The Good Coming from Aziz Ansari

I know this topic has been done to death and I thought briefly of not adding my voice to this conversation, but all I can think about is my niece, my nephew, and my friends’ kids and it’s for them that I’m opening my big mouth. Several articles have come out saying that “Grace” and by extension all women was just being oversensitive and claiming she should have left if she was so uncomfortable. Several articles have cited the fact that women have been socialized to “let him down easy,” and actual statistics on intimate partner violence to explain her actions. I’m not comparing Aziz Ansari to predators like Harvey Weinstein or Larry Nassar. Ansari ins’t a predator and doesn’t deserve to lose his career. He is however a product of our deeply broken culture around dating and intimacy. When a young woman can get shot to death for asking a guy to please stop grinding on her we have a serious problem.

Now enough of the negatives of this story, because I want to talk about the positives. The silver lining here is that in homes and offices across the country a conversation has started between men and women about what is acceptable behavior and what isn’t. By opening a dialogue we can make this a teachable moment for everyone. I’ve actually had a few opportunities to educate men about male privilege and make them aware that there are simple things they take for granted, like crossing a dark parking lot alone or telling someone to take their hands off you, that they can do that women simply can’t without a certain level of risk. It was rough and there was a lot of mansplaining, but miraculously I maintained my patience long enough to explain why they should care if they make someone uncomfortable.

Maybe from here we can move forward to a better culture around dating and intimacy. And also if we can go ahead and do this quickly before my friends’ kids go to college and my niece and nephew reach dating age, that’d be great! Because so help me if anyone behaves the way that Aziz Ansari did towards any one of them, you’re going to see me on the news and my nephew is going to learn how to be a kind, considerate young man or his aunt is going to be after him. Let’s be better, everyone. Let’s as Bill and Ted said be excellent to each other.

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Going Rogue: Abandoning a Set List

Stand up comedy is supposed to be a conversation between you and the audience. Sometimes, a conversation can go in an unexpected direction especially when that conversation is with me. Before a show, I throw together a set list, memorize, and rehearse at least once, but I also know that I don’t have to stick to it. New Years Eve Eve I did a show at City Streets and I started with the set list I picked out but the audience took me in a different direction and I went with it. This was admittedly a bit nerve-wracking but ultimately I’m glad I did it because I connected with this room full of people so much better than I would have otherwise. I do it for the laughs, not the blank stares so connecting with the audience is important. I went rogue like Jyn Erso and I don’t regret it and if you’re also a comic neither should you.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

If like me, you were deeply disappointed by the prequels to the point where you threw up your hands and gave up on Star Wars, now is not the time to allow that to make you bitter. Do yourself a favor and watch Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, then re-watch the originals and by that I mean the non-remastered originals. You know the films as they were meant to be; before Stephen Spielberg screwed with them.

Rogue One bridges the gap between the travesty that was Revenge of the Sith and the holy trilogy. You might just  fall back in love with the franchise. If that doesn’t work, remember who you were the first time you saw the films. If you were like me, you were a sweet summer child uncorrupted by adulthood. You still believed in miracles and Donald Trump wasn’t yet elected so you still believed in the power of good triumphing over evil. Remember that child. Now watch The Force Awakens.

Are you caught up? Good. Now GO SEE THE LAST JEDI. RUN, DON’T WALK. This film has everything. It has our space mom Carrie Fisher and yes for the record I cried. I can’t begin to describe how much I miss that woman. She was smart and honest and fierce and beautiful. It’s got Mark Hammill and it’s got jokes. It’s got BB-8 being a total badass. It’s got Captain Phasma, Finn, Supreme Leader Snoke, and the ginger general, General Huks. Kylo Ren finally takes off that ridiculous helmet and Rey starts coming into her own.

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And I haven’t even gone into the creatures!!! There are racing creatures on a casino planet called Fathiers. I mean come on, look at this thing. Don’t you just want to pet it? I totally do. I want to give it treats of…um…whatever the hell they would eat as a treat.

 

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Puppy!

Then there are the crystal foxes. They look incredibly cool and I can’t imagine how many hours went into creating them. I would pet it, but I’d want some type of protective gloves because it just looks…prickly.

 

 

chewbacca-porg-friend-1036492-1280x0Chewbacca came back again and I’m happy to report that nothing happened to him. If God forbid something did, you’d already know it because you’d already have seen me on the news taking to the streets and rioting. I LOVE that Wookie. If I had been born and raised in the Rebellion, Chewy would’ve been my favorite babysitter. If you’re still not sold on the new films, picture little me putting ribbons in Chewy’s fur and the look on Han’s face when he witnessed my handiwork. I mean come on, guys. Give it chance. It has porgs. PORGS!!!! They’re so cute Chewy couldn’t bring himself to eat them and come on Chewy eats pretty much everything. How stinkin’ cute are they? I defy you to look at the picture above and not at least quietly to yourself say awwww.

In all seriousness if you really want to have a good time at the movies, go see The Last Jedi. I highly recommend a theater with recliner seats. They’ve basically ruined all other movie theaters for me.

Joking Responsibly: Sexual Harassment

During my recent performance, I did a joke about creeps. I asked the ladies in the audience how many of them have had an experience with a creepy guy, you know the kind of guy that doesn’t know when to leave a woman alone. Nearly every woman in the audience clapped or raised her hand. If you’re looking for a percentage I would conservatively estimate 98% of the female audience members had an experience with a creeper. That’s just sad.

If you read the news today, it looks like practically every man in the media and the entertainment industry has been accused of sexual harassment. Now as comedians, we have a certain responsibility to make timely jokes about what’s in the news. However we also still have a responsibility to our audience, that being to make them laugh. So, fellow comics while I get that you may feel compelled to make jokes about how so many men are being accused of sexual harassment, let’s not forget that sexual harassment is not funny to people who have experienced it.

Think about my audience from a few weeks back. Nearly every one of the women in that audience experienced unwanted attention from a creepy guy. That’s pretty much the definition of sexual harassment. Now think about all of the #MeToo stories you’re reading in your social media news feeds from the female members of your social media circle. I have multiple #MeToo stories of my own. So, be mindful that there’s a pretty good chance that most of your female audience members aren’t going to think your timely joke about sexual harassment is funny. You’re also perpetuating the problem by making victims feel uncomfortable and, yes guys that’s why we don’t come forward right away if we ever come forward at all.

Women will continue to come forward. We all decided during one our super-secret underground meetings that we have all had enough. The women who came out against Harvey Weinstein, Lou C.K., Matt Lauer, and others have emboldened the rest of us to stop being nice about it when we’re harassed; you know much like a known sexual predator being elected president has emboldened all of you to openly harass women. If you’re feeling defensive, I’m probably talking to you. Continuing this behavior may result in direct harm to your testicles. You’ve been warned.

 

One Week of Heckling

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Henry, the avocado tree my mom planted 2 years ago

This time last week, I was enjoying my first full day in Florida visiting one of my favorite hecklers: my mother. I flew home yesterday and woke up to howling wind and it reminded me of the Stark house words: Winter is Coming. It’s an interesting juxtaposition with my mother’s adopted words which are Screw the Cold and the Snow!

 

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Just a crane casually strolling across my mom’s front yard

The journey there was about as good as any air travel adventure could be. I’m starting to think that we as a species are way overthinking the process of getting onto and off of a plane. It is my firm belief that the absolute worst time to have to pee is when the plane is in its final descent and you’re not allowed to leave your seat.

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Hanging out at the Naples Zoo

Once we successfully de-planed and I relieved myself, we made our way to the curb where my mother was going to pick us up or so I thought. She parked and met us inside the airport. We napped, went to Saturday church service and met some of her church ladies and had some church chat then hit Rib City which is a bangin’ BBQ joint.

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Our adventures included a trip to Target, the shooting range, Bass Pro Shop, Ron Jon Surf Shop, a visit to the Naples Zoo and Tin City, walks to the beach, skim boarding, a dolphin boat tour, and a Friday night showing of Justice League.

 

My mom found my love of Target entertaining. I found the groupings on her shooting range target unsettling. She talked about getting the license to carry concealed until I reminded her that she lived in Naples, not Compton. She eyed up Sig Sauers at the Bass Pro Shop. I suppose I should cool it on the nursing home jokes.

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Our visit to the zoo was educational. There were some penguins visiting. I know the last thing one expects to see in sunny southwest Florida is penguins, but there they were. There are also two black bears who were rescued from a private owner who wasn’t equipped to properly care for them. They regularly test bear-proof trash cans and one manufacturer discovered the hard way that they needed to upgrade their plastic when one of the bears sat on their prototype and broke it.

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Uno the blind Florida Panther on urgent cat business

There’s also a Florida Panther who was shot in the face with a shotgun and lost one of its eyes and is blind in the other. Uno was found on the side of the road emaciated after his injuries left him unable to hunt and living on roadkill for weeks. Veterinarians treated him and the zoo rehabilitated him and gave him a permanent home since he’s not able to return to the wild. My mom is now even more astounded that I survived to adulthood when I approached the coyote enclosure and exclaimed, “Puppy!”

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Puppy!

We visited Tin City and the Naples Winery because wine. We got up early the next day and went out on a boat tour to see if we could see some dolphins. We weren’t disappointed. In fact, there was a full on dolphin playdate going on in the water and we were invited. Sadly I could not jump into the water with them because of some “They’re wild animals with cone-shaped teeth and a rostrum made of solid bone,” nonsense. Still, it was really awesome to see a thriving marine habitat despite the Republican party’s best efforts.

 

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I’ve found my spirit animal

My mom had to go and pick up her Pastor from the airport so we needed something to do Friday evening so we decided to go see Justice League. Recliner theaters are awesome but in Florida they’re pretty funny because you’ll undoubtedly hear at least one senior citizen snoring. The movie was actually pretty good. I enjoyed it. I’m still a Marvel fan fo’ life but well played, DC. Well played.

 

I might’ve taken a vacation, but my comedy didn’t. I wrote some new material and yes my mom is just thrilled.

What the devil do you mean women aren’t funny?!

There seems to be a stigma about female stand-up comedians and women in comedy in general. Apparently there are some people who seem to think that women can’t be funny. To them I say SAY WHAT?!

Uhhh Gilda Radner, Bea Arthur, Jan Hooks, Paula Poundstone, Lisa Lampanelli, Tammy Pescatelli, Maria Bamford, Madeline Kahn, Melissa McCarthy, Leslie Jones, Ellen DeGeneres, Kate McKinnon, Ana Gasteyer, Molly Shannon, Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Jane Krakowski, Jane Curtin, Maya Rudolph, Kristen Wiig, Janeane Garofalo, Laura Kightlinger, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Cheri Oteri, Betty freakin’ White, and that’s just off the to top of my head.

It’s 2017. Women can be funny. What am I doing outside the kitchen? Being funnier than you. Come at me.

Stress Factory Open Mic

Okay if you’re a stand-up comic in or around the general area of New Jersey, chances are performing at the Stress Factory is on your bucket list. Well, friends I can say that this past August I crossed that one off of mine. I did an open mic and it was a hell of an experience.

I arrived early since I basically came straight from work. I put my set together while making poop jokes via text with my friend and comedy Mr. Miyagi Kurt who couldn’t make it out with us because he was um…indisposed…hence the poop jokes. However I was still accompanied by my patient boyfriend and decided that since he was kind enough to drive and pay for dinner that the majority of my set should be about him. We were met by comedy compatriot Tim and shot the breeze while waiting for our moment.

I drank a Henry’s Hard Orange and listened to some damn funny people before going up for my three minutes of glory. The audience was damn near impossible to see, but I still enjoyed chatting with them and got plenty of laughs. That’s right, folks you read correctly: your girl got laughs at the Stress Factory. It was an awesome experience and I will definitely be back. I also have a new item on my bucket list: getting booked at the Stress Factory.

Everyone’s a critic (including the comic)

Every comedian at one point or another will deal with criticism whether it’s from other comedians, audience members, or even armchair psychiatrists trying to analyze them, diagnose, and “fix” them. What a lot of people don’t really understand is that comedians are also critics. John Cleese once said that the very nature of humor is critical. If we’re making you laugh, odds are we’re doing it by criticizing, commenting on, or poking fun at something. We may even be doing it by criticizing ourselves.

I’ve seen loads of comics comment on screwing up their own jokes during a set. That’s what we refer to as a moment call. I open nearly every set criticizing the fact that I’m short and I look like I’m twelve, but I’m not sure if I can call that a moment call since it’s a permanent condition with me. Nevertheless it’s the most obvious thing about me and I feel I’d be remiss if I didn’t call attention to it. Besides, if I don’t someone else probably will and there’s 50/50 odds that the person will be a heckler. If I call it out from the beginning, I’ve successfully stolen my thunder and now they have less ammunition to derail my set.

Whether your laughing at a pithy observation of everyday life, some relevant social commentary, or yet another one of my short jokes you’re laughing at criticism and that’s completely okay. After all, it is funny.

When it’s not “Just a joke”

So I’m at an open mic with my dear comedy friends and a flock of douchebros from Staten Island decided to come down and give the room a try. Ok, cool new faces. Then this shithead makes a joke about beating his girlfriend. I can’t remember his name, but we’ll call him Nick because it rhymes with dick because only a dick would think it’s funny to make a joke about beating his girlfriend. So now that my white-hot rage has subsided a bit, let’s talk about this shall we?

Folks, I know I’ve said that in comedy nothing is sacred, however there are certain things that you don’t joke about and domestic violence is one of them. Three woman die in the United States every day as a result of domestic violence (you may fact-check me here). According to the CDC, more than half of female homicide victims are killed by a current or former intimate partner (you my fact-check me here). I don’t know about you, but I think something that in and of itself kills people is not fucking funny. For the record, neither is sexual assault, rape, or any type of violence against any group.

I’m not one of those politically correct bitches that want to ruin your fun. I am however, familiar with the concept of normalization and how it works. The comedian who made the joke was a dick. However, those of you who laughed at it even if it was nervous laughter are no better. Congratulations, assholes! You just normalized domestic violence! By laughing you told that bastard that it’s okay for him and others like him to beat up his girlfriend. You told me and every other woman in that room that it’s okay for men to hurt us because after all, it’s just a joke. Imagine that this guy is dating your daughter or your sister. Is it still funny? Is it still just a joke to you?

The Joke Writing Process

I’ve been asked how I come up with and write my jokes. The truth is, it’s really hard to explain this process without sounding like I’m being a smartass. Some of my jokes just come to me as I go about my day. That’s why the notebook in the featured image above looks like it’s seen a war. I never know when a joke is going to come to me, so my notebook is with me at all times.

IMG_2427.JPGThen there are the jokes that took a bit of work. For example, after sitting in a business meeting I thought to myself there’s a joke here, yet try as I might the joke didn’t come. So I brainstormed and wrote down reasons why people don’t really like going to business meetings and from that list, the joke was born.

 

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Some of the jokes that have come easy to me only appeared that way. Sometimes it took a bit of trial and error and some were more error. There’s a lot of crossing out and scribbling in my notebook from jokes I started writing before deciding to take them in a completely different direction.

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This joke was mostly error

There are a few that pages where jokes may appear unfinished, but they’re not. While writing the beginning of the joke I may have stopped to Google something, gotten sidetracked, got distracted by a shiny object, or I may have been drunk while writing and fallen asleep. However, I always go back and finish it. I just do so on a different page.

Some comics will tell you that you need to follow a formula to write your jokes.

Premise + Act-out + punchline = joke

I tried following that formula and I just felt like it didn’t work for me. My writing felt forced like I was trying to be funny instead of just being funny. There’s a passage in the Tao Te Ching that tells us the more we sharpen a knife the duller it will become. We get so caught up in the rat race we call life that we forget how to just be. The same applied to me with my joke writing. I got so caught up in a formula that my writing came across as hackneyed and contrived, so I tossed the formula and just allowed myself to be funny. I’m not knocking the formula. If you use it and it works for you, great! The point is to find what works for you and keep writing.