American Kook: Lyndon LaRouche

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(This post original appeared as a column at

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.

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


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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Outwitting Your Inner Perfectionist

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If you have children you know that they can sometimes be unflattering reflections of yourself.

“Put your pants on, Luke”, I often tell my 6-year old son, adding “Put down your Transformer and put your pants on”.

“Put your shoes on, Luke”, then “Set down your biscotti and put your shoes on.”

Oftentimes I have to explain to myself what I explain to Lucas: you save time by doing one thing at a time.

For children, of course, saving time isn’t a priority because it’s one thing they have in abundance. For adults, though, this tendency to do more than one thing at a time is a result of run-of-the-mill perfectionism.

I call it “run-of-the-mill” perfectionism because many of us think perfectionism is an attribute solely of artists or surgeons. Worse, many of us think of perfectionism as a positive thing, spurring us to higher and higher levels of achievement.

Real perfectionists know that the most-common side-effect is difficulty getting anything done. Those truly in thrall to perfectionism try to do everything at once because, well, what’s the point of trying to do one thing at a time when perfection is always beyond reach?

Blogs, as a medium, have helped me to see that if you take something seriously, doing it consistently is infinitely more important than doing it perfectly. But only by doing it consistently was I able to learn this.

Even on the most popular blogs, after all, it isn’t unusual to find misspellings, grammatical mistakes, etc. We readers don’t interpret such mistakes as failures as such. Blogging has evolved into a conversational medium, where the most successful ones tend to be personal, helpful and free, none of which requires that every i be dotted and every crossed.

What does this mean for you? It means that people – readers, audiences, bosses – respond to openness and authenticity more than to perfection and panache. (I learned this the hard way).

It means that if you’re intimidated by the prospect of writing book, commit to writing three books. Instead of updating your resumè, consider replacing altogether with your story. What do you wish to accomplish? What have you started? Captaining your high school chess club is pretty cool.. Founding your high school chess club is even cooler and tells us something about you. (This is great advice to give your children, by the way. If your child’s school has no German club, encourage him to start one and help him every step of the way. Imagine how transformative it is to be reminded of your power – even as a child – to start things).

So take a chance and start something, finish it and send out it out into the world. If you can do that, you’re ahead of the vast majority of others who wish they had the courage to do the same but substitute it with the unfulfilling rewards of anonymity. 

Will your thing fail to set the world on fire? Probably. But you’ll learn firsthand that you had much less to fear than you thought.

But what if everyone hates it? That’s the perfectionist in you again, telling you, in effect, that you’ve got one shot and that it has to be perfect. But you don’t have one shot: you have a new shot everyday. In fact, each moment provides you with an endless supply of new opportunities to say “Let’s see what happens”.

When you fail, tell yourself “Well, at least I got that out of the way”. You’ll find that your inner-perfectionist, for once, has nothing to say.

So use both your hands, pull up your pants and see what happens.

Did this blog suck? Let me know in the comment section below and I promise you, there will be a lot more.

Return to or watch me fail on stage in front of hundreds of people.

Climate Change We Can Believe In

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Al Gore upon discovering he must share his private jet with his hairdresser’s entourage.










A version of this post was originally published at Visit my archive here

I used to believe that the sole role of government is to deliver the mail and defend the shores. I now realize that this is asking too much.

Speaking of the mail, I love the U.S. Post Office. It’s like the DMV with stamps. Have you noticed that you never see Post Office and DMV employees in the same room at the same time? I’m beginning to think they’re the same guy.

But give the federal Leviathan this: it’s sterling treatment of veterans, taxpayers and lawful immigrants should have earned our confidence in taking on the simpler tasks like managing the earth’s climate.

It’s true that every model currently relied upon by climate profits – ahem, climate prophets –  failed to predict the past 17 years of climate stasis (itself evidence of climate change). Indeed, current climate models were no more accurate in predicting the last decade-and-a-half than most leg models. None of this is to suggest that climate models are without value: at least one has shown some promise in predicting the American League Central (odd years only).

But the answer to global warming does not lie in more-accurate climate models. What our policy approaches lack most is imagination. What this moment requires is a bold, Kennedy-esque vision. I propose that by the end of this decade, we send a climate scientist back in time to the Ice Age to warn our ancestors of the impact of fossil fuels on the climate – and then return him safely to earth (or Academia, whichever comes first).

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Feelings: The Offspring Of Your Thoughts

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You may be able to worry about more than one thing at a time but you cannot think about more than one thing at a time. Since your feelings are the offspring of your thoughts, what you think about is important.

Before each show I remind myself that all I have to do when I am introduced are three things: smile, acknowledge the audience and say “Thank you, I represent the lollipop guild”. So easy to carry out but more important is this: by telling this to myself I prevent my mind from wandering where it will which, for me, means the dark side.

Usually it’s something over which I have no control: the sound guy doesn’t like me; my tie is too long; I am a scatterbrained loser…

If you struggle with nervousness or negativity before public speaking, simply game plan the first ten seconds of your talk. It can be as simple: “Walk to the podium, take a sip of water and say “Thank you, ladies and gentlemen”. If you succeed in carrying out your own intention, the rest of your speech may be a train wreck but at the very least you’ll be able to say “I nailed the walk to the podium”.

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What’s the value of a two-dollar tip?

2What’s the value of a two-dollar tip? Some might say it’s nothing to scoff at. Others might suggest that it’s very much worth scoffing at. Others still might say it depends on the service rendered.

One interpretation that often escapes us: a two-dollar tip is worth two dollars (or two-hundred cents, 16 bits, etc.)

Too often we allow our characterization of things to eclipse the things themselves. When an athlete on the losing end of a contest is mocked for saying “It is what it is” he is uttering more wisdom than his critics know.

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