The Cost of Being Clever
I THOUGHT I BROKE IT
(thank God I didn’t)
My hand steadily guides my brain through the 70 channels of my TV. There is nothing good on. I look over at my clock. It’s 8:56. That’s the reason why. 8:56 is one of the worst times when it comes to television watching; all of the programs are ending, so you’re lucky to even catch a credit roll. The next four minutes are hell on cable. The best you can hope for is an ad for Ginsu knives. Something about watching people cut shit, it’s just comforting.
I make my way around the horn. 8:59. Jackpot. Promos are coming on. It won’t be long until televised entertainment saves the day.
My hands fumble over my shirt. This late in the evening, I’m already in my night clothes: a pair of workout shorts, plain white cotton tee, and no socks because it’s Texas and it’s hot as balls. I don’t know why, and I don’t know how, but my mind stops on channel 31 (USA). I see a comedian I don’t recognize hosting a game show I don’t really care about. Something about poker.
And then it happens.
There’s no real way to explain it. Somehow, it’s engrained into everyone. It travels through the eyeball, connecting synapses and greenlighting chemicals throughout your head, and somewhere along the line, we get the message. Before you know it, everything is in place. It all makes sense.
The program is called “Strip Poker”. It’s a delightful little spin on “The Dating Game” wherein contestants answer loaded questions along with general trivia, but a wrong answer ends in the loss of articles of clothing. That’s correct—the entire show is guys and gals stripping down. Sure, there’s a game bandied about, but we all know that women shedding cloth is what keeps people watching. And I’m watching. And I’m watching. And I’m not really watching anymore, because now I’m interacting. I’m interacting with what I’m seeing on this TV screen, my 13 year old mind feeling a euphoria never experienced before. In some ways, it’s not even the chemical reaction—it’s the fact that now I know what everyone is talking about. Suddenly, I’m a stereotypical guy. And it feels great.
And it feels great. It feels great. Gerrrrrrrrrrrreat. It feels like, it feels like, it feels like something you can’t quite describe. Or maybe you can, but you know you’ll never be looked at as a normal person again if you do. My chair is banging up against the bed. I stop and worry about the sound. But then I don’t worry about the sound. I don’t worry about the sound. Then I worry about the sound again. I look over at my door knob, and realize that God has smiled upon me today.
Just months earlier, I’d conned my mom into getting me a locking doorknob. My mind at ease, I could now focus on my body. There was nothing to worry about anymore. Nothing to worry about anymore. Not a thing. Not a thing. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.
I couldn’t believe that no one had told me about this before. None of my friends could get me beer, and were miles away from buying weed, and years of handing my mom’s cigarettes had staved my desire to start smoking...but this, this was more effective than any drug we ever talked about for that one week each year.
The real spectacle was how quickly I mastered the skill. Just like tigers instinctively know how to pounce on their prey, I was seemingly genetically encoded with the ability to fire up a two-stroke engine. I had become General Patton, in the midst of the Battle of the Bulge. My mind was welded to the images flowing across the screen.
Bras, legs, hips, thongs. Faces, necks, lips, blonds. Brunettes, eyes, smiles, toes. Wet, thighs, wild, god I love this show.
I was ecstatic for exactly 3 minutes.
But it always comes at a price. Suddenly, everything had gone wrong. I was in completely new territory—there was no manual on this type of thing. I had no one I could ask, for simple fear of ridicule for misuse. I didn’t want that reputation for the rest of my adolescence on into pubescence. I tried to stay calm, but there was no arguing that something had failed. The plane crashed into the mountain. The emergency brake had been pulled. The rockets were accidentally launched.
I thought I broke it. Thank God I didn’t.
FEAR AND LOATHING IN WILLIAMSTOWN
(I promise, no more Hunter S Thompson references)
It’s amazing the things you think about in times of crisis. In the movies, it’s always the same. Bruce Willis is trying to save the city of LA from a terrorist cell when he starts thinking about his wife. In “Tonight is the Night I Fell Asleep at the Wheel”, Steven Page sings a ballad of a man who can only think of his lover when he’s about to die in a car accident. And in one of my greatest times of need, I could only think of Dave Attell, one of my favorite and most inspirational stand-up comics.
The year was 2004. It was summer, and I was in Kentucky. Ever since 2001, I’d spent my summers with my grandmother on my dad’s side. I would sleep in the same house that my dad was raised in, with the local Catholic church just 100 feet away. In retrospect, it’s the closest to God I think I could get. I’ve never been one to think that church is the only place to talk to God, but I always figured the reception is better there.
With all that in mind, I’m certain the following event was a test from God, as on that day, I experienced the worst in physical and psychological pain...
I was constipated.
In the weeks prior to this disaster, all the warning signs were there. I imagine if I had known what I know now, I could have prevented the entire episode. But, every day I would eat several bowls of Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Reese’s Puffs, with nary a thought that the amount of dairy I was introducing to my bowels might lead to a situation.
But, within a few weeks, it happened.
I had sat down, and even had my copy of Kingdom Come (no matter how awful you might find this story, that’s still a great read) ready to go. But when I turned the ignition, the engine just wouldn’t turn over. Crank after crank, nothing would happen. I tried harder. Still no ignition.
And then it hit me. A joke Dave Attell once told that still makes me laugh, while at the same time reminding me of this horrible experience:
“Whenever you have a hernia, people wanna know ‘How’d you do it man? How did you do it, were you lifting, were you helping people move?’ And that’s how you can get a hernia. Did you know you can also get one by trying to take a shit really quickly?? Yup. No one ever tells that story. Until right now.”
And as I find myself deeper and deeper into this crisis, I keep hearing it in my head, “trying to take a shit really quickly?” “Shit really quickly?” “Hernia”. All of these words are swirling around in my head, and suddenly I am deathly afraid that if I struggle any more, I’m going to destroy my body, and be in even more dire consequences than those I’m already mired in.
Now, I know that my grandmother is in the other room. I am certain she knows how to deal with this. But I am in no way prepared to ask her. For a good 40 minutes, I’m in there, periodically turning the crank, checking if anything has changed, trying to think of solutions, and echoing “you can get a hernia by trying to take a shit really quickly” in my brain.
At this point, I’m trying to rehearse the most eloquent method of telling my 72 year old grandmother, who has had 4 children, survived a depression, 3 wars and seen the Berlin Wall crumble, that my gastro-intestinal functions are all but defunct. Finally, I admit defeat, and tell her.
Of course, she knows what to do, and it mostly involves what looked like a bullet traveling into my rectum. Had I been given the choice, I’d have preferred a bullet traveling into my skull. But eventually, I made it out of the woods and into this essay.
If there is anything to be gained from this experience, other than the knowledge that roughage and water are good things, it is that in my moment of need, I thought of a stand up comedy bit. In a roundabout and horrifying way, I realized that entertaining millions was really something I wanted to do. Which is why I have told stories like this one in front of audiences of tens, to largely the same reaction as you all have now.
Hopefully, I get to meet Dave Attell one day. And when I do, I already know that we’ll be fast friends after this story is told.
Marshall's Movies for People Who Don't Have the Time
Natalie Portman is hot, but cliched, Julia Roberts is sad and miserable, Jude Law grows a vagina, and Clive Owen is continuously badass, and completely doesn't buy into the melodrama of the rest of the characters. This makes him heroic. Clive Owen is the balls.
Patrick Swayze punches people. Ben Gazzara punches people. Sam Elliot grows long hair and punches people, then runs his hands through his long hair. Kelly Lynch does it with Patrick Swayze as he punches people. Ben Gazzara loses to Patrick Swayze. The Double Duece is the best bar in the land!
God I hate Dane Cook.
As I sit here at my computer, I have Dane Cook’s special, “Vicious Circle”, playing in the background. This is dangerous, because Dane Cook’s shittiness can really fuck with my writing. Anyway, I’d like to take this time to illustrate how much I hate the man known as Dane Cook, why I hate the man known as Dane Cook, and the demon who lives inside Dane Cook that is part of a systematic army of demon rectums that are destroying everything cool and great in the world.
*mutes the TV*
Yeah, let’s fuck that noise. As you all know from the preceding paragraph, I hate Dane Cook. Why is this? Why do I hate this man? I’ve never met him. He’s a decent-looking fellow. He’s never done anything to harm me. Or has he? Let me explain something for you. Since my early days of childhood, I would camp out in front of a TV, waiting to hear a comedian say “damn” or “ass” (when you’re a kid, even the weakest swears are like forbidden fruit for your ears). From that moment, I began my life-long love-affair with Stand-up Comedy. It’s a passion that I’ve gone so far as to pursue as a hobby and, maybe one-day, a career. And because of that, I have tried my best to hone my tastes, to really become knowledgeable about what makes a good comedian. In short, it’s something I think about a lot. I’ve spent a considerable amount of time looking for good Stand-ups, and try to follow them and support them whenever I can (case in point: Patton Oswalt performs at the 40 Watt club in Athens, GA, Oct 26th).
And then there’re people like Dane Cook. The Mainstream Wonder. EVERYONE knows this guy. Even back when he’d just done his Comedy Central Presents, there were kids at my school who loved the guy. But only 2 or 3, and only one or two jokes. But soon enough, he’d exploded. I remember a Comedy Central poll where he was named the best stand-up among 30 or so who had been on the channel. “Whatever,” I thought. “Some people like apples, some like oranges.” And the problem subsided for a year or so. And then, the summer of 2005, it happened. Retaliation was released on CD/DVD. And it shot up the Billboard charts, doing something a Comedy album hadn’t done since Steve Martin.
And thus, the pain resurfaced, stronger than ever. And like any true Evil, it was seductive. I admit, I downloaded (illegally) “Retaliation” from Limewire. I listened to it. And I laughed. For about a week, I enjoyed Dane Cook.
Then, the week ended.
I headed off to College, and just like Napoleon Dynamite and Family Guy before it, Dane Cook had become omnipresent on campuses nationwide. With that, he had taken control of what Stand-Up Comedy was in America. Suddenly he was being quoted by anyone and everyone, day in, day out.
So what’s so wrong with that? Here’s your answer:Dane Cook is not funny.
There are a few standard things that make Dane Cook not funny, and I’ve tried to make them as objective as possible, if only so I don’t have to hear “it’s a matter of taste” from people who feel scorned by my bashing of The Mainstream Wonder. It is a matter of taste, and Dane Cook has none. And here’s why: First off, his jokes are very easy. Let me unmute my TV to pull one out and examine it for you. Dane was just describing how he makes out with a woman, something that he is sure to do after a show, as the ladies think he’s such a piece of ass. In that joke, it’s essentially him going through the motions of kissing that any of us do, describing every inane detail, and over-exaggerating it to the point of insipidness. Now, this is indeed, a matter of taste, but the key thing here is, it’s an easy joke to tell. Give a comedian the subject of kissing, and the most common topic would invariably be a description of how that comedian kisses. It’s just easy. There is nail one: Unimaginative Joke-telling.
Next is his supposed “edginess”. Whenever a comedian is described as edgy, you have to immediately examine the material more closely. The reason is that no one can really define what being “edgy” is. At least, not in the Mainstream. People think Dane Cook is edgy because he exhibits a high level of energy in his delivery. He jumps around, he kicks stools, he throws his mic (simple sidenote: as a house manager at a theater, I know for a fact few things piss off house managers more than damaging equipment in a joke. A comedian might think it’s cool to drop the mic after a successful set, but in reality it is damaging a wireless Shure Vox mic that costs a few hundred bucks. And that makes you a douche), and he jumps around the stage, in order to drive home whatever punchline or setup he’s talking about this second. And that doesn’t make you edgy. There’s nothing dangerous about that. More than anything, it just spells out the joke for the audience, relieving them of any effort expenditure thinking about the joke. Serious edge there, Dane.
Third, and this is really more of a theory, is that I think he’s a hypocrite. Dangerous words, I know, but on more than one occasion, he’s spoken about how much he loves his fans and how they’ve made him who he is today. And that’s a great thing to say, and more importantly, it’s true. The fans do play a key role in success. But if you ask me, I don’t think he actually believes it. He spends hours signing autographs, and even more than that taking pictures and meeting the crowds. Sounds like a gracious guy. But when you think about it, signing autographs is basically a line of people who tell you how great you are. Taking pictures is a thousand chances to get your face out to more and more people. What I’m saying is, I think he gets a lot more out of it than the fans do. Then, if you listen to Retaliation, at the end, there is a heckler, who we don’t really hear, that Dane “viciously” reproaches and threatens to kick out of the venue. Within seconds, he goes from happy-go-lucky clown to angry, bitter, and verbally violent. Now, editing does happen on comedy albums (along with “sweetening”, that magical process of adding laughs), so it may be that the situation had been escalating throughout the entire show that was edited out, but if that was the case, why not just edit out that part as well? And furthermore, comedians are about being funny. And most of them have been working clubs full of drunk people long enough that they are incredibly adept at destroying a heckler, and making that just as funny as any part of the show. So, I think what I’m saying re: the Heckler on Retaliation is, either Dane Cook is duplicitous and doesn’t like his fans that much that he’ll angrily lash out at them, or he’s not a good enough comedian to be funny about it. Take your pick. Honestly though, doesn’t something about the guy just look like he’s lying to you? Like that guy in High School who everyone thought was cool, and would even talk to the lame kids—sure, he would say “hey” to the nerds, but it was in that insincere “what’s up” as they pass in the hallway. Maybe the analogy is too stretched. Or maybe I suck at describing it. Either way, I personally feel that the dude probably goes home and can’t wait to wash the thousands of fans off of him.
The fourth reason he’s not funny is very, very simple, and nigh-impossible to argue: He’s a joke thief. As in, the material he’s used on his albums was TAKEN FROM A BETTER AND LESSER KNOWN COMEDIAN. To me, this is almost unforgivable in comedy. Who you are and what you say up on that stage is your entire art, and to steal from someone else is the lowest of the low. I am wholly enamored with comedians like Patton Oswalt, Brian Posehn, Brian Regan, and others, and quote their material very often among my friends. But I DO NOT and I WILL NOT ever perform that onstage. But Dane Cook has, and often as well. Several of Dane’s bits are retreads of Louis CK jokes that he’s done in the past. I love Louis CK, and that’s just disgraceful. Dane’s first joke on the second disc of the album is stolen (Itchy Asshole), and the first on the first disc (the Hit by a Car bit), as well as the entire track “My Son Optimus Prime”. What’s even worse is, the bits are smacked around with a hammer so that anything sharp or witty about it is rounded off to ensure total safety. But don’t worry, he included a Tekken Reference.
So those are the main cornerstones of my hatred of Dane Cook, the Comedian. The only problem is, Dane Cook is not just a comedian. Dane Cook is actually a husk which houses a demon rectum, which works surreptitiously for an entire army of demon rectums, which are notable throughout entertainment history. Andrew Dice Clay: Intolerance masked as Edginess. Gallagher: Shitty jokes obscured by flying watermelons. Carrot Top: Just plain shitty. No mask. And now the heir to their bloodline is Dane Cook. Congrats.
I’m only saying this because SO goddamn many people “love” the guy. And the point I’m getting at is, if you want to enjoy stand-up, why not try a little harder and listen to comics who are really going to ask you questions about your society while they make you laugh? Or ones who are going to look at a joke from a wholly different perspective than you would have imagined. Or comics who are performing bits that they came up with themselves after a period of thought and reflection? How about some people like that?
I’m sorry if any part of this offends you. I’m not mad at you for being a fan of Dane Cook. It can happen to anyone. In fact, if your interest in Dane Cook leads you to stop buying Dane Cook records and looking deeper into the comedy scene, wonderful. If it leads to you buying the DVD box set of Tourgasm, I’d rather you went ahead and hung yourself instead of inflicting pain on others, especially me.
Join me next week when I yell at the top of my lungs about how shitty Carlos Mencia is.