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Live Comedy: Week of June 1

StandUpGet out.


Support your local comedy club.

Here are but a few suggestions for you…


jackie knope me sullivan

Stand Up Shots, May 27th

Live Comedy, Week of May 25

StandUpIt’s live comedy time… start planning now. Which shows are you going to see? These? Ones closer to home?

(Ones closer to home would make more sense. Why would you travel to Milwaukee if you live in Miami?)

Get off the couch!





Defining Funny in a Politically Correct Age


the-hookMany negative words have been written about Millennials, also known as the “Participation Ribbon” generation, and for the most part I have tried not to be a grumpy old man in this situation.

I read about the student who sued his professor over a bad grade, and shrugged it off as an isolated incident.

I heard first-hand from a manager who received a phone call from an employee’s mother, because he gave the Gen-Y employee a less-than-stellar performance review, and laughed at it.

I even rolled my eyes at the tale of a mother accompanying her son to a job interview, and the kid wondering why he didn’t get said job.

But when I heard Chris Rock say, “I won’t work colleges anymore, because they’ve gotten too conservative,” I paused.

In his own words: Not in their political views — not like they’re voting Republican — but in their social views and their willingness not to offend anybody. Kids raised on a culture of “We’re not going to keep score in the game because we don’t want anybody to lose.” Or just ignoring race to a fault. You can’t say “the black kid over there.” No, it’s “the guy with the red shoes.” You can’t even be offensive on your way to being inoffensive.

This frightened me, because if an icon like Chris Rock had to be worried about offending kids, what hope is there for a comedian of my limited stature?

As it turns out, none.

I recently had a gig at a college, and it was an unmitigated disaster.

Or so I was told.

I thought I was receiving a typical college response; the instant the lights went down, I heard nothing but kids talking over me. When I said my first “Hello!” into the microphone, approximately 3 of 150 people responded. The rest were in their own world, eating, talking, and posting selfies to Instagram.

I shrugged it off and barreled forward the best I could, because I was under contract. I had to sling my jokes for thirty minutes, audience indifference be damned. It was with genuine surprise when, twenty-five minutes later, I was pulled from the stage and told I was offending people.

I’m not dense. I knew I wasn’t killing it. Had the apathy started half way through my set, I would have said, “Oh crap, I’m losing them!” Since disinterest was the norm from the get go, I figured, “This is how it’s going to be.” But I never in a million years did I think I was shocking the audience.

When I was told otherwise, I asked which of my comments were out of line. The opening response was: “Off the top of my head? When you made fun of white people names.”

To be fair, I did make fun of white people names.

After the audience ignored my “Hello,” it was obvious they weren’t going to pay attention to me telling jokes. Given that, I decided to speak with them, to do interactive material. I started working the room, dancing on verbal eggshells the whole time. I am not a stupid man; I knew going in I would have to tread lightly.

For fifteen minutes I spoke with different tables, different students, making light, situational jokes: “You only ate half a baby carrot? You were too full to finish a baby carrot?”

(Groundbreaking? No. Safe? Yes. Hilarious? No. Chuckles from the six kids paying attention? Yes.)

When I got to a table of white girls, I figured I could be slightly more daring. And by slightly, I mean .5 on a scale of 1-10.

“What’s your name?” I asked the first.

“Rachel,” she responded.

“Oh God…” I groaned, over-emphasizing my exasperation to show I was being absurd. “That is the whitest name, ever.”

I heard mild giggles from the peanut gallery, and the girls at the table laughed, so all was well.

Or, as stated, so I thought.

When that moment came back to bite me in the butt, I was floored. I asked for clarification—how it was offensive?—and was told, “The event is multicultural. Our goal is 100% inclusivity.” Pointing out any race, even my own, brought attention to race, which automatically “made things uncomfortable.”

Though I didn’t, I wanted to shout, “FOR WHO?!” I’ve been a comedian long enough to know the difference between comfortable and uncomfortable laughter, and the chuckle I heard at my comment was genuine.

The other “point of offense” is one I should have seen coming. Up front I wondered whether or not I should do a joke in support of gay marriage. After all, I know people hear trigger words and react to them, not context.

Instead of yanking the joke, I instead went crystal clear, adding a preface up front. Speaking slowly and clearly, I started the joke with: “I’ll tell you this; I support marriage equality, and I don’t understand the arguments against marriage equality…”

(Note: I didn’t say “Gay marriage,” I made sure to say “Marriage equality.” Politically correct. Boom.)

The joke itself is at the expense of bigots. During an election year, I saw an advertisement declaring the #1 threat to America (translation: ‘Merica) was GAY MARRIAGE.

Not being able to wrap my head around such obtuse, bigoted, off-putting (and so on) thinking, I wrote a joke mocking that viewpoint.

After performing it, I was told: “The problem is with you, a heterosexual male talking about gay marriage in the first place. You cannot determine how someone who is homosexual will react to your stance on their issue.”

Hearing that, I was at a loss for words.

If my joke had been at the expense of homosexuality, then yes, it would have been out of line. But to say I cannot talk about it? That’s bullshit. Especially because the LGBT community needs me to talk about it. Not as a comedian, but as a straight person. The only way marriage equality will happen in America is by having straight people standing side-by-side with the LGBT community, championing their cause. The majority has to see and understand the plight of the minority in order to create change. If the LGBT community were to stand alone on this, legislation would stagnate, and the issue would be dismissed as “A gay problem.”

(Just like AIDS was “A gay problem” in the 1980s, before whoops! Straights started dying from it, too.)

Anyway, logical failings aside, if there was any viewpoint I thought would be safe on a college campus, it would be pro-marriage equality. But no. Even the topic is verboten, meaning the line was crossed when I opened my mouth. What came out of it didn’t matter.

What’s “funny,” and by that I mean “not funny at all,” is that when I was removed from the stage, I had been doing material involving my kids for about ten minutes. It’s probably the safest material I have, with nothing remotely controversial contained within.  In fact, not only is it not controversial, it’s deeply personal material, and at times empathetic. How often do you see a comedian tell an audience he and his wife are donating their embryos to an infertile couple? I’m guessing never. I do, and it generally gets a nice pop of laughter at the end, too. I mean, not at this show, with all the texting and ignoring… but when an audience is engaged, yeah, they laugh.

Unfortunately, no one had the wits about them to realize, “OK, he’s transitioned. No more hot topics like ‘gay marriage’ or ‘white people names.'” Likewise, no one had the decency or common sense to think, “You know what, he only has five minutes left, let him finish.” Because when you’re not paying attention to content and you’re simply trying to indulge the delicate sensibilities of a society waiting to be outraged, you’ve already lost.

I will admit: in some teeny-tiny way, I understand where the ‘fear of offending’ comes from at a university. Many are taxpayer-funded institutions, and when someone gets upset it might up in the newspaper. Then donors get angry, and the governor gets involved, and blahblahblah…

I get that.

But you cannot cater to everyone, and everyone is offended by something.

That’s simply life.

My hope is that my experience was an isolated incident.

My fear is that this is the future, with over-the-top sensitivity a new normal that uses good intentions as a weapon to destroy society. After all, we all know good intentions are exactly what the road to hell is paved with.


Stand Up Shots, May 20th

Do Not Go Gentle

david-letterman-retirement-cbsI was never a huge fan of Brett Favre.

I worked in the restaurant industry, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, during his ascension, and was “lucky” enough to hear all the stories of his drug use and constant womanizing before they made their way to the general public. Not that there’s anything wrong with either vice, but the philandering left me a little cold. Brett was in a long-term relationship, then engaged, and then married. All the while he was publicly monogamous, you’d hear from waitresses in his steakhouse about his behavior.

(You’ll note that after the 2010 scandal where he allegedly *cough* texted graphic shots of his genitalia to a woman, no reporter seemed surprised; this behavior may not have been public, but it was well known in certain circles.)

But I could have forgiven him all that, if not for one thing.

The Green Bay Packers won the 1996 Super Bowl, and immediately following every Super Bowl the winning quarterback appears on The Late Show with David Letterman. In a pre-show interview, Brett quipped something terse along the lines of, “I’m not going to let Dave pull anything on me.”

Brett said his guard would be up for Letterman, and lived up to that promise by giving a lifeless interview.

Several months or years later, I forget which, Favre went on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. He was relaxed, happy, smiling…

…and like that, I knew why I never embraced him: Favre was a Leno guy.

I have been a Letterman guy since episode one on NBC. I heard Bill Murray was the main guest, and if there’s one thing I’ve loved ever since SNL, it’s Bill Murray.

I fired up the television, staying up well past my bedtime, and discovered an unintended bait and switch: I had tuned in to see Bill Murray; I turned the television off wondering who David Letterman was.  Being a kid meant I had no idea a talk show could be interesting; I only knew of serious interviews, such as those on The Phil Donahue Show. David Letterman was different.

Turning on the TV at 11:30pm became a regular occurrence for me. In the days before DVR and TiVo—and with the programmable VCR being slipshod at best—going to school exhausted (or sleeping until noon in summer) was the only way to get my nightly fix. During the school year, it was worth the sleep deprivation. In summer, it was worth missing the sunrise. David Letterman was doing things any teen would find compelling, and only years later would I read that he was given a show specifically to target “young males.” The network suits may have been after the expendable income of my demographic, but Dave was simply relating to us. He did so by being hilariously immature, whether it was by throwing a flaming bag of flour off a 5-story building, smooshing hot dogs in a hydraulic press, or running items over with a steamroller. Dave would put on a Velcro suit and bounce off a trampoline, sticking himself to a Velcro wall. He’d yell out a window—using a bullhorn—at the Today show, which was taping live on the street below. It was incredible.

Dave was ahead of his time. Yes, that phrase is used too often when showering praise upon someone, but it’s true. Before YouTube existed as an outlet to become famous for doing something dumb, Dave had both Stupid Pet Tricks and Stupid Human Tricks. Did you have the ability to shoot milk out of your eye, or two dachshunds able to run their impossibly tiny legs off on a treadmill? Dave wanted you on the show.

(He also, and you didn’t have to watch closely to catch this, often enjoyed interacting with the people in these segments more than he did interviewing pampered millionaires offering their mediocre films.)

Dave was also the first entertainer to shatter my innocent naïveté regarding the way show business works.

(I shall explain.)

A few years deep into existence, Late Night with David Letterman aired what was to become one of the few bits to carry from NBC to CBS: Dave’s signature Top Ten List. What perked my ears upon hearing it’s announcement was not the Top Ten List itself, but the prelude sentence; “And now, from our home office in Milwaukee, Wisconsin…”

Not knowing any better, when Dave spoke those words, I believed him. I believed there was a staff of writers in a city I had once lived in, and that was still a mere 30 miles away. They were relatively close to me, creating hilarious lists weekly, and I wanted to meet them. New York might as well have been on the other side of the world. But Milwaukee? That was quick drive; you could go and return home within an afternoon.

It was a dream of mine to look up the Late Night Home Office and visit. Maybe take a tour, in the same way people tour Universal Studios or meander their way through a zoo.  I just wanted to go see where the magic happened.

Then, without warning, one day Dave spoke ominous words: “And now, from our home office in Omaha…”

I was shocked; what happened to Milwaukee? What caused the move? I had never made my way to the home office, and now it seemed I never would.

It was eventually explained to me Dave was simply being a goof, and that neither Milwaukee nor Omaha ever contained a home office. Picking a random Midwestern city and declaring it the base of operations was just part of Dave’s character. Something he would find amusing, even if no one else did.

Which was a huge part of his charm, the quirks.

Dave was a rare brand of performer, someone who didn’t pander, but instead did things he found amusing. His belief was that if you put honesty behind your art, people would be interested.

And they were.

For a while.

The problem with America—or maybe most people in the world—is that if given the option of being challenged, or catered to, the majority will choose “catered to.”

People don’t always appreciate unique, original, or even enlightening. America likes safe, vanilla, and easy-to-understand. When Leno took over The Tonight Show, there was a short period where Letterman bested him in the ratings, but simple soon overtook challenging, just like it always does. For most of the Letterman/Leno run, Leno won in the ratings. Letterman was John Coltrane, Leno Kenny G.

Which isn’t always a bad thing. Coltrane is a legend, Kenny G. a punchline; the same is true of Letterman vs. Leno. Letterman is widely respected. Leno, not so much.

As he aged and matured, Dave entered a new role: the elder statesman. He turned intelligently political, adding a gravitas to his interviews with those able to rise to the challenge. He could still goof around with a movie star, but throw a senator or newsman in the guest chair and Dave spoke from a depth of knowledge unparalleled by your average citizen.

After 9/11, every TV show host gave a return-to-air speech. I watched as many as possible, and none were as powerful as Dave’s. Though every speech was sincere, and many had emotion behind them, only Dave’s carried weight. True weight.

Without meaning to, he became Generation X’s Johnny Carson. The Frank Sinatra of the talk show world. Keith Olbermann compared him honorably to Babe Ruth.

Dave deserved all of those comparisons, but above and beyond, he was David Letterman. Unique, original, and at times enlightening.

Brett Favre appeared on The Late Show again many years later, in 2008. This time he was more relaxed, because he had an agenda. Brett was on his “Twin Middle Fingers to Ted Thompson” tour, playing to nothing but his ego and ignoring 16-years of dedication by Green Bay fans.

He was selling his “Aw, shucks, I’m just a country boy” persona the best he could, but I wasn’t buying it. I still looked at him as the philandering, nudity-texting, “Dig me” guy.

Dave will retire with more grace and power than Favre—or Leno—attempted to.

And I will miss him.

Read more of nathan’s scribblings.

Live Comedy: Week of May 18

StandUpHey, it’s Monday, time to start thinking about the weekend…

What are you going to do with your days and nights?

Go see live stand up comedy, of course.

As the saying goes, laughter is the best medicine.

Unless you have a broken bone.

Or Ebola.

Then seek a doctor.

(Are people still making Ebola jokes? Seems dated.)

hanna holmes ann arborkinane tj

A Real Life Del Griffith

StandUpChances are I drive more than you do.

Last year I put 40,000 miles on my car. This makes me especially touchy when it comes to shitty drivers, a description that can encompass a wide-range of people.

By my limited perception, I drive “normal.” 5 mph above the speed limit, cruise control on, right hand lane unless I’m passing.


Not everyone follows these simple courtesies, meaning there are generally three drivers I hate above all others.

First off, those who speed up and slow down for no discernible reason at all. When someone passes me, pulls into my lane and slows down, forcing me to pass them, it’s mildly irritating. When this process repeats itself several times over the course of ten minutes, I find myself happy I don’t own a gun because chances are they’d find shots fired across their bow.

(Or into their tires.)

Then there are the slowpokes in the left-hand lane. I cannot wrap my mind around the fact that in 2015, people don’t understand that the right lane is for driving, and the left lane is for passing. When I come across someone piddle-farting their way slowly down the left lane I wish the most horrible ass cancer upon them.

The final albatross around my neck is the person who drives exactly the speed limit, or a painfully-slow five miles under. There’s nothing worse than being on an archaic, 2-lane highway behind one of these jackasses. Twenty cars can be lined up behind him, car after car can pass him when able, and he still won’t pull over and kill himself to make life easier for the rest of us.

It’s mind-boggling.

I’ve always wondered who these clueless people are, or if that is, in fact, the case. My hope has always been that they’re unaware, but I suppose there are some bizarre sociopaths out there driving like ass-cactuses for their own amusement; people who laugh as they watch us lose our shit, our anger their fuel.

The neat thing about life is that sometimes you have questions that get answered. By that, I mean I was lucky enough to spend time with a driver who had no business being behind the wheel of a car.

The backstory: I had to fly into a city, where the kind soul of another comedian would pick me up and shuttle me to our gigs in his car. From the airport to the first gig was odd, but not unsettling. The drive wasn’t too far, there wasn’t much traffic, and while he did a few odd things, nothing really set off my “Are you kidding me?” sensors.

It was only as we drove 6-hours to the second gig that I got a full whiff of the stench of his driving abilities. He was, best to describe, the most kind, clueless, fellow ever. I really liked him as a person; I fully believe his license should be revoked.

To start, the man lived in the left-hand lane, attached to it as if they were soul mates. Next, he used no cruise control. His speed would vary anywhere within a 10 mile-per-hour range. One moment he’d be making good time, the next several angry drivers would be passing us on the right, middle fingers held high or fists shaking. I looked at them through the eyes of a documentarian; “Hey, that’s me. I see me in those other drivers.”

He would change lanes without signaling, and would slow down if a traffic light was green for “too long” and might turn yellow.

(Which, of course, meant that by the time we got near the light, of course it was turning yellow.)

To lessen the collective anger level of the world—as well as to protect my own well being—when leaving the second gig and returning 6 hours to the airport, I asked if he wanted help driving. This was an offer he took me up on gratefully.

While I drove, I almost wanted to interview him, to ask, “Do you notice how we’re in the appropriate lane? Does it feel OK to you to be in the correct lane? See how this button I pushed keeps the car at a consistent speed? Does going a consistent speed bother you?”

As we traveled, I discovered he wasn’t too in tune with this own vehicle. I had to teach him how to turn his high beams on, and he had no clue what an odometer was. We had stopped for gas, and I asked him if he wanted me to trip it. He stared at me blankly, then noted in a confused voice, “The car is already running.”

“Yes,” I responded, “I know. But do you want me to reset your travel odometer?”

He had no clue what I was talking about, and it was only then I actually looked and saw both his trip and regular meters were exactly the same. As a comedian, he should have been keeping track of business mileage, but that wasn’t a part of his process.

After five hours, we stopped for gas and it was time to trade places; he would once again be the captain of his own ship, so to speak.

Upon pulling out of the gas station, he started to exit the wrong direction, taking us further from the highway rather than back to it. I had to correct him, and point us the right way.

Arriving at the highway, he almost hit a cement barrier, then attempted to take the wrong ramp, sending us back to the hotel, not onward to the airport. Again, only my pointing out the right onramp saved us from an unnecessary journey back whence we came. Five long hours I drove us without incident; he was behind the wheel for 30 seconds and had already made three mistakes.

Still, I was somewhat willing to forgive his cluelessness until right before the end of our trip. We were on a completely empty 45-mph four-lane road at 3am; a traffic light was 75 yards in the distance. At that traffic light, a dedicated lane existed for people turning onto the highway. So, if someone was at the cross road, they could safely turn right and have without having to merge.

Which is exactly what started to happen. When we were roughly 50 yards from the light, a car at the crossroad turned on to our road and into his dedicated lane.

Without warning, my clueless companion was so panicked he slammed on the brakes, throwing a “Mom Arm” in front of me for protection.

I was almost too stunned to respond.

As he released my chest, I noticed his eyes were wide and his breathing heavy.

I laughed, saying, “You’re a very jumpy driver, aren’t you?”

This gentle tease was an affront to his abilities.

“I’m a defensive driver,” he corrected me, obviously offended.

I damaged my optic nerves rolling my eyes.

We eventually arrived at our destination without any loss of life or damage to other vehicles, and I boarded my plane…

…and now I’m torn. Generally, my road rage is directed to people I know nothing about. Maybe they’re driving slow because they have a newborn baby in the car. Maybe they just brain farted and forgot to signal their lane change that one time.

Or, maybe they’re like my new friend, someone I can really like as a person, but who should be taking a driver’s license test monthly.

Will I hate shitty drivers from here on out?


But hopefully I understand them a little better now.


Live Comedy: Week of May 11th

StandUpWherever you are, wherever you is, wherever you may be, somewhere out there someone is slinging jokes into a microphone.

Go find them.

Here are 5 shows happening around ‘Merica that you could check out, should you live close enough to any of the highlighted locations.

If not?

Well, get out and get your giggle on anyway.

Support. Live. Comedy.

(You’ll feel glad you did.)

benson burr jen palascak

Stand Up Shots: May 13