The Power Of Perception

This Just In: Audience Not Rolling With It

Audience not rolling with it.

The woman in the front row seemed to appear to be doing, in the words of Woody Allen, “literally anything else.” It was hard not to take personally the stare  suggesting that just watching my act was the equivalent to having a rat cage strapped to her face.

I’ll put it this way: whatever she was expressing it wasn’t passive indifference.

My attention drew back to her with increasing frequency during the show until finally I kind-of pointed at her with my nose and and half-laughed “This woman is miserable.”

And then her husband did something I’ll never forget: he patted her on the knee.

Not my most impressive moment. It was the needlessness of it that ate at me. Life onstage isn’t like life – it is life.

After “de-greeting” the audience I approached them with my apologies. I forget exactly what I said but I didn’t do to badly, I have to say myself. What moves audiences are the same things which move them – us – in everyday life: mastery, generosity, the unexpected. Similarly – no, in exactly the same way – audiences recoil at unkindness, sloppiness and card tricks. Right and wrong do not recognize the fact that you “have the floor”, as it were.

I resolved to apologize to the woman and her husband after the show. Fortunately the couple was among the stragglers at the end of the show and at my soonest opportunity, after “de-greeting” the audience I approached them with my apologies. I forget exactly what I said but I didn’t do to badly, I have to say myself.

Anyway, they’re both very nice and were very gracious. I learned they had flown out that day from San Jose, where they live. Then I noticed that the woman had every over-the-counter cold medication you’ve heard of laying there in her lap. She was a CVS with ears.

Hence the evident difficulty hearing me: she had a nasty cold, made worse by a day of air travel.

Anyway, I shook their hands and left re-committed to this tendency of me in certain situations to personalize things. My internal dialogue onstage should have gone like this: “What’s with this woman? Can’t she mock something less than contempt for 45 minutes?” which I then answer “How the hell should I know why she can’t do it. I can’t even figure out how the toaster works. Besides, what difference does it make? She was minding her own business and, as I said, not a distraction to anyone until I decided to make her a distraction to me.

One lesson here is that nobody knows what the hell anybody else is going through in their lives. How often have you met someone who appears to be the embodiment of success in life but you barely have to scratch the surface to learn that, for example, his wife has MS. Sure, most people seem to hold it together pretty well but so do you and we both know you’ve got problems.

“To live is to suffer” wrote Dostoyevski. (Dostoyevski was a compulsive gambler while Tolstoy a vegetarian, which gives you an idea of why Dostoyevski had so much more fun). Who the hell am I to pretend to know what the hell is going on in somebody else’s mind? These people I can barely see but who practically form a dialogue with me through their laughter. (I think comedy as a dialogue: the audience has a line every ten seconds or so and when they miss a cue it’s always my fault).

Whenever you find yourself thinking “Gee, this gal’s got it made”, don’t be so sure. Life has everybody figured out. Everybody.

Roosevelt said “We have nothing to fear but fear itself”. It would be well to add “We have nothing to feel sorry for ourselves about, as others share greater burdens”.

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It’s Never Too Late To Learn

Face-Palm - Even kids get it.

Face-Palm – Even kids get it.

Have you ever looked at a photo of yourself from as little as five years ago and become amazed and more than a little depressed because of how much younger you looked? Similarly, five years from now you’ll look at a photo of yourself taken this afternoon and think “Man, I looked great!”

If, God willing, I live to be 80 years old, I’ll at photos of myself thirty years from now and think “What I would give the energy and youth of the man in that picture.”

What the point? One is to not be too harsh on yourself. “Slow learner” is not the same as “bad person”. Hold yourself accountable for your actions, by all means, but be humble knowing that better people than you have failed similarly. You are not alone.

But the more important lesson is that act of searching for happiness tends to foster and even induce happiness. This is why the U.S. Constitution says “the pursuit of Happiness” instead of “happiness” – they are two sides of the same coin.

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Compliments, Ranked

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My wife usually has very little to say to me in terms of compliments after even my best shows. I used to take it personally but I’ve since learned that for Germans, the absence of criticism is the highest form of praise.

A compliment is like a drinking problem: it’s best just to accept it graciously.

But some compliments mean more than others. Many comedians are familiar with audience members expressing not just thanks but gratitude after a show, saying that they “needed to laugh that night. What could be more thoughtful and nice? What is routine for me is a big deal for these folks. They’re not flying all over the place watching me perform each night. This may be the only time they see me perform. I try to think of each show as the Olympics – something you only have one crack at, if you’re extremely lucky.

Even – especiallyopen mic nights. I love when expectations are low: it’s easier to meet them.

But what I love most all about some of these compliments is that the humbly remind me that life sucks and the value of taking people’s minds off their problems for an hour or so.

Below are the six greatest compliments, ranked.

6 “I saw your show.” 

This is the worst compliment of all time. Did people go up to John Updike and say “Hey, I read your novel…”? In plain English it means “I deigned to watch your show”. A typical grade schooler calls out “Present” with more passion during morning attendance.

5: “I hear they’re putting the funny guy on tonight instead of you, right?

I got this just yesterday on a cruise ship, referring to the comedian advertised to perform a couple of nights after me. These guys. Dudes who give me this one (it’s alway a fellah) invariably say it as if they’re being so clever. Just showing up and kicking me in the shin would be a more welcome how-do-you do.

4:  “I’m going to go home and juggle the plastic bags.”

Now this is a nice compliment. It has numerous iterations but what’s nice is that it references something specific from the show. As compliments go it’s like a trusty Toyota or my wife’s butt: nothing fancy but gets me where I need to go.

3:You really made me laugh and I really needed to laugh tonight.”

It’s easy to take what you do for a living for granted. That’s why this one hits me like a lightening bolt. It reminds me, among other things, that what is routine to me is an entirely unique experience for the audience. For some this will be the only time they ever see you. I am grateful I am to have work that is inherently meaningful rather than one which is only subjectively so.

2: You made me pee my pants.

This one is oddly popular with middle-aged southern women. It’s adorable and I love it. Sometimes excitedly add add “a little” at the end, as in “You made me pee my pants a little!” As if that somehow makes it better. You peed your pants and admitted it, end of issue.

1: Laughing Too Hard To Form Complete Sentence

My all-time favorite compliment was a guy who saw me after the show and raised his finger with a big smile on his face. But then giggling quickly evolved into laughter then his laughter into near hysterics. Bent over, he finally waived me off and walked on to recover.

That was a nice compliment.

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The Mainstreaming Of Gun Rights

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(Note: this was originally published at

You’ll be forgiven for not appreciating the extent to which gun-rights advocates have enjoyed success comparable to that of same-sex marriage and marijuana advocates over the past decade.

With each mass shooting – most recently the racist massacre in Charleston – progressives show a mix of arrogance and disdain: arrogance over their own virtue and disdainful of Americans’ exceptional attitude toward guns. But everyone involved knows that when the gun grabbers’ moment in the sun passes, it’s the gun nuts who eventually carry the day.

And they always do.

A quick google of “sweeping gun legislation” and you might be surprised how many links lead to stories of state legislatures – ahem – liberalizing access to guns.

Guns are increasingly seen for what they are: cool. According to Glenn Reynolds, spirits are higher than they’ve been in 20 years among self-described gun nuts. All fifty states have passed laws allowing qualified individuals to carry certain concealed firearms in public, either without a permit or after obtaining a permit from a designated government authority.

Increasingly, people like actor Vince Vaughn and playwright David Mamet are asking, as the latter asks in his book The Secret Knowledge, why shouldn’t we go the same lengths to protect our schoolchildren that Manhattan jewelry stores go to as a matter of routine to protect their treasure?

Advocates of widespread and stricter gun control laws are expressing the same “I can’t believe we’re actually having this debate” sentiment which social conservatives have expressed in the marriage and marijuana debates. Unthinkable by most twenty years ago, today the notion of arming every school principle in America with a shot gun and training in its use and safekeeping sounds like goddamned commonsense.

Social conservatives fret over losing ground on marriage and marijuana – New Jersey governor Christie having called the latter a gateway drug to carbs (just kidding). This should not prevent them from learning what they can from the major conservo-tarian victory for liberty and public safety.

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Vapor Madness

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(Note: This article originally appeared at

In the bad old days, Big Tobacco would have used all the means at its disposal to thwart a new technology that threatened to disrupt the market for inhalable nicotine. But instead of using its relationship with (and leverage over) regulators to throw obstacles into the path of its early-worm competitors, Big Tobacco has read the writing on the wall and begun to supply the demand for e-cigarettes and vaporizers.

One should expect a politically-connected colossus like R.J. Reynolds to arrive late to the e-cigarette game. But R.J. is downright nimble compared to a Ticonderoga-class bureaucracy like the California Department Of Public Health, which recently kicked-off a campaign to confuse low-information consumers (principally Millenials, liberals, and the poor). A website promoted by the state is called, tellingly,

The first thing that strikes visitors to the site are the sepia-toned photographs of young people’s heads enveloped in clouds of vapor so beautiful as to tempt non-smokers to take up vaping as a hobby. With the light touch one associates with public health campaigns, the site explains the tradeoffs between smoking and vaping with the sober evenhandedness of the movie Reefer Madness. One link contains the headline “Particles And Your Body: A Hate Story” (for those not familiar with government lingo, hate is never justified). Beneath that, we read:

See why those fine and ultrafine particles in e-cig aerosol are just tiny balls of evil to your measly human form.

I guess you could say the e-cig industry comprises an evil empire.

One-third of the site, with a predictability that surpasses mere tedium, criticizes Big Tobacco’s for its desire to make inroads into the growing e-cigarette market rather than doing what the government expects: kowtow to regulators and fund its crummy schools. Much is made of Big Tobacco’s “unclear motives.” Speaking of unclear motives, is it possible that the California Department of Public Health has a some of its own? According to Americans for Tax Reform:

In targeting an effective smoking cessation device – vapor products – it is clear that the California Department of Public Health wants to maintain cigarette sales as an important funding source for their big spending priorities. By discouraging vaping, the state may recoup potential revenue losses that occur when a smoker transitions from unhealthy cigarette use to products proven to be 99% less harmful, but not taxed as much.

In short, Big Government’s interest in maintaining a robust supply of new cigarette smokers is every bit as mercenary as Big Tobacco’s.

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New Material

If it weren't for space exploration we wouldn't have all this new, space-age material.

If it weren’t for space exploration we wouldn’t have all this new, space-age material.

I’m in the middle of attempting to write 20 minutes of new stand-up material over a 20 day period. This is several orders of magnitude more than I would normally write. I don’t think I’ll succeed but I figure that that even if I fall well short I’ll end up with more new material than I would otherwise. And new material is fun-to-perform material.

Bold text represents the new jokes I’ll will be debuting tonight at a fundraiser in Oxnard, California.

Can you predict how well any given joke will be received? Let me know which ones you think will be worth trotting out to a second audience and which ones will spook me sufficiently that I don’t dare to try them ever again. Don’t be shy and remember: I appreciate your input!

(Note: Gentle Reader – Please read the words below as though they were being spoken on the stage rather read from the page. If you’d like to familiarize yourself with my delivery, visit my stand-up channel on YouTube.)


I’ll tell you a little about myself before we get started: I’m married. I got married old school – to a woman.

Getting married was the best decision I ever made. I’ll never forget sliding on that wedding ring for the very first time and thinking “I am someone else’s problem now”.

We got off to a rocky start right when I decided to use “air quotes” during the exchange of wedding vows.

We have three kids – one of each.

We were extremely fortunate the way it worked out for us in that regard: we actually planned each of our children, although I should point out we didn’t actually get any of the ones that we planned.

I love having kids – they’re like forgivable versions of yourself. 

The worst thing I can say about living with small children is that every horizontal surface of our home is covered with Legos. Our house got to the point where I finally had to put my foot down – and it hurt like hell.

Our youngest is a two-year old girl – this kid has not slept once in her entire life. Isn’t it amazing how you can love a kid before it’s even born but not afterwards?

She was born during the SuperBowl but thanks to TiVo I didn’t have to miss the game. In fact, I can now watch her being born anytime I want.

Our oldest is a teenager. That’s a cute age, isn’t it? I often wonder if all teenagers rebel regardless of the culture they grow up in. I always imagine some 13-year old kid growing up in the deep, dark jungles of Brazil. One day he comes home and decides he’s not going to wear that bone in his nose anymore. Do his parents give him “the speech”? “As long as you’re living in my thatched hut you’re wearing a bone in your nose. Now take off that suit and tie and strap a leaf between your legs – you look ridiculous.”

My wife is from Germany and we were told that if my wife only speaks German to the kids and I only speak to them in English then they’ll eventually learn both languages fluently. And that’s precisely how it worked for our daughters but the boy is now 6-years old and speaks only Dutch.

Dutch is a loopy-sounding language, isn’t it? It’s like German after three-too-many Heinekens. Actually, he speaks German and English very well. He does get the two confused, though. He’ll say things like “airplane haben” or “Lass uns outside laufen”. It’s cute now because he’s six. What about when he gets to college and says things like “Boys: let’s get hammerschlubend”.

Having bilingual children has made me appreciate how tricky English can be to learn. For example, everyday I’ll have the same conversation with my son. He’ll say “Dad, look what I did do”. Then I’ll explain “Now Luke, remember, in English you never say “Look what I did do”. It’s “Look what I did”. Then he’ll dutifully reply “Look what I did.” Then I say “Very good. Now what did you do?”

German, on the other hand, is a great language for cutting somebody down to size. If you’ve ever been chastised in English, have it translated into German and you’ll realize how easy you got off. In German, even “I love you” sounds like “We have ways of making you talk”.

Kids today seem so far removed from anything remotely dangerous or unhealthy. I grew up on a steady diet of toy guns and candy cigarettes. Where were my parents, you ask? In the living room going through a pack of real cigarettes a day.

As a comedian married to a German, needless to say, I sometimes have to go outside the marriage for laughs. Let’s face it: trying to make a German laugh is like looking for Dick Cheney at Burning Man for crying out loud.

We argue about money sometimes. For example, she thinks we can afford a pool boy but I’m worried that if I cave on that we’re going to have to end up getting a pool as well.

She thinks I’m bad with money. How can I be bad with money when I’ve never even had any?

Sometimes my wife will see me looking at other women and then accuse me of comparing her to them, which is ridiculous because when I look at other women my wife is the last thing on my mind.

To the extent that there’s any friction between us, though, it’s generally due to cultural differences. For example, after even by best shows my wife usually has nothing to say about it. I used to take it personally but I’ve since learned that for Germans, the absence of criticism is the highest form of praise.

And Sabine thinks the baby ought to play with these wooden toys they made by hand in Germany; I’m American and think she ought to play with plastic toys mass-produced in China.

We do both believe in working hard but even there we’re often at odds: as an American I work hard so that she doesn’t have to and as a German she works hard so that Greeks don’t have to.

We’ve lived in  Germany and for several years but decided to settle in the U.S., though we had different motivations for doing so: she just wants to enjoy California’s year-round climate and I just want her to have the right to remain silent.

I enjoyed living in Europe because every city is so unique. Venice, for example: a beautiful, romantic city. Although I don’t think I’d enjoy it as much without my wife. Amsterdam, on the other hand, is even more enjoyable.

My wife’s becoming quite the wine aficionado – she cal tell a red from a white and stuff.

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California’s Plastic Bag Ban On Hold

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(Note: this was originally published behind the paywall at

A ballot referendum sponsored by the trade group American Progressive Bag Alliance has forced California’s political class to postpone its ban on “single-use” plastic bags from July 1 until voters have their say on the measure in November, 2016.

Supporters of the bag ban are confident voters will uphold it because, they say,  plastic bags are a costly burden to the environment. Opponents of the ban respond by saying “Good luck picking up your dog shit with a paper bag”.

California leads the nation in ballot referendums, most notably in 2010 when an initiative to overturn a state law against forgery received more than 8 billion signatures.

Thoughts or comments? Leave them in the section below.

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Strong Body, Focused Mind

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I was in great shape last January. For some reason I decided to into great shape for an engagement on my calendar – something I had never even considered doing before.

Why did I do so this time? One reason that it was a weeklong run at the Magic Castle and after all, one does not simply walk into Mordor.

By the end of the week I learned some interesting things. For one thing, the strength I’d built up from moderate, consistent distance running running and working out with babies effectively reduced the physical workload of performing. More pertinent, onstage it freed my min  to focus on more pertinent things, like what am I doing with my life?

Was is it worth it? This Magic Castle bootleg nicely conveys the incredible reserves of energy my act requires.

In 24 days I’ll need to again be physically strong for my mind’s sake. I’ll make it – but it starts today.

Thoughts? Comments? Leave them in the section below.

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The “Thank You” Itch

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Well-raised individuals are instructed from an early age to say it. It can be heartfelt or empty ritual. But rarely do we think of saying “thank you” it as a form of self-expression, like an unbearable itch that has to be scratched. Not merely an obligation but a primal urge to convey one’s feelings.

We should recognize that “thank you” can be fraught with so much meaning from time to time. And such instances aren’t engendered only by surgeons who save our lives or soldiers who do our fighting.

This came to mind tonight as I popped into Starbucks to get one of their free Pick Of The Week apps for my young son, which are normally displayed next to the cream, sugar, napkins, etc. No sooner did I realized that none were on display that a barista called out to me from behind the counter.

“May I help you?” he said. I explained what I was looking for and he had one of his colleagues assist me (it turned out they didn’t have any at that time).

What impressed me wasn’t so much that he volunteered his assistance so much as his lack of hesitation. He was like the person who doesn’t wait to see how much someone struggles opening a door before lending assistance.

I returned to my son impressed with this barista but also feeling the need to express to him my gratitude for his proactive approach.

Sometimes thank you should represent more than a friendly way of saying “this conversation is over”. More, even, than “I’m grateful to you”. Sometimes “Thank you” should mean “There’s something I have to tell you”.

Thoughts or comments? Leave them in the section below.

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You Look Better Than You Think

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You look at a photograph of yourself from a decade ago and are startled and depressed by how terrific you looked. At the time the photograph was taken you didn’t realize it – perhaps you we’re feeling old even then – but now you are a little taken aback by how you great you looked. Not even young, necessarily, but fantastic.

Similarly, ten years from now you’ll look at photos of yourself from the present and be flabbergasted at how terrific you look(ed). In twenty years you’ll ache to look as good as you will ten years from now and in thirty years to look as good as you will in twenty.

And so it goes: the present only appreciated through the lens of the future, whether it’s your looks, finances, marital status, health or whatever.

Consider this the next time you’re anxious about the future – or depressed about the present.

Think this is great or that I’m clinically insane? Leave your thoughts, whatever they may be, in the comment section below.

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