An American In Germany

There’s a joke going around these days. A Spaniard, an Italian and a Greek walk into a bar. Who pays for the drinks? A German.

This joke well-illustrates a fundamentally different attitude between Germans and Americans. As an American, I don’t want to be taxed to provide for my own retirement. Germans, on the other hand, are content to be heavily taxed so that Mediterranean types can paint the town red.

Americans come from a long tradition of “live and let live”. You can pretty much do what you please provided you don’t trample on my rights. On the other hand, no word produces that warm, fuzzy feeling in a German quite like “verboten”. And the list of things that are verboten is long. At the top of the list? Spontaneity. Telling a German to “wing it” is like telling your dog about your day.

The German language is particularly exasperating to learn, which is why if you’re going to tackle it as a second language you’ve got to maintain your sense of humor. Of course if it’s your native language then it’s just the opposite (I was doing a show recently for a mix of Brits and Germans and while onstage I was mentally trying to determine who was British and who was German. I noticed one woman in the front row and thought “Well, she’s definitely German”. Then she laughed and I thought “Wrong again”.

My wife is from Germany and we were told that if my wife only speaks German to our young son and I only speak to him in English, then he will eventually learn both languages fluently. Well, Lucas is now 3-years old and he speaks only Dutch. (Dutch is a particularly loopy-sounding language. It’s much more comprehensible if you think of it as German on Heineken).

Actually, Lucas speaks German and English quite well, although sometimes he mixes up the two. For example, he’ll say things like “Airplane haben” or “Lass uns outside gehen”. Sure, it’s cute now – but what about when he gets to college and is saying things like “C’mon boys, let’s go get hammerschubend!”

Much of the German I speak I learned from Lucas. Gentle reader – you haven’t lived until you’ve been chastised by a bilingual 3-year old over your inability to properly conjugate “schleichen”.

We keep a foot in the U.S. and Germany and each home is representative of our respective countries. For example, our place in America has that homey, lived-in feel and our place in Germany is sufficiently dust-free to manufacture microprocessors.

Please know that I’m not generalizing about Europeans – I’m generalizing about Germans which, apparently, is fine with everybody. Take my wife (please!). As a German woman, Sabine is on the opposite end of the temperament spectrum from Italian women. She would never throw a shoe at me in anger, for example – she would do it with cold-blooded precision.

I won’t deny it – there is a cultural tension in our marriage. Sabine always wants the baby playing with wooden toys hand-made in Germany and as an American I think he should be playing with plastic toys mass-produced in China. (I was in Beijing once – boy, I thought San Francisco had a big Chinatown: those people are everywhere out there. It’s authentic, too – you can order cat right off the menu).

I sense I’m losing the ladies so I’m going to wrap this up.

10 Worst-Named Kentucky Derby Winners

1876: Bad Bet

Bad Bet was a good bet in the debut of the Kentucky Derby. The longest-shot winner in the history of the race, its official odds were listed as “n/a”.

1894: Eisenstein’s Theory Of Film Montage

This horse has the distinction of being the only Derby winner to complete the race in less time than it takes to say his name. Oddly, this horse was named before Eisenstein developed his theory of film montage.

1901: Slow News Day 

Slow News Day was apparently born on Writers Block Day. Nothing entices gamblers to bet on a long shot like a horse with the word “slow” in its name.

1902: Slow-Developing Play In The Backfield

Not to be outdone by the owners of Slow News Day, the owners of Slow Developing Play In The Backfield managed to include in one name the word “slow” and an ill-advised short-yardage play from football. Kudos!

1910: Statistically Insignificant 

Difficult to pronounce and despised by broadcasters, this horse’s name was often simplified to “Plus-Or-Minus-Five-Percent”.

1921: The Clap

Over 70 years after the discovery of penicillin, this horses name still isn’t funny. After winning the triple crown, The Clap’s owner was imprisoned without charges or controversy.

1925: Niggardly Pissant

Let’s just say that Niggardly Pissant reached peak fitness during a more literate time than our own. The source of outrage among the uneducated, uninformed and – at the risk of repetition – Democrats, Niggardly Pissant was also the focus of protests that were as nebulous as they were passionate.

1960: Ill-advised

This self-describing horse name belonged to a 20-1 long-shot but won the Derby after every other horse in the race was famously disqualified at the request of Frank Sinatra.

1969: Ampers&nd

The arrival of Ampers&nd signified the mournful beginning of unpronounceable celebrity names. (Ampers&nd is also the sire of the 1965 Kentucky Derby winner, ♌).

1997: Fourskin

Even while leading from start to finish, dim-witted broadcasters gleefully described the 1997 winner of the Kentucky Derby as having been “cut off down the backstretch.”



18 Reasons I’m Unfit To Stand Trial

Last year I published an unauthorized autobiography. Enraged at page after page of lies, I sued myself for libel, won, and settled with myself out of court for an undisclosed sum.

When my wife informed me that she’s always been attracted to the “strong, silent type” I happily informed her that I’ve always been attracted to “the silent type.”

I believe that I can remove creases from my suit by caressing them with the back of my hand.

I secretly relish that the word “lisp” has an “s” in it.

On the issue of waterboarding, I am situationalist, not an absolutist: I acknowledge that there are instances, however rare, in which it is indeed wrong.

When arguing with my German wife, I am often outwardly conciliatory but inside I become Winston Churchill: “We will fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds. We shall fight in the hills and we shall NEVER SURRENDER!”

I find the word “titillating” more than a little titillating.

I found losing my virginity to be more difficult than finding Dick Cheney at Burning Man.

I like to leave little notes in my kids’ school lunches. Nothing profound – just little remiders like “Lucas, remember that while you are in math class I will be at home getting quietly hammered.”

10 I recently attempted to plea-bargain with the Los Angeles District Attorney to have my witness tampering and point shaving charges reduced to what I called “witness shaving”.

11 Around my wife I tend to make things sound more manly than they really are. For example, I don’t “go fishing”, I go “hunting for fish”. Then I throw in an “Uga! Uga! Me go trout farm!”

12 Boarding a plane recently, I approached the man in the seat behind me and asked if he would mind swapping seats with me so that his wife and I could be together.

13 In a recent letter to the editor of the New York Times, I mistakenly stated that in Negro Leagues Baseball, home runs were referred to as “homie runs”. This is inaccurate and I regret the mistake.

14 Far from understanding that there will always be another elevator, I tend to react to the arrival of each one as if it’s the last helicopter leaving Vietnam.

15 After reading that rectal thermometers are the most accurate, my first thought was “A bonus!”

16 When I was a kid I couldn’t decide weather to be a cowboy or an Indian. One minute I’d want to be the Lone Ranger and the next, Indira Gandhi.

17 I am always tricked into opening junk mail with the misleading subject line “Small Pen Is”.

18 I am clinically insane.


Dear WikiLeaks: 20 Unsavory Facts About Me The Public Has A Right To Know


1: Once, while boarding a flight to Los Angeles, I politely asked the man in the seat behind me if he would mind swapping seats with me so that his wife and I could sit together.

2: I once participated in a ménage à trois. It wasn’t exactly the ratio of women-to-men that I had been hoping for. In fact, it was just us three guys, but still…

3: At New York La Guardia, airport security tried to confiscate my hair gel from my carry-on bag. I didn’t let them take it – I just put it in my hair, where, apparently it’s legal.

4: After opting out of the full body scanner in favor of the “enhanced pat-down”, it was patiently explained to me that the entire area was “for ticketed passengers only”.

5: I recently took the Internet Addiction Test (which, curiously, is only available online) and immediately posted the results on my Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, LinkedIn, Plaxo-Pulse, StumbleUpon, Tumblr, MySpace and Burpalicious accounts.


6: Physically, I most resemble a cross between Elvis Presley and a Keebler Elf.

7: At 5’5″, I’m not just “shorter than average” – I damn near represent the Lollipop Guild.

8: As a result of my small physical stature, my friends often ask me to help assemble those ships inside the bottle.

9: One of my previous jobs was at a men’s big and tall clothing store. My job was to stand around while my boss pointed me out to customers while saying “Hey look! Pinocchio is a real boy!”


10: I am not only president of the Bay Area Republicans Club – I’m also the member.

11: While many criticize the government’s stimulus spending because it’s our children and grandchildren who have to pay for it, as far as I’m concerned that’s the only thing I like about it.

12: Try though I might, I still don’t understand how an entity that can print its own money cannot maintain a perfect credit rating.


13: As my parents are well into their 80’s, I have mentally re-classified them from “energetic” to “spry”.

14: When on a cruise with my wife I always reserve a stateroom with a balcony as she often locks me out of the bathroom.

15: My wife and I have three children (one of each).

16: We actually planned all of our children (although I should point out that we didn’t actually get any of the ones we planned).


17: I am the author of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide To Self-Esteem” and “Facetious: The Greek Goddess of Sarcasm.” I am currently researching a book on how to develop assertiveness (if that’s okay with you).


18: While I believe that no man is an island, I fully acknowledge that Orson Welles came pretty damn close toward the end.

19: I have calculated the odds that Larry King and Elizibeth Taylor never marry each other at over 8-million-to-one.

20: I believe that I can remove creases from my suit by gently caressing them with the back of my hand.

Thank you, WikiLeaks, for the good work that you do. “Transparency uber alles!”

15 Things I’m Doing To Make The World A Better Place – And You Can Too

I’m all about two things: making the world a better place and learning how to count cards when playing blackjack for money against my mom. Today’s blog is about the former: 15 things I’m doing to make my world – and therefore the world – a better place.

1: Write the world’s first unauthorized autobiography, sue self.

2: Take 10 minutes each day to think of something other than broads and jazz bands.

3: When boarding plane, politely ask man in seat behind me if he would mind swapping seats so that his wife and I could sit together.

4: Write management at the Denver Zoo re: the proliferation of uncaged squirrels.

5: Install urinal in home bathroom, subtly remind wife who really calls the shots.

6: Write to Major League Baseball re: my ideas (bunt derby!)

7: Explain to mom that not knowing how to operate a fax machine doesn’t mean you’re out of touch – simply owning one does.

8: Write cease-and-desist letter to my Turkish barber.

9: End drug war, turn nation’s energy against people who crowd the feeder belt of the airport baggage carousel.

10: Build an airplane navigation system that isn’t compromised by someone playing “Angry Birds” during take-off.

11: Create list (for future reference) of all the reasons I am unfit to stand trial.

12: When listening to others, learn to overcome distractions like walls, floors, ceilings and all physical objects.

13: Talk with attorney re: possibility of witness tampering and point shaving charges against me being reduced to witness shaving.

14: Attend Burning Man, look for Dick Cheney.

15: Fig Newton bender!

Back to

The 10 Worst Jokes I’ve Ever Written

Someone once said “Thank God the audience doesn’t see the first draft.” Well, in today’s blog post you DO get to see the first draft! Some of these efforts are so scatterbrained that to call them “bad jokes” gives them more credit than they deserve. In other words, no premise, no punchline, no problem!

Jerry Seinfeld once characterized a successful joke has helping the audience to cross a deep chasm. If the chasm is too wide – if the connection between the premise and the punchline is too convoluted or complicated- then the audience falls in the chasm and there is no joke. If the chasm is too narrow – if traversing it is too easy – then there is no release, no titillation. The attempts below to get my comedy engine running generally belong to the former: pertinent details are left out, the train of thought can’t be followed and in the end, there is not a bad joke, but no joke.

Forthwith, then, with the 10 worst jokes I’ve ever written.

1 You know where I tend to put on weight? In the bathroom. Clearly I don’t get my best ideas in the bathroom.

Like most husbands, I like to make everything I do sound more manly than it really is. For example, I don’t tell my wife I’m “going fishing”, I tell her I’m going “hunting for fish”. Then I throw in an “Uga! Uga! Me go trout farm!” This isn’t the worst joke I’ve ever written, but it’s completely out of character for me and I can’t imagine pulling this one off in front of a paying audience. Also, for maximum effect I would have to pound my chest and most physical mannerisms beyond removing the microphone from the stand are beyond me. Maybe I can sell it to Robin Williams.

People are very accomodating in Maine. I went to buy a newspaper in Bar Harbor and I didn’t have enough change so they accepted a two Canadian nickels and a Pepperidge Farm cracker. This is clearly a naked and sad attempt to exploit the comedy potential of a punchline that contains both the words “Pepperidge” and “cracker”.

4 I drove from L.A. to New York once. And after so much rural U.S., it’s nice to arrive at a place where there’s all services. This is a joke that I can never seem to make work and yet it keeps popping into my head from time to time. I think the idea is funny, but conveying it into words has eluded me. In my mind I see the Manhattan skyline in the background and a sign that says “Welcome To New York – All Services”. I need a slide show.

5 People like to approach comedians and tell them jokes – no other proffesionals have this problem. Nobody goes up to Wolfgang Puck and says “I’d like you to check out this meatloaf I’ve prepared.” Here we go again. Meatloaf. Puck.This is another “Insert-favorite-comedy-word-here” effort. Lazy!

6 I couldn’t fall asleep last night so I did what I sometimes do when I can’t fall asleep and that is I counted women. I think I got them all, but I still couldn’t fall asleep so I started counting sheep. I think I got them all… Get it? I sleep with sheep!

7 You ever get undressed for bed only to realize you haven’t been wearing pants all day? I guess that’s a guy thing. It’s not a funny thing, either

8 I like to leave little notes in my kids’ school lunches. Nothing profound – just little reminders, like “Lucas, remember that when you’re in math class today, I’ll be at home getting quietly hammered.” Ha ha! Jokes about telling my kids how I drink alone while they’re at school! It works for Ray Romano, right? People eat this stuff up!

9 My wife and I are settling into marriage now. For example, we each have our own side of the bed. Sabine always takes the right side and I always lay across the top. Eeuuww! Inappropriate visual!

10 I was very young when my grandfather past away but I still remember his last words: “I’m pretty sure this isn’t a supporting wall.” I’m pretty sure this isn’t funny joke, either.

If you managed to navigate your way through the less-inspiring entries in my comedy journal, I salute you! You deserve a palate cleanser…

Return to

8 Tips For Starting Out In Stand-up Comedy

Here are some simple tips for those who wish to try their hand at stand-up comedy.


People love to be told how wonderful they are, but they don’t usually find it funny. To the extent that your attitude toward the audience is a factor, contempt is far better than genuflection. Better still that your material be directed outward, without apology, than inward. Be honest – it’s refreshing, funny and the easiest thing to remember.


The audience wants someone to take charge and they want it to be you. Like the pilot of the plane, it helps to look like you know what you’re doing. You should have an air of authority. Think of George Burns and his cigar or Ron White and his glass of bourbon. I always wear a suit onstage – a nice one. And all things being equal, who do you think the audience will side with – a guy in a sharp suit or the guy in the Corona visor and the tribal armband tattoo? Remember, the audience is looking at you far more intensely they are listening to you when you first come onstage. It’s often said that “A haircut and a shoe shine will only take you so far.” True, but at least they start you off in the right direction!

During the zenith of male peacockery – the 1970’s – Steve Martin was relatively subdued in an all-white three-piece suit. Why? He knew that if he looked wild and crazy and acted wild and crazy that he would be like a lot of other comedians. But if he dressed normally and acted wild and crazy, well, then he would stand out (not to mention allowing him to tap into the regular Joe’s dream wish to become the life of the party).


What’s the worst thing that can happen onstage? Far from a rhetorical question, it will serve you well to imagine the worst-case scenario taking place on stage and you, the hero, dealing with it with preternatural calm. (In reality the worst thing that usually can happy onstage is a non-functioning microphone). If it’s a highly unusual situation, you don’t even have to be funny: 9 times out of 10 if you’re calm and can still form complete sentences, well, then you da man!

If you wish, write and rehearse some stock lines for commonplace scenarios such as a broken glass, a chatty table or a heckler. Remember, the audience aches for you to take charge.

You might find it useful to recite a simple mantra before you go onstage. I have a handful of different mantras that I sometimes use before a show and one of them is “Nothing fazes me”, which I repeat over and over (I’m pretty sure that’s what a mantra requires). Other mantras I use are “I’m having fun up here” and “My zipper is up”.


If you’re calm, the audience will be calm. If you’re irrepressible, the audience will be irrepressible. If you’re worried about what your next joke is, so will the audience. Can you fake your demeanor? Of course you can – you do it all the time. If you’re the meditating type, consider doing some before each performance. If you have any doubt about your ability to memorize your material, spend extra time committing it to memory. Do whatever works for you so that moments before you go onstage you can take a deep breath, inhale and tackle your job without looking over your shoulder.


One of the nice things about stand-up comedy is that the world is your oyster. Do you really have so much material that you’re going to limit yourself to relationships and Lindsay Lohan? On the other hand, don’t try to stem the tsunami of material you’ve been writing about egg whites. Sure, maybe you risk being pigeonholed as “The Tool Guy” like Tim Allen, for example, but I’ll wager that it’s the kind of pigeonholing most would benefit from. Think of it as your hook!


None of this is mean to persuade those with moral or religious objections to adult humor, but most people understand that versatility is generally a good thing. I hope this doesn’t shock you, but there are decent people in this world who would like to see a show that’s unsuitable for children. In fact, there’s a burgeoning U.S. city unabashedly dedicated to entertainment for grown-ups called Las Vegas. President Reagan even emceed a floor show there for a while. If you are capable of doing stand-up using language and themes that the vast majority of adults use everyday among their peers, don’t be afraid to do so! If you can work both clean and dirty then its’ no different than Starbucks offering both hot and cold coffee, thereby bringing more value to more people. Ka-ching!

I only ask one thing: if you work clean, please don’t engage in that obnoxious form of moral exhibitionism that requires that you point out and celebrate it with the audience, i.e., “In today’s world where so many people feel you have to tell dirty jokes to be funny, it’s so refreshing….”) It’s like carrying a drunk girl to her bed and bragging the next morning about how you didn’t’ put a move on her.


I’m self-deprecating on stage. Very self-deprecating. Extremely self-deprecating. I hate myself. All of this is fine, except that I also tend to be overly-sensitive and insecure and when I add self-deprecation to the mix, I sometimes get in trouble. The best advice I ever got in this regard was from a wonderful comedian and my good friend Jeff Wayne. He said “Unless a joke gets no reaction whatsoever, you should just continue on without commentary.”

It’s sometimes tempting to call attention when a joke gets a weaker response than that established by the audience’s “laughter baseline”. The majority of times I do so, however, I end up only alienating the audience. I can hear the audience thinking “We’re having a ball here – why are you micro-analyzing our every response?” If you work quickly onstage, you can often get away with with a joke that falls completely flat by segueing immediately to the next joke.

But if there’s an elephant in the room and you work slowly like me, you’ve got to say something. Be prepared to win them back with a hilarious impromptu line (which you carefully crafted years ago on the back of a cocktail napkin).

Remember, it’s a war, not a battle. So listen to the audience, but don’t be in be in thrall to any one moment on stage.


Comedians are not generally known for their looks. On the contrary, stand-up comedy is one of the few professions where good looks are considered an occupational hazard. Take me, for example. I am a handsome man, there’s no way around it. I take no credit for it, it’s just the way it is. You don’t think I see the way audiences look at me when I walk onstage? It’s always the same: the women looking at me and beaming, the men looking at their women and frowning. I haven’t even spoken into the microphone yet and I’m already behind the 8-ball with all the guys in the audience and, in a way (and for the same reason) many of the women, too. But I’ve got one great thing going for me: I’m 5’5″ and 117 pounds. In other words, I’m a little man. And I don’t mean in a shorter-than-the-national average kind of way, either: I practically represent the lollipop guild.

My diminutive stature has been a gold mine for comedy. Forget all the material it generates – it mellows what otherwise might be perceived as a threat. I’m no longer just smart, funny, good-looking and successful: I’m smart, funny, good-looking, successful and small enough to do my shopping at Baby Gap. The same phenomenon is at play when I do material about married life. I can’t count the times I’ll see a holdout in the audience – usually a woman – with a look of consternation on her face. Then I begin telling good-natured jokes about married life with kids and I can practically hear a collective sigh of relief.

So remember, talk about those aspects of your life that are unsatisfying: winners are boring.


I Think I Have A Protruding Disc

About seven years ago I was standing in a bar and noticed a deep, dull pain on the right side of my neck. I’ve had it ever since.

I was doing a considerable amount of running in those days and was accustomed to various aches and pains, at least from the waist down. Especially my hip and heel: it’s the damnedest thing but I’ve never had a knee problem.

Anyway, I did the smart thing and started stuffing toilet paper into my tennis shoes. My feet have very little arch and are completely “squishy”: when I stand the arch disappears entirely. My self-diagnosis was that my feet were protesting about the lay of the land and wanted new scenery and only toilet paper stuffed into my shoes could provide it.

After looking at my x-ray a doctor diagnosed me with what she called “military neck”: the vertebrae of my neck curve the wrong direction, like a soldier standing ramrod straight. I forget which direction your neck bones are supposed to curve but mine were definitely curved the wrong way, like a backward question mark at the beginning of an interrogative statement in Spanish. I suspect the reason is that the doctor and her assistant were attractive young women (this was in Boulder, Colorado) and as I stood there posing shirtless for the x-ray my male vanity kicked in. I remember it kicking in.

Among the the activities I avoid are push-ups. The day after doing push-ups (or later the same day) the pain becomes more pronounced. Sitting at the computer for extended periods also exacerbates the problem. I still do that, however. Priorities.

I just googled “disc, condition, back” and came upon this. The woman is holding the right side of her neck, which is the same side of as my neck pain, lending credibility to the site in my eyes. Stretching seems to provide temporary relief and also a sense of energy and relaxation. I rarely do it.

A friend of mine sometimes speaks to groups and asks people in the audience to raise their hand if they believe drinking 10 glasses of water each day would improve their health. Hands go up. Then he asks them to raise their hand if they actually drink 10 glasses of water each day. Hands go down.


Outsourcing Medical Care – Stockholm, Sweden

If you think that the homeless and mentally ill are only qualified for tasks such as washing windshields or heavy-lifting, then you are hopelessly behind the times. I used to think the same way, but recently the jobs which I have been able to outsource to the homeless include the painting of the interior walls of our living room, an oil change for my car and, with less success, some crown work.

A case in point is this woman in Stockholm, Sweden. Although a homeless alcoholic, she is nonetheless fully qualified to perform simple therapeutic procedures such as massage, acupuncture and, in my case, a spinal tap.

Why waste time and money with “medical doctors” when you can get perfectly good care from a self-described “sick human being” who hasn’t slept indoors in a month? Why lose sleep over affordable health insurance when you can receive perfectly good care in exchange for a warm Grolsch and some smokes?

When you see a homeless person, you’re not looking at someone who has cut himself off from his family or made “poor choices” involving drugs and alcohol. You’re looking at a medical professional, a lawyer, a cobbler.

Now that I think of it, you might really be looking at a cobbler.