Dear Diary: August 24, 2015



Monday, August 24, 2015, Salt Lake City – Another all-day travel day without brushing my teeth until I get home and to bed. Why can’t I bring big-boy sized toothpaste on the plane? It reminds me of how when you lock your keys in the car and you ask yourself “Why must we lock our cars in the first place?” Because, incredible as it sounds, there are people out there who would steal them otherwise. Similarly, there are those out there who don’t want the plane to land safely. It’s really an unbelievable world, when you think about it.

I’m not sure what the connection is between plane safety and toothpaste-tube size but I assume the feds know what they’re doing.

I bought a bottle of water from a very exotic-looking young woman here at SLC airport. She looked Persian or something. I said “What’s your ethnicity?” “I don’t like Utah”, she said.

Return to or watch my submission to the Conan O’Brien Show.

How I Started Standing-Up

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When I started finding ways to work around my head and arm injury by replacing conventional juggling with stand-up comedy, there developed for me an unmistakable connection with audiences that wasn’t there before. “My wife is German” is a much better conversation starter than juggling torches on a tall unicycle. And for me the best comedy is always a conversation with the audience.

Also, less sweating.

How I Started Standing Up: Part II

Over time, my stand-up comedy became a natural prelude to my “Unnatural Act”. Here I am performing face juggling with a billiard and a ping pong ball.

I didn’t start doing stand-up until my mid-thirties. I had a lot of experience speaking to audiences by that time, however: I had been performing for nearly two-decades as a comedy juggler. When I started hitting open-mics in Denver and elsewhere working on my first five minutes of stand-up material, I would walk on stage with a highlighter pen, a slap bracelet, two half dollars and a billiard ball neatly concealed in my pockets and a host of other time-tested accouterment. The moment I lost trust in (or, just as likely, simply blanked on) my stand-up material, I’d hit the eject button and break-out the props from my pocket and then could coast from there.

Sometimes I’d bail on the stand-up if I if I had the least little memory lapse. Not wishing to be seen looking at my crib sheet, if I had one,  I’d simply bail and boom! my variety act would inflate in seconds and I was gold again.

When I stopped working with a crib sheet on the stage stool – it all seems so shabby now – is when I really progressed in terms of memorization (a facet of the job which was much less onerous than I feared when I realized I only have to memorize as I write, not commit to memory a 45-minute set.

Crib sheets are a crutch, not to mention an unwelcome distraction to the audience to see you pouring or – sometimes worse – glancing over your notes. Stand-up comedy is a conversation between the audience and the comedian. Why give them even a brief invitation to end the conversation?

Anyway, if I bailed on the stand-up (or just had more time to fill) I’d produce a highlighter pen from my pocket and and noticed an unmistakable increase in focus from the audience: the comedian is doing something unexpected and suddenly everyone’s curious about what’s going to happen next. That was a powerful thing to harness for me and has been ever since.

I learned the importance of being interesting at all times. I wish lecturers and teachers would learn this from the best comedians! It’s pretty simple: engage the audience and start telling jokes.

I learned to resist any urge to be explicit with the audience about demanding their attention: I pretended to just assume it. “Never let them see you sweat” became my mantra, if not my motto.

In terms of developing material I would have been better off without all those props, as all it did in the end was postpone my emergence from hypersensitive in terms of audience reaction to sort of a “Trust, but verify” approach: I don’t sweat any given moment but keep my eyes on the big picture.

And for the love of God, don’t be loud. What’s that? You have to “sell” the material? Please. Have you stood in the back of the room beneath the speakers and shouted into the microphone as you do? It’s horrible.

My friend and one of my favorite comedians in Jeff Wayne. He taught me a lot of valuable things. Among them was “Of course if a joke gets absolutely no response, you have to comment on it. But as long as you’re getting something – anything – from the audience, you’re best bet is to smile and get on with it.

A lot of it is the overall impression you leave with the audience during the show. Little things can undermine your credibility or like ability. Sometimes jokes stop being funny for no apparent reason. Easy come, easy go!

Many of my fellow open-mic comedians were the exact opposite. They seemed to be utterly oblivious to the audience’s non-reaction. I’d see the same guys week after week sharing onstage the same stories, telling the same anecdotes (rarely did they tell “jokes”, i.e., “As a comedian married to a German I sometimes have to go outside the marriage for laughs…” ). The hacks plow through their material like bloodthirsty wolverines, utterly indifferent to the audience’s reaction

I was the other way: I had to learn to resist my tendency to be hypersensitive and made even more so because I had in my pockets the comedy equivalent to the military’s meals Ready To Eat.

Another good rule of thumb I learned from Jeff: if you hear or see something from the stage that the audience can’t hear or see, forget about it. They don’t know what you’re talking about. Get back to the jokes.

It takes discipline to sit down and write daily, whether it’s a stand-up comedy bit, a blog or prose or fiction of any length. Writing what comes to mind throughout the day is easy:  jokes, like trouble in New York, find me. I write throughout the day (except on those not-infrequent days when theres no signal) so that I can get on with my day. Staring at a blank screen while standing over the joke hole just doesn’t work for me. If I am going to transition to longer-form writing – maybe take baby steps with some two liners? – then I will have to learn to sit down and organize my thoughts. Just learning to be not-necessarily funny when writing is a challenge.

In the meantime, I have succeeded making my bed most days. The good Admiral McRaven is right: one of the satisfactions of making your bed each morning is repairing to it each night. Here’s my made bed.

Anyway, this signal I’ve been receiving makes my job mostly clerical: sorting the jokes by category (I keep every joke in a single document and hashtag it with one of the above routines that would likely provide cover for it. For example, a joke about my wife would be tagged with #family). I then gauge the jokes onstage with my patented “Tell joke, listen to audience reaction” stand-up comedy system.

I learned I wouldn’t write anything funny until I found I was performing it regularly. Looking back at my first notebooks I literally wonder: “What was I aiming at here?” The notebook was quiet and comfortable and never tested me. So the problem was I wasn’t going out there to perform stand-up enough. You have to be a writer and a performer – a rare combination.

At real gigs I’d throw in a line here or there during my show, but the audience wasn’t expecting stand-up and if they had, they would have been disappointed. A couple of reliable lines here and there, yes, but nothing qualifying as an actual bit.

I had to begin performing as a stand-up regularly to figure out who I was really writing for. My only clue to answer the question “What’s my persona gonna be?”  was the from observing the patter and speaking-style I employed in my comedy juggling act. There was surely a lot of overlap in in my stand-up persona and my variety act persona – but whatever rough transition remained I hope I have polished into something deemed seamless.

I knew it important to meld the two modes together stylistically, especially since it became apparent that my juggling days were numbered. I have the advantage, too, that audiences tend to get giddy when my kind-of nerdy, boastful comedian personae suddenly gives way  to this nerdy, boastful juggler persona who’s kicking a billiard balls into his eye socket and stuff.

Stand-up comedy also made me at once more self-aware and less self-conscious. I learned that I was kind of clever, not to mention preoccupied with TSA guidelines. Stylistically, I  strive to be a pretty cool customer who manipulates the audience onto his wavelength without appearing to be striving do so. My motto is “Never let ’em see you sweat”.

When I finally started performing stand-up regularly – in-and-around Denver – I had an interesting perspective. Backstage, I’d be surrounded more-or-less relaxed open-mic guys who had more experience than me in stand-up but whose overall performing experience was dwarfed by my own (having performed some iteration of my comedy juggling act my whole adult life). I remember at one venue in a relatively small but beautiful old stone theater in Arvada we were told shortly before the show that the microphone wasn’t functioning and we’d simply do without.

Well, you could’ve knocked me over with a feather. For the other guys it seemed a minor detail. Holding a microphone in my hand was for me a welcome thumb to suck and served as a small equalizer between a novice like me, who had long grown accustomed to speaking with both hands free – and guys who had been hitting the open mic for months or years. In other words, holding a microphone was comforting luxury for me and deprived it I felt distracted. For them, it simply meant they’d have to do their act the way they’ve done it many times before: at other open mics, at home in the shower, driving, or whatever.

Memorization and desensitization were other big factors: memorizing my material and desensitizing myself from constantly checking the pulse of the audience and learning to simply charge on.

The microphone looms larger in the mind of comedians than most audiences will believe. What’s the big deal? Remove it from the stand and put it back when you’re done! But my friend and arguably world’s funniest man Phil Tag likes to rehearse his stand-up when possible on the stage with the lights under show conditions and the microphone on. For a guy who’s been doing it for decades and with appearances on The Tonight Show, you’d think he’d enjoy the comedian’s unique privilege of not requiring much, if any, tech rehearsal.

Over time, I would learn the lesson which I still apply to so many aspects of life: that most things that happen during a show are as big a deal to the audience as they appear to be to you.  If doing your set without a hand-held microphone is no big deal to you, it will be a non-issue to the audience. The same goes for your bald head, paunch, cleft lip, whatever.

Mentally, I divide my stand-up into a handful of routines, or, to save time, I call “bits”. They are, in the generic order I do them, whatever that means:

family; drinking; work/little man; S.F. vs. L.V.;/gambling; dad; headlines; nude cruise; reading; credit/ID theft; stimulus/ hair gel/flying;

I did not write out any of these routines in anything close to a linear fashion. As outlined above, I just wrote stuff down throughout the day and over the above themes emerged and coalesced as I cherry-picked jokes like these.

By not straying from my comfort zone I’ve been able, over time, to generate a stand-up comedy act which aesthetically and temperamentally suits me nicely enough. If I am going to write anything of any length, though, I’ll l have to leave my comfort zone.

When I’m ready, I’ll let you know about it.

Thanks for reading,


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My Week In Review

I can’t believe it’s only been four days since I dropped off my wife and kids at LAX for a two-month trip their making to Germany. It’s been exhilarating and lonely. I’m amazed by how much time you have when you don’t have loved ones around. I went out for a run, for example, and when I realized I didn’t have my watch. I had to resist the urge to continue without it. Under normal circumstances I would’ve had to agree to be back from my run at a certain time, skip my shower and be prepared to take Lucas to swimming or whatever. Instead, I simply jogged back home and got my watch – I had oodles and oodles of time. At least one 30 minute run ended going over an hour because I was feeling good. 

It’s I’m in the middle of a time orgy or something.

It’s amazing what you can get done when you don’t have a family. It’s been a damn productive week – and it’s not even over. On the other hand, I sure miss having that little angel of mine smacking me in the face an hour before I need to wake up. The boy, now five years old, also holds great appeal for me although he also tests my patience from time to time.

Here’s some things that happened since holding down the fort alone over the last four days.

A clinically insane lawyer who saw my show at The Magic Castle in Hollywood and has confessed to me that can’t put it out of his head. Check out picture he posted yesterday of his wall:

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I say “clinically insane” but of course I mean, merely, that he’s a:) is a Democrat party activist/fundraiser and b:) a fan of my work. We met for drinks the other night at what became immediately clear was a consolation party for Carl Kemp, running for Long Beach city council’s 5th district seat. Kemp kept his dignity – he didn’t weep anything like that. I don’t mind it when a grow man weeps – it’s when he tries to speak through it like Mike Schmidt did at his retirement announcement that makes me uncomfortable. Just shut up and have a good cry and wait until you’ve gathered yourself together if you have something to say. That’s how I feel about it, anyway. But like I said, Kemp made everybody feel comfortable and I wouldn’t be surprised to hear from him again.

Stacy Mungo was Kemp’s Republican opponent. When she handed me a yard sign for her campaign I was impressed by her directness, her energy and  self-confidence. My personal opinion is that she’s too hot for a career in politics, but I have great confidence that she will serve the 5th district well and that if she returns to the private sector she will resume her former success.

Last month I got a phone call from a woman writing an article for the New York Times about gps-equipped luggage. Last Tuesday the NYT Business Travel section published the piece, which begins with my tale of woe after I grabbed the wrong luggage from the airport in Singapore. (My full account of of the incident is here).

It was neat, seeing my names in the NYT without anything like “The United States Of America vs.” before it.

The good people at p2 Photography and I “partnered”, in today’s parlance, on this video about the head injury which put me on a very different path in my craft. The video is really about me and my story but we are restructuring it to a:) distinguish my comedy show from my talk and b:) make clients understand that one nicely sets-up the other: a 45 minute comedy show then, when everybody’s loose and in a good mood – I hit the ground running with the talk.

The video was even posted at a neurology forum for “nerd-ology” types and a discussion ensued on injury, recovery, consciousness, etc. I think it’s behind a registration wall so I won’t post it.

I did post a couple of new stand-up routines to my YouTube channel, including this true story about a conversation I had on an elevator and this one about Germans and Germany. It’s gratifying to see how these different routines have really come into their own. Each routine has it’s own personality: some are grittier than others, for example, when dueling it out each night with each other on that smokey stage, having driven for four hours to this dusty little town outside Bakersfield while your buddies are giving another Royal Command Performance in London…


I’ve been keeping to our regular sleeping routine and when awake spending a lot more time signing contracts, promoting articles, paying bills, etc. I’ve tried going out at night but usually by 9 o’clock or so I’m beat and more than happy to go to sleep in preparation for a good start the next day. Tonight I’ll attempt to go to the Magic Castle but we’ll see.



Monday, June 2: Let’s Talk About Boarding Airplanes

Whatever sense of humor people have they tend to lose it when boarding the airplane: everybody’s preoccupied with getting settled into their seat as quickly as possible. Yesterday I was getting onboard and I very politely asked the guy in the seat behind me if would mind swapping seats with me so that his wife and I could sit together.

No sense of humor.

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Venice Beach Freak Show: $5

Screen Shot 2014-03-17 at 2.42.20 PM Took the wife and kids to Venice Beach today. I grew up in Long Beach but as I, incredibly, had never been to Venice Beach. Otherwise I would never have dreamed of bringing my family with me, naturally. Anyway, the boardwalk there there has a freak show. For five bucks you can see a man with tattoos all over his body and a bearded woman. In other words, the exact same people  you see walking up and down the Venice Boardwalk. For free. This freak show needs to hit the road – maybe downtown Bismarck, North Dakota or something.

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Dear Diary

Dear Diary – Driving me home commented in a not Dear Diary – Driving me home from the airport this afternoon my wife commented to in a not-unfriendly way that I stink. unfriendly way that I stink. I pretended to ignore it and changed the subject but it bristled. When we arrived home I called her on it.

“I stink?”

“I didn’t say that. I said you smell.”

“Oh,” I said. There was a pause. “By that, of course, you mean of lemon and myrrh?”

Then she did that thing where she kicks me between the legs.

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The Time I Grabbed The Wrong Luggage At Singapore Airport

(Note: The NYT Business Travel section picked up on the adventure I describe below. Forward the story to your friends who fly.)

I was exhausted from the flight to Singapore. Having arrived at the airport, taken a cab to the hotel and checked into my room, all I could think about was removing my suit from my bag, hanging it and sleeping for ten or twelve hours. When I opened my bag, however, I couldn’t find my suit. Could I have forgotten to pack it? And where did this carton of Russian cigarettes come from? And this English-translation dictionary?

I contacted the front desk and told them about the situation. As expected, I was on my own. I returned to my room, zipped up the bag and took a cab back to the airport. There, a helpful representative escorted me through to arrivals and the baggage office. In front of the office was a large assortment of bags – I spotted mine immediately. I explained to the representative that I had accidentally taken the wrong bag from the carousel, that I was terribly sorry, and would she please help me sort it out?

I filled out a small amount of paperwork indemnifying the airplane for the poor Russian’s bag, exchanged it for my own and headed toward the airport exit. Because Singapore is the most paternal city in the world, I had to pass through security before exiting the airport to ensure I didn’t have any gum, pornography and other assorted forbidden items. The problem was, you see, that I had packed a Brian Dubè juggling machete, which is not a machete at all but a remarkable facsimile. The blade’s beveled edge looks sharp and it has the perfect balance for juggling but in fact it’s not much sharper than today’s thinnest laptops (not yet banned). I explained that I was a professional juggler performing in Singapore and that the item (that word!) was part of my show. They were surprisingly sympathetic to this and, after a little more back and forth, I was given a written authorization to bring it into the city, provided I did not remove it from the hotel.

Looking back, I was lucky that the Russian did’t end up walking away with my bag. For that matter, so was he, as I am certain he would have more difficulty explaining to the authorities why he was traveling with a machete, a garden hoe and a stuffed rabbit.

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