Saturday, June 21, 2008

Hitting the funny bone hurts so good

I have a new favorite pastime: attending amateur night at the Funny Bone Comedy club in Springfield. The jokes are mistimed, the beer is over priced and the tile floor looks more like a public bathroom than a home for hilarity. This past Wednesday night, four amateur comedians each threw in five bucks, and event M.C. picked the winner, who gets the whole bounty. The three runner-ups received tickets for the touring comedian scheduled to play the club next week. The M.C.'s job as judge could not have been easy. Deciding the winner was like picking the skinniest refuge in Sudan, but awkward silences and DOA jokes provided enough comedy to keep me going until the next contest a month from now. Amateur night appeals to two kinds of people: (A) undiscerning folks who laugh at any mention of sex, Britney Spears, Michael Jackson and/or dookie, or (B) the kind of people who find nothing more funny that seat squirming awkward silences and butchered entertainment. I'm a "type B" attendee, although dookie does make me laugh.

One contestant drove in from some surrounding farm town. His first bit detailed a redneck with a prior DUI conviction who crashed his tractor full of beer cans into a tree and proceeded to call the police. The punchline consisted of something like "I drink whenever and wherever I want." The crowd was still waiting for the hanging air of disappointment to settle and a punch line to follow. But, as usual, that was both the pinnacle and nadir of the joke's flat-lining arch.

Next up was the self-nicknamed "Buddha," a short and stout, balding goateed man of about 35-years-old. The first joke in Buddha's repertoire explained why he thinks he is "gangster Amish." He wears "hip clothes," aka jean shorts and a large black t-shirt that barely contained his rotund belly, yet likes to avoid modern technology. . . the joke makes as much sense on this page as it did Wednesday night.
Budda's best collection of misplaced timing and misunderstood delivery occurred when he heroically deconstructed common sayings. "My mom used to say don't cry over spilled milk ... but I spilled some gasoline in the garage and I cried ... yeah, gas is pretty expensive."

The ringer of the crowd was a black cowboy from St. Louis. It wasn't clear if he was in Springfield solely to beat three other saps in the amateur night at the Funny Bone, or if he was in the capital and happened to stumble upon the contest. Either way, he managed to win through sheer stage presence and his "black cowboy" gimmick. His jokes were a combination of lame pop culture references and other inconsequential observations that I don't remember. The guy has obviously practiced his shtick for years, but hasn't found any material to graduate from an ameteur to a touring, semi-professional stand-up comedian.

As much fun as I had soaking in the awkward atmosphere, you've got to feel for these guys. They must know how horrible most their jokes are (except for the first poor soul who videotaped his performance, preparing for his next barn-burning show) yet they love standing up and telling jokes so much they keep coming back to the Funny Bone for the polite applause and overpriced Bud Light. I don't have the guts or material to stand up in front of 25 locals and kill, but I will be back next month to shit all over myself and everyone else in attendance.

Monday, June 16, 2008


Here's my horrible/bad/good/cheesy/gory interpretation of Beowulf I did for a high school project. It was shot on an old video camera and edited together on a VCR using the "stop, play, record" buttons.

This whole room and building has been entirely infected

Proceed with caution.
Careful when hot.
Discharge static electricity before fueling by touching long-term exposure to vapors.
Metal surface harmful or fatal if swallowed.If fire starts, do not remove nozzle –

back away into unapproved containers.
It is unlawful and dangerous to dispense adults and children 12 years and over.Two tablets every 4 to 6 hours has caused cancer in laboratory animals.

This side up.

An Attempt at Fiction (from a few months ago)


Inside 103 Main Street the tube blared and flashed. Two lumps on the couch watched the exciting and writhing bodies on the TV until the click of a button displayed full-grown men running around bases and catching balls for million dollar contracts. Sean, lying on an old, white leather couch flipped carelessly through the channels.
“This world series is over. I'll watch anything except Ice Road Truckers,” Ben said.
“We'll watch whatever I say were gonna watch,” Sean replied.
“No man I hate that show, change the channel,” Ben said. “Look, it's cold, they drive around in semis and it's cold. That's it. Cold.”
“Alright, alright your wish is my command.”
“I’m not done,” Sean continued. Its still just cold. Stuff on the truck breaks because it's cold. The guys get out and try to fix things broken on the truck. But guess what, they're cold too.”
“Hey! I already changed the channel, give it a break. I haven't been waiting all season for those ass holes to fall through the ice or anything,” Sean said.
“And then we're just waiting around for the damn truck to fall through the ice, but it never does. It's just cold,” Ben said.
“Our choices are Next, A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila, or Ice Road Truckers,” Sean said.
“Holy Christ give it up, if they made Desert Road Truckers would you watch that too? Hey I can fucking pitch it to you right now. It's hot. It's still hot. Stuff on the truck over-heats. The driver tries to get out but he can't see through his own pit stains and he leaves ass-shaped sweat marks on everything he sits on. Then, 'Oh no! Watch out for that quick sand!' don't let the truck fall through the quick sand.” Ben said.
“God forbid you put as much brain power into something worth discussing.”
“I'm just trying to save your sorry ass from yourself, Ice Road Truckers? Holy Christ, I lose respect for you every day.”
“What, you want to watch something stimulating? A presidential debate. Something scholarly, maybe? Maybe have profound conversation over Ham's Lite and pork rinds, master of culture?”
“Oh yeah, a televised debate sounds awesome. We'll ask politicians general questions about complicated policy matters, and then give them two minutes to respond. If anyone in this country can give a meaningful answer about that cluster-fuck in Iraq in two minutes they’re talking with the speed of an auctioneer,” Ben said.
“Well your highness, I didn't mean to insult your cultured sensibilities with my crude and horrifying taste in television,” Sean replied.
“Oh and then after stumbling through a question ducking answer the opposition isn't even allowed to respond. No one gets any of their bullshit called out. Not to mention, how am I supposed to take anything preceding toothpaste and blue jean commercials seriously? Lets pull out of Iraq! Hey! Buy car insurance!” Ben yelled.

Outside the window cars swerved and dodged as if everyone had suddenly began answering their cell phones at once.
Speeding through red lights and accelerating through yellows, the back seat of one such vehicle held only one, happily large passenger. His rotund belly was barely contained by a flannel shirt, stretched thin at the buttons, with hairy flesh poking through. Laughing, and shoving fries down his throat he took another swig of his fountain soda before wiping greasy, salt covered fingers all over the upholstery, occasionally licking his lips and winking at the oblivious driver.
“These wonder dogs are exactly as good as advertised,” the passenger said. “Sure the beef and onions have congealed together on top of the hot dog, but goddamn do I like the way all four tastes are totally indistinguishable from each other.”
“Double cheese burgers from McDonald's are a way better mush-mashed food,” the driver responded.
The four-door, slowly eaten away by rust and neglect swerved around a group of pedestrians stampeding across the middle of Main Street. The sun made it's way toward the horizon, and stared every westbound driver in the face.
“I knew I should have gotten something at Velvet Freeze,” the driver said. “Mind if we circle back around and pick up some Ronald's?”
“Hey, you're the boss. That shit'll kill ya. But don't listen to me, I've got three more wonder dogs to keep me company,” the passenger said.
Cameras perched upon the top of the intersection looked down. People screamed and waved hands at the surveillance equipment. No one watched back.
One car clipped it's rear bumper on a fire hydrant, sending it rolling side after side into an utility pole. The timber crashed towards the pavement, finally landing in the pooling body of water near the hydrant. Charged water started running down the avenue, a few walkers in sandals caught a little jolt, hair fell out, hearts stopped and a biker had to abruptly slam on his brakes (his front ones, accidentally) to avoid running over the recently falling bodies.

Ben, mid blink, caught of glimpse of mayhem reflected through the window onto the large TV screen. Quickly disregarding the image, he leaned back and turned up the volume.
“Hey, Sean, I was at Applebees last night. Three Little Birds, was playing over the stereo – quite possibly one of the happiest songs I've ever heard. Anyways, this family walks in to pick up their carry-out, the daughter ordered a sirloin steak. Apparently it was cold,” Ben said.
“Who gives a shit, what the fuck are you talking about?” Sean said. “Are you finding a way to rant about Ice Road Truckers again?”
“No, dude. The server brings out the sirloin, and the dad inspects it. He starts wiling out, 'You fuckers this steak is cold.' What the fuck?” Ben said. “He throws the steak on the ground and the poor server is about to bust into tears. The worst part, his family seemed to approve - wife, both daughters. They just looked on with smiles. They were proud. Rudeness on parade - applauded even.”
“I still don't care,” Sean said. “What the fuck are you even talking about right now?”
“Let me finish, I haven't even gotten to the worst part,” Ben said. “I was so taken in by the repugnant display of arrogance and I hate that I had to participate.”
“Jesus dude.”
“Yeah I just started throwing salt all over the table. I think I yelled 'Ice Road Truckers' really loud. Everyone started looking at me, so I just started yelling at that ass-hole dad. You know, just making a huge deal,” Ben said. “'You mother fucking prick. These people work really hard just so you can eat some sirloin. Ask for a refund politely you inconceivable ass-hole.'”
“He starts getting in my face, but I guess he remembered he was with his family. He had some self-control. I could see it bubbling. He wanted to shove that sirloin down my intestines, then reach up and pull it out of the other end. That sick bastard.”

Three erratic fire engines with sirens blazing sped down Main Street, swerving in between each other. A man wearing a wife beater and Miami Dolphins athletic shorts fired some shots out of his attic window in the general direction of the fire engines. One bullet deflected through the back taillight of the emergency vehicle, whizzed through the screen door of the Main Street home, knocked some papers off the coffee table before it lodged itself in a pot of soil.
“Did you just feel a breeze,” Ben asked.
“Yeah man, I thought I caught a little chill,” Sean said.
“Hey man, do you want to have a cig on the front porch? It's starting to smell in here,” Ben said.
The front porch on Main Street was directly adjacent to the family room. It was lifted about 4 feet higher than ground level, with a wrap around railing, and no stairs.
“Do you have a lighter,” Ben asked.
Sean handed him the clear, red-plastic lighter.
“What the hell is this. This isn't a Bic. I asked for a lighter, not a device built solely to annoy the piss out of smokers worldwide. Look at this measly flame. The flame is either too short and easily put out by wind, or you turn it up and it's a fucking crack torch,” Ben said.
After finishing lighting his cigarette, Ben wound up and tossed the lighter into the middle of the street.
“Thanks a lot man,” Sean said.
Pleasantly inhaling the rolled tobacco, the two sat in silence, finally. The two minds wandered here and there, thoughts of school, last night's fuzzy memories. It all just mushed together.
Back in the family room, the two resumed watching TV, arguing and debating, some old beer cans were lodged in the porch door-frame.

Back out the window, a motorcyclist driving closely behind a mini-van squeezed the throttle and dodged a dead dog in the middle of the road. The mini van, upon seeing the swerving biker, twitched to the right, running over the unappreciated lighter. The plastic device popped, sending a little squirt of lighter fluid into the helmetless biker's eyes. His hand grabbed for his face and squinted, drifting into oncoming traffic straight towards the rusted over four-door. The jalopy, fresh from the McDonald's drive-in slammed on its breaks before ramming head first into a monstrous SUV.
The impact of the crash sent the wonder dog flying through the air, just out of the last grasp for anything the backseat passenger would ever take. It soared through the front window, past the driver's bloodied head. It sailed by an overturned fire truck and an unoccupied wheel chair. That little piece of processed meat, bread and onion flew through the open screen door of 103 Main Street, landing softly on the coffee table.

“Hey, are you hungry Ben?” Sean asked.
“No, but I think I see a wonder dog on the coffee table. You can have it, just heat it up in the microwave.”


BEST MUSIC OF 2008 (so far)

The year is halfway over. No album released this year has received the play in my car that "Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga" did last summer, nonetheless, the year's more half-full than half-empty at this midway juncture.

1. Fleet Foxes - "Fleet Foxes"
Gospel harmonies straight from a depression-era Alabama church, '60s folk and beard-worthy acoustics. Perfect.

2. Vampire Weekend - "Vampire Weekend"
Another hyped debut, so much so I hesitated buying it. Count me as one of their acolytes, I'm converted. Peter Gabriel, afro beats, blah blah blah

3. Cool Kids - "The Bake Sale" (EP)
Everyone has heard "Black Mags," more of the same. nice.

4. Black Keys - Attack and Release
Not thrilled with the result, I'll always like "Rubber Factory" the best, but compared to anything else this makes the last, if not just for the transcendent organ explosion at the end of the first track.

5. Racontuers - "Consolers of the Lonely"

1. My Morning Jacket - "Evil Urges"
"Highly Suspicious" pisses the hell out of me, need to give the rest of the album more of a chance. Its a hell of a task to follow "Z".

2. No Age - "Nouns"
I'm new to the No Age camp.

3. Hot Chip - "Made in the Dark"
see above

4. Portishead - "Third"
Trip-hop has never really been my thing, but I'm giving it a fair go-around.

5. The Black Angels - "Directions to See A Ghost"
"Passover" blew me away in 2006 (shouldn't the Angel's sound be boring as hell, been there, done that? Somehow its still fresh) the drone, dying vocals, all awesome. "Ghost" needs more spins.

I haven't ever blogged, so I'm starting with a list

!. Finally downloaded The Hold Steady's "Boys and Girls in America."
Bloggers like to call them America's best bar band, but Springfield watering holes are more likely to play Soulja Boy over the stereo than pay any band whose singer's timbre vagualy recals Elvis Costello.

@. I enjoyed walking around Chicago like a wide eyed yokel this past week. Even the run down blocks of dilapidated buildings were more interesting than the run down blocks in Springfield. I go to Chicago about once a year, and every time it serves as some sort of magical motivation to find a way the fuck out of spfld. Even the music in (I'm assuming) non-trendy bars was heads and shoulders above that in spfld. A tequila lounge played a Beatles melody via sax over some trip-hop before drifting into the Beastie's "Get it Together" followed by Biggie's "Juicy" verses mashed on a Kanye beat.

#. "I'm Not There" was a disappointment. Blanchet played a man fairly well, but it felt more like that '80s teen flick where the girl pretends to be a boy and awkward moments ensue. It played homage to Dylan's self-myth making machine, blending fiction and fact in some scenes, but favoring straight out fiction in too many.

$$$. I hope to get more comfortable with this blog writing tone. We will see ...