I'm Not Ignoring You, I'm Just Suffering From a Socially Crippling Physical Ailment!

If you know me well or if you listen to my podcast or if you are familiar with my stand-up material, you might know that I have a hearing loss. I have talked about this before in various places but rarely have I been completely thorough in explaining myself. I felt a sudden compulsion (writers call it “inspiration”) to delve into detail about the specifics of this hearing loss as well as the impact it has had on my life thus far as well as its ongoing effects.

I say “hearing loss.” I should just be honest: I’m deaf. I’m a deaf man. A man who is deaf. DDDDDEEEEAAAAAAAFFFF! Not totally. The profoundly deaf would consider me part of the "hearing" community rather than their own. (I'm a hearing refugee!) I feel like I have a tendency to couch the verbiage in an effort of emotional self-preservation. I spent a good portion of my life in complete denial about this fact. I mean, I “knew” I had a severe hearing impairment, but I wouldn’t let myself truly KNOW it, if that makes sense. It was the intellectual “knowing," not the spiritual-emotional KNOWING.

Some (semi-brief) personal history:

I’m sure I’m going to butcher some of the chronology here, but when I was in pre-school — maybe it was kindergarten? — we did a classroom hearing test. This is standard procedure and a lot of you probably barely remember these things and if you do, you most likely remember it is an annoying formality. Not me! The nurse sat me in that chair and said, “Okay. I’m going to put these headphones on and you’re going to hear some beeps. If you hear a beep in your left ear, raise your left arm; if you hear a beep in your right ear, raise your right arm. Sound good?” Let me tell you guys. I did not hear ANYTHING that lady said. So we skipped the test and I was wooshed to the ear doctor.

He gave me a proper hearing test. The thing is, I am a great test taker. The ACTs, SATs, SAT IIs, finals, mid terms all gave me no anxiety whatsoever. The only test that makes me nervous is a hearing test. I hate it. I hate sucking at something. I hate waiting for the beep and not hearing it, then convincing myself that the light ringing in my ears is the beep so I optimistically raise my hand only to be told I have raised my hand at nothing and to “be sure you hear a beep before you raise your hand.” They charted my audiogram (graph of a person’s hearing ability with the frequency as the x-axis and decibel level on the y-axis). I have what is called a “cookie bite loss,” which looks like this:

By the way, odd choice on the nomenclature to call it “cookie bite loss.” Why bring pastries into it? Might as well have something like this:

Or this:

Either way, what "cookie bite" means is, basically, all my ranges are bad, but my middle frequencies are especially bad, which is where human speech takes place. The other thing with me is that while my volume is very low, my clarity is also very poor. So even if the volume is high enough (loud music, for example), I am often unable to make out what is actually being said. Make sense? Is this exhausting? I know. I’m sorry.

Anyway, the doctor recommended I wear hearing aids immediately but I was a real diva in my younger years. I was, as I’ve later discovered, in complete denial. I didn’t want to acknowledge this problem so if I never fixed it then that meant there was nothing to fix.

I had a brief stint with hearing aids when I was 11, at the insistence of my family and ear doctor. I wore what are called Completely In the Canal hearing aids (CICs). They look like this:

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They were the smallest, most cosmetically apt devices on the market at the time. They ran about $4,000 a pair. (Hearing aids, except in rare circumstances, are almost never covered by insurance, by the way. This is mostly because most hearing loss is degenerative meaning most hearing patients are very old and unable to produce for society so, politically, nobody gives a shit but this is a different post for a different day!) Those models last around 4-5 years and require daily cleaning, weekly battery changes, and they must be removed if you shower, sleep, exercise, swim, or do anything else that puts pressure or moisture on the device.

I was in fifth grade and my teacher, by way of “classroom bucks” (which could be converted into extra credit or whatever) would bribe me into wearing my hearing aids. It worked, for a week or two. Then this girl Lauren asked me in the middle of class, “What’s in your ears??” Well, folks, that was all she wrote! My pube-less, virgin, already socially awkward, tiny boy self had heard (I did hear her!) all he needed to hear. I ripped those things out of my head like they were leeches sucking the blood of my ability to fit in.

I didn’t try wearing hearing aids again until I was 21.

Let’s rewind for a second. I want to paint a broader picture. Being unable to hear is a completely and totally isolating experience. I remember when my friends would watch movies, I would not be able to hear them so I would literally sit and stare at a very confusing screen and furthermore, to hide my defect, I would merely echo their responses. If they laughed, I let out a chuckle. If they acted surprised, I feigned an intense eyebrow raise. And so on. It was a nightmare. This is 20 years. TWENTY YEARS I did this shit.

The worst was in class when they did that “reading aloud” bullshit. The teacher would sadistically pick a chapter in the textbook to read and would have kids (AT RANDOM!!!! WHY????) read a paragraph. (Or two or three. YOU NEVER KNEW HOW MANY EACH PERSON READ! IT WAS A WHIMSICAL FORM OF EMOTIONAL TORTURE!!) So some kid, let’s say David, in the back would read, then after some unknown number of paragraphs, the teacher would say, “Okay, good. Now how about Jeremy?” Then Jeremy would read. Now for most kids, this was probably super boring. Not for me! It was hell. I was riveted, but only because I was surfing on the hell-waters of the River Styx. “Oh god she’s going to call my name! I have no idea where we are! AHHHH!” So what I would do is try my best to follow the rhythm of the other students’ speech patterns (since I was usually unable to make out what they were actually saying) and try to pair that with a sentence in the text book. So if a student said “a-bah-bah-ba-BAH-ba” I could find a sentence in the book that would potentially sound like that and be fairly confident that’s where we were in the reading. Insanity, I know.

It gets crazier.

So often people would ask me questions. I would know not because I heard them, but because I saw the normal bustle of the conversation stop and everyone turned to look at me. UH OH! Show time! WHAT’S MY LINE?! I usually had no idea. So, I’d use a similar strategy to the reading one. I would deduce based again on the rhythm of the conversation and the last sentence (which was the question, AKA my cue) the kind of response I needed to give. I would shy away from specifics and just give very broad, sweeping answers. Was it a yes or no question? Then a simple “yeah” will suffice. You might be asking yourself, “Why not just ask them to repeat it?” BECAUSE, YOU DOLT! YOU ONLY GET SO MANY “WHAT”S IN A DAY BEFORE THEY ALL TURN INTO POO MONSTERS AND STOP BEING YOUR FRIENDS. If I said “What?” or “Come again?” or “What’s that?” too many times, then it would trigger an alarm in their heads that something was WRONG with me. “What are you, deaf?!” YES, YOU FUCKWIT! THAT WOULD ONLY MAKE PERFECT SENSE, WOULDN’T IT! But everyone was so young and unable to process the nuance of humanity. So, we clumsily trudge along in our black and white paradigms (cool vs. retarded) of adolescence.

An exercise: put yourself in that position. It’s nearly impossible to truly understand but try. Imagine you are unable to hear almost everything that is said. For 20 years. And you know this. So you lack the confidence that almost everyone else takes for granted to even approach a verbal dialogue. How would you communicate? How would you socialize? How would you flirt?? SPOILER ALERT: You wouldn’t. You would shut down externally and stay in constant communication with the only person on earth you were guaranteed to hear: yourself.

And that was the biggest effect. I regressed into the sanctuary of my own thoughts. (Many people who know me are right now going, OH NOW I GET IT!) When my friends would watch movies and I would do that flickering-screen-stare-fake-out move, I would be lost in thought, contemplating whatever. When I was in the back seat of a car and the front seat people were showing off their ability to hear like bare-chested braggarts (read: having a conversation), I would take the hot air balloon express ride into my own head. During class if the teacher turned his/her back. During bus rides. Walking down the street. I basically spent 20 years of my life listening to my own one-person podcast. I got to some pretty wild places. When you have 20 years to think, you get to the outskirts of your own consciousness. It’s half cosmic beauty, half total solitary hell.

Let’s go back. When I was 21 (near the end of my college experiment), I decided enough was enough. I called my mom and told her I wanted to get hearing aids again. She reminded me that when I was twelve, they dropped $4K on a pair that I wore a total of 10 times. I acknowledged the immature mistake and vowed this time would be different. It was, to an extent. I got refitted for a new pair of CICs. I would wear them to class and whenever a situation “called for” them. It was partially effective. I ended up dropping out of school (a positive step nearly everyone in college should take), moving back home and I started dating my first girlfriend. (At 21. But that only makes too much sense now, right?)

In March of 2008, I moved to Chicago to pursue stand-up full time. I was wearing the hearing aids to perform because it is literally impossible to do without being able to hear the crowd’s response. Not just hecklers, but stand-up is a very fine-tuned volley between performer and audience, even if they are not disruptive. Their laughter is their communication and you need to be in sync with that.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how thankful I am that stand-up comedy exists as it has proven to be a near-ideal outlet for me. I can take all of that stored up thinking and project powerful bursts of it into crowds. Stand-up is basically thinking aloud, only this time everyone can jump in your head with you!

In October of 2008, everything changed. My ear doctor told me about a brand new hearing aid called Lyric, made by Insound (later bought by Phonak). Lyrics were a “24/7” hearing aid that required no battery changes or cleaning. You get them put in and they stay in for 2-3 months (or however long the battery lasts) then you come back to the ear doctor and have them replaced. You can shower with them, sleep with them, work out with them. The only thing you can’t do is swim or otherwise submerge your head. Oh, and they are completely invisible. They fit like this:

My audiogram was barely within range of the power of the devices but they needed to see if they would fit my canal as they were not custom, but came in a few sizes (Small, Medium, Large, etc.). I tried them and they were able to fit my canal. They came in a year subscription meaning you can get as many replacements as necessary within that year. The subscription cost around $1,800 per ear, per year, so $3,600 per year. (Again, not a dime covered by insurance.)

I have been wearing these ever since. It’s been almost 6 years and honestly it revolutionized my life. Full disclosure: they are not perfect. I still do not have anywhere close to normal hearing. I could probably stand to use a more powerful hearing aid, but the benefits of these — not having to take them out ever, not having to think about them really except for a few times a year — outweighed the negatives — not being able to swim, still not hearing at a “normal” level, and one of them can die at random in which case you have to go to the doctor and have it replaced. This is a problem because sometimes you have to wait a few days, which renders you out of commission in the meantime. (This actually happened to me this week which is what prompted this article.)

I still can’t hear 100% of movies so I watch them with subtitles and rarely go to the theaters. I have a hard time with hecklers because they are usually dark and far away so I can’t read their lips (another "trick" I picked up by accident over the years) or body language. I would say I hear now at around 70% of what you do. Which is a marked improvement. It has allowed me to be infinitely more social which has allowed a lot of my emotions to transcend their adaptive barriers.

I am still wired to default at “closed off.” In addition to not being able to hear well (still), I am extremely inwardly focused. A lot of times people think I’m ignoring them or being an asshole; I’m not. I either can’t hear you or I’m millions of miles away from you in terms of my thought-dot on the consciousness map. Also, small talk makes me uncomfortable. See, when you spend so much time stretching the limits of your own internal monologue, you get to some crazy places. Small talk with myself ended when I was two. I remember thinking to myself, “So what’s new in diapers?” and then whistled awkwardly while my consciousness and I just kind of stared at each other. Since then it’s been full-throttle, broodingly intense exploration, often propelled by depressive mood swings. So the shift back to folksy small talk is a jarring one for me. …and then maybe if you just accept death as part of the process, it isn’t anything to fear because I’ve already been dead and that was fine and being dead is the absence of feeling so I’m sitting here afraid of a not-thing which is so absurd and—Ah! What?? Oh, uh, yeah, um, that show is hilarious! Good seeing you, buddy!—it’s something that everyone goes through so it can’t be THAT terrible… In addition, I am so worried that I’m going to mishear someone in a small talk exchange that it gives me anxiety so I just blurt out weird fragments of my now-shattered train of thought. I don’t abide by the usual ebb-and-flow of stranger exchange and it’s just a mess for me so I often try to avoid it by maintaining that inward focus.

So much of my life has been defined by cynicism and a prickly personality. (That’s being generous.) Obviously no component of our emotional makeup has one root, but this hearing thing is definitely a big one. So much regression into myself has given me a very specific perspective on life. Some of which is beautiful and others are things that have to be overcome. The isolation has injected an extremely exploratory mind with a high dose of detachment and narcissistic influence. The results have been difficult as I seem to have an extremely intense need for affection, love, and intimacy — a very bright sensitivity — yet a lot of instincts which are antithetical to actualizing those needs. Bridging that gap, maintaining the strong qualities of this situation while weeding out and working through the hypocrisies and emotional pitfalls, this is my battle. Waging it is the remnant burden from this saga.

I am overwhelmed with gratitude that I am in the position to be able to overcome these. That I have the opportunity to grow. To change. To be better. To be in flux. To explore possibilities. It’s only in death that the possibilities are reduced to zero; so long as you’re alive, they're endless.

Behind Your Face

The answer is not in front of your face. It is behind it. Look within! You have all the answers inside of you. Our human capabilities are so magnificent it breaks my heart to see people afraid to tap into them. I get it. It's a confounding web of existential gunk. But that's where you exist. Inside of that web. Around it. Of it. About it. Within it. You ARE that web. It is you. The world wants to tell you to ignore that. "Pay it no heed, friend! Focus your efforts on buildings and elevators and sunglasses and banks! Production is the way to enlightenment!" screams the rotten whore-corpse of commerce. We all have a very common desire to find ourselves. We have an energy that drives that search. The energy is frantically rerouted to things that are of no importance. "Vote for THIS politician! He/She is the light!" "Buy THIS car! It will help you find the truth!" "You will die if you don't wear this visor and type these numbers! Save yourself!" No. All wrong. You need none of these things. You need to let go of these things. Let go of your worries and clear out all but yourself. Which you have, and have had all along. It's there. Everything you want. Right behind your stupid face. In front of your face, we are all waiting for you to join us.

ATHEISTS ARE WRONG ABOUT EVERYTHING EXCEPT GOD

This is the first thing Facebook showed me when I logged on:

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Ugh.

In light of the recent bombings in Libya and Egypt, there has been a lot of blowback from the people of the West, using their most powerful weapon: super clever Internet memes! Most of these condemn the violence of religious fanatics while (mostly explicitly) lauding the peacefulness of atheists.

I am writing this to explain, as usual, why everyone is wrong.

First of all, atheism is not strictly defined. There are many subcategories of atheism: strong atheism (active belief in no god), weak atheism (no active belief in god without rejecting it as a possibility); these extend even to agnostics and, my personal alignment, ignostics (those who assign no logical value to the question “Do you believe in God?” since the word ‘God’ is so nebulously, if at all, defined — personally, I feel like whatever we do mean by “God,” we can’t mean the actual thing since it is by definition beyond human understanding so I find the whole discussion to be a waste of time as it is inherently unanswerable). Behind all of them, however, is the encouragement of independent thinking. But when atheists engage in this pseudo-evangelical march, it makes it extra hilarious to watch as if their specific brand of like-minded, self-congratulating mob mentality is so much more enlightened than that of their friends, “the believers.” The group-mindedness of atheists mitigates or otherwise completely eradicates their own credibility as autonomous thinkers, which, is the valued trait of atheism.

Atheists have taken to the Internet (their true god) to get across the message that religious fanaticism is directly to blame for specific incidents of violence and everyone should therefore join Team Atheism for a smooth ride to Utopia. The problem with this – besides how fucking petulant it is – is how it completely misses the point. People act as if organized religion is the only possibly case of mass propaganda or subconscious occupation, which could be used toward violent aims. And these people live in America, the advertising haven of the universe! Sure, organized religion is beyond stupid. No argument there. But not because of its tenets, but because of what drives the “believers.”

We can start with religion, since it is the obvious example of dogmatic belief. This is where atheists have it right. Religion is inherently irrational and divisive. I was never suggesting it wasn’t. The religious beliefs are, at least in part, driven by a fear of death. Death is a horrifying notion that we are unfortunately very aware of. We die. That’s frightening. Crippling. Paralyzing. I’ve lost sleep over it many nights and I’m sure I’m not the only one. So people flock to the Church, shuls, mosques, and other places that claim to have answers and solace, all having their own culturally specific uniqueness. But within this desire to escape a very human reality lies its own solution. I said it earlier: we die. Or, more specifically: we all die. Look at that! A commonality! Something true to all of us. How the fuck have we not let that bring us together? Why don’t we, instead of fearfully running from death and hiding in our own separate corners, embrace it as a unit? I worry that people think that notion is scary. Total unity is very intimate. And people seem to be too afraid to get that close. Yet I get labeled the cynical misanthrope. Hilarious.

But so what? You think religion is bullshit? Congratulations. You don’t believe in a 2000-year-old, physically impossible man. Bravo. What a genius you are! Now take that same “free-thinking” mind of yours and apply it to the things in which you soak yourself on a daily basis.

Modern politics. It’s total nonsense. If you can’t see that, then you are a “believer.” It’s been pounded into our heads since we were five-years-old. America this, America that. Heroes. Presidents. Democracy! The political system is holy. But it’s not. It’s a farce, like any other power-driven human institution. It’s not based on compassion or even intelligence. It’s sheer manipulation. Who can run the best campaign? Who can appeal to the most people? So, why not reject that too? Why are atheists so quick to reject this absurd notion of Jesus but they are ready and eager to participate in Hope and Change? How is that not blind faith?

Even in the comedy or entertainment world, so many “atheists” still subscribe to the arbitrary authority structure of television or corporate approval. If someone is “on TV,” even the most scrupulous of atheists will still submit a certain level of respect or even adulation toward this person, just on the sole basis of them being on television. This implies an embedded indoctrination in the idea that being on television means anything. (It doesn’t.) All it means is that a few corporate executives decided that that person would be the best person for a show which is designed to sell ad slots. It means nothing more than that. But we’ve been fooled. We’ve been taught, systematically, to buy into the system of television, the mind-control mechanism of the string-pullers. We buy into it and adopt it. We set our DVR’s to record ‘Breaking Bad’ or ‘Game of Thrones’ the same way a Muslim drops to the floor five times a day. You onlythink it’s different.

You might say, “But watching ‘Game of Thrones’ never made me blow up a skyscraper!” True. While I argue that 9/11 was not explicitly religiously motivated, but rather politically motivated and perhaps, in part, used religion as the propaganda du jour, I will still take this at face value.

First, it’s very easy to show that religion is not necessary for unnecessary violence. What religious doctrine led to the bombing of Vietnam? How about the invasion of Iraq? Afghanistan? What god were Bush and Obama killing for? (If you’re thinking “Satan,” congratulations, you are so clever. I can’t wait to see your newest meme.) This is U.S.-led violence, and we are supposedly an enlightened society, remember? The catalyst there was not organized religion (unless, of course, you consider power and control of world commerce to be gods), but something else. No, all that violence is possible because we have a social structure which allows it, one which is nearly unanimously accepted, often ardently by atheists themselves.

So how does that violence happen? All of the things we do accept – politics, television, status quo, social mores, etc. – all have consequences. When we submit to the authority of television or buy into the horseshit left/right debate of politics, or do things just because we’re told to or say things just because our friends do, all of that adds up. What we get is a society subject to the whim of anyone brave enough to point us in whichever direction. When people watch Fox News or MSNBC and have discussions based on the questions they pose, we are adopting their parameters. That is what modern indoctrination is. This sort of indoctrination creates a social ethos that allows certain behaviors (political violence, eradication of freedom) to not only be tolerated but often defended. It’s somewhat Orwellian and it is almost completely faith-based. The only difference is that it seems like there is a valid, rational dialectic behind it. No, we aren’t consuming a cracker that we are told is superhuman flesh, but we are consuming the puerile mode of thought being spit at us from the ugly mouth of society. These sorts of “beliefs” are ubiquitous and not specific to religious people. It is this type of belief that is the most pervasive, the most troublesome precisely because it is the hardest to detect and therefore the most difficult to address. Where atheists fall short is nearly everywhere outside of organized religion. We need not just religious atheists, but non-believers of all facets to bring, at the very least, an intense level of honest skepticism to even the most taken-for-granted aspects of our society. And this has to be done outside of the established framework. Supporting some platitude that you read in the Huffington Post is (usually) a complete waste of time. We need to apply that same level of non-belief to the very cores of our society. In essence, we, together, need to take potent, sociopolitical DMT and clear our collective consciousness of the nonsense that pervades and mars what should be our temple of human freedom.

Some people, possibly atheists, might read this and think, “Well, you don’t know politics is like that. You don’t knowthat television is like that. That’s just your personal belief.” Yeah. Hm. I feel like I’ve heard that somewhere before…

This will be continued. Somehow.

TWITTER USERNAME (@DREWMCOMEDY VS. @DREWMICHAEL)

My Twitter username is @drewmcomedy. I took this one because @DrewMichael was already in use. Not surprising. The domain www.drewmichael.com is currently being cyber-squatted (another blog on that later perhaps), so it’s to be expected that the Twitter username would be in use. Recently, I did some investigating and looked at @DrewMichael’s page. What I found was pretty awesome. It was about a year old, and there were only 12 tweets. (TWELVE!) 11 of them were tweeting at sports writers (like Chris Broussard and Buster Olney) about Boston sports. The other one seemed to be directed at a co-worker. (You can see the page here, however I suggest you read the blog first.) His picture is the default egg, for crying out loud! Here is a sample tweet from his page:

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So, in an effort to reach out to him, I started a friendly campaign:

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I was honestly surprised (and thrilled) at the response and assistance I got from my followers. Here are some of my favorites:

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Now, I’ll just post the exchange. It’s pretty easy to follow. At the time of this exchange, his name was appearing “Drew Denerstein,” but he has since switched it to “Drew Michael.” I’m guessing his full name is Drew Michael Denerstein, but who knows. (For bonus points, take note of the dates as I let a few days pass and he comes crawling back.)

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Oooh! He dropped $150 off the price! I ignored him for 2 days and then…

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Ignore for three days…

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$150? What happened to the $175?

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“Good luck with the comedy.” As if this username is the only obstacle preventing me from achieving greatness! Three days go by…

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Lawyer? What a Jew.

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I checked my inbox and I had received this email:

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Attached was a standard contract. I replied:

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I have not heard back from him (yet). Something about this guy reminds me of an ex girlfriend I had. He keeps coming back with less and less self-respect until I don’t even want what he has to offer anymore.

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What's the worst that can happen?

Is honesty really the best policy? Well, it depends on what you mean by “best.” If you mean the most straightforward and true, then yes, honesty is the best policy. If you mean the way to get along with others and propagate this collective delusion of grandeur, then no, honesty might just be the worst policy.

Complaints

In light of the recent influx of complaints regarding (Chicago) comedy, I thought I would weigh in with some things that you can hopefully take with you. I have been doing stand-up in Chicago for the last four years so here are some thoughts I have at this stage as they pertain to some common qualms:

1. Comedy owes you nothing. I know this is harsh especially when a lot of us consider comedy to be the only significant other that could possibly “get us.” But even though you might pour your heart and soul to this oft-succubus of an art form, it CAN NOT make you happy and is under no obligation to provide you with any type of satisfaction. You make your own happiness in comedy and in life. Life, like stand-up, is a process. As much as people try to contrive them in life, there are no check points. In stand-up, no gig or accomplishment means anything other than what it is. In other words, the only satisfaction you will get out of “achieving” something is a mirror image of the work and focus you put into it. People get gigs they don’t deserve; people don’t get gigs they do deserve; etc. If you can enjoy the process then you’ve already won. No matter who you are, the adulation you may or may not receive is completely intangible. Louis CK can’t sleep next to his Twitter followers. Bill Cosby can’t call Himself on the phone. Likewise, the people who hate Dane Cook don’t live with him. These things only provide satisfaction (or dissatisfaction) insofar as the performer/artist/person enjoyed (or didn’t enjoy) being a part of the process necessary to achieve them. The self-discovery, the vulnerability, the theatrical intimacy, whatever. So even if it’s having a good set at an open mic, having a bad set at a showcase, struggling to write a new bit, writing six great new bits in a row, any of that – it’s all part of the process. Everyone’s process is unique yet contains a very sacred thread of commonality. We are all doing the same thing yet we are all completely different. It’s special. It’s terrifying. It can be brutal. It can also be insanely rewarding in ways that few things on this planet are. Enjoy the process, with all its ugly points and highlights, otherwise you’re fucked.

2. (The North Side of) Chicago is not the only place where stand-up comedy happens. I know the Chicago comedy scene can be intimidating at first glance. A lot of people move from other towns and cities so just being in a giant urban area can be intimidating, much less walking into an open mic where everyone seems to know exactly what’s going on but you have no fucking idea. We’ve all been there. I also know that it seems like a huge deal to get bumped at Lottie’s on Tuesday night. (A really fun open mic, by the way. Check it out if you haven’t.) Chicago is an amazing place to start, but keep it in context. There are so many opportunities here as well as opportunities to make your own opportunities without risking any fatal errors. Chicago allows comedy to BREATHE (something horribly absent in industry cities) which is the reason so much great stand-up has originated here. But, the best way to utilize Chicago is to utilize everything about it. There are 3 full time comedy clubs in the city, 3 in the suburbs, a plethora of showcases and open mics in the city, a huge sketch/improv scene but there are also a plethora of cities within a few hours that have their own clubs and scenes. Go to them! When you feel you are ready, find them. Until then, don’t sweat the fact that Bert Haas won’t respond to your emails. All part of the process…

3. Work harder. There is a reason your parents freak out when you tell them you want to be a stand-up comic. It’s fucking hard. Impossibly hard. It is only achievable through thousands of hours of hard work and dedication. So, for example, if you’re not getting booked at a certain room or club or people bump you at an open mic, take the fucking lump and chalk it up to part of the difficulties of this field. The answer is always the same: work harder. Are any of you as good as Bill Hicks? No? Well, then fuck off. Work harder until you’re better than him. And when you’re better than him, work harder to be better than you were. It never ends. You should always be working. Write better bits, get on stage more, hit other open mics or rooms or clubs. Make your own room. Whatever you want to do, there are endless ways to do it if you’re willing to put in the work. The caveat is, however, if you have to be told to work hard, you probably won’t.

4. Comedy is a reflection of life, not life itself. The goal, more than any TV credit, should be to cultivate a perspective on life that is a) insightful and b) funny (in that order). Remember comedy’s place in the context of life and utilize it as a channel, not as a mask. Comedy is at its best not when the person is hiding from or avoiding the pain and hard parts of life, but when the person is acknowledging them head on with a slant that brings out the humor. Even with that, it’s still comedy. There are many other parts of life that are worth your time, effort and understanding. Explore.

5. There is no shame in being shitty. Most people are. Don’t let it cut so deep that you have to lie to yourself about it. This is one of the reasons you should never complain about not getting booked because, most likely, the people you are complaining to are thinking, “Yeah, you fucking suck. I wouldn’t book you either,” but instead they nod and go, “Yeah it’s fucking bullshit,” and walk away wishing you would just quit so they’d never have to hear your stupid cunty voice again. If you aren’t getting booked, it’s not a conspiracy. You probably suck. At least for now. It’s much easier if you can be honest with yourself. We have all accepted we won’t be professional athletes. There is no shame in that so why can’t we admit that we can’t do this?

6. Don’t be a faggot. This is pretty simple. There is no one way to get to where you want to get to, but in all of the blueprints laid thus far, no successful comic says, “Yeah, I used to bitch all the time about open mic lineups and I just did that for like 15 years then I was awesome.” (I should note that “success” is not defined by anything but what you consider to be success. This all goes back to enjoying the process. Are you enjoying it? Then you’re succeeding. Are you unhappy with it as a whole? Then you’re not succeeding.) Go get awesome, you faggots. Stop tricking yourself into thinking pathetic self hatred is a voice.

The Answer

People always ask, so here’s the answer:

I live for those moments – those tiny, transient moments – where everything makes sense, just in that instant: the moments where a riff or melody in a song just snaps the universe into place and you’re seeing it all at once like a Laplace Demon; moments of complete intimacy where you’re so open that communication can almost take place telepathically; moments of such intense emotion where crying almost seems like an insult to the reality of it; moments where everything rushes through your head like a montage; moments of ultimate humanity!

Yes, certainly, these moments are rare. (Increasingly so given the pace and direction of the world’s flux toward delusion and “spectacle.”) However, they contain within them the inverse of one’s (our) collective struggle. It’s basic Newton, you fucking weirdos.

Local Shows and General Fraudulence

Hey guys. Look, I don’t mean to be a stick in the mud, but what the fuck are we doing? I mean, seriously. Are people even thinking before they do things? Does one thought enter their brain before it makes their body perform destructive, useless actions? I seriously don’t know. Not to sound all over-arching and Glenn Beck-y but this has to stop.

First, the comedy part. As many of you know, I co-produce a weekly stand-up comedy showcase called Comedians You Should Know. It is, without a doubt, one of the most important things of which I am a part and it is something in which I take deep pride and satisfaction. In a nutshell, that show (and group) is the manifestation of comics’ hard work, determination, perseverance and talent. We have, collectively, poured our souls into that show, ripped each other’s throats out over that show, but ultimately created one of the best independent stand up shows in Chicago with our own unlovable hands and bipolar brains. That’s something. We should be proud.

I was recently made aware of a show called “Stand Up Chicago.” They run their showcase on Saturday nights at Ole Lounge around Lincoln and Diversey. (Now, I should note that I am aware that by even mentioning this show here I am giving it more publicity than it would ever receive anywhere else, but I hope that the content will negate any positive awareness this “plug” creates.) So, I checked out the website of this show: http://standupchi.webs.com/

I’m not sure if it will be changed by the time this blog is posted, but on their front page here is the “description” I found:

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Sounds like a show I might want to see. Descriptive, enticing, etc. Not bad, right?

Yeah, no shit. I fucking wrote it.

Here is the ticket link to our upcoming showcase on Wednesday, May 18th (my birthday, coincidentally):http://www.fanfueled.com/Event/Details/306-comedians-you-should-know-timothy-otooles-51811

(This link is not working. Here is the relevant snippet from our press materials:)

Comedians You Should Know, the premiere Chicago stand up comedy collective, is independently produced by a cast of six local comedians: Marty DeRosa, Danny Kallas, Joe Kilgallon, Mike Lebovitz, Drew Michael, and Michael Sanchez. Since 2008, the group has established a prominent presence in the local arts scene. Circumventing the tired, stale brand of comedy clubs, Comedians You Should Know delivers original, fresh, showcase-style stand up comedy every Wednesday at 9:00 PM in the back room of Timothy O’Toole’s (622 N. Fairbanks Ct.), a classy downtown bar in the Streeterville neighborhood. Their weekly show has garnered frequent sold-out crowds and a loyal local following.

Comedians You Should Know features a DIFFERENT LINEUP every single week and thus makes it a must-see event every Wednesday!

Notice anything? Yeah, they ripped us off word for word. This is the description we originally used on our website, the one we use on all our email blasts and press releases, etc. It’s blatant plagiarism, plain and simple.

I did some further investigating and apparently Stand Up Chicago offers college and corporate bookings! Wow. Well, I typed their “descriptions” into Google and found that they plagiarized those descriptions from this website:http://www.selectcomedy.com/

Now, I have no idea who comprises this “collective” called Stand Up Chicago, but they did have a contact name, Steve, and a phone number. (The name and number have since been removed from their website and replaced by an email address.) I called this man to inform him of his (website’s) blatant plagiarism. He played dumb, passed the buck, and said he would look into it. I told him, “There is nothing to look into. I know you ripped it off because I was one of the people who wrote it. Take it down immediately and stop promoting your show with my words.”

Look. Anyone who blatantly rips off the descriptions of his/her show is NOT going to be doing good work anywhere else. What is the long term plan here? Just rip off your way to the top? It’s a fraud’s mentality and someone looking to make a quick buck off of a broken, no-barrier-of-entry industry. I looked at his lineups and they are, predictably, atrocious. The “collective” is something like 35 of the most inexperienced comedians in Chicago. Nothing wrong with being green, but be honest about what it is. Also, I love how they offer college and corporate bookings seeing as all 35 of their comics have about 60 seconds of workable material COMBINED.

I then went on to explain the problem with doing things as he is. Not only is his show a complete sham and a fraud, he’s doing a DISSERVICE to Chicago stand up shows at large.

Around here is the point that he hung up on me.

However, this is an important and more general point I want to drive home to all comics and potential producers in Chicago (and anywhere, for that matter). When you tell people you are doing the best show in Chicago or you are the “premiere stand up comedy collective” in Chicago and people come to your low-rent, run down, under-produced, under-promoted, “comedy show” where the 8 people you do somehow convince into sitting through 90 minutes of the manifestation of your worthlessness while they stare awkwardly at their dates and contemplate pulling the fire alarm just to have an excuse to leave your godforsaken show, those people then equate that show with ALL Chicago stand up shows. And why wouldn’t they? You’re using the same lofty language as the shows that actually merit it.

We at Comedians You Should Know have worked our asses off for over three years, on and off stage, to make sure that our promotional description was not a lie. So why are we allowed to say those things? Why can we call our show awesome? Because it fucking is. There are a few shows before ours that helped lay the blueprint for our show and have earned that right as well. Chicago Underground Comedy is one. It’s been around for 6 years or something and it’s consistently great in an awesome venue. The Lincoln Lodge is another, which has been around for 11 years and has done countless numbers of phenomenal shows. I’ll even throw Entertaining Julia into that list even though I think they just promote with hipster lesbian aura. But it is, nonetheless, a show that executes exactly what its producers intend. Props to all those shows. (I don’t even want to mention The Red Bar Comedy Club because in a short year and a half it’s become a full-time weekend comedy club with such a high production value that to place it in the category of “independent showcases” would be insulting, even though most comics don’t even know where it is. It’s the same reason I don’t mention Zanies or Jokes and Notes in this discussion.)

So when you put either our literal description on your website or something similar and then people come into watch the tornado of nervous knees and might-as-well-be-stolen jack-off bits, you are diluting the legitimacy of the good shows and leaving the city with a bad taste in its mouth when it comes to stand up. That’s very bad considering how much quality improv and endless entertainment exists in this city. We already get our asses kicked by sports, summer festivals, Second City and Jager-fucking; we don’t need to be cannibalizing our own heads with our asses.

Now, I understand that not every show can feature the “best” comics in Chicago because then the newer comics won’t ever get good stage time and won’t improve. True. I will lay out the blueprints to deal with this issue:

First of all, brand new comics, go to every open mic! You are not better than any of them. Write your bits and try them out at every open mic. Go bomb. You have to get used to it because it never stops so you might as well do it a lot when the stakes are nonexistent. That much is a given. If you aren’t at every single open mic (or trying to run your own) then you don’t even deserve to be working on a show.

If you decide to run a show there are a few ways you can do it which I think are fair.

1. Run a straight up “New Faces” showcase. Tell the public, “Hey, these are brand new comics and we need your support in order to get better” or whatever. Some people might bite. Some people are legitimately supportive and kind in these types of scenarios. It’s not that sustainable because there are little to no redeeming qualities of a show like this other than the pseudo-charity of sitting and smiling at a nervous virtual virgin. But at least it’s honest.

2. Run a “best of” showcase. This is what ChUC and CYSK have done. For the most part, there are very few brand new comics doing time on either of these stages. It makes for a really good show, but it’s not very conducive to new comics’ growth as they won’t get any stage time. Which brings us to number 3…

3. Run a hybrid of 1 and 2. Book a show and stagger it. Say you have a host and 6 comics. Book a brand new comic to open with 5-6 minutes. Book one or two green but not BRAND new comics to do 8. Then book 3 really good comics to do 12-15. That way, each week you will get up 3 new comics to get time but you will also reward the audience by giving them 3 really good comics so the show as a whole is still enjoyable. That will provide you a sustainable show that can actually build a following as well as provide opportunities for both new comics AND good comics. It’s the best of both worlds. This is how CYSK started in 2008 where we were the new comics. RIOT Comedy started like this initially as well. I think this is the best compromise for newer comics looking to get stage time and wanting to strengthen the comedy scene.

The idea of a stand-up showcase itself is not original. I’m not claiming that CYSK was the first ever showcase or “collective” of its kind; it wasn’t. BLERDS existed and left before we ever existed. ChUC and The Lincoln Lodge predate us. The Elevated existed before those. Doug Stanhope posted a blog in 2007 that we essentially took and ran with. Your show doesn’t have to be revolutionary, just don’t be an idiot and steal other show’s descriptions. I have no problem with a carbon copy of a good show existing in a neighborhood that doesn’t already have comedy. But be good. Don’t book shitty comics. And, more importantly, if you can’t tell the difference between a shitty comic and a good one, don’t book a show. You’re not helping.

(Please remember: PROMOTE YOUR FUCKING SHOWS. The lineups do little to no good if there is no one there to see it. That’s another issue entirely and I don’t feel like getting into that now.)

So, I want to thank Stand Up Chicago for providing a perfect example of how to NOT run a stand up comedy show. You have exemplified, to a T, everything that is wrong with these types of shows. I honestly don’t think that I could have described a better example of the wrong way to do this. Steve, your show is a blessing to the community. If there were an infomercial for running a comedy show, your show would be the black and white “way” where the guy is hurting his back or the girl is frustrated and the big red X shows us how wrong it is. Well, now there is an easier way. It’s really simple: don’t be a moron.

Look, either we are a community or we are not. I like to believe that we are. One of the best parts of Chicago is that we can do these things and experiment and fail and learn and grow and help each other but you have to pull your weight. Be hard on yourself. Push yourself. Make things as good as you know they should be. Don’t settle. Work hard. Have fun. Be funny. Laugh. Make others laugh. Appreciate when someone writes a great bit. Appreciate when someone runs a great show. Learn from them. Write better. Promote better. Get better. Live. Be present. After all of that we can die like the faggots we are. We might as well crush it while we’re here.

Note: When I say “Chicago” I, like most white people, mean the north side of Chicago. Unless you’re black or have 150 drunk cousins, you rarely go south of Madison.

I am not ugly.

I am not ugly. So, I feel like when people meet me, their expectations are a tad high. We tend to judge people based on how they look. That’s our first line of defense as a member of this species. “Are they clean? Symmetrical? Groomed? Well-dressed? Slouching?” All these things affect how we perceive a person. So, when they see me, relatively handsome, relatively fit, good posture, clean skin, they probably feel more or less at ease. They let their guard down a bit. I’m clearly not some mutant freak. I don’t smell bad. I dress nicely enough. My pants fit. I shower. I don’t incite the urge to scream or run away or tell your friend about how it was hard not to stare. So, because I don’t look like some huge weirdo, people feel relieved because compared to what a person COULD look like, I’m probably a breath of fresh air. I could have a swastika on my eyelids and have those weird blotches of discolored skin where you spend the whole time looking at it trying to figure out what the fuck it is, or I could have one arm or, worse, one nostril; I could have my penis hanging out of my pants, I could smell like the inside of a colon, I could have weird twitches and tics and weird screams that make me look like a Holocaust survivor or something. The point is, I’m not any of those things. I’m me: a relatively decent looking human being. So, when people first see me, I feel like they open up a tad.

But then I talk. Oh, how silly they must feel to have been duped by the superficial inferences of appearance! To see a man in whom they entrusted such a fundamental component of their social confidence speak as if he has spent the last 20 years in a creepy lair with shrines to his mother or something equally creepy. I’m not sure if it’s the fact that until the age of 21, I heard the world at half-volume or if I’m naturally neurotic and overly analytical or what. But everything I say contradicts every moisturized pore on my face. My words are so completely asocial (and often anti-social) that they couldn’t possibly belong to a man who looks like he could be the stock male photo in a relatively thrifty picture frame. It must be so strange to watch a person who appears to be relatively fit for society: mock every single social convention; show absolutely no regard for tact, etiquette or other social mores that protect feelings et al; and create more awkward pauses than a teenager trying not to come too soon. I feel like I’ve let them down somehow. I haven’t lived up to the hype my face and body create. Not that I WANT to live up to the hype; I think the hype is just, well, hype. It’s over rated. Illusory. Nonetheless, I feel like a walking beer commercial where I seem to promise all sorts of wondrous things only to deliver a much more cancerous, albeit truthful experience.

I am not ugly. Sadly, however, I suffer from the saddest, most isolating disfigurement of all. While you are all galavanting about the party, hurling gallons of booze down your relatively pointless mouths, following the same biological instincts that allowed your father to consensually rape your mother, I have this thing in my head that is — against my good conscience — SKEPTICAL.

The skeptic is usually motivated by some catalyst of doubt. The world usually inflicts trauma on these people in one way or another which makes them question the world’s intentions. This could be a social trauma, physical trauma, emotional trauma or many other things. It’s not limited to one. This is why beautiful women (or people) are so often vapid. The world is handed to them so why would they question the world… unless they suffered something terrible. It’s a horribly twisted notion however it seems to hold up. This is what makes the rape or molestation victim so appealing. (Well, that and their lowered expectations: even if you don’t make them come, they’re just thankful you’re not their older brother on a dare.) Their paradigm can not be such that the world is to be trusted since that same world allowed them to suffer so horribly and inexplicably. My “trauma” was either the socially crippling hearing loss, instability at home followed by divorce, natural depression or something or a compounded combination of everything. That doubt, that benign level of misanthropy is key in a world so flooded with illusory notions, image-laden propaganda, misinformation and an overwhelming level of dishonesty. Only doubt can uncover the truth. But we run a risk. In a world of lies, the truth is insane. That’s the fucked up part: uncovering the truth inherently involved a violent suffering. Whether it be the initial impetus of doubt, or the feeling of being ripped from the comfort of traditional social ethos.

The message is very clear: don’t ask questions. It’s social fascism. We don’t even need a gun to our head. Just shoot a round of awkward eye rolls in our direction and we’ll be forced to either capitulate or face social exile. But I urge everyone to remain skeptical and to ask questions, social consequences be damned. Question EVERYTHING! If anything, it would make my life a hell of a lot easier as we will be less of a minority going forward.

WARNING! SIDE EFFECTS INCLUDE: not believing in god, not celebrating holidays, not coming to your house to catch the game, believing the death penalty should be reserved for people who wear “Save Darfur” t-shirts from Urban Outfitters, believing that .08 should be the blood alcohol content at which you are no longer legally allowed to talk to me, treating parties like revolution rallies only to be told you’re a drag by some dude holding a red cup, using sex as a means of revenge on girls from your past, and a lifelong “faggot” title at sports bars and dance clubs.