The Bureaucratic Mindset

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It’s a long boring story but the upshot is my itinerary had me flying, in one day, from Bismarck, North Dakota to Denver to Phoenix to Los Angeles and back to Denver. That’s right: four flights between Bismarck and Denver with a layover in… Denver.

None of this was anybody’s fault but simply a result of separate reservations made to accommodate a changing schedule.

Checking-in at Bismarck Municipal airport, I explained to the United representative that since Denver was my “final destination” that I would only be taking the first flight, thank you very much, and that she should therefore only check my bag to Denver and not to LAX, which would have required me to collect my bag and re-check them to Denver (owing to separate reservations).

“You’ll lose your return flight” she explained. She said it in such a way that suggested less full-disclosure than “I’m not sure I can do that”.

My instinct was confirmed when, after gamely poking at a couple of computer keys for a couple seconds, she summarily informed me that it couldn’t be done. Before I could explain to her (in a way that would keep her dignity intact) that it could, in fact, be done, another United representative who overheard our exchange took up my cause. “Just go to bag management”, she said, pointing to a key on her computer.

Not surprisingly, the first representative’s can’t-do attitude remained unfazed. She implied that it could, in fact, be done, but that it would be “illegal” for her to do so. (For this I gave a small prayer of thanks that anything so hilarious could be uttered in Bismarck, North Dakota).

It become immediately clear that I was dealing with one of those bureaucratic souls whose can’t-do attitude blinded her to what should have been obvious.

Happily, uncharacteristically, competence reigned as the other representative took over while the Fearful One looked on with the resentment those who can’t have toward those who do. She was advertising her own refusal to learn anything from this experience – and the self-loathing that accompanies such refusal.

Within two minutes I was headed toward security with ticket in hand.

Whenever I encounter someone with the bureaucratic mindset I am reminded of a line – I think it’s Hannah Arendt’s description of Adolf Eichmann – that “He was less concerned with what pushing the button meant than with pushing it well”.

I arrived safely in Denver and my bag did the same only a few minutes later and the sun has since continued to set in the west and rise in the east.

Do you have experiences with the bureaucratic mindset and a can’t-do attitude? Share them in the comment section below.

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Airport Security vs. Being Admitted Into Prison: A Comparison

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Passing through airport security seems more and more like being admitted into prison. First they confiscate two categories of things: anything remotely sharp and… your belt. Then you’re standing in line with a bunch of barefoot people holding up their pants with one hand and their sole possessions in the other. The travelers who passed through security hours earlier are looking on and chanting “Fresh fish! Fresh fish!”

Upon reflection, that last part doesn’t sound plausible enough to deem reliable memory. But you get the idea.

Air travel stopped being something to dress up for more than a generation ago. Tank tops, shorts, fish with slacks are now commonplace.

The airlines have contributed greatly to the deterioration of their product, as evidenced by U.S. Airways commitment to protecting the rights of men to wear nothing but lingerie on the plane.




Just because the culture made air travel more difficult to enjoy doesn’t mean the government had to ensure it could never be so.

An example. Last week while flying out of LAX they tried to confiscate my hair gel because I had six ounces of it in my carry-on bag. (I didn’t let them take it – I just put it in my hair where, apparently, it’s legal.)

Contrast this with the much more sensible protocols in Europe (where I lived and flew around for five years) where “Guilty until proven innocent” is not policy. And yet they get the job done better than our punchline TSA.

This reflexive risk-aversion is evident everywhere, from the flimsy plastic forks which are no match for the partially-frozen lasagna to to the peanut bags which warn us that “These peanuts were processed in a facility that produces nuts.”

The overall effect on passengers is a chilling one. Contrast how exciting it once was to board an airplane to how silent and… funereal it is now. Recently I was boarding a plane in Burbank when I politely asked the gentleman in the seat behind me if he would mind swapping seats with me so that his wife and I could sit together.

Like I said – no sense of humor.

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Airport Security vs. Being Admitted Into Prison: A Comparison

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Passing through airport security seems more and more like being admitted into prison. First they confiscate two things: anything remotely sharp and… your belt. Then you’re standing in line with a bunch of barefoot people holding their pants up with one hand and their sole possessions in the other. The travelers who passed through security hours earlier are looking on and chanting “Fresh fish! Fresh fish!”

Now that I think of it that last part sounds too made-up to be a real memory.

Share your thoughts on airport security in the comment section below.

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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.



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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How I Grew My YouTube Following

When I’m in Turkey there’s a barber I like to pop into in the coastal town of Kusadasi. He gives me what, in Turkey, I call “the standard”: haircut, shave, arm, hand, neck, ear, temple massage and wraps it all up my setting fire to stray clippings on my face and neck with an open flame.

This time, however, my wife videotaped the affair – I use the word advisedly – and as you can see he couldn’t resist giving me a little extra business. Anyway, I posted it to YouTube and it began spreading quite quickly – several thousand views right off the bat – and as of this writing is at around 40,000 views.

This is not the only humorous clip on my YouTube channel – I am a comedian after all – but the speed with which this clip spread was an order of magnitude faster than any of my others. I checked out Youtube’s handy analytics and quickly discovered the source of its popularity: someone had posted it to a fetish website catering to – I’m going out on a limb here – men who enjoy other men being tickled.

So my advice for success on YouTube is, unlike my Turkish barber, is to forget “playing to the balcony” and seek out a niche audience – kids obsessed with Star Wars, housewives aching for cute cat videos, men who crave to see other men being tickled with varying degrees of permission – and let them spread the good word for you.

Risk Aversion Run Amok

I like to entertain with a machete. Not real a real machete, mind you, but a dulled, stainless steel lookalike with a bevelled edge which gives the illusion of sharpness until inspected, at which point it becomes immediately clear that it would be about as useful  for clearing jungle foliage as those hollow, plastic ones found at Halloween shops. True, the tip could be used to blind someone, but in this regard it is no different than many other objects such as a pencil, butter knife or a shard from a broken bottle of Perrier.

Recently my agent booked me on Royal Caribbean’s “Grandeur Of The Seas” in the Mediterranean. I joined the ship in Kusadasi, Turkey, and was going through the usual security sturm and drang: pass through the shoreside x-ray machine operated by Turkish officials, walk a few meters, than pass through the x-ray machine operated by the ship’s security team. (What one earth would these people do for a living if it weren’t for redundancy?)

Needless to say, a Turkish official spotted the prop machete and asked me to open my bag. I did so and proceeded to remove the prop machete as I always do in this situation: I grabbed it by the handle, casually flipped it 180 degrees so the business end landed firmly in my hand and then extended the handle to the official. Far from allaying any anxiety, this seemed to cause all hell to break loose: not only was I in possession of a machete but apparently I’m some type of Shibumi-like expert with it.

The Turkish port agent who accompanied me explained to the official that I am an entertainer but to no avail: the Turkish officials would give it directly to the ship’s security and I could sort it out with them.

I embarked the Grandeur and hoisted my bag onto the ship’s x-ray machine, designed to protect the safety of passengers from deadly items smuggled into my bag during the 20-meter walk from the previous x-ray machine. My machete-free bag passed through without incident despite the fact that it contained, as did when passing through the previous x-ray machine, a far-deadlier three-pronged garden hoe.

Once settled in I spoke to the chief security officer, a young and obviously ambitious young man from Panama. (Many of the security chiefs on cruise ships are Israeli and I was hoping that he, too, would be from Israel: “In Israel we wish we had such problems” one once told me as he nonchalantly handed the prop-machete back to me.) Anyway, the young Panamanian explained to me that I would be issued the prop during my scheduled rehearsal in the theater and then I must return it immediately after my show.

“But I need it at all times” I lied. “It’s like my violin.”

“Someone” he said, could get drunk and use it as a deadly weapon”. He meant me, of course.

“What if someone gets drunk during the window that I is in my possession and uses it as a deadly weapon? Surely you’re not going to let this item out of your office until it is time for me to disembark?”

Reason and sarcasm were no use. Two days later, the stage manager issued the prop to me during my rehearsal and immediately confiscated it after my second-seating performance and returned it to the security office.

There’s a trend here. The TSA’s front on the “War On Terror” is really a war on unemployment, putting people to work protecting airline passengers from toothpaste, bottled water, hair gel, wrenches and breast milk. It performs the sort of pat-downs on children that grown men normally must pay for in the backstreets of Manilla while permitting this guy to board a plane – as a matter of policy.

Since 9/11, mid- and low-level security personnel have taken on an air of self-importance that is unwarranted and demeaning to the those of us who must submit to their guilty-until-proven-innocent practices of naked imagery, pat-downs and confiscation of easily-defended-against substances such as baby formula.

How many times have you been told to turn off our Kindle during take-off as it can interfere with the planes navigation equipment? Set aside the issue that if true (it’s not) then you shouldn’t be permitted to bring it on in the first place. More to the point is this: if it’s truly capable of what the FAA says then maybe the plane needs an upgrade in its navigation system. How does this work, exactly: you take your family on a hard-earned vacation in Hawaii and you end up in Cleveland because your wife couldn’t stop playing Angry Birds? Please.

Passing through airport security has become the same avoid-at-all-costs experiences of going to the post office of the Department Of Motor Vehicles. There are very rare exceptions: the TSA employee who seems to understand that he or she works for us and not the other way around. The one who greets you with a smile and attempts to offset the increasingly-onerous hoops we must jump through with a demeanor that says “I’m honored to serve you: let’s get you on your plane.”

Don’t get me wrong – I’m acutely aware why we must have security screenings at airports. Every time I pass through security I think “There are people who don’t want the plane to land safely.” Each time I lock the door of my car I think “There are moral primitives who would steal it otherwise.” This is the lock-your-front-door world we take for granted.

Having said that, let’s make it a priority to begin treating travelers with rock-bottom dignity and stop pretending that air marshals must game-plan around a woman armed with 3.5 ounces of breast milk.