stein Dylan Brody 19-Aug-2014
  4. Love in the Age of Sadness Dylan Brody 13-Aug-2014
  5. Some Thoughts on the Death of Robin Williams Dylan Brody 11-Aug-2014

Pandemic - a poem

Dylan Brody - Saturday, August 23, 2014

On a badly damaged planet, limping sadly ‘round the sun
lived a deeply stupid species, blithely worshiping the gun.
The smart became depressive and let go control of things,
so the foolishly aggressive took the reins and played the kings.

Now this stone and water planet, danced its circle ‘round the sun
and to everyone’s indifference mass extinction had begun.
As the air filled up with carbon and fat kids began to wheeze
the people saw the problem far too late to save the bees.

So this blue and shining planet took its turns around the sun
and its self-appointed stewards let the melting glaciers run.
They built their gleaming cities and they drove their shiny cars
and hoarded gold as smoke and soot deprived them of the stars.

As this swiftly warming planet wandered calmly ‘round the sun
the species dreamed up deities; some claimed each was the one.
They argued and they tussled and they built their mighty bombs
until their wars seemed normal, not the intermittent calms.

Understand. This blue-green planet spinning happy ‘round the sun
offered seas and forests, endless playgrounds sown with fun
but its body had this virus, spreading coast to every coast
and it reproduced so quickly it soon overcame the host.

On this gently turning planet making trips about the sun
the deniers of the problem took some wooly facts and spun.
They fabricated stories as the arctic ice dissolved
and they lied about the danger ‘til no problem could be solved.

Now this breathing browning planet circled sickly ‘round the sun
while its blue and verdant surface slowly faded to a dun.
It began to run a fever, thirsty, shaking, growing warm
it erupted, cleansed and healed itself with earthquake, flood and storm.

So, this clever, living planet in its orbit ‘round the sun
did the thing that bodies do when by an illness overrun.
It used its own defenses and in no uncertain terms
it ensured its own survival by destroying all the germs.

As this strong and fearless planet arced unfailing ‘round the sun
it proved itself a hero tiny challengers should shun.
Its oceans rose to drown them and its lava flows to burn
it deprived them of their sustenance because they’d failed to learn

Understand. This bright calm planet loved its journeys ‘round the sun
but it never met a battle that it hadn’t fought and won.
You needn’t mourn its death, because the planet’s living on.
And its blue-green cast recovered once the sickness was all gone.

Behold, the blue green planet, spinning happy ‘round the sun.
It once held human beings, but that episode is done.
They thought themselves important. They deemed themselves a force
but like any minor sniffle, the infection’s run its course.

Writing the Dead

Dylan Brody - Thursday, August 21, 2014

First Person, Past

     I am currently ghost-writing a memoir for a client dying of a rare lung disease.  This is a woman with whom Ive been distantly acquainted for years, who has interviewed me on air for some promotional appearances, to whom I feel inordinately close already.  Now, and for the next few weeks, I sit on the phone in the morning and ask directed interview questions of her.  Then I sit at my desk, put myself into the head of a woman who has already passed her expiration date and turn the memories I am privileged to share into stories others might enjoy reading.  Also, it is my job to make the stories palatably funny and light so they might have some chance at finding a literary life beyond that of their original teller.

     In the past, ghost writing has always involved a good deal of internal struggle for me.  As much as I like to be paid for what I do, I always feel a little bit odd about being paid to do work for which, ultimately, someone else will take the credit.  I sometimes find myself hesitant to use a particularly strong joke or turn of phrase, no matter how organically it grows from the moment, because I hate to have such a flash of inspiration go to page as someone elses, to lose it for my own future use. Ghost writing is something I do, generally, for the paycheck.  Writing for which I can take credit I do for pleasure, and I cannot claim to be so enlightened as to be able to do it without the involvement of my ego in every damn line.

     Also, I have all sorts of issues surrounding money.  I have been known to go through long periods in which I make nothing at all, living entirely off of my wife.  When I make large chunks of money, I frequently feel as though I am underpaid for my efforts.  I have no standard rates as a ghost writer.  Whenever a project comes up, and they generally do so once or twice a year, the negotiation is always problematic for me.  I hate to turn down work, but I also like to be paid well for work that does not feed my voracious ego.  When a project looks as though it will be no fun at all, I name outrageous rates in hope that the potential client will go away.  If the client accepts or makes a counter offer that will greatly help me financially, I accept it, buckle down and do the writing-for-a-living work for which Ive been hired.  When an uncredited project seems as though it might be good, good fun, I do my best to make myself available at reasonable enough rates to get the job.  Regardless of where on that spectrum the job lies, I spend much of the time feeling as though Ive undersold myself and berating myself for still being at a place in my career at which ghost writing is a necessary revenue stream.  Also, writing for money carries a lot of guilt for me in general; no matter how much or how little I make, it feels a bit like a cheat, a scam, a con.  Writing comes easily for me and is, for the most part, an escapist pleasure; so I feel slimy getting paid for it, just as much as I always feel like no amount that Im paid for it is enough.

     This woman Im working for now, though, is a friend of sorts, certainly someone for whom I feel affection, though weve never met in person.  Ive known of her terminal prognosis for a couple of years, although I didnt realize until recently that she is already well into bonus time, well beyond what was predicted by the doctors who diagnosed and now treat her.  When she told me she wanted to do a memoir, I encouraged her.  When she told me that she cannot bring herself to write it and wanted me to ghost write, I winced because I did not think she could afford me even at my lowest, happy-to-do-it rates.

     Shes dying, though.  I have time.  I offered to do the work for a very low, living-expenses sort of advance against my proper rates if she manages to find a publisher for it who would provide a proper, professional advance against royalties.  I started doing the interviews and writing.  Every day for the first week I did this until my head felt as though it might explode.  I kept doing the mathematical reductions to figure out how many pages were done, how many left to do, how many I write in a day and how many more days this was likely to be my task.  Then, as she wheezed her personal anecdotes to me over phone and I typed my notes for the day, I felt an unexpected sense of privilege.  I was the person this lovely woman trusted with her legacy.  I was the one chosen to turn memories into prose.  I was the one she believed could honestly and accurately and touchingly put her life to the page.  She thought, I will be gone soon.  She thought, I want to leave something behind of what I have experienced in this life.  She thought about making that thing beautiful and lasting and funny and touching and she thought of me.

     I am not a guy who takes artists seriously when they talk about how they think of what they do as a service they perform for the world.  That has always felt to me like a pretense of humility from someone who, like me, serves his or her own ego.

     On this project, though, I have begun to feel the pleasure and the responsibility of using my craft to be of service to someone who very much needs my services.  I am underpaid and I am overjoyed and it feels as though I have been given a gift.

     I am the hand behind the part of her that will live on.  My client will die.  And I, happily, am her ghost.

In the Style of Alex M. Stein

Dylan Brody - Tuesday, August 19, 2014

 I know I've been a downer a lot lately, talking about the sense of loss I felt at the death of Robin Williams, talking about depression all the time.  (By the way, my Modern Depression Guidebook has just been re-released as an e-book by Autharium.  You should order it.)

To shift the mood a bit, here's a piece I wrote last week and presented on Saturday for the first time.  It's written in the style of Alex Stein but it works well enough to stand on its own.  I suspect I will include it in the Evening With Dylan Brody that Eve Brandstein is producing at Beyond Baroque on the first of November. That show will have a larger audience and the recordings will be of high enough quality released as a series of singles by Rooftop Media. 

Click the little forward-pointing triangle below to hear this first presentation.  I could not be happier with the story.

Love in the Age of Sadness

Dylan Brody - Wednesday, August 13, 2014

I have to talk about depression for a minute.

 

                Robin Williams’ death hit me hard.  It hit a lot of people hard, people who had worked with him extensively, people who had passing professional relationships with him like myself, people who knew him only in the way that a celebrity is known by the general public.  We all knew, to one degree or another, of his struggles with depression and with substance abuse, but that a man of such energy, such productivity, such genius could reach a point of suicidal despair came as a shock.  His death feels like a loss.  His death by his own hand feels somehow like a betrayal, as though giving in to the power of his darkest demons is something this wonderful man has done to us, rather than something he has done to himself or, even more accurately, simply done.

                I have faced and continue to face my own battles with depression.  I have felt the certainty that the world and my loved ones would be far better off without me, have made the shift from looking at the stack of bills and thinking about expensive things that I own and could sell to looking at the swimming pool and thinking about heavy things that I own and could tie to my feet. 

Right now my depression is fairly well under control.  For decades I self-medicated with marijuana.  Eventually that stopped working.  For about fifteen years I kept the depression at bay through a combination of cognitive therapy and martial arts training.  Eventually the darkness crept back up my spine to infect the creases in my brain.  Now, depression is mitigated as a side effect of the Paxil  I take, because I now see a strict Orwellian Therapist who medicates me against political outrage. (My wife points out that the therapist in this joke should be a strict Huxlian and I know she’s right, but I think “Orwellian” is more accessible and the medication keeps me from caring that much about such details.)  Still, I remain vigilant for symptoms, knowing that should I develop a resistance to the medication, should my chemical balances shift, should the wrong confluence of events occur, I could once again find my mood spiraling downward like Larry Flynt at the Guggenheim.  I hope that when it happens I will recognize it and find a new weapon to utilize in the continuing battle.

Depression lies. It lies in all sorts of ways.  Depression tells you that you are worthless and that nobody needs you.  It tells you that it cannot be treated.  It protects itself from treatment by telling you that it is necessary, that without depression you will not be able to write or to paint or to be funny or to be passionate about your political beliefs.  Depression tells you that it is permanent and unavoidable and correct.  Depression tells you – and this is the most dangerous thing of all – that nobody cares, that nobody will listen, that nobody will understand.

In truth, some people will not care, will not listen, will not understand. Some people are dismissive assholes.  But if you are lost in the darkness, keep calling out.  Someone will respond, I promise. Eventually someone will not just hear you, but will listen.  Someone will take your hand, lead you toward daylight and hug you reassuringly along the way.

If you are not lost in the darkness, keep your ears open.  You needn’t save everyone.  Nobody can save everyone.  But be ready, when you see someone in need, to open your hand and your heart.  Be ready, when you can, to help.

Depression isn’t easy.  Hell, life isn’t easy.  But if we can all be brave enough to share our own burdens and to help others who need to share theirs, there’s a damn good chance we can get through this together.

You guys are all wonderful in your humanity, every damn one of you.  Stay alive, would you?  I can’t manage my struggle without you.

 

Some Thoughts on the Death of Robin Williams

Dylan Brody - Monday, August 11, 2014

                 Early in my career, Robin Williams was among my heroes.  I listened to Reality, What a Concept on my component stereo system until the needle hiss became indistinguishable from the sound of applause.  Jokes from it still cross my mind at odd moments, triggered by a turn of phrase or a passing reference to something of the time.  Perrier.  Jaws.

                Two weeks into my work as a stand-up comic I showcased at Catch a Rising Star in New York because, according to the movie Fame that was what you did.  I heard that Mr. Williams was in the room just before I went on.  I went down in flames and as it happened I wondered if he was there, seeing it.  Just imagining the possibility that a hero would see me flounder so badly troubled my sleep for weeks and made me wince whenever the thought of it happened across my mindscape.  Several years later, when I moved to L.A. as a regular at the New York IMPROV, I set up a showcase for myself at the IMPROV on Melrose.  I gave the emcee my intro, but instead of introducing me, he introduced a special guest.  Robin went up ahead of my showcase.  He took the stage and sweated and improvised for forty-five minutes and he was hilarious.  Then I went up to an exhausted crowd and showcased into a microphone as they paid their checks and left the room.

                These are the vagaries of show business. He remained one of my heroes.

                About a year and a half ago, Robin came in to do a guest spot on the David Feldman Show.  When he read through the sketches prepared by the writers, mine was the first one he picked to do.  He complimented me on my writing.  He did the thing word-for-word as I had written it.  This was not because he could not have improvised.  It was because he was kind and respectful.

 

(Here's the recording of Robin doing words I wrote From the David Feldman Show with Paul Dooley and Rick Overton.  The Shakespear Sketch.)

When I performed in Mill Valley six months later, he was at the Throckmorton Theater talking to Mort Sahl before the show.  I approached him.  He remembered me.  He introduced me to Mort as a very talented writer.

He was gracious and kind and he exuded warmth.

His death saddens me more than the death of an acquaintance really should.  All death speaks to loss and reminds us of our own mortality.  But Robin Williams’ light burned so brightly that the thought of so much darkness just below the surface hurts the empathic heart.  I am sad.  That is all.

Peace in the Middle East

Dylan Brody - Sunday, July 20, 2014

As a man -- and a jew -- who feels that violence is never the solution and always a continuation of the problem, I find myself deeply troubled by the most recent violence in the middle East. I am troubled by the Palestinian attacks that come after a history of saying that they are opposed to the very existence of a Jewish State. I am troubled by the Israeli ghettoization of Palestine, after a history that should have left them – us -- hyper-sensitive to the need of a people to have a viable and recognized home. On  personal  level I am troubled by the polarization that has made me hesitant even to write about this for fear of alienating friends and colleagues who have become so entrenched in their positions of defense that any talk of peace seems a betrayal. The enemy is neither the Jews nor the Arabs, neither Israel nor Palestine. The enemy is our own readiness to see violence as an answer to violence, to see vengeance as a response to past wrongs committed, to see weapons of death as acceptable tools of self-expression. While it is true that peace brings with it risk, it is also true that war has never been safe for anyone. If we cannot all stop and listen together for the shared sound of our breath, we might begin by quieting the explosives long enough so that we can at least to hope to hear the true sounds of the world we must inhabit together.

I Am Not Possessed by Demons

Dylan Brody - Friday, July 18, 2014

                The sentence, “I am SO completely over it,” is almost always uttered by someone about something over which they are very much not.  This sentence comes so laden with frustration and anger, so saturated with emotional content that the subtext comes through loudly, clearly, trumpetingly.  “I am SO over it,” almost always means, “I am reviewing these recent events in my head constantly and expect never to be free of this internal cycle of rage and recrimination.”

                I don’t have any real objection to internal cycles of rage and recrimination.  Hell, I have some recurring fantasies of vengeance I might take on my perceived social enemies that, were they expressed in the wrong setting, might land me on a seventy-two hour hold for observation.  I just think it’s healthier to be honest with ourselves and those around us lest we say, “I am SO over it,” and ‘cause some mildly autistic, subtext-challenged friend to mistakenly believe the words and thus trigger an outburst by treating the “it” over which we have claimed to be as an “it” over which we actually are.

                Similarly, I’ve realized that the people who behave oddly and say, “I really don’t care what anybody thinks of me,” actually care a great deal about what other people think of them.  I think it’s better to be honest about these things.  My physical comfort is not the reason I put on a suit and glue gears and chain-fasteners to my phone to make it a steampunk pocket watch.

                We all care about how we appear to others.  That’s why, when you start walking away from the car and then remember that you’ve left something you need in the trunk, you don’t just turn around and go back.   First you slap your forehead or raise a finger as though you’ve made a significant scientific discovery or perform some other absurd little mime that says to the world, “I have forgotten something and must now go back for it!”  The world doesn’t care.  Nobody else on the sidewalk would be likely to see a person walk a few steps in one direction, turn around and go back the other way and think, “How odd.  That guy must have one of those doggy perimeter collars that prevents him from going beyond the end of the block!”  Nobody would assume, because of a single abrupt change in direction that madness has taken over, that a demon has abruptly possessed a fellow pedestrian causing her to spin in place.  Still, we all feel compelled to utilize the “I have forgotten an item and must return for it,” gesture from Edmund Keane’s catalogue of old-timey indicative acting postures and poses.

                Several years ago my psychiatrist suggested that I wean myself off anti-depressants.  I cut back from a pill a night to three quarters of a pill a night.  About three days into that minor down-step in my paxil level I drove to a meeting and on the way there I found myself planning all the things I’d be angry about when I arrived.  I wasn’t running late, I had left plenty of time to get there, but I imagined griping about the traffic as I walked through the door.  I wondered if I would have to pay for parking and I rehearsed an argument with a receptionist about validation.  A car tailgated me for a while and then pulled into the next lane and sped past.  I imagined chasing him, cutting him off and then slowing way down.  I reviewed a conversation I had had with my wife days earlier, finding ways that I could prove that I had been right and she wrong through clever dialectic despite the firm knowledge that in fact she had been right and I entirely wrong.

                I called my shrink from the car, sitting in a metered parking space right outside the building.  I said, “Look, is it possible that after cutting back by a quarter pill I can feel the darkness crawling toward me from the all corners of the world, climbing my spinal column and creeping into the creases in my brain?”

                He said, “Huh.  I suppose it’s possible.  This is your first bout of depression that we’re treating?”

                I said, “What?  No.  I’ve had depression on and off since I was a teenager.”

                He said, “Oh!  Then stay on the medication.  It seems as though we found the right one and as though you’re exquisitely attuned to it.”

                I re-upped to a full pill a night and everything balanced right back out.  Apparently if it’s a first time thing, sometimes the meds help you fix the chemicals and you get back on track.  If it’s been a lifelong thing, you need to keep dosing yourself just to perceive the world the way normal human beings do.

                I care desperately about what other people think of me.  I want to be liked.  I want to be perceived as someone who is not a crazy person, not possessed by demons or troubled by bouts of madness, but I also think it’s important to be honest about what’s going on, to keep the text in alignment as close as possible to the subtext.  I want to be admired in my sartorial splendor and to be able to show up places cheerful and present.

                For the most part, with the help of modern pharmaceuticals, I keep the depression at bay.  But make no mistake; don’t think for a moment that I am completely over it.

Human Decency in a Hard Town

Dylan Brody - Wednesday, July 09, 2014

     Tonight I tried to record my first live performance of this story at Bevery Mickens' wonderful Story Salon at the Art Parlor in Studio City.  I think it went pretty well.  But then I came home and dropped my Zoom H2N digital audio recorder in the toilet.  I snatched it out and it's drying as I type this, but I don't know if it will survive.  Also, I don't know if I ever want to touch it again.  It went in the toilet.  That's icky.

      That said, I think the story works very nicely.  I'll probably try to record it again at some point.  In the meantime, I present it below.  I present it under the working title:

 

The Story of Jimmy Brogan is the Kindest Man on the Planet and Wil Shriner Taught me to Stop Having Murderous Fantasies About Bill Maher

                 I’ve realized, as I trundle through middle age, that my life has taken on the repeat-refrain structure I employ in many of my stories.  Events that occur in the course of a day seem to be callbacks to events of years gone by, newly informed by intervening experience.  I cannot tell if this is an indication that I seek natural closure in life as I do in art, or simply an indication that I do not evolve and continue to do the same things over and over again.

                I’ve recently realized that the first place I performed regularly when I started doing Stand Up comedy all those years ago, was a bar in New York called The Callback, although I believe the bar’s name referenced the meaning common among actors -- the second round audition achieved by auditioning well enough to be looked at again -- as opposed to the meaning common among comics and story-tellers, the use of a word, phrase or punchline that recalls an earlier moment in the presentation newly informed by intervening imagery.

                In the mid-eighties, a year or two after I moved to Los Angeles, I became house MC at Krissy Frances’ Hollywood Comedy Room on Santa Monica Boulevard.  I took my job very seriously and thought of myself as host not only to the audience but to the comics I was to bring to the stage.  It was always my goal to make everyone feel relaxed and supported and at home.  I tried to protect the more famous guests from inappropriate fans.  I also tried to protect everyone from this guy named Marty who came in every night trying to sell people jokes.  Marty was not a regular performer at the club.  He was not a comic at all, as far as I could tell.  Nor was he a joke writer, really. He was mostly just a nudzhedikka salesman with a lot of chutzpah and a firm conviction that this made him qualified to hang out at comedy clubs and pitch jokes to largely impoverished comedians.

                Jimmy Brogan performed regularly at the club.  His act consisted entirely of “where are you from?”  and  “What do you do for a living?” He was all likability and improvisational crowd work.  He came into the room ready to play with nothing prepared and stayed in the moment so comfortably that he could find hilarity in his conversational style without ever becoming cruel or abusive.  He had gotten in with the folks at Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show,  and he was invited back on to perform stand up on that program every six months, but national mainstream television is not comfortable with someone going in front of the cameras and saying “where are you from?”  So every six months he had to work up a new six minutes of actual jokes.

                He came into Krissy Frances’ Room one evening doing jokes in preparation for a Tonight Show appearance.  One of the jokes was an innocuous little one liner – I go to Supercuts ‘cause it’s only eight dollars.  Well, eight and a quarter with tip – and it caught the attention of Marty the humor hawker.  Jimmy came off stage.  I went on to bring up the next act and when I returned to the green room Marty was standing much too close to Jimmy’s face saying, “You want Supercuts jokes, Jimmy?  I got one for ya!  What about this?  What about, ‘I was short on cash one month so I went to Pretty Good Cuts?  You think you can use that?  ‘Pretty Good Cuts!’”  I wanted to protect Jimmy, my guest, from Marty, whom I thought of as little more than an abrasive party-crasher.  I moved to Jimmy, put my arm around him and said, “You’re looking for Supercuts jokes?  I have a Supercuts joke, Jimmy . . .”  And steered him away from Marty, chatting about what a good set he’d had and thanking him for his work and so on.

                After a minute or two, he said, “What’ve you got on Supercuts?”

                I said, “I only have one Supercuts joke, Jimmy.  But I wasn’t – I was just saving you from Marty.”

                Jimmy chuckled and said, “That’s very sweet of you.  What’ve you got on Supercuts?”

                I shrugged and said, sort of sheepishly ‘cause I was in my early twenties and suddenly felt as though I was auditioning material, “Right after I go to Supercuts, for about two weeks my friends keep coming up to me and saying, ‘did you just take a nap?’”  Jimmy laughed.  He said it was pretty funny. He asked me if it was for sale.

                Despite Marty’s presence in the club at which I worked, it had never occurred to me that I might be able to write and sell jokes.  I said, “um.  Sure.  Yeah.  How much do jokes like that sell for?”

                Jimmy said, “I’ll tell you what.  Let me take it out and try it for a week.  If it’s getting a laugh, I’ll give you twenty-five  dollars.”

                At this time in my life, twenty-five dollars was slightly more than I was spending regularly on an eighth of an ounce of grass.  I wasn’t actually using the joke.  I said, “Great!”

                A week later, Jimmy returned to the club.  He pulled a check from his pocket already made out to me for fifty bucks.  I took it, looked at it, and informed him that he had actually only offered me twenty-five.  He chuckled and said, “Yeah.  That was in case it didn’t work.  Never take less than fifty bucks for a joke.”  And then, “It’s getting a good laugh.  I’m still probably underpaying you.”

                This shows a sort of kindness, a generosity of spirit one rarely encounters in the stand-up world. 

 ________

                In 1990 someone informed me that Bill Maher was doing a joke of mine.  I had opened for Bill a couple of years earlier, so I knew when he had heard the line and I confronted him outside the IMPROV on Melrose about it.  He asked me which line.  I told him.  He said, “Oh.  No.  That’s word-for-word.  That’s my line.  I’ve done it on television.”

                I told him that I had written it and that I knew when he had heard me do it.  He asked me when I’d written it.  I said, “I think I wrote it in ’84.”  He said, “’83.  It’s my joke.”  From this I learned an important Hollywood lesson.  Always let the other guy bid first.

                For a little more than a year I carried my resentment over this joke around with me.  I hated Maher to an inappropriate extent.  I told the story and the joke to everyone who would listen.  I was constantly on the lookout for joke thieves as if I was the corner-man for some bizarre humor-distribution gang.

                One night at the now defunct L.A. Cabaret I saw a young comic doing a bit that I knew to be Wil Shriner’s.  I called Wil from the payphone at the back of the club to alert him to the thievery.  He chuckled and asked what the bit was.  I told him. 

                I said, “You want me to talk to him?”

                Wil said, “Nah."

                 I asked him what he was going to do about it.  He said, "Write something new.  We can write, Dylan.  If he’s stealing from me, it’s ‘cause he can’t.  I’ll come up with something else.”

                It was so off-handed, so effortlessly generous-of-spirit that I was instantly reminded of the act of kindness that Jimmy had performed years earlier.  I began to think consciously about which sort of performer I wanted to be, about which sort of person I wanted to be.

                I had been following in the wrong footsteps, developing hostile, Hollywood habits of guarded envy.  I wanted to be Wil. I wanted to be Jimmy.

 __________

                Two years ago Jimmy and I were booked together on an all-headliners’ show at a comedy festival.  I hadn’t seen him in more than twenty years. I told him that I owed him thanks.  He was largely responsible for me finding my way into comedy writing as a source of income.  I asked him if he minded if I developed the story to use on stage.  He asked me what the story was.  I told him.

                I won’t repeat it now, ‘cause I just typed it a minute ago.  Krissy Frances’ Hollywood Comedy Room.  Marty the joke vendor.  Supercuts.

                He said, “I remember that joke!  That used to get a good laugh.”  And then, “Sure!  Go ahead and tell the story.”  No hesitation.  Pure generosity.

                The next night, I brought him a check for fifty dollars.  He said, “What’s this for?”

                I said, “If I’m telling the story, I’ll be getting a laugh with the joke.  I figure I should buy it back from you.”

                He said, “Keep your money, Dylan.  Now that I remember it, I’m gonna start doing the joke again.”

                I said, “You don’t mind that I’ll be using it when I tell the story?”

                He said, “I work the road a lot.  We probably don’t have a lot of crossover audience.  And if someone sees one of us do it, and then, weeks or months later sees the other one do it. . .  well, then it just works as a really good callback.”

               

Peace is Possible

Dylan Brody - Saturday, July 05, 2014

                Tonight at Alex Stein’s wonderful Literary Salon at the MUSE ON 8th I read a piece that I published here as a blog post a day or two ago called Peace, Love and Flag-Wavery.  That piece focusses on the nature of my relationship with the flag and my discomfort with patriotism.  In closing that piece I propose that all people are created equal and that patriotism is a gateway drug to nationalism.  I suggest that honorable violence is a myth and that peace is worth striving for.

 

                After I performed a fellow performer whom I’ve never before met approached me.  He started by saying that his father, a World War Two veteran, would disagree with me but what he actually meant was that he disagreed with me and wanted his father’s service to validate and substantiate his position.  He claimed to be a great authority on history to bolster his point of view, which was, as near as I could tell, that mankind has always been at war, that mankind will always be at war and that American exceptionalism is real, indisputable and worth fighting for.

                The details of the argument do not matter.  Any example I gave to support my point of view, he dismissed out of hand as an aberration or misinformation.  It quickly became clear that he was not interested in a discussion of ideas.  He wanted to lecture me.  He wanted to convince me that I was naive to think that peace is possible.  Eventually I walked away.  That’s not the whole truth.  Eventually I told him he was an ass and walked away.  (In my own defense, I had turned away from him twice to have other conversations with other people and he had waited to re-engage me both times.  Also, when arguing for the position of peace, I feel walking away plays better than hitting.)

                I have difficulty understanding the impulse to advocate on behalf of the very concept of war, but on the way home I found a powerful shoulda-said, although in this case I am quite certain that even had I thought of it in the moment it would not have changed this man’s mind.  Chances are I would not have spoken the whole thought before being interrupted and told I was foolish.

                But here, in the safety of my own blog, nobody can stop me.

                If you believe that peace is not possible, surely you won’t put effort into working toward it.  Feeling that peace is worth working toward, I must proceed with the assumption that it is possible.

                That is all.

Peace, Love, and Flag Wavery

Dylan Brody - Friday, July 04, 2014

                The difficulty of childhood is that we know and intuit things for which we do not yet have the vocabulary.  The difficulty of formal education is that we are given vocabulary as a replacement for the things we have known and intuited.  The challenge of adulthood is to relearn that which we knew before we took to formal study, and use the tools of study to name and categorize our fragments of intuited knowledge long forgotten.

                When I was a child in the late sixties and early seventies, my parents took me and my sister on peace marches to protest the war in Vietnam.  I remember a particular day in Saratoga Springs.  My sister had made sugar cookies with doves drawn on them in icing.  She gave them out to our fellow marchers explaining with each cookie that the blurry strand of sugar paste was a dove.  She must have been nine.  I was sevenish.  I’m guessing at the ages and the year, really, doing a sort of temporal triangulation based on the sequence of world events and elements of familial history.

                We walked from the staging area at Café Lena up to main street and then across to the Skidmore College campus, this crowd of protestors carrying signs that said, “War is unhealthy for children and other living things,” and “Study war no more.”  We sang and we chanted and we felt we were saving the world from an eternity of violence, changing the path of mankind forever.

                 Counter-protestors lined the sidewalks.  They waved American flags and shouted at us.  Their signs said, “My country, right or wrong!” and “Love it or leave it!”  They were very, very angry at us.  I could not understand how anyone could be opposed to peace.  I could not understand how anyone could be in favor of warfare and napalm and bombing and all the things that I knew, in my vague and childish way, to be going on halfway around the world.

                Someone from the sidelines threw an egg and it shattered against my hip.  It didn’t hurt so much as it startled me.  I yelped and spun to see what had happened. I immediately saw the man with his carton of eggs half-emptied.  He looked as startled as I, a bit apologetic.  He had not intentionally targeted the little boy in the tee shirt with the lightning bolt on it over the word, “SHAZAM” spelled out in Hebrew.  I glared at the man.  Others had seen it, too.

                College students amongst the protestors and frustrated professors like my father and young men who were desperately afraid that if the war did not end they would be sent to die in Southeast Asia spun to see who had thrown the egg.  Even as they called for peace, they were spoiling for a fight, they were sick of feeling marginalized by their representatives, bullied by the establishment.

                A police officer, one of those holding the space between the protest march and the counter-protesters, turned with the crowd to see who had thrown the egg at the child.  As he did so, he drew his Billy club from his holster and, because I was small and in the wrong place, the end of it caught me across the side of the head with a small, sharp cracking sound.  I yelped again.

                The tension of the protesters cranked up a notch and in response the counter protesters began to step forward toward us.  I was seven.  I did not yet have in my vocabulary phrases like “false flag,” or “mob mentality.”  Also, I could feel the thrill of being at the center of conflict.  I could imagine arcing punches being thrown like those in the choreographed fight scenes on television, those frozen in the four-color frames of my comic books.  I could imagine the thrill of feeling that all these people with whom I was marching would explode into action to protect me.  I knew that all of this would happen if I just kept my mouth shut and even as I knew that I knew the guilt I would feel over it, I knew the shame that would consume me if I allowed the peace march to devolve into violence.

 

                I put my hands out in a panic and shouted, “It was an accident!  He didn’t mean it!”  And I was shouting about both the cop and the man who had thrown the egg.

                The man who had thrown the egg put his hands up apologetically and shouted, “I’m sorry!  I didn’t mean to!  I wasn’t trying to –“  I don’t think the expression, “my bad,” had yet been coined but it was his subtext and it was clear.

                The cop was checking me out sideways to make sure I was okay, but his focus was still split.  He had the potential for violence all around him and he couldn’t risk kneeling down, checking on me carefully.  I shouted, “It’s okay.  I’m fine!”

                As fast as that the moment was over.  The march moved on and the flag wavers held their ground and the police officer nodded at me in a way that I think might have implied gratitude.  In a TV show or a movie, the guy who threw the egg would have tousled my hair.  Or he would have shaken my hand and the cop would have tousled my hair.  There might have been a hug.  There definitely would have been hair tousling.  None of that happened.

                The next day at school I told my teacher I didn’t want to stand up and do the pledge of allegiance any more.  I was in second grade.  So, yeah.  Seven years oldish, I guess.  I couldn’t fully explain why I didn’t want to do the pledge.  I didn’t have all the vocabulary yet, but I knew it made me uncomfortable.  The flag was the symbol flown by the people who opposed peace.  The flag was the symbol of the angry counter protesters who lined the streets shouting that if my parents and I disagreed with them, we weren’t welcome in their country.  I was also already discovering that the mythology of religion seemed an odd thing to be so wholly folded into the fabric of our society so I didn’t feel comfortable with the “under God,” part of the pledge.  Mostly, though, it seemed to me that to pledge allegiance to the flag was to ally myself with the supporters of war, to ally myself with those who opposed all that my parents had been teaching me about peace and tolerance and kindness.

                My teacher met with the school’s administration.  They reached an agreement that I would be allowed to sit out the Pledge of Allegiance and the other kids would be allowed to ostracize and brutalize me.  Because that’s how freedom works.

                I retain a significant discomfort with the flag, with all claims of patriotism.  They always seem to come with the idea, implicit or explicit, that any viewpoint differing from those expressed by the patriot are inherently traitorous.  People waving flags always do so with a subtext that says, “dissent is treason.”

                Opposition to war is not treasonous.  A belief that humanity is of greater value than property is not treachery.  That borders do not determine the value of their inhabitants remains a strong principle deep within my conscience-guided psyche.

                Here are a couple of things I intuited long before I had the vocabulary to express them.  Thrilling, honorable violence can only be experienced as a fantasy, can only be acted out given a willful manufacture, denial and maintenance of some basic misunderstanding.  Peace can be attained through a simple acknowledgement and acceptance of those errors that occur in a moment of conflict and rage.  Patriotism is a gateway drug to nationalism.

                At the risk of sounding like a bleeding heart liberal, at the risk of sounding like some kind of globalist, at the risk of revealing my utter lack of patriotism, let me suggest this highly unpopular idea:  Perhaps all people are created equal.  Perhaps our allegiance, regardless of gang colors, should be to the concept of liberty and justice for all.

                Happy independence, People. 

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