Discretion Please

screen-shot-2016-10-25-at-6-12-03-amThe father of someone I’m connected to on Facebook recently passed away. Very recently. Just a few minutes ago, in fact. How do I know this? Because the connection in question said so on his Facebook wall: “My father passed away just moments ago”.

How does this work, exactly? I imagine this fellow sitting vigil by his father’s side, holding his dad’s frail hand, the thumb of his other hand hovering over the “Send” key in a pathetic frenzy to raise the profile of his Facebook page.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed but discretion is out – way out. What’s in? Sharing online every thought, emotion, impulse and event as it occurs. In our therapeutic age, grief is out and healing is in. After a mass shooting, the bodies aren’t even cold yet before the self-directed cries for “Let the healing begin” are heard.

And to the extent that we do still grieve it’s not for the departed’s loss but for our loss. In this regard clergy have been of little help. The secular world having infiltrated religion far more than the reverse, clergy insist that when we cry for the dead we’re actually crying for ourselves. With all due respect, not me: I’m crying for the departed’s loss.

When I was a kid I heard someone say “You can learn a lot by keeping your mouth shut.” The truth of it was obvious to me even then. Speak less, listen more, take it all in and you’ll gain in knowledge. After all, you can’t speak and listen at the same time. Perhaps just as important, you can’t reflect and speak at the same time.

Sure, there are times when we reflect on this or that with a friend or spouse, but in general reflection takes place internally. Relating an experience before having a chance to digest its full meaning often invests it with undue import. But I’ve never regretted those occasions when I resisted the temptation to immediately share an experience that only just occurred.

This is true for both positive and negative experiences. Give something days or even just hours to breathe and the increase in clarity is revealing – and often reassuring. Whether it’s losing a job or winning the lottery, reflection and the passage of time often reveal what appear to be pivotal events into something not crucial, not turning points, not make or break.

Oftentimes what seem to be life-changing developments turn out to have a very different meaning from the narrative you’ve been weaving for yourself and others. Why we still envy lottery winners even though the lives of lottery winners invariably spin out of control is beyond me. Conversely, things like losing a job are very often the real beginning of a satisfying and career.

Like the ability to entertain yourself when bored, learning to keep your mouth shut is a valuable tool: you may even find that it enables you to keep up with the truth.

Return to daviDDeeble.com or watch me perform the Flaming Marshmallow Balance of Mystery on the Late Late Show.

 

Marketing: The New Caring Profession

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Is that coffee you’re drinking fair-trade certified and ethically sourced? Is the microprocessor in your laptop manufactured by a company whose board is half comprised of women? Have the holes in your blue jeans been carefully frayed by Indonesians working in an air-conditioned surround?

Vanity is an ugly vice; vanity with regard to one’s virtue is somehow uglier. Crowing about one’s personal wealth, athletic accomplishments or extensive travel is off-putting. Yet marketers increasingly seem to see moral preening as a virtue: “Good people eat this tuna and not that tuna”. “Bad people drive those cars and good people drive this car”. “Setting homeless people on fire is wrong”.

Maybe that last one isn’t a good example but you get the idea.

This orgy of virtue isn’t merely an attempt to appeal to the vanity of hippies but a form of tribalism: good, caring people versus the indifferent masses. But it also pits another pair of consumers against one another: the poor versus the well-off. And the increased production costs associated with caring disproportionately affects those consumers on limited budgets. For example, shade-harvested coffee is a welcome development if you’re a poor Guatemalan coffee harvester. But if you’re a poor Guatemalan coffee drinker? Not so much.

For the cash strapped, such a cost increase is just the thin edge of a very wide wedge. While the well-off fret over the cost of wine and Chilean sea bass, the poor are left in thrall to the cost of butter, eggs and pancake mix (trust me, it goes a long way). California’s widely-applauded law expanding the dimensions of cages transporting live chickens to market is another example. Such a law is wonderful if you’re one of those poor chickens. But if you’re a poor person sensitive to the price of eggs and other staples of the underprivileged diet? Not so much.

In the regulation-palooza world of food labeling, the FDA dictates in tiny paragraphs everything from what manufacturers must disclose to consumers to the font used to disclose it. Maybe we need a federal agency whose mandate is to ensure that consumers are made aware of the price increases resulting from the production costs associated with everything from non-GMO underwear to free-range snails.

Return to daviDDeeble.com.

What A Difference 700 Meters Makes

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Recall past visits to your local high school running track and ponder the difference that just two laps can make.

Then ask yourself why, for example, does the body of the 800-meter world champion David Rudisha say “athlete” while the body of his fellow Kenyan 1500-meter world champion Asbel Kiprop screams “Somebody feed me”?

How man meters are you from a breakthrough?

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Progressive Peanuts Specials

It’s A Gluten-Free Thanksgiving, Charlie Brown

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The gang has its awareness raised of Woodstock’s dubious gluten allergy while learning that shared sacrifice isn’t always delicious.

It’s A Hetero-Normative Valentine’s Day, Charlie Brown

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Charlie learns that the valentine he receives from a classmate is only the expression of the dominant, heteronormative society in which he lives and that in any event love, unlike tenure, is merely a social construct.

Eat Your Spinach, Charlie Brown

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Charlie Brown learns that in nutrition as in everything else, government scolds know best. (Viewer discretion advised: frank portrayals of gluten.)

Check Your Privilege, Charlie Brown

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Charlie learns that his incredible career success has come at the expense of women, minorities, gays, bisexuals, bigendered, transgendered, cisgendered, queer and other government-favored groups.

It’s An Culturally Sensitive Halloween, Charlie Brown

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 Lucy takes offense at Charlie Brown’s Halloween costume only to learn that he’s not actually wearing one, then flies into a rage over his failure to do so. (Viewer discretion advised: stereotyping).

It’s The Grievance Sweepstakes, Charlie Brown

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Charlie Brown learns that rights inhere in groups and are to be unsheathed and used to hit opposing groups on the head.

Linus Seeks A Safe Space

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Linus’ first day at college goes poorly when he’s informed that entering the nearest safe space requires passing through buildings inspired by Greek and Roman architecture.

Charlie Brown Identifies As Black

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No sooner does Charlie Brown identify as African-American that he begins to feel the oppressive scourge of institutional racism.

You’re Part Of The Problem, Charlie Brown

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Peppermint Patty gets angry when Charlie Brown expresses reluctance to identify as the sister she never had.

Life Is A Trigger Warning, Charlie Brown

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Life for the gang quickly becomes complicated upon learning that everyone is entitled to feel offended at anything and at anytime.

Return to daviDDeeble.com or see how I reinvented myself after a head injury cost me the coordination in my right arm.

Moderates in Paradise: David Brooks

David Brooks during a commercial break on Meet The Press.

David Brooks during a commercial break on Meet The Press.

The reflexively moderate New York Times columnist David Brooks is at it again, this time lamenting those poor, confused Iowa Christians who believe that the Bible’s injunction “Do not show partiality to the poor” means, well, not showing partiality to the poor. According to Brooks, this idea should extend to both policy and political discourse, but the parlance employed by the likes of Ted Cruz is deemed by the pant-crease impresario un-Christian.

According to Brooks, to win Iowa’s sizable evangelical population one must speak in the reassuring tones of Mike Huckabee or the pleasantly sleep-inducing Ben Carson. This is why Ted Cruz’s lead in Iowa is confusing to Brooks, a man who, tellingly, has never met a study he didn’t like.

Cruz’s lead in Iowa is confusing to Brooks, a man whose most recent New York Times column is characterized mostly by his unfunny and apparently unself-aware tendency to lecture Christians about how they should comport themselves. According to Brooks, these Iowa Christians don’t seem to know their place anymore. Trump? Cruz? Please! Iowa evangelicals haven’t witnessed much undesired change during Obama’s tenure. Sure, on same-sex marriage they’ve gone from “against it” to facing jail time for refusal to bake a cake. Refusal to bake a cake. Other than that it’s pretty much a wash. Of course all this took place over the course of a couple of years so there was the phase-in aspect.

It would seem to Brooks that Iowa Christians must be thrilled that while divorce law is seen fit for basket cases likes Oregon and Illinois whereas marriage shall be defined once and for all on our continent-spanning nation by one man in a robe: its a play so absurd the minds of Harold Pinter and Harold Becket together could have conceived of it.

President Obama arrived unfashionably late at the marriage-rights party, his though his fellow partygoers didn’t much seem to care. Future histories will show the president as characteristically behind the times, knowing that it took his vice-president’s coming out party on the issue to make him realize that he is only in left in the room to not-yet get the joke. (Imagine for a moment being deemed less-hip than Joe Biden.)

For Brooks it’s a given that Christian values like fairness and love are inherently progressive values and cases his argument in a Third-Way-Al Gore vein for added annoyance. And it’s not just social issues that have Evangelicals nonplussed. At any rate, these social-issues ingrates don’t seem unduly impressed by the managed loses of both the “bad” war in Iraq and the “good” war in Afghanistan. They don’t seem to marvel at the apparent ingratitude of the the Libyan people to Obama, Congressional Republicans and Democrats  and NATO for their special brands of magic.

But don’t take my word for it, read David Brook’s latest column in the New York Times, The Brutalism of Ted Cruz. In Cruz’s speeches there is “not a hint of compassion, gentleness and mercy.” He continues “Traditionally, candidates who have attracted strong evangelical support have in part emphasized the need to lend a helping hand to the economically stressed and the least fortunate among us. Such candidates include George W. Bush, Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum.”

That no misprint: George W. Bush, Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum all cited positively in a single sentence.

Return to daviDDeeble.com.

 

 

Testimonials: “They Say” versus “I Say”

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The endorsement of a product or service from someone you know and trust is more powerful than one from a mere acquaintance or stranger. Similarly, an endorsement from someone who has personal experience with a product or service carries more weight than one from someone who heard from someone that your product is great: “My cousin raves about it” just doesn’t have the same impact as as “I’ve tried this heartily recommend it”.

When an emcee introduces an entertainer or speaker, it’s an endorsement which usually takes the form of the two categories described above. Let’s call them the I’m-told-this-guy-is-great introduction and the I-need-you-to-see-this guy intro.

The I’m-told-this-guy-is-great introduction, when reduced to plain English, boils down to “Let’s hope our guest speaker is fantastic. If not, you can’t blame me.”

The I-need-you-to-see-this-guy introduction sounds more like this: “I first saw tonight’s entertainer at an event last year and afterwards we couldn’t stop talking about her. After the show I immediately invited her to perform at tonight’s event and I’m thrilled that she is able to attend.”

A personal endorsement requires courage and confidence: courage to give your imprimatur and confidence that you are right to do so. The difference has nothing to do with stroking the speaker’s ego and everything to do with getting the audience to sit up and pay attention.

Return to daviDDeeble.com or see how a head injury initiated my journey from conventional- to comedy juggler.

Mediocrity: The Ultimate Safe Space

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Mediocrity kills careers but seems to increase job security. The latter part of this formulation is mediocrity’s chief appeal and why it’s so widespread, whether you’re dealing with an airline representative or an internet service provider.

Examples are so commonplace they no longer warrant notice. The service rep who refers to you as “the next customer.” The words sound taught and they of course they are. What was wrong with “May I help you?” Rapport, fellow-feeling, conversation – anything that can’t be taught is subsumed in a frantic desire to make customers go away.

Much of what informs mediocrity is fear and a desire to conform: fear of failure and a desire to conform to convention. But if you want to get people talking about your product or service – if you want people remarking to others about it – then it must be worthy of remarking upon.

Return to daviDDeeble.com or see  to magicians from around the world.

American Kook: Lyndon LaRouche

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(This post original appeared as a column at Ricochet.com).

The most prolific non-comedian presidential candidate in U.S. history, Lyndon LaRouche first came to my attention during the 1992 election when his campaign took out a tv ad describing him as “the only man (then-President) George Bush feared enough to put in prison”. Manuel Noriega, like so many facts of life anathema to LaRouche’s fevered mind, was also sitting in a federal prison at the time.

More than 30 years and three election cycles later, my German wife and I were visiting San Francisco when we strolled past a couple of political activists standing next to a sandwich board depicting President Obama with a Hitler mustache – a depiction which my wife pointed out would be illegal in her native Germany. Lest her innocence of American politics cause her to confuse these LaRouche followers with fellow Tea Party nutters, I told her what I knew about the American kook named Lyndon LaRouche.

As a politician, Larouche was one-tool player who nonetheless appeared to to be in the big leagues from time to time. His skill set consisted almost entirely of identifying an emotionally charged issue, conducting in-depth research then proposing an oversimplified solution, usually involving a restructuring of the economy or national security apparatus. His pathological certitude found expression in the breadth of policy positions expected of a presidential candidate, from healthcare to fiscal and foreign policy.

A member of the Socialist Workers party from 1949 – 1964 and the U.S. Labor Party from 1973 – 1979, LaRouche finally settling on the Democratic Party in 1979, where he sought the nomination in seven of his eight presidential campaigns. His conspiracy theories, the follower-on-follower violence, his unshakeable faith in the stupidity or evil intentions of those who opposed him – all these and more made LaRouche seem like a politician after L. Ron Hubbard’s heart.

Like the same song but in a different key, LaRouche’s also had the ability to place any world event into a larger context, giving it greater apparent meaning in the facile manner favored by conspiracy theorists and Marxists. A real go-getter, by the early 1970’s he was publishing now-forgotten magazines such as New Solidarity and teaching at never-remembered entities like New York City’s Free School. LaRouche’s up-and-at-‘em initiative was not mitigated in the least by his Marxist beliefs.

By the 1970’s, of course, 1960’s ideology were in full swing. Name a 70’s-era brand of then-vibrant American Marxism and LaRouche either joined it, founded it or oversaw violence against it: the Socialist Workers Party, the Revolutionary Tendency, Students for a Democratic Society and, most importantly for his own career, the National Caucus of Labor Committees, or NCLC.

None of this would be interesting were it not for LaRouche’s uncanny ability to gain access to officials at the highest levels of government. How did he do it? In 1971, LaRouche founded an intelligence network which published information in magazines articles and papers sent to him from his followers in hotbeds of Marxism like Stockholm and West (not a typo) Berlin. This enabled him to gain access to government officials under press cover. These publications had modernist names aimed at setting hard-leftists’ hearts aflutter, such as New Solidarity, Fusion Magazine and 21st Century Science and Technology (note that the titles invoke the more-committed-to-science-than-you of today’s widely-popular I F***ing Love Science‘s Facebook page.

Bobby Ray Inman, the CIA’s deputy director in 1981 and 1982, said LaRouche visited him offering information about the West German Green Party; a CIA spokesman said LaRouche met Deputy Director John McMahon in 1983 to discuss one of Larouche’s trips overseas. An aide to William Clark said when Larouche’s associates discussed technology or economics, they made good sense and seemed to be qualified (thus removing any doubts about the aides qualifications as a government official).

The 2016 presidential candidate who seems most to share LaRouche’s love of ideas over people – though not, of course, his reflexive paranoia and violent tactics – is Harvard professor Lawrence Lessig, who ended his hapless campaign on November 2. Unlike LaRouche, who published policy papers on everything under the sun, Lessig’s campaign raised more than one million dollars promising to protect Americans from engaging in what he deems excessive political speech or, in his words, “fighting systemic corruption in Washington”. (Lessig dislikes the term “campaign finance reform.”)

Lessig would have required much more than one million dollars to conspire with Congress and in an end-around the First Amendment to the Constitution, in which its authors invoked a rare (for them) absolute in writing “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom speech…” Italics mine, not Lessig’s.

Return to daviDDeeble.com or watch me read the Wall Street Journal.

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”.

Return to daviDDeeble.com or watch me deal with a 3-year old heckler.

 

 

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.

Return to www.daviDDeeble.com or watch my 2-year old daughter appear to beat the living daylights out of me.