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Adult Children

I walked along the beaches of Barcelona last night, trying to find a bathroom. Even before I had to pee, I had walked into a tiny bodega somewhere near Barcelonetta, where I went for, as always, whatever looked like the cheapest and most plentiful beer (San Miguel Cerveza, in this case). It’s interesting how those things stay constant among countries, the less recognizable brands in the bigger bottles that seem relatively unadorned are usually the big cheap beers, frequented by me, 19 year-old gap-year Aussies and transients.

The big bottle was cold and damp and slipped through my fingers when I tried to lift it, but thankful the glass was sturdier than a wine bottle and stayed together, even though it was badly foamy. The storekeeper offered me to switch beers but is declined for the opportunity to prove my own prowess by slowly opening the bottle inside a plastic bag, letting the head drain off to reveal the serviceable beer inside.

I was rewarded with sticky fingers and a plastic bag full of beer bubbles as I walked down the Barcelona beach side, full of restaurants and the last remands of the sun.

A waitress off-duty informed me smiling that the municipal bathrooms were all closed and I’d have to use a restaurant, but the restaurant I wanted to go to was on Bocatel almost a mile away.

I ended up sneaking into an ice cream joint before my last-ditch chance, a Burger King. In my three weeks of traveling, I had become adept at the art of finding toilets and I took particular pride slipping out of the store as the ladies served colorful gelato to tan children.

I finally found myself at the recommended beach bar/restaurant, the unpronounceable Xiringuito Escriba and seated myself on their terrace down by the beach instead of their main restaurant. Closer to the action and maybe I could take more walks. My towel sat useless in my overstuffed backpack as no one was swimming at 9:30pm.

Eating at restaurants by yourself is a joy I’ve indulged in not just on vacation but at home too, when I used to review food, but mostly for pleasure. Often the coolest places won’t have room for two people wanting a table and an experience, but they’ll be an errant seat or a stool at the bar for one. If you’re lucky maybe you’ll even share your table with someone and chat and have a new experience. You’ll indulge me in these sorts of asides if you’re reading this.

"Excuse me," A well-dressed dude at the table next to mine asked me. "My girlfriend and I have a bet. You speak such good English. Where are you from?"

"New York City." I said with a grin. "We New Yorkers do not say we are American, rather we are from New York."

Thus began a long and fun conversation with the couple, who were Austrian. We drank, we ate and talked, I made them laugh with my affable bravado. He was a civil engineer, she was an English and American Studies major (the first I’d heard outside the US!). She said it was her dream to go to New York City. They were so well-dressed and good-looking, while I by contrast was wild haired, smelly and wearing an underwear-less pair of shorts I had gotten from H+M for 10 euro (this place is so cheap and everything looks so good! What’s the catch?!)

"So how old are you?" The young woman asked.

"Guess!" I dared her with a wide smile. People had been consistently under guessing my age by at least three years everywhere I went and it felt awesome.

"24." She said.

"Ah, I am so complimented!" I pumped a fist. "I am 27 years old."

I turned to them after a bite from my burger. “So how old are you cats? 25?”

"I am 24." He said. "23." She replied shyly.

My external response was to quickly and vociferously apologize for my mistake.

Internally, I thought, well fuck. Who’s the child here and who’s the adult.

***

"I love Amsterdam. A playground for adult children!"

This was written by my roommate Karimah, a wonderful person who likes to clean and pay rent on time, in an email I solicited from her about where to see when I was in Europe.

I loved Amsterdam too. I stayed there 8 days, just wandering and writing and having a good chill party. There were Hitchcock and Cronenberg retrospectives and every day I’d watch one or both of each and take the beautiful ferry and walk in the rain and have fun.

I decamped from Berlin sooner than expected because there was only so much of reading about Nazis and Soviets and how terrible they were and how they all hated the Jews that I could take before I couldn’t take it anymore. When I started feeling emotionally attached to vengeance against the Nazis who never came to justice, and a sense of righteous pleasure at the execution of Eichmann, I knew it was time to go.

Emily, my cute/wonderful girlfriend with a cute/wonderful puppy, encouraged me to go to Barcelona and with the freedom of my a Eurail pass, the same night I was on trains for 16 hours, headed through the south of France to Spain.

But as Emily pointed out joyously as I felt too, it was only a week until I saw her again, but in my gut there surged queasy panic as I realized that also meant I had a week to figure out what to do with my life.

"I don’t think you’d be happy making 40,000 dollars a year doing comedy like (name of excellent comedian redacted)" My dad had told me before I left.

But that was just what I had chosen to do. It’s embarrassing and shameful and difficult for me to admit, but what I’d love to do for money would be to direct and teach comedy until I’m good enough as a performer that I could get paid for that.

I did a social media blast, I tried to get my ducks in a row, I considered moving back home with my parents to save money.

Anything to avoid stuffing my life full of unhappiness and pretending it wasn’t so.

Let me tell you: it’s terrifying. It’s terrifying to admit that you feel you are great at something. It’s terrifying to put yourself out there and risk your living on doing something creative. It’s terrifying to go for what you want and to admit that what you want (to direct and coach for money) might not be what you thought you wanted (to perform and write for money) but maybe I should be doing that and where is the border between what my heart feels and what shame prevents me from accomplishing , between risk in a sense of creative satisfaction and figuring out the proper balance of work and play… And my thoughts devolve into a jumble.

I get the sense that my parents want me to be an advertising executive or something and there’s something American in me reckoning that as the first born son by pursuing comedy I am essentially going down in class from my parents generation. My cousins are working in fashion and post-law interning for a Supreme Court justice or something. They’ll have lives and money and tangible things. Where is my path leading me? In some ways I am shunning my parents work to keep the family afloat, as the story of all those German Jews seemed to tell me, their most important value, keep the Jews alive, rise to prosperity through knowledge and work. Where am I in that? Against it?

Who am I when I see these people younger than me so handsome and composed and set? Why am I this adult child in need of therapy and guidance to figure out my life?

It’s a lot.

***

I switched hostels today because I only book hostels two nights at a time to see if I like them or not. I was taken to my room: a 10 bed non air-conditioned dorm overlooking Girona.

I am sitting in my socks in an sir conditioned lounge with some Aussies and Russians as the clock is about to strike noon.

A Siberian Ukranian named Anton befriended me yesterday, one of the people you collect when you travel, an engineer as well, looking to move to San Francisco, with certainty.

We had travelled together on the walking your from out hostel and eaten lunch before I headed to the beach and he headed to a “Paella-cooking Sangria-drinking Experience 28 Euros”.

I didn’t know if I’d see him ever again until he sat down at my table at the compulsory breakfast that most if not all hostels offer.

"Heylo, Nikolas." He said. "Good mornun."

"Did you enjoy Paella?" I asked.

"Yesit wasgood. Basic but, uh, entertaining."

"I am going to a new hostel today, Anton." I told him and wrote my email address on a sheet of paper for him, pulling out a pen from my backpack full of wonders.

"No." He replied directly. "You are on Face-buk? Itis easyer."

Some fumbling as we tried to find each other on our Russian and American devices.

"Whatiz thizpikture?" He asked, looking at my profile. "Iz lyke a teevee sho."

"Yes, I am on a comedy TV show back in New York."

"Wow, asan aktor?" He was amazed.

"Yes."

"Wow. Well, I seeyou, you are intelligent and kindof nerdy guy. I think you have much success in world of akting."

I smiled.

"Wow, I know aktor." He said.

And I took my bag down the Barcelona streets.

Directing Stuff

Dear everybody,

I’ve been doing some reflection on my life abroad and here’s what I think:

I’m very good at directing and producing comedy shows. I would even say I’m great at it.

SUPERNOVA has helped loads of people. I think it’s one of the best things in the New York City comedy community. I’m also really proud of The Hero Show.

But I need to make a living.

I’m a good performer. I’m funny and I think I will end up on a team at UCB and, if not something else, maybe even cooler :). But I need time to be consistently excellent enough to succeed.

However, I think I AM good enough now to be making a living teaching/directing improv and sketch.

Here’s what I’m asking:

1. Write something nice about me on this site if:
• I have ever coached you and you liked it
or
• I ever gave you notes at SUPERNOVA and you thought they were good.
It doesn’t have to be long and if you didn’t like me you don’t have to do it, or say it if you want.

www.improvcoaches.com/coaches/nicholas-feitel

It would really help me to have some positive feedback from the many people I’ve worked with.

2. Book me to coach you or recommend me to your friends.

I currently charge $20/hr and provide a discount for 3 or 2 person groups. I have a lot of availability as of my return on September 4th.

I can say with confidence that I am an excellent director who’s worked with people much better than me like Michael Delaney, Christina Gausas, Anthony Atamanuik, Armando Diaz, Neil Casey and more. I am a good sponge for their wisdom and I’m very good at seeing the challenges an individual and the challenges a team faces and helping them to work through it.

As a sketch person, I’ve performed and written for two Magnet sketch teams and given notes and directed sketches for several years. I would be happy to meet with you to go over your work, collaborate and make your vision clearer of what you want to do.

3. Take my class.

I’ll be offering a four-week class coming up on Saturdays from 11-2pm for 80 dollars.

***

"Work On You"

Description:

Let’s cut to the chase. You want to get better at improv. Let’s work on you. Email the teacher at least one week in advance of the class with one or two things you want to work on, as specifically as possible, and we’ll work on them. We will make you better.

Max: 16ppl

***

I’m confident and excited to do this. I have a gift for directing and I love doing it.

I look forward to playing with you.

Yours, in comedy stuff,
Nick

Come Take A Ride

Tonight I rode to the U-Bahn station on the back of what must have been a 50-something year old German man’s bicycle. It was more difficult than I imagined, riding on the back of a bike that is. “Berlin style!” Katarine, his wife, said while riding behind us.

As I said, I’d never ridden on the back of a bike before and had found the experience quite difficult. Even though you aren’t pedaling and Jergen, the older gentleman, did seem to have some issues balancing me and my backpack and pedaling for two, I’ll say he had some advantages on me.

He had that bike cushion which kept him high while I was sitting on the bike’s cargo section had my legs haphazardly half-hugging the bike in a dance to try to neither interfere with the wheel spinning not hit any traffic cones or curbs. So I was holding my legs suspended in a half curl in the air while I felt every bump of the curb and the sidewalk and the cobblestones that we passed over in the beautiful Berlin night.

I couldn’t walk, though occasionally I did, because the couple was leading me on bike to the next station, wherever that was and trying to bike slow enough to keep up with someone walking was more annoying even than having a passenger on back.

What’s more when I was on, my hands were clinging to the metal in front of me. Though Jergen and Katarine had extremely graciously offered me the ride, I didn’t feel close enough to Jergen to grasp him round the waist as I’d seen people do in movies on motorcycles, two elements removed from my situation.

In fact at this point, they didn’t even know my name.

***

The first two times the conductor had tried to explain why we were stopped over an hour in a small Dutch town that sounded like Denver, it was in Dutch and then German and as I didn’t speak either I looked to the other passengers on the train in a mix of confusion and vulnerability for guidance.

I had some severely atrophied French that had served me decently in Paris and a clever iPhone application called “Word Lens” that let me translate German signs into English just by looking at them with my phone’s camera (and most remarkably, with no internet necessary) but I had learned from my week stay in Amsterdam (twice extended) that no one but the Dutch bothered with Dutch. Nicole, a spry, young Aussie (one of many I’d encountered) who had been one of the visa-slaves working at my Amsterdam hostel had told me she longed to learn Dutch but that courses were costed starting at 500 euro and the Dutch had gotten so good at telling accents that they’d reply to attempts at Dutch with a country-specific retort (“G’day mate” in her case).

It turned out that there was a “problem with a person on the tracks” as the announcer finally got to English, blocking the only way to Berlin.

In my American sensibilities, I wondered if this was okay and if this person was alright.

***

"Sounds like he jumped the tracks." Adé told me. "Yeah, quite common in Europe. Death by train."

The train ride had been 8 hours, 6 plus the two hours in the small Dutch town that sounded like Denver. The 7:01 train had been held up by the apparent suicide and the passengers had all boarded my train, the 9:01, making it quite crowded. Adé. it turns out, was one of those 7:01 passengers.

Adé was a skinny, nerdy black Londoner who had tried to explain to me several times his name much to my inability to pronounce it.

Upon arriving at the Generator Mitte Hostel in Berlin I had made his acquaintance as I heard him speaking English and for a tourist traveling abroad with no grasp of the language and alone, you engaged other English-speakers when able or else remain in an eerie Peanuts/Charlie Brown where no one communicated in a way you understand.

It should be noted that the hostel I was stayed in was not a hostel on the way I knew just as Berlin’s clubs are not similar to most that I was supposed to understand. Just like Berlin’s uber-clubs, this was an uber-hostel, with a bar, a cafe, a lounge, a quad, 500 beds and a service offering everything from travel cards to tarpons. I was impressed and daunted.

I quickly met and was friends with Adé and an Asian Australian named Jason. Jason unprompted had approached me in the same way I had approached Adé noticing as I hadn’t that we were sharing a room. Quickly I was invited to one pub crawl, decided it was shit and asked about another which Jason produced: The “666 Alternative Pub Crawl” spanning weird bars around Berlin and featuring 6 shots for 10 euro.

"Sounds like a deal to me." I said and invited Adé and suddenly we were all temporary close friends in the way three lone travelers of a similar age bond in a foreign land.

I was proud to introduce Adé to the concept of a Donerbox, which I knew well from Amsterdam, an ingenious and inexpensive invention whereupon chicken or lamb shawarma is tossed with salad and frites sauce over an order of fresh fries and given to you to eat in a Chinese takeaway box.

The guys behind the counter fucked with us in a way that I hadn’t enjoyed since New York and it took me by welcome surprise.

***

(Hip-hop blasting in the background)
Me: I hear this place is great.
Doner Dude : No.
M: No? What?
DD: I don’t know. What you say?
M: I said I heard this place is great.
DD: Oh. No. What you want?
M: Alright, man. Donerbox.
DD: Where you from?
M: New York City.
DD: New. York. City. (DD pounds me, I make my fist explode, he doesn’t)
M: Yeah man the best.
Adé: I’ll have a Donerbox as well.
DD: No.
A: No?
DD: Where you from my man?
A: London (puts out fist to pound)
DD: London, no. (Doesn’t return pound)
A: Alright.
M (big smile): I love this! Man it’s great getting fucked with.
A(setting down box of Marlboros): Don’t be fooled, these guys would rob you in the street.
M: Nah man.
DD(takes a Marlboro out of the box): Thank you.
A: What man? Ask first! Ask and I might give you one.
DD: Ok, please. (Takes a cig)
M: This is great.
DD(to A): I am bisexual. You have long dick.
A: Alright.
We pay and choose our sauces and leave.
I tip a Euro and thank the dude.
FIN
***

The pub crawl started with the three of us sitting in an empty 70s bar where the Europunk ear-gauged bartender couldn’t get us a beer out of the tap and when I offered to take a bottle instead snapped at me: “Always happens, calm.” And I returned to my table. I voiced the question on all of our minds:

"Dudes, we gonna do this if were the only ones on this crawl?"

But on cue another person entered, and then more, and then suddenly the bar was packed.

As for the night, it was a blur.

We were served our shots on the street with chaser shots of weaker German herbal alcohol for some reason.

Of the things I remember:

An underground ping-pong bar where players circled a sole table like sharks until someone fucked up and then they were out until there were two players and then the game was on. And then it all reset.

An absinthe bar where they lit a sugar cube on fire before pouring your drink over it.

Pissing somewhere in the corner of the street after midnight on my way home and getting a courtesy text from AT+T reminding me not to use my data plan.

I made it home and in my bed and that’s it.

***

Hangover.

Several things were on my mind when I awoke. My tolerance had gotten higher since I’d come to Europe, drinking nearly every day, though usually just 1-3 beers.

-I knew I had drank more last night than I had in quite a while.
-I knew they started making beds at 11am and that I should get out anyway.
-I knew I should take Excedrin (a story for a different post, but please inquire) but that no amount of Excedrin or coffee would help me in this circumstance at least not in full.

I’d have to let this take it’s course.

Still the stages of such a hangover are familiar to me and I went through them.

Phase 1: Breakfast/Coffee

There is the belief during a bad hangover that a good greasy and or starchy breakfast combined with liberal amounts of coffee will save you. This is always erroneous but a good signpost. As you’ll always feel nauseous when such a hangover occurs, it’s very good if you’re going to Ralph to get it done early and with inexpensive food.

I checked my Facebook status with solicited information on Berlin and found, appropriately enough, the Humboldt University dining hall, which apparently was cheap and open to the public.

I stepped out into the sun and was off.

It’s interesting to note at this point that Berlin is the first place I’ve encountered where the coffee and espresso drinks seem to be mostly made by automated machines. In my hostel, in the dining hall, even in small cafés and a Starbucks, no one bothered with a steam wand or pulling shots, your milk came frothed according to the button one pushed on a machine. In New York, this was considered to be very low quality in a world of artisanal and artisanal-style coffee-shops (like the one I quit to come on this trip) but here it was commonplace.

I had a delicious light European breakfast. A buttered cheese sandwich on peasant bread with cherry tomatoes and cucumber. I had become used to it from Amsterdam and seeing it in my state was welcome along with the strangely human-less Americano I got, not trusting my latte to a machine.

Still, as I sat in the largely abandoned dining hall (it was summer, I reminded myself), I knew I couldn’t stay here and I began phase 2 of my hangover.

Phase 2: Wandering

During a severe hangover, it is difficult to make plans. You are still uncertain if you will vomit or not. You are unsure of your own abilities and energy. Stringing together long-term or even medium-term ideas suddenly seems like a daunting task and so you content yourself to wander.

It didn’t help that Berlin, unlike Amsterdam, London or even Paris was a sprawling, strangely WiFi-less city. I had managed directions from my hostel to the dining hall through wifi there, but I had no more ideas assuming I’d find a Starbucks or a McDo with sufficient wandering and be on my way.

But no such thing availed itself to me and wandering blindly, I ended up on something called Museum Island, a strangely concentrated area of many museums with grass and many people in lines.

Unable to deal with the number of choices, the lack of wifi, the possibility of waiting in long lines for things I didn’t know, my own waning reserve of energy and the still significant seeming potential that I might vomit, I did something uncharacteristic:

I just layed face up on the grass and shut my eyes.

Phase 3: Napping/Recuperation

Of course, I couldn’t sleep. There was still too much going on with me, too much nausea and the uncertainty of having everything in your life vulnerable in a foreign country, sleeping in public.

But it was very useful, that nice lie down I had. It helped me gather my thoughts. Where was I, what should I do? Meals were still my anchor and I generally disliked museums.

But I took that moment to feel the grass, to feel the soft Berlin breeze. It was a pretty time of year there for sure. I had no work or expectation.

In a void of external expectation, you are the arbiter of your own experience.

Put simply: when you travel alone, you’re the only one responsible for your own fun. Can’t blame work or parents or significant others or lack thereof. If you want to have a good time, have it and if you weren’t having a good time, well that’s on you as well.

It’s a refreshing thought to have.

I opened my eyes, got myself to my feet and got going.

Phase 4: Lunch

Ah, my favorite phase.

After some wandering off Museum Island, a little clearer, I found a Starbucks along with Starbucks great secret I had uncovered in Amsterdam: even though they say you need a code from your receipt, the doors are just unlocked.

I found another place off my Facebook status, a Vietnamese restaurant and hopped on the U-Bahn, one of the strange German transports, which I had learned during my pub crawl, have no turnstiles.

In New York the turnstiles are narrow and metal, in London and Paris they were made of large panes of plastic or glass. In Berlin, you just walk on the train and nobody says a thing. There were places to purchase tickets but it was unsure when anyone would use them and why.

"Everyone in Berlin is honest." The Aussie pub crawl tour-guide had explained to me in a way that befuddled me to no end.

The train system also appeared incomprehensible to me, a great connoisseur of subway systems. There were various lines, trams and busses, the U-Bahn which was mostly underground but ran above ground sometimes and the S-Bahn which was mostly above ground but ran underground often too. There were multiple lines but many different kinds of connections at many different stations. No turnstiles on any of them!

My lunch was a delicious Chicken Coconut Curry which was not on the menu but I was informed, after consulting my fellow guests, was the thing to get. It was €4.90 which was incredible cheap compared to anywhere else I’d been and came at my request with some strong condensed milk version of a Vietnamese iced cappuccino. It was just what I needed.

Afterwards, with most of my strength back, confident of my ability not to Ralph, I facetimed my cute-faced girlfriend and recovered on a seat in a Macy’s type department store called Karstadt.

I resolved to go for a walking your even though I didn’t feel I had the energy.

"You wouldn’t want to waste your time in Berlin." My cute-faced girlfriend told me. And then we tried to kiss each other through the phone for a few minutes.

Phase 5: More caffeine, wandering and end.

I resolved to take the free walking tour of Berlin I had heard of which met by the Brandenberg gate, a 90 minute walk from Hermanplatz, where I was.

Still my philosophy on walking in foreign cities is that it is essentially a free self-guided your any time you walk versus taking public transport, so sporting a number of Coke Lights and, due to a defective vending machine, one unfortunate Coke regular, I made my way through the beautiful tree-lined streets of urban Berlin, passing Doner shops and cell-phone stores and many places advertising calling cards to Turkey.

Every now and then, hidden in an alcove was a playground and what’s better was that I had shelled out for a month of Spotify Premium allowing me a soundtrack for my walk.

If you get the opportunity to take long walks in foreign cities, I quite recommend it, not with any “sightseeing goal” but just with eyes open to the experience.

It’s amazing what you’ll think about and what you’ll find.

***

My guide for the “free tour” (really a pay what you want tour) was a balding American dandy in an Alan Starzinski vest and tight black jeans named George. It turned out he was from Missouri, had a good deal to say about Ferguson (all of which had happened while I was out of country) and had been a tour guide in many cities including New York. I couldn’t help thinking as he led the 50-person plus group that he’d probably make for a pretty good comedic improviser as his jokes weren’t great but his stage presence and confidence were very strong.

I saw the wall and the field of stones and the things you might see in central Berlin but I’ll leave that to your own tour.

I gave George 12 euro and asked him frankly what I had asked other service industry professionals as a former one: whether I had tipped him enough and he as an American, evaded the question, laughed and said it was fine.

When I went to Starbucks to plan my way to dinner, I ran into George again and a fellow named Rob, a British guide whom George introduced as being “Prince Harry’s goofball brother”.

I asked them for advice on nightlife as I had no desire to club or to do another crawl but would like to find somewhere chill involving drinks like the ping pong bar.

I told him I was going to a beer garden named Henne I’d found through my Facebook friends and he diverted me to another one called Prater that was less “out in the middle of nowhere”.

Either way, my phone was dying from a combination of

1. Drunkenly unplugging it in the middle of the night
2. Listening to my new Spotify playlist.
3. Using Google Maps to go on an intensive 1.5 hr walk.

Wherever I went I’d have to charge it and my own travel rules co siders sitting at a Starbucks waiting for it to charge a waste of time.

A self-guided vacation was like an improv scene, I thought. The more you can incorporate unexpected things to make them have a purpose, the cooler it becomes.

If my phone was dying it was dying for a reason, as much as that scared me and I went to Prater.

***

It was my fourth time boarding a train without a ticket and I had become increasingly nervous.

I still had no idea how Berlin’s public transportation system worked and what kind of ticket I needed as no one had seemed to check them or want them at any point and, like every city I’d been in but London, the ticket machines didn’t want to accept my credit card.

In the end I bought a “4-trip ticket” I still haven’t used figuring that at least if it was wrong the station guard couldn’t accuse me of not trying.

Prater, however, turned out to be a hipster enclave like Radegast Biergarten back in Williamsburg, but it posed two problems:

1. They had nowhere for me to charge my phone

And

2. They had little for me to eat.

I am a poultritarian, a term which by most people’s definition does not exist, meaning I eat chicken and turkey, but not beef or pork, with an occasional smattering of seafood. Protein is important to me as a former hypoglycemic and someone who lost a lot of weight on an Atkins-related diet. Generally if sonewherw doesn’t have any fowl options I don’t eat there and Prater did not.

But my phone was down to 7% battery, Henne was a 20 minute walk after a 15-minute train ride and who knows how I’d get home from there.

Luckily, I had a book.

***

After Ian O’Keefe’s PSVita was stolen from me by an electronic bicycle in Lille, I took the next best thing for electronic comfort, a book on the Kindle app on my iPad.

I was rereading old fantasy books, Patrick Rothfuss’s The Kingkiller Chronicles, a pretty good “kid learns magic and is pretty cool” type of book, highlighting the power of music and acting which makes it a little nerdier than usual.

The downside of traveling alone is loneliness, the sense at times that you have your back against the world.

One of the ways you fight this is with true openness. If you smile and engage and are willing to do silly things there’s no limit to where you might find yourself. Similarly, sometimes this openness becomes chaos like the pub crawl or the anxiety of not knowing how you’ll find your way home with a dead phone and no idea of your hostel’s address, it can be good to retreat into a book, even or especially an old book because an old book is like an old friend that requires neither internet nor upkeep.

My phone dying I read my iPad on the train as Kvothe, the hero of the story went on his own journey to track down highwaymen attacking the King’s tax collectors and felt stability.

I managed my phone carefully and it got me to Henne, a small Biergarten nowhere near trains where the only recommended item on the menu was a half-chicken with bread and either potato salad or cole slaw. I was sat outside despite my request next to an older couple who laughed as I went to sit down at the end of the bench as it lurched under me.

It would be over an hour till I got my food. Forty minutes before the Heffeweisen I ordered showed up.

***

Over that time I befriended the couple that would eventually through me on the back of their bike and take me to the U-Bahn.

We discussed New York and Los Angeles, where the lady had moved from recently and worked as a costume designer, and Berlin and how pretty it was. The concept of tipping and how it differed from country to country, Amsterdam and London and how we all hated LA.

We didn’t even know each other’s names but by the end of our time together I had promised them I would visit the last day of the David Bowie exhibition, which her daughter had enjoyed so much.

I only asked their names when I had gotten, thighs sore off the back of the bike.

My chicken when it came was delicious and deep fried with no batter, crispy and succulent and served without utensils, just a piece of brown bread.

Katarine had intervened on my behalf with the hostess who had told me that sitting inside would be impossible and my phone had been charged enough to get me home, though Jergen came all the way into the station with me after realizing I had no idea where to go.

As I got off the train and came back to the hostel, I walked past a bar and noticed impeccably dressed vested George, my tour guide of old, out with his buddy, goofy Prince Harry and drunk as all day.

"Nick the New Yorker!" He greeted me like an old friend, with aplomb, much the way he had pounded me earlier when I knew what MAD stood for (Mutually Assured Destruction).

He invited me to take a seat and I hung out with him and his motley gang of British, Irish and American tour guides as well as three German girls who I assume were friends of theirs who had come down to sit and whom I continued to praise Berlin to.

Unlike New York where you were either friendly to people you wanted to be close to or distant with people you barely knew, traveling through Europe alone, I found a culture of these intense but temporary attachments. There was cok certain, smile, laughter and personal detail without last names, histories or personal goals. You just became friends for a night with people you might never see again, just for the experience of it.

George and his friends were just as amazed by my bike story as I’d been.

"They could have been murderers!" One girl said.

"Well, they didn’t seem like it." I replied.

I turned in, my legs sore and thankfully, not nearly as drunk as the night before.

I had bought a beer for George to be sure I had tipped enough and thank him for inviting me in but he just gave me some coins which I took. I knew better than to argue courtesy with an American.

***

This morning, I took one of my seldom showers, celebrated how good it felt to not be hungover. Tried unsuccessfully to find somewhere to drop-off my laundry, apparently something unheard of for the hard-working Germans and walked to the promised David Bowie exhibit where I’ve waited in line for around three hours and wrote all of this.

For some time after this is done, maybe I’ll get in.

With Eyes Unfocused

***

I noticed it about hour 6 of the plane ride to London, how much my eyes hurt. I had recently gotten new glasses which were different lenses than I was used to, partially because I had been experiencing eye spasms and partially because it had been a couple years and mostly because my parents offered to pay.

However my eyes still spasmed and wouldn’t focus when I went to look at my various and variously beloved electronic devices and when I went back to talk to the stateside optometrist who took my measurements she offered one piece of advice.

"Look at screens less."

This proved to be hard. Ian O’Keefe had lent me his PSVita for the trip and I was getting heavily back in to an extremely nuanced Japanese role-playing game that involved Jungian psychology, evil TV monsters and trying to get every girl to be your girlfriend. 

Anyway, it was around hour 6 of the plane that I noticed my eyes would no longer focus unless I made them and then with significant pain. I took some Motrin which helped with the pain but not with the focusing, which was sporadic at best. I chocked it up to jet lag and the hour and the complimentary wine I had been given on the plane and kept playing with about a two hour break for sleep before arriving, suddenly as it always is, in London.

The truth was I had been looking at screens more than I should for a while but it was hard to tell whether the problem lay with my glasses or myself. I had been fired two weeks before I was scheduled to quit my coffee shop job to go on this trip to “find myself”, which permitted me both unemployment money (thanks max) and enough time to catch up on some video games and TV watching (preferably at the same time) that I had been missing out on with my past schedule which was:

Work 5:30am-12:30pm
Lunch/Nap: 12:40-2pm
Rehearsal/Class 330-630pm
Dinner quick and cheap 7-7:30pm
See/do a cheap comedy show 8-10pm
Rush home and try to get to bed before 10:30 so I could survive.

Not a lot of time for video gaming there. Or really anything.

So I had been looking at screens, eating terribly, not doing yoga, though not for the self hating reasons one might think.

In my mind, the structure and packaging and self-imposed rules and restrictions of my life were what allowed it to go on for so long but also what kept me a prisoner in a situation I was unhappy in. The same rules that kept me going home in time so I got enough sleep to survive made sure it would be hard to see cool shows or go out for a drink with friends or have a serious conversation about how unhappy I was at my job.

So it felt good to just be an unfocused slob for a while.

But when I got to London and needed to use my phone for maps and other good things it still was impossible to focus my eyes. I increased the font size on my phone which helped slightly. I drank coffee which made it worse. I drank lager which made it worse. I played more of Ian’s video games which did not help at all.

It god bad enough that I went to consider medical help in famously free-medicine London where I passed the Centre for Optometry where the discussion went something like this

Me (attempting to sound at least a little British): Hi, quite sorry to bother, but I seem to be having a spot of issue with my eyes. They won’t focus proper-like.
Receptionist: Well, when was your last eye exam?
M: Less than a month ago.
R: Well then it won’t do any good doing a new one so soon.
M: But I’ve got a real problem. My eyes won’t focus.
R: Well did you tell your last doctor about that?
M: Yes they told me not to stare at screens so much.
R: And have you been staring at screens much?
M: Well yes I’m on vacation.
R: Well then.
M: Good day.
I exit.
FIN

***

My (Ian’s) PSVita was pick pocketed from me during a layover in Lille as I attempted to recharge my phone using an Eco-friendly electric bike generator they had placed in the terminal to dupe tourists.

This left me less harm for my eyes but only hours away from defeating the Japanese goddess who had been flooding the small town my teenage avatar had been staying in with fog that dissolved the barrier between our world and the shadows that tumblr from our unconscious that threaten to consume us and, also, from getting every girl to be my girlfriend. 

It did also cause me to briefly send too many international text messages as I grew bored of staring at Belgians and cows from my pretty train window.

Since then, I’ve been in Amsterdam, wandering around, partying a bit in the way a nerdy comedian type who hates clubs and finds the idea of paying for sex sincerely unromantuc might do and reading quite a bit on my phone, rereading “In The Name of The Wind” and struggling with my own ability to focus my eyes.

I’ve had various “revelations” wandering around Amsterdam:

-The point of life is to enjoy every present moment, since there is so much to enjoy.
-Why not just be drunk and stoned every minute then? Because it’s a denial of the wonder of everything to just be curled up mumbling somewhere all the time. There’s so much more to life.
-Amidst this, one needs to find a way to survive that agrees with them.
-I love my girlfriend a lot and the high I get from that is better than anything else.

No groundbreakers but some interesting ones.

My dad and Emily agree from my last couple of posts that I should try my hand at making money on teaching and coaching and producing comedy and that that doesn’t preclude me from performing. I know, as I look over the rosters for SUPERNOVA this morning and grin at myself thinking of moments that I loved when I was coaching, Steve Ling coming in as a doiuchey replacement best friend in a series of scenes done by Kim Kutt and Dylan Evans called “Thirty Days, Thirty Laya”, that I am very good at coaching.

But I guess to admit, that idea scares me. I’m good at coaching, very good I think, but I’m not on a team anywhere and I’m currently a better director than a performer. Would people hire me or enough people that I’d survive? What else could I do? There’s no easy path, no structure.

I guess with my girlfriend and my pops suggesting it that’s what I’m leaving towards trying right now but for all my decent, typo-filled writing and moments of lucidity, it still feels painful to commit towards something I really want and risk failure.

I open myself to mockery and my father and others voices asking me what I’m doing in the entertainment business if I can’t handle failure but all I can say is that isn’t the sort of response I respond to from other people or myself well.

I miss playing Ian’s video game. It was very good. And my eyes still focus poorly trying to look at the rosters for the next round of SUPERNOVA or writing this in the comfort of a Starbucks.

But for anything else, I write, my shoulders untensing, it’s good to consider. To write. To get it out. You know?

Sorry Ian.

***

For those interested, the game Ian lent me is called “Persona 4: The Golden”. I lent him two games in return I highly recommend called “999” and “Virtue’s Last Reward”. So yeah.

With Eyes Unfocused

***

I noticed it about hour 6 of the plane ride to London, how much my eyes hurt. I had recently gotten new glasses which were different lenses than I was used to, partially because I had been experiencing eye spasms and partially because it had been a couple years and mostly because my parents offered to pay.

However my eyes still spasmed and wouldn’t focus when I went to look at my various and variously beloved electronic devices and when I went back to talk to the stateside optometrist who took my measurements she offered one piece of advice.

"Look at screens less."

This proved to be hard. Ian O’Keefe had lent me his PSVita for the trip and I was getting heavily back in to an extremely nuanced Japanese role-playing game that involved Jungian psychology, evil TV monsters and trying to get every girl to be your girlfriend.

Anyway, it was around hour 6 of the plane that I noticed my eyes would no longer focus unless I made them and then with significant pain. I took some Motrin which helped with the pain but not with the focusing, which was sporadic at best. I chocked it up to jet lag and the hour and the complimentary wine I had been given on the plane and kept playing with about a two hour break for sleep before arriving, suddenly as it always is, in London.

The truth was I had been looking at screens more than I should for a while but it was hard to tell whether the problem lay with my glasses or myself. I had been fired two weeks before I was scheduled to quit my coffee shop job to go on this trip to “find myself”, which permitted me both unemployment money (thanks max) and enough time to catch up on some video games and TV watching (preferably at the same time) that I had been missing out on with my past schedule which was:

Work 5:30am-12:30pm
Lunch/Nap: 12:40-2pm
Rehearsal/Class 330-630pm
Dinner quick and cheap 7-7:30pm
See/do a cheap comedy show 8-10pm
Rush home and try to get to bed before 10:30 so I could survive.

Not a lot of time for video gaming there. Or really anything.

So I had been looking at screens, eating terribly, not doing yoga, though not for the self hating reasons one might think.

In my mind, the structure and packaging and self-imposed rules and restrictions of my life were what allowed it to go on for so long but also what kept me a prisoner in a situation I was unhappy in. The same rules that kept me going home in time so I got enough sleep to survive made sure it would be hard to see cool shows or go out for a drink with friends or have a serious conversation about how unhappy I was at my job.

So it felt good to just be an unfocused slob for a while.

But when I got to London and needed to use my phone for maps and other good things it still was impossible to focus my eyes. I increased the font size on my phone which helped slightly. I drank coffee which made it worse. I drank lager which made it worse. I played more of Ian’s video games which did not help at all.

It god bad enough that I went to consider medical help in famously free-medicine London where I passed the Centre for Optometry where the discussion went something like this

Me (attempting to sound at least a little British): Hi, quite sorry to bother, but I seem to be having a spot of issue with my eyes. They won’t focus proper-like.
Receptionist: Well, when was your last eye exam?
M: Less than a month ago.
R: Well then it won’t do any good doing a new one so soon.
M: But I’ve got a real problem. My eyes won’t focus.
R: Well did you tell your last doctor about that?
M: Yes they told me not to stare at screens so much.
R: And have you been staring at screens much?
M: Well yes I’m on vacation.
R: Well then.
M: Good day.
I exit.
FIN

***

My (Ian’s) PSVita was pick pocketed from me during a layover in Lille as I attempted to recharge my phone using an Eco-friendly electric bike generator they had placed in the terminal to dupe tourists.

This left me less harm for my eyes but only hours away from defeating the Japanese goddess who had been flooding the small town my teenage avatar had been staying in with fog that dissolved the barrier between our world and the shadows that tumblr from our unconscious that threaten to consume us and, also, from getting every girl to be my girlfriend.

It did also cause me to briefly send too many international text messages as I grew bored of staring at Belgians and cows from my pretty train window.

Since then, I’ve been in Amsterdam, wandering around, partying a bit in the way a nerdy comedian type who hates clubs and finds the idea of paying for sex sincerely unromantuc might do and reading quite a bit on my phone, rereading “In The Name of The Wind” and struggling with my own ability to focus my eyes.

I’ve had various “revelations” wandering around Amsterdam:

-The point of life is to enjoy every present moment, since there is so much to enjoy.
-Why not just be drunk and stoned every minute then? Because it’s a denial of the wonder of everything to just be curled up mumbling somewhere all the time. There’s so much more to life.
-Amidst this, one needs to find a way to survive that agrees with them.
-I love my girlfriend a lot and the high I get from that is better than anything else.

No groundbreakers but some interesting ones.

My dad and Emily agree from my last couple of posts that I should try my hand at making money on teaching and coaching and producing comedy and that that doesn’t preclude me from performing. I know, as I look over the rosters for SUPERNOVA this morning and grin at myself thinking of moments that I loved when I was coaching, Steve Ling coming in as a doiuchey replacement best friend in a series of scenes done by Kim Kutt and Dylan Evans called “Thirty Days, Thirty Laya”, that I am very good at coaching.

But I guess to admit, that idea scares me. I’m good at coaching, very good I think, but I’m not on a team anywhere and I’m currently a better director than a performer. Would people hire me or enough people that I’d survive? What else could I do? There’s no easy path, no structure.

I guess with my girlfriend and my pops suggesting it that’s what I’m leaving towards trying right now but for all my decent, typo-filled writing and moments of lucidity, it still feels painful to commit towards something I really want and risk failure.

I open myself to mockery and my father and others voices asking me what I’m doing in the entertainment business if I can’t handle failure but all I can say is that isn’t the sort of response I respond to from other people or myself well.

I miss playing Ian’s video game. It was very good. And my eyes still focus poorly trying to look at the rosters for the next round of SUPERNOVA or writing this in the comfort of a Starbucks.

But for anything else, I write, my shoulders untensing, it’s good to consider. To write. To get it out. You know?

Sorry Ian.

***

For those interested, the game Ian lent me is called “Persona 4: The Golden”. I lent him two games in return I highly recommend called “999” and “Virtue’s Last Reward”. So yeah.

Why it’s bad to feel bad

Maybe I’m supposed to feel bad right now.

Today is my last day in Paris, right now my last night and my immediate feeling is why don’t I feel more joyful. The last time I came to Paris, I felt like I processed a bunch of social, emotional shit, ate about two-three crepe Nutella and really felt like I grew a lot as a person, learning to forgive myself for moments in my life where I felt ashamed, like that year or so that I said my ex-girlfriend’s name at wistful moments (pretty shameful).

So my immediate feeling now is: why don’t I feel great?

It’s beautiful outside, if slightly rainy. The Paris streets are just as gorgeous as I remember. I don’t have to worry much about money right now and nothing terrible has happened to me, like getting mugged or shit stolen. Why am I not exuberant to be in Paris, to be on vacation. To get this time that so many have told me they envied?

I could analyze it and find blame and find reason why: I’m lonely, too much caffeine, too much or not enough alcohol, too little sleep, missing my girlfriend.

But the real thing that hit me as I walked down the Paris streets is something that I see come up a lot now. A question that popped in my head?

Why is it shameful to feel bad?

I could only really talk about myself but as a society, I’d observe that we are a group of reassurers. To cheer someone up is cool. “Don’t get down on yourself”, “cheer up”, “don’t be sad”, “look on the bright side”, “make the best of it” are phrases I hear often.

The one intent is helpful, to try to aid someone who is experiencing difficult emotions, but I think something present in it as well are these various messages:

"Hey, you’re bumming us out."
“Stop it.”
“You’re ungrateful for what you have or else you wouldn’t feel bad.”
“What right do you have to feel bad when others have it so much worse?”
“I’m ashamed of you/you should be ashamed of yourself.”

And that last one really gets at it for me. I think often times when I feel bad, feel depressed or down, *the pain of the depression itself is much less bad than the inherent shame of feeling depressed*.

We hate people who are depressed. They don’t want to go anywhere, they shit all over people’s plans, they act irrationally or in self-destructive manners and they are resistant to reasoning, which is often the way that we as humans feel empowered (see: any salesman interaction, one person reasoning another into a decision).

However I think there is another more frightening reason we hate depressed people, which could be applied much more broadly than just that category:

Seeing other people act depressed invites us to feel depressed as well.

As human animals we are observers of social behavior in order to understand normality. If everyone tips a dollar in a bar in New York and I see that, I will probably also tip a dollar unless I have some firmly held conviction about tipping more or less, which I will probably briefly question given the circumstance.

Observing behavior in others forces us to feel empathy and to contemplate our own lives. The primate response, the other monkey is depressed, am I depressed too?

And I know for me the answer is: yes, at least somewhat and I don’t want to think about it! Life is hard enough without reminding me of my own depression.

But as anyone who has either studied psychology (which I have not) or been in a lot of therapy (which I have) can tell you, the suppression of emotion is often much more harmful than the experience of it, in ways that are too difficult to go in to detail about here.

Suffice it to say that by expressing my wish not to be reminded of my depression, I both make it more powerful and make my dislike of depressed people more acute. Thus creating the experience of “shame”.

All very well Nick, you might be asking, but what the hell do you want us to do about it and what does this have to do with France or anything?

Valid questions.

There is no societal answer to the shame associated with depression. No one is going to start acting differently because of my dumb blog post, or at least I don’t hold that expectation.

But there is awareness, self-knowledge, the ability to understand one’s self and to sort out experiences.

For instance, the experience of a caffeine crash often feels to me like emotional pain. My mind, confused by the surging and receding chemicals, ascribes purpose to the chemicals and tells me I am depressed because of circumstantial things in my life, which I might believe and then in turn be ashamed of, because it’s bad to be depressed.

But, if I understand the caffeine crash to be chemical as opposed to emotional, it doesn’t remove the feeling of depression, but both helps me to understand that:
A. The feeling will pass.
and
B. I need not be “ashamed” of my depression because it is a chemical normality rather than a loss of emotional control.

(ASIDE: VERY BRIEFLY, though this topic deserves further exploration, the loss of control element is very important because our perception that we have control or mastery of a sort in our lives, especially over our own emotional states is one of the key illusions/sentiments that I believe keeps people “content”)

So, by being able to process and understand the temporary chemical depression of a caffeine crash, I am able to reduce my shane of it and thus my pain.

So if I can understand and recognize that in my firmly held conviction to oppose that primate instinct, that depression is not inherently shameful, then I can feel “better” without having to “feel better” if that makes sense. as I’d only be experiencing the pain of the depression and not the pain of the shame.

In conclusion, maybe I feel bad in Paris because this is where I needed to feel bad. Where I had enough distance from the people who loved me to feel my own emotions without fear of shaming myself or feeling I was a burden on them. That’s pretty valuable, too.

NONE OF THIS is to say that I have in any way figured out the answers to the big questions of my life like what I’m going to do when I get back in September from Europe or how to pursue comedy or any of that stuff.

But, to unfortunately leave you with the sort of happy ending I dislike, writing this while walking up the Rue Montmartre in the soft Paris night might have incidentally cheered me up.

Cheerio and I’ll write again from Amsterdam.

Le petit Nicolas

This Is The Face of My Mental Illness

thechrisgethardshow:

imageI took this picture of myself at the end of a day I spent in bed, scared and crying, feeling alone and hopeless and completely desperate.

This is the face of my mental illness. This is the face of my sadness when it is at its most inexplicable and its most pronounced.

I am not ashamed of it.

Read More

You are your biggest rejector

I’ve called my travel abroad trying to find myself which I think is good. In someways, I am myself, I have myself. I am well-liked and respected in my comedy community. I have good friends and plenty of performance opportunities. I produce several cool things that are well received like SUPERNOVA and The Hero Show. I’ve been on TV, get recognized sometimes. Probably most importantly, I have a girlfriend I really love and adore who’s pretty excellent. And while I don’t want to make the mistake of basing my self-opinion on something exterior (validation, fame, or even someone else’s affection), it’s really great having love in your life, guys, and I recommend it if you get the chance.

But in other ways, I am lost. I’m 27 with no savings, no job even and no real idea of what I should do to make money. I know I’ve worked for many years a string of jobs I didn’t like for the most part (there were ups and downs like anything) and which I convinced myself that I liked by scheduling myself really tight, giving myself barely any time to sleep, packing in the fun: seeing shows and doing shows, performing, hanging out with friends. It gave the illusion of progress, order and necessity to do these jobs which I was unhappy in, justifying them with that they allowed me to go about the routine in my life of play I had made for myself.

And that life of play, there was something missing from it too.

Because as great as it is to see and perform improv comedy (which I used to be ashamed of my skill at and now think I’m not bad), it has no end road. And as much as I love and take satisfaction in the shows I produce, SUPERNOVA and The Hero Show, and they’ve given me social entrance to a community I once felt alienated from and they WORK for the most part and it’s so gratifying to make something that *works*, they aren’t showcases for me.

Which begs the question: showcases for what?

Because as much as I want to do comedy as the main thing in my life and tell my friends that I want to be a professional comedy person, it’s just not specific enough to work towards. It’s not enough of a choice. And that lack of choice derivates from fear.

Now I want to make it clear for one moment that I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing to have a lack of focus in comedy. Messing around with something on a part-time or semi-pro basis has terms for it and they are “dabbling” or “hobbying” and these are extremely valuable things.

When we have a job or situation, a routine we are in that we generally enjoy, having a hobby or dabbling is really wonderful. It helps provide us the variety we need in our lives with an extra, often creative, activity, without placing the burden of *success* on that activity.

My girlfriend for instance, has a hobby doing pottery. She take classes, she gets better, she hopes to get good enough that maybe she can sell some items. But mostly she does it to clear her mind and to give her an artistic outlet that is disparate from her life, a hobby for her. She has encouraged me to do something similar or to come with her.

Similarly I think people engage with comedy: sketch writing, stand-up, particularly improv on the level of hobbying or dabbling and I think there is nothing wrong with that AT ALL. In the past I feel like I’ve disparaged such people because I was “serious” in a class and they didn’t seem to be taking notes or making progress. But just as the writing gigs and performance opportunities that your friends get do not affect essentially who you are, nor does the presence of those “less serious”.

Which brings me back to my point: how “serious” am I and can I be honest with myself about that?

If I wanted to be a producer of comedy shows or the owner of a comedy theater, I’m doing pretty good. The programs I’ve created with the help of people like Mark Grenier, Rebecca Trent and especially Amey Goerlich are very successful even if they’re not yet profit-oriented and something tells me I could keep doing that if I want and make money at it. Maybe become an agent or a manager. Help other people.

This path really doesn’t interest me above hobbying though. My brain and my heart scream out to me that I would be unhappy if I never gave a chance to “myself” to succeed.

If I wanted to be a director or a teacher of improv as an end goal, I think I could be good at that too. I think I have a natural talent as a director of other people’s material and process. I’ve often been told when directing groups or giving feedback after shows that my coaching was “the best” that person had ever had. I’m a great learner and a sponge for information and I’ve learned well from my comedy mentors and am able to recall with ease the appropriate lessons they imparted in the right circumstances. I am also good at forming my own opinion in ways that are constructive and having empathy for performers, especially runts and weirdoes who try hard. I think given that my performance skill level is high (though not yet professional), if I pursued being a teacher and director as an end goal, I am sure I would find some success at it given my talent.

This one is harder to make a judgement on. Again, something inside me screams out that it would be a betrayal of myself not to be a writer or performer showcasing myself primarily. But I take enough joy in directing and teaching that I would do it as a job to make money for sure and as a hobby I enjoy it quite a lot.

But this is where it becomes hard to trust my heart: if everyone tells me I’d make a great producer or director, what part is my ego or my fear, or negative aspects of myself rejecting that and what part is what I truly want?

Finally, there are the elements of being a comedian that feature me in the forefront: being a writer or comedic actor. These are both difficult for me in that they involve direct risk of rejection of the self and ones efforts and that is painful to me. And the pleasure of success is great, being told your work is good, but that pleasure is counterweighted by the difficulty of the work involved to find a professional level of skill or “voice”, which is not necessarily to end up on SNL or in movies, but to provide a consistent product good enough that people will pay for your services.

But if the life of the performer/writer is hard and full of pain, my human condition recommends I apply logic to my situation to determine pain versus probability of “success”, or do I have “talent”?

I could go through this and my pedagogical successes and failures in the comedy world, at the UCB Theatre, at the Magnet, but I’ve determined that’s immaterial. There are no guarantees anyway and the most “talented” don’t necessarily win in the entertainment industry.

The question is: do I want it? Do I want to be a writer/performer? And if so, what is the *SPECIFIC* goal I am working towards that excites me or interests me.

I learned some of this, it should be mentioned, in Betsy Capes’s very useful PATH class, which I don’t mention more often because as an admittedly lost and unemployed 27 year-old, I don’t think I am a good exemplar of its effects even though I enjoyed it immensely and surely benefitted from it.

This is what I do know:

What makes someone a comedy professional is having a specific, exciting goal they are working towards systematically and doing what it takes to make that happen.

Anything without that focus is probably a non-admitted hobbying or dabbling, at least where I’m concerned.

***
So now, back to my current life and why it doesn’t currently work.

-I had (have had) a non-creative job which I did not particularly like nor spoke to my interests.

This is fine if this is not my end goal (if my job is essentially a paid hobby where I don’t care about success) but it is not fine if nothing else has an end goal either.

-I have a life in comedy which I enjoy but, due to fear and lack of choice, does not have an end goal.

This is fine if I like my job and/or am satisfied in my lifestyle for the present moment, but not fine if I want my situation to change (if my life in comedy manifests as a hobby when I want it to be something professional).

-I have a social life which is great and fulfilling and nurturing and a good relationship with my family and even a cute-and-cool girlfriend.

This part of my life doesn’t need to change. It’s good.

***

So what do I do?

I don’t know.

That’s why I’m on goddam vacation.

What I did get to figure out was why my life wasn’t working:

-because my job that should either be fulfilling or be treated like a hobby was making me unhappy and I didn’t have a strong objective to offset that unhappiness.

-because my life in comedy was unfocused and I was unwilling or unable to make a choice about what I wanted to pursue professionally.

-because I wasn’t sleeping enough and packing my life full of enough supplementary happiness in order to not recognize or be in denial of these facts.

***

So that’s what I’ve got so far. That along with this nugget:

"You are your biggest rejector of your own ambitions, wants, desires."

If I’m going to make a choice about what I want to do in my life I need to get more used to dealing with rejection and fear. And while I’m not sure how to experience that out here, I know how I can stop my own inner rejection of my thoughts, my self-censorship; by saying yes to more of my own ideas.

So as I write this I’m off walking a 2 hour walk across Paris to a video game convention. Walking it was an idea I shut down. Writing this was an idea I thought was dumb too. Here I am doing them.

More to come.

The First Annual Indie Show Awards

Hey there.

As part of my function in the NYC Indie Comedy Community, I end up booking a lot of variety acts for shows I produce or help produce. I also get asked a lot for recommendations of who to book for shows. So I figured I’d put this together. It is entirely unscientific and based on whims and made up on the spot. You can agree or not.

And just in case you were wondering, there are MANY great groups and acts in the city to book. This is really just my opinion at one point in time, singling out certain people.

This doesn’t include The Stepfathers or teams or acts you’d rarely see at variety shows, only people who are or could be frequently seen on stage. People one could book easily.

So I hereby present: The first annual Indie Show Awards as created arbitrarily by me.

Enjoy.

***

BEST IMPROV TEAM (Large):
MULTIBALL

Runners-up: The Serling, Villain, Gulf Oil

Their motto is: no plans, never the same thing twice. I saw one show where Ian Stroud recorded the set he was doing with a go-pro strapped to his head the whole time and another set where Mark Vigeant showed the rest of his team his real, live penis. They have the right balance of people who are on teams at UCB and fun players who everyone enjoys, they show up consistently and always put on an entertaining show, sone of which are presentational and thematic, some of which are one scene played slowly. Very compelling and the easiest choice on this list. The runners up, it should be said are all excellent and consistently provide hilarious, involving shows, but no one does what Multiball does or really anything close.

BEST IMPROV TEAM (Small):
POWDER KEG

Runners-up: Pompadour, Three Dogs, Fuck Destiny (Oh Shit)

Again, like the previous award, individuality and voice counts the most for me. No one does what Powder Keg does. Their slow but very silly, deadpan style of play always cracks me up, as much an unironic deconstruction of improv comedy as it is an enjoyable show. Joe, Nathan and Eddie have a chemistry that can’t be manufactured or faked.

Pompadour is consistently funny, positive and enjoyable. Three Dogs have the same chemistry and enthusiasm at a higher speed. FDOS doesn’t perform very regularly but is very fresh and enjoyable.

BEST SKETCH TEAM: KINGMAKER

Runners-up: Kokomo, The Rolling Scones, The Hubbies

It’s not a coincidence that Mark Vigeant has two teams on this list. The man is unafraid to take chances, goes big with his choices and has an infectious positive energy to his work.

His duo sketch work with Dan Kenkel (Kingmaker) is fast and funny without being prop or tech heavy, things that can be difficult for an indie show to accommodate. It’s just a bunch of funny characters and sketches and non-sequiturs presented by two blazer-dressed best friends.

Kokomo has a great indie presence and a Will Ferrell-like star in Michael Delisle, Scones has a gonzo nerdy energy and also features Delisle as well as wild-card Pat May, The Hubbies are filled with enthusiasm and a kooky originality (one of their sketches is a poem about sex with Martin Luther King) but haven’t been doing as many shows recently.

BEST STAND-UP: MATT KOFF

Runners-up: Joe Pera, Brandon Scott Wolf, Brian Frange

This was the most difficult category to judge and there were MANY more stand-ups I would have liked to included as I’ve seen many excellent ones.

But the fact that Matt, originally a Magnet-trained improviser and currently a writer for The Daily Show, is so fucking good at stand-up and will randomly do your free show if you email him is criminally good and speaks to how nice of a guy he is.

I’ve seen him many times with a mix of fresh and old material and every time he crushes like some crazy mutant and then thanks you for doing the show. What a guy.

Joe is part of Powder Keg but as a stand-up brings that same originality and voice to the stage in a way that is immediate and a bit scary. BSW has a fine tune on his act and delivery that makes his job look effortless while digging in to himself. Frange, who is doing Montreal this year, is one of the smartest stand-ups out there, placing his opinions about news and government in a way that challenges us to be smarter while just being that funny.

BEST CHARACTER PERFORMER: FRANK HEJL

Runners-up: Chelsea Davison, Sebastian Conelli, Justin Tyler

Frank has honed his craft to a place now where his characters and impressions aren’t just funny but surgically accurate and well crafted to show you what his sense of humor is and what his target is. His videos have been circulating online but rather than rest on his laurels he’s constantly doing mics and small shows to hone and time new and old bits. His doggedness edges this one out.

Chelsea is hilarious, a young up-and-comer off to Montreal. Sebastian, my buddy, has more pure funny than anyone else at UCB right now. Justin’s energy and craft is evident every time I’ve seen him perform in a way that is very impressive.

BEST INDIE IMPROV SHOW: DESSERT CART: FULL FAT

Runners-up: Free Kittens, Howl Hour, The Hurly-Burly Show

At this point Mimi Fischer and Morgan Phillips who host Dessert Cart are the patron saints of indie improv here in New York City. Their Sunday late-night show is often the first exposure for new teams or a chance to put on rare combinations in a timeslot where otherwise people might not be available.

Their improv too is rich and silly in a way that is fun to watch and keeps the audience up at such a late hour.

Free Kittens is almost the longest running of the indie shows now other than Jerkface and Thank You Robot (correct me if I’m wrong) and consistently features high quality acts. Howl does a great job hosting an up and coming show with a lot of young stars. Hurly Burly has proven with their variety and commitment a worthy successor to the slot formerly filled by Scrambled Legs.

BEST INDIE SKETCH SHOW: BAKED GOODES

Runners-up: Bridge and Tunnel, Sketch Show: The Sketch Show

There should be more of these but sketch is hard and the teams don’t often stay together.

That said, Ian O’Keefe and his cast of collaborators has created something really excellent here that is rarely seen: a live sitcom, not an ironic presentation or deconstruction, but a real original fun thing. His integration of live music and sketch “commercials” between the character games and scenarios of the bakery really makes his show feel whole and complete in a way that most UCB or Magnet teams do not. There is clearly thought and a concerted effort (as opposed to scattershot or slapdash effort) going into these shows and that it is done outside the theater system with such quality is a testament to the cast and crew’s resolve.

SPECIAL MENTION: RED HOT VIDEO FUN TIME

There isn’t a category to fit this show but Micah, Jared and Drew have created something awesome and already super popular: a rollicking hella-cool party where people create and premiere their comedy web videos to a supportive audience. The fact that this well-run and evolving show encourages the sort of creation that any serious comedy person should be participating in is only underscored by the free drinks and the warm atmosphere.

THE TERRY WITHERS AWARD: JO FIRESTONE

When I was coming up, Terry Withers would do the craziest indie shows anyone had ever seen including weirdly self-righteous short form improv and direct mockery and antagonism towards the audience. His shows defied all convention so I dedicate this award to him and to the people who do shows and acts that defy convention.

The obvious choice for this mantle is Jo Firestone, a woman whom the mere mention of her shows (PUNDERDOME, Friends of Single People, The Incredible Game Show Showcase) inspires amazement and considerable confusion. Jo also does solo acts when booked that fit neither under the category of stand up or characters but veer more towards an interactive piece of funny and endearing performance art. She is a great get for a show and a boon to the community.

***

And that’s it for this time. I only listed things and people I had seen directly so shows I had heard about but have not a attended were not considered. Best Host and Best Musical Act, categories I’d intended, were not listed for lack of consistent performers I knew though I’d look at NANCY for funny songs and Evan Altshuler for solo good music.

Love to hear some thoughts or recriminations and congrats on your arbitrary awards.

Love,
Nick

emilyhoffman:

On Sunday I decided to take myself to the movies. It was a last minute decision and since it was a movie that would be inevitably disappointing I went alone.

I got on the subway. It was a semi crowded car and when I saw an empty seat I decided I would be better off taking it than trying to keep…

frankhejl:

My one man sketch show, HEJL IS OTHER PEOPLE, goes up for review again TONIGHT at 6pm at ucbtheatre NY (chelsea theatre)! Directed by michaelhartney! I will also be performing in Character’s Welcome at 8pm after the show. Check it out!

Frank is the best! Check it out.

frankhejl:

My one man sketch show, HEJL IS OTHER PEOPLE, goes up for review again TONIGHT at 6pm at ucbtheatre NY (chelsea theatre)! Directed by michaelhartney! I will also be performing in Character’s Welcome at 8pm after the show. Check it out!

Frank is the best! Check it out.