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  1. Human Decency in a Hard Town Dylan Brody 09-Jul-2014
  2. Peace is Possible Dylan Brody 05-Jul-2014
  3. Peace, Love, and Flag Wavery Dylan Brody 04-Jul-2014
  4. Order More Arts-Less Martial NOW Dylan Brody 30-Jun-2014
  5. Who Books That Room? Dylan Brody 25-Jun-2014

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 simply 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, 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.  We can write, Dylan.  If he’s stealing from me, it’s ‘cause he can’t write.  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. 

Order More Arts-Less Martial NOW

Dylan Brody - Monday, June 30, 2014

At midnight Eastern time on July 1st, the special dropped!  Pre-orders have already begun downloading all around the globe!  Order yours now.  It's $5 for a full hour of performance in hi-def video!  Click the image and follow the instructions!  Share the link.  Give downloads as gifts.  Spread the word!  Thanks!

 

Who Books That Room?

Dylan Brody - Wednesday, June 25, 2014

                Tonight, for a minute, I was a comedy cliché.  It felt wonderful.

                I emceed a small show in a dark bar with no stage for the Eaglerock Comedy Festival.

 

                Had I been in a slightly worse mood, I would have arrived at a poorly lit bar to find a boomy, distorted, rinky-dink sound system that I had to figure out on my own.  I would’ve looked through the list of comics I was to introduce, realized there were only two comics whose work I’d ever seen and a couple whose names I vaguely recognized from Facebook.  I would have sighed.

I would have handed each of the performers an index card on which to write an intro for me to deliver.  I would have opened charmingly, perhaps a little bit self-deprecatingly while doing all I could to let the audience know that I was comfortable with the situation and they could be, too.  I would have done a short set, and then brought up each of the performers in order, giving them their proper intros with verve and enthusiasm.  Over the course of the evening I would have seen some young – some irritatingly young – performers working out material in front of too few audience members, spread about the room.  I would have kept the show running smoothly.

That is exactly what did and yet exactly what did not happen.

____________

I’m on an antidepressant.  I suffered from debilitating depression for all of my adult life, most of my adolescence, and the parts of my childhood that are not obscured in a careful mist of self-protective amnesia.   I did not know that it was debilitating depression.  I thought it was the intellectual capacity to understand the underlying malevolence of man in the face of the absolute indifference of the natural universe we inhabit.

                I exaggerate, when I say “all of my adult life.”  I remember a day in 1992 and also, several months right after I got married that were okay.

                I suppose I also exaggerate when I say “debilitating.”  I was never incapable of writing scripts or prose or jokes; my pithy snark never ran dry at the page.  I was always able to hold a job long enough cover a few months’ rent before I alienated my bosses by correcting their grammar.  I could pick up road gigs and as long as I kept to myself in the hotel room between shows and did not try to socialize with the club owners or the bookers or the bar tenders, I could go back again.  Even when I smoked pot, I was a downer.  It didn’t matter how funny I was on stage; everybody I talked to off stage had a vague unsettling sense that where I went, sorrow would follow.

                A few years ago my depression got so bad that I mistook it for a dark suit.  I wore it around my home until every day became a quiet funeral for an extended family of fallen minutes, a holocaust of seconds, each death mourned in silent anguish.  I buried the killed time in dutiful solemnity.

Apparently, this was not what my wife had been looking for in a husband.  She suggested I see a therapist or a psychiatrist about finding some sort of medication.  After a couple of missteps we found one that seemed to work so the doctor told me to take Paxil for eight months and then check in with him.

The depression lifted.  Some things in my career began to shift around me.  I let them develop, worried that if I pushed too hard I might sabotage them.  To distract myself I began a couple of new projects that didn’t look like they’d make much money but might give me an outlet for some ideas, and allow me to solidify some interesting contacts by including them as collaborators.  As I took meetings to move them forward, I spoke enthusiastically about the stuff I was doing rather than disparagingly of the budgets or the flaws or the travails of it all.  New opportunities opened up and not only did some people whom I met seem to actually like me and respect my work, I noticed that I liked some of them.  It was all quite bizarre. 

I was behaving like a grown-up with a career that involved creativity and human interaction and I was doing both regularly and without resentment. 

I did not know that I was behaving like a grown-up.  I thought the world had finally opened its eyes to the fact that I was a decent hard-working human and decided that I could have a place in it.  That it had done so, made me feel things.  I struggled to find words.  They were elusive and when I caught them they seemed affected.  “Happy.”  “Content.”  These were not words my inner voice knew how to pronounce naturally.  When it tried, they came after that awkward half-pause of a septuagenarian trying to casually adopt a new bit of street slang.  The quotation marks around them seemed indelible. 

At the eight month mark, I contacted the psychiatrist and he suggested that I start weaning myself off the stuff, a quarter of a pill at a time, over the course of four weeks.  For four days I took three quarters of a pill instead of a whole one.  I began to sense that shadows were beginning to gather in corners of my office, pressing in toward me.  I kept testing the feeling with my psyche trying to determine whether it was real or imagined.

Then, as I drove to a coffee meeting, the quiet, behind the wheel part of my mind came to life.  The lucid waking part of my mind that makes up little stories about conversations I would like to have, imagined scenes in which I am the hero prevailing by virtue of wit and logic had begun to tell me strangely familiar tales.  I hadn’t heard them in a while, but I knew them as well as any oft-repeated Dr. Seuss rhyme of my childhood.  My driving mind, rolling and peaceful, had steered my down a well-worn path to a story of how tight the traffic was, how hard it is to get anywhere.  I’d left extra time and still wound up worried. There was a loud red Ferrari just ahead of me in the next lane over.  The expensive, powerful machine sat just as still as the rest of us and whenever we all pulled forward a few yards it roared frustration at an obnoxious volume.  I realized I had seen it before, that car.

Not two weeks before, I had been stuck in traffic with that same beautiful car.  The flow had slowed terribly through the Cahuenga pass and I had sat in the lazy crawl admiring that car, thinking about how powerful it sounded, how profoundly and satisfyingly indulgent it would feel to sit in a car like that in Hollywood traffic.

I called my psychiatrist to say, “Listen, doctor.  This might sound insane, but I’ve cut the dose a quarter of a pill for – what? – four days now and I don’t know if this is even possible.  But I feel like the oceanic depths are starting to drown the bright edges of the world.  Also I’m on my way to see someone and for no reason at all I’m planning the things I’m going to be pissed off about when I get there. I remember this.  I used to do this all the time, every time I went somewhere I would rehearse my irritability on the way.  As if that’s not something I could improvise organically if it came up in the moment when I got there.  Does this sound like something that could be happening after a reduction of a quarter pill for four days?”

He sounded a bit shocked as he said, “Wow.  And you say this medication was to treat your first bout of serious depression?”

I said, “What?  I never said that.  I’ve been depressed most of my life.”

He said, “Oh!  In that case, stay on it.  With a first onset of depression, sometimes we can do a course and rebalance the brain but that’s much less likely with a long-term sufferer.  And you seem to be supremely sensitive to this medication.  Let’s just keep you on it.  Huh?”

I felt a wave of relief and re-upped to my previous dose that night.  I’ve been on it ever since.

I sometimes get sad.  I still worry some about man’s inhumanity to man, but I don’t obsess on it.  I try not to participate in it when I can help it.

______________________

Recently I’ve had a bit of a run of professional good luck.  I’m feeling entirely comfortable in my own skin.  I have revitalized hope for my future and my career.  There’s a litany of details cycling happily through my head these days.  Last year one of my literary heroes invited me to appear on his stage with him.  Yesterday he invited me back to do so again for two more shows.  I’ve developed a relationship with a new label that will not only put out comedy recordings with me but has an interest in my spoken-word work as well.  I’ve picked up a couple of over-lapping freelance clients.  I’ve had a few relaxed, enjoyable pitch meetings, some of which may prove lucrative, all of which proved valuable

 Tonight, I emceed a show in a bar with no stage for the Eaglerock Comedy Festival. 

                The Festival Organizers had arranged to have a small amplifier and microphone set up for us in a space that was clearly not accustomed to having performers but had opened its doors to us as a participating festival venue.  The bartender came to help me set up the space to make it as conducive as possible for performance and he gave me a couple of options for lighting, none of which was perfect, one of which was certainly adequate for the definition of stage space.  The little sound system wasn’t sophisticated but it was pretty easy to figure out.  We could all be heard.

I opened up a manila envelope to find fairly detailed instructions as to how the show was to run, including performance order, time restrictions.  The packet provided more than I needed to make me feel as though the festival was run by supportive professionals who knew what they were doing.  More importantly, I realized it was exactly what a less experienced emcee would need to be able to take the stage confidently and with a clear agenda.  The lineup included two comics whose work I’d seen before and both of whom I remembered enjoying. I vaguely recognized a couple of other names from Facebook.  I looked forward to seeing their work and finding out what these virtual acquaintances did behind the microphone.

I handed each of the performers an index card on which to write an intro.  I opened charmingly, and let the audience know that I was comfortable with the situation and they could be, too.  I did a short set, and then brought up each of the performers, giving them their proper intros with verve and enthusiasm.  Over the course of the evening I saw some young, wonderfully talented performers working out material in front of too few audience members, spread about the room.  I enjoyed their work and was delighted to act as their host and watch them assess the situation and adapt to it. All were professional, none bad.  I kept the show running smoothly.  I was able to appreciate the writing and the performances of some marvelous up-and-coming performers.

That’s how good a mood I was in tonight.  The way I processed the evening was so different from my usual perception that I kept noticing I was having a good time.  As I figured out how to work an unfamiliar sound board, I was aware that on another night I might have worked myself into a rage over the need to do such a thing for myself.  I kept spotting elements of the evening that I could have found distressing or annoying or infuriating or insulting or demeaning but did not distress or annoy or infuriate or insult or demean.

As I met one of the comics I would be introducing during the show, we had a moment of conversation.  He asked me what I’ve been doing and I told him about the upcoming release of my $5 hour-long video special.  I started to tell him about the e-mail I just got about the upcoming redesign and rerelease of my comedy E-book, but I realized that each thing I thought to mention led to another in the festival of fine fortune I've been enjoying so I shifted the conversation, asking him what he had going for the summer.    He said that sometimes, when he can’t get any decent bookings he puts up a show in his back yard that he calls “I Have a Hammock.”

I imagined a gathering of friends and local fans.  I imagined a few comics who like working together showing up for a low-key semi-impromptu house concert.  It sounded like fun.

Had I been in a slightly worse mood, I might have snorted in a way that was meant to sound sympathetic and amused but would have held a soupçon of palpable derision.  I would never have noticed the slight twinge of embarrassing envy I felt toward those young friends who would gather, but in an unconscious bid to dismiss the feeling I would have dismissed the event.  I might have dismissed the idea, dismissed the very notion so thoroughly as to assume he was kidding rather than embrace even the chance that such a thing might be real.

I was in this good mood, though.  So, I heard the young man in the under lit bar tell me that sometimes he puts together a show in his back yard and I responded with the casual relaxation of the wholly unrehearsed.  I stepped forward tonight with nothing but joy and anticipation in my heart and I became a comedy cliché.

With my litany of happy happenstance, burgeoning revenue streams, opportunities and bright futures parading colorfully through my psyche, I said, “who books that room?”  And I meant it.

 

Three Things You Can Do To Download My Special!

Dylan Brody - Sunday, June 22, 2014

THING ONE:  Watch this marvelous little trailer video put together by the fine folk at Rooftop Comedy!

 

 

THING TWO:Click on the image below to go pre-order the special.

THING THREE:  Accept the download of a short audio file at the appropriate moment -- the project drops July 1st --  and then follow instructions for the download of the full-length video file immediately thereafter!

Happy Mutant Baby Pills has been Messing With My Dreams

Dylan Brody - Friday, June 06, 2014

I read PERMANENT MIDNIGHT many years ago and only have vague memory of it.  I will be getting back to it soon.

PERMANENT MIDNIGHT by Jerry Stahl 

About a week ago, thanks to the timing of our recording for appearances on The David Feldman Show on KPFK, Jerry Stahl and I were in the same room at the same time and met one another.  He claimed to know who I was, though I suspect he knew me only from my appearances on KPFK and not any of the rest of what/who I am.  I pretended to know who he was while I searched my memory for why his name rang a bell and why he was vaguely connected to Ben Stiller in my mind.  It turned out that Ben Stiller played him in Permanent Midnight when it was made into a film that I never saw.

 

Once I figured out who the hell I was talking about, I played it fairly cool.  I think.  I told him I liked his work, of course, but I didn't fawn.  Except to give him a copy of my novel, LAUGHS LAST and a copy of my most recent CD, WRIT LARGE.

       

Then I went home intending to find and reread PERMANENT MIDNIGHT.  I have no idea where my copy went, but I downloaded his latest, HAPPY MUTANT BABY PILLS to my phone and became instantly engrossed.  He writes with such casual confidence that every page feels like a late night conversation on the floor of a sweat-stained motel room when tongues are pharmeceutically lubricated and all the disjointed thoughts make up a case-wall collage, fragments of ideas splattered on a bulletin board until a pattern emerges.  Somewhere in that pattern lies the truth, man, the hidden conspiracy that will make sense of the madness of our society.  You just have to look at it right, talk it through long enough and stay just the right amount of high.

 

The book is dark and funny and tragic.  Horrors so visceral they rearranged themselves into my glass-splintered dreams of bad habits left behind drew me back to my night-terror youth and woke me with a yearning to read the next chapter just to get a clean, hard fix of the lucid prose.

When the book found its natural end, when the last sweating syllable dropped into my raw-rubbed brain pan and the loose ends frayed themselves out to their inevitable, yet wholly unforeseen conclusion, I was awed by the author's skill, the Vonnegut talent that set up all the lines of the disjointed story structure and left us with the trailing threads, dragging us through the madness of junkiedom by a hempen rope and then leaving it there for us to tie off.

On the chance that you read this, Jerry, well done, man.  Well done.  And now I'm going to download PERV-- A Love Story into my phone and get to reading that next.  Because the title speaks to me.

An Open Apology to the Students at El Segundo Middle School

Dylan Brody - Tuesday, June 03, 2014

I was a part of the Revolutionary Poets Brigade presentation at El Segundo Middle School.  I so strongly disagreed with something in the presentation that I walked out rather than behaving inappropriately out of unfiltered rage.  I grabbed an extra therapy session.  I ordered my thoughts.  I recorded the following.

 

 

Copernicus, She's Not

Dylan Brody - Monday, May 19, 2014

My mother called me from her rental car.  She said, “I think I might be lost.”

I said, “Do you know where you are?”

She said, “Not entirely.”

I said, “Then I think you might be right.”

She said, “I’m on 405.”

I said, “The 405.”

She said, “That’s what I said.  I’m trying to get to your house.”

I said, “Are you going North or South?”

She said, “That’s what I’m not sure about.”

It was late afternoon so I said, “Is the sun to your right or to your left?”

She said, “I don’t see how that’s going to help.”

I said, “The sun rises in the East and sets in the West.”

She said, “I think I learned that in Orienteering Camp when I was a child.”  Then, “But that’s for when you’re lost in the woods.”

I said, “It works on freeways, too.”

She said, “It’s still not going to help me.”

I said, “Why not?”

She said, “Because I don’t want to go East or West.  I want to go North.”

I said, “If the sun is to your left, you’re going North.”

She said, “Can you figure that out from just one thing?  Don’t you have to triangulate?”

I said, “Only if I’m trying to find the source of your radio signal.” Then, “Does the car have GPS?”

She said, “I don’t like to turn it on.  I don’t want the NSA to know where I’m going.”

I said, “It would be good if someone did.  Are you headed North with the sun to your left?”
She said, “It’s to my left, but I don’t think that’s right.”

I said, “Why not?”

She said, “’It’s January.”

I said, “Yes.”

She said, “Orienteering Camp was always in the middle of summer.”

I said, “And yet, the earth only spins the one direction.”

She said, “Then I don’t understand how seasons work.”

I said, “The rotational axis is not directly perpendicular to the revolutionary plane.”

She said, “What does that mean?”

I said, “It means that the seasons work even though the planet only spins the one direction.”

She said, “Clockwise!”

I said, “That depends on which pole you’re looking at it from.”

She said, “So . . .  below the equator it spins the other way?”

I said, “Mom, with the exception of the poles, every point on Earth is constantly moving from West to East.”

She said, “What happens when they get there?”

I said, “Then they hatch a terrorist plot to kill the president.”

She said, “Why would you say such a thing?”

I said, “ Because I want the NSA to listen to this call.  I need a witness.”

My Memory of Grade School

Dylan Brody - Sunday, May 04, 2014

 

 

                Before I was the pompous man I am now, I was a pretentious child.  That’s how it works.  Pretense matures into pomposity

                In second grade this really began to manifest as I began carrying a copy of Dostoevsky’s Notes From Underground around with me.  I concealed in it comic books that I actually enjoyed reading but I wanted people to think that in my spare time I read introspective Russian melancholic literature.  I knew that Dostoevsky wrote introspective Russian melancholic literature because at our house in Schuylerville, NY my parents threw occasional cocktail parties for faculty from Skidmore College where my father taught in nearby Saratoga Springs and I listened to everything that was said.  I didn’t actually know what “introspective” or “melancholic” meant, but I knew I wanted to be perceived as someone who not only knew what they meant, but thoroughly enjoyed them in all their complexity and nuance.  It was not until many years later that I actually read Dostoevsky and found that I really did love introspective Russian melancholic literature and that the novella was startlingly funny.

                Second Grade was also the year that I started getting called into the Principal’s office on a regular basis for disagreeing with my teachers.  I would challenge the nature or the substance of a lesson presented in class.  The teacher would offer a quick rebuttal.  I would refuse to let the point go and eventually I would be sent to the Principal’s office.  Then my father would be called in to school and rather than simply scolding me to respect my elders, he would learn the details of the debate and take sides.  He usually took my side;  while my pretense had not yet matured into proper pomposity, I was already frequently right.

                I remember a couple of specific instances.  During a Social Studies lesson, our teacher explained to us that in America we have an educational system that teaches the truth of history and science, whereas in the Soviet Union teachers brainwashed children into believing that Communism was good and Democracy evil.  I raised my hand and when called upon, suggested that my teacher was doing precisely that same kind of indoctrination.  She insisted that Communism was repressive and evil, whereas under Democracy we had valued freedoms of religion and speech and so on.  Mouthing words I only half understood but was certain I had retained correctly, I pointed out that the two cannot be compared as Democracy is a governmental system and Communism is an economic model.  Then I was sent to the principal’s office.

 My father was called at work.  He drove from Skidmore College to Schuylerville Central School.  The Principal told him that I had been arguing with my teacher in class.  I recounted the details of the disagreement.  My father’s eyebrows rose and he said, “You’ve really been listening at those parties haven’t you?”  He told the Principal that I had the right of it and I was sent back to class.  My father made no mention of the copy of Kierkegard’s On the Concept of Irony With Continual Reference to Socrates that I carried with me as I returned to class, although many years later in a play that he wrote, he made passing reference to a kid who carried around a copy of Remembrance of Things Past with Action Comics hidden between the pages.

My father and I were very close.  We have similar looks, similar intellects.  He claims that he had no mannerisms until I was born and then he began to adopt mine.  I wanted very much to be like him when I was a child, I wanted to be fearlessly intellectual and always right.

Another time the same year,  the Physical Education instructor came into our class room to teach a “health class,” which was really just an hour or so of anti-drug messaging as it was delivered in those pre-Reagan years, before object lessons were replaced with sloganeering.  The man stood at the front of the room and told us generally that drugs are bad and then provided anecdotal evidence to support his blanket claim of badness.  Having been to parties at which Skidmore College faculty smoked pot and snorted cocaine and drank, I knew first-hand that not all drug use resulted in death or addiction.  From what I could tell, drug use mainly resulted in laughter and hyper intellectual conversation that went on way past my bedtime and murmured on into the night from the distant living room to filter under my bedroom door as a mutter-and-chat film score to accompany my dreams.

The gym teacher said that a couple of years back Tommy Hearston had taken LSD and had been driving on Route 29 when he hallucinated a dragon rising up out of the road, swerved to avoid it and slammed into a tree.  Tommy, we were told, was killed instantly and when they pulled his body from the crushed car, the speedometer was stuck at one-hundred and five.  I raised my hand until I was acknowledged and, feeling very much as though I had solved an Encyclopedia Brown mystery without looking up the “how did he know?” explanation at the back of the book, I said, “If Tommy Hearston was killed instantly, how do you know what he hallucinated just before swerving off Route 29?”

And I was sent to the Principal’s office.  And my father was called to come take sides in the debate.

Eventually my father asked me to stop arguing with my teachers and bring my questions and concerns home to him.  He told me that I was allowed to think for myself, to disagree with what I was being taught, but it was not my job to publicly confront my teachers, to challenge their authority in front of the class, to single-handedly correct every flaw I noticed in an imperfect public educational system.  I did my best to comply with his request, though at times it rankled.  Frog and dog do not rhyme just because they both end with “og” and Ms. Toomey has a weird, upstate NY accent that flattens everything out.

By the time I was in sixth grade my reading skills were better than those of most of the high school kids in Schuylerville.  I had already performed in two plays put on at Skidmore College, one directed by the man who headed the theater department there before my father took over as that department’s chair and one directed by a student.  In both cases, they had needed a male child actor and had come directly to me.  I don’t remember having to audition for either part.  So it was unsurprising to me, in fact it seemed quite natural, when my teacher told me that all the grade school teachers had discussed it and that they would like me to choose and direct the school play.

I took the task very seriously and began reading plays in a way I never had before.  Inspiration struck when I read Peter Schaafer’s Royal Hunt of the Sun.  The play centered on the relationship between Atahualpa Inca and Pizarro, the Conquistador who demanded that the Inca bring him piles and piles of gold before committing genocide against them.  As one of very few Jews in town and having been threatened for my lunch money frequently by the fascist forces of playground bullydom, I found that this play spoke to me.  The injustice, the powerlessness of the kind and generous Inca in the face of overwhelming and inexplicable Christian violence and greed touched a nerve in me and I had visions of the staging even as I read the text.  I made a three-ring director’s binder for myself with the pages of the script alternating with blank pages on which I could make notes.  I wrote up a budget and handed it in for approval.

Had I merely said that I needed fifty-eight dollars for three full bolts of bright red silk, everything might have gone through smoothly.  But I was pretentious and growing into pomposity.  I was quite taken with my plans.  So what I said in the proposed budget was that I needed fifty-eight dollars "for three full bolts of bright red silk to flow from the mouth of the sun god, representing the rivers of blood shed by the evil forces of Christianity as embodied by the Conquistadors."

The following morning I was unexpectedly called out of class, taken into the empty cafeteria and interviewed for nearly an hour by a psychologist.  I was sent back to class.  Later in the day, I was called into the Principal’s office where I sat in near silence with the Principal and the Psychologist as we waited for the arrival of my father who had already been called.

I remember seeing the family car pull into the parking lot.  I remember watching through the Principal’s window as my father made his way across the asphalt, his feet moving through the illusory blur and ripple mirage as the sun’s heat reflected up as far as his ankles.  I feared he would be angry.  It had been a few years since he had been called in and I still didn’t know what I had done wrong.  I couldn’t recall having argued with any of my teachers.

 I had quietly spoken with my homeroom teacher about a math problem she had graded wrong, but she had quickly conceded that, in fact, the error was in her teacher’s book and not in my work.  She had corrected my grade and later had told everyone in class to add a point to their own grades if they’d gotten that one right and it had been graded wrongly.  She hadn’t given me public credit for noticing the erroneous deduction and I didn’t claim it.  It didn’t seem to me to be anything that would have gotten me into trouble.

My father came in and sat in the hard plastic chair to my right.  He said, “What’s going on?”

The Principal introduced the Psychologist to my father.  The Principal began a bit hesitantly.  He said, “Mr. Brody, as you may or may not be aware, your son was asked to choose and to direct the school play this year.  The teachers felt – all of them – that this would be a good outlet for his creativity and his – um . . .     He seemed to be at a loss and the Psychologist picked up the conversation.

“The budget your son presented for the play included a troubling item.”

“Oh?”  My father said.

The Psychologist gave the Principal an encouraging nod and the Principal said, “He asked for $58 dollars to purchase –“  he read directly from the budget page I had handed in  “-- three bolts of bright red silk to flow from the mouth of a sun god, representing rivers of blood shed by the evil forces of Christianity as embodied by the Conquistadors.”

My father gasped.  His head snapped around to face me.  With a slight smile playing at the corners of his mouth he said, “Are you doing Royal Hunt of the Sun?”

My budget was not approved.  The Principal read the play and the school play assignment was taken away from me and handed over to the music teacher.  He directed a prudishly abbreviated version of Oklahoma! which was performed out of key as though it was a conceptual choice.  Which is what I said in the review I submitted to the school newspaper.    The review was rejected in favor of a rave written by a faculty member.

I sent a letter to the editor in which I discussed the nature of censorship, Soviet-style control of the press and the creeping nature of fascism.  That letter was also not published. 

Sitting in the Principal’s office with me and the teacher who supervised the paper and the one who wrote the review that had run, my father said that I had formed cogent arguments but that I must learn, if I intended to write persuasive prose, to control my emotional bias and refrain from ad hominem attacks on those with whom I disagree.  I asked if an “ad hominem attack,” was an attack that sounded just like another attack with a different meaning.  My father laughed.  I smiled.  And nobody else in the room had any idea what we were talking about.

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