Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Call Out The Instigators

"Fuck you, Pakistan! You're all crazy, blowing yourselves up! Drive into the river!"

My Jamaican cab driver was miffed by a reckless peer who cut him off. So at the next light he shared his feelings, which were reciprocated, though I couldn't make out the words. Looked like angry ones from the backseat.

If it hadn't taken me ten minutes to grab a cab, I would've gotten out and hailed another. So I tried to relax my driver with some stupid line about too much caffeine, which he ignored, shaking his head. On the radio, a talk show caller was upset because he can't wear his favorite handgun on his belt, for fear of arrest. Then I wondered if my driver was packing. Then I thought of something else.

This was my ride to La Guardia, capping one of the best weeks in eons. Made sense. Given the energy and emotion I'd encountered and channeled, a boring cab to the airport would have been anticlimactic. Sometimes it's best not to struggle against the universe.

My first night back set the week's tone. I snagged a spot in Ochi's Motel late show, a basement stage beneath the glittering Comix club. After watching a few early acts, I walked up 9th Avenue to my friend's Chelsea gallery which hosted a charity auction featuring the cast of Ugly Betty. I've never seen this show, so perhaps the sight of Vanessa Williams schmoozing with Judith Light held some related meaning. Most of the crowd was your standard artster types, disheveled boho boys here, nattily-dressed queers there, smatterings of yuppies all around (has the New England preppie look ever died?). I had a drink, leaned back and took in the scene.

A pretty pert woman attached to a French artist wore a 50's housewife dress, something June Cleaver or Betty Draper would shine in.

"I love your dress."

"Thank you."

"Very retro. I see you serving martinis at a pool party and all the neighborhood husbands are secretly lusting after you."

"You're sweet," she laughed. "Suburban caged heat -- that's me."

As we discussed the sex lives of classic TV moms (Donna Reed a tigress waiting to explode, Mrs. Cleaver a dominatrix), her French boyfriend wandered in, asking what would make a good theme for a show.

"Regret," I said.

He scrunched his face. "You cannot paint regret."

"Why not?" his girlfriend asked.

"It is too subjective. You need broader themes that pull the viewer in."

"There's always love," I offered.

"Ah!" he smiled, forefinger in the air. "You can never go wrong with love. It contains all meanings."

"It's also lucrative," I added.

"Yes. That too."

I finished my drink, said goodbye to my new friends and headed back to Ochi's Motel, bracing Spring breeze on my face.

Entering the cramped club, I noticed a few comics I'd met at the Village Lantern during my last trip. The guy who loved Mr. Mike smiled and shook my hand, welcoming me back. He was leaving for another gig, but was very friendly and encouraging. The other comics either didn't recognize me or were deep inside their heads as they waited to be called. Unlike the first trip, I didn't feel nervous pangs, wondering how I'd fare. I felt at peace, relaxed, while some of the younger guys anxiously paced. When introduced, they bounded on stage, letting their energy rip.

The young emcee bungled my name, calling me Dave for some reason. I gently corrected him, then dove right into the Black Muslim Acid bit. This was only the second time I'd performed it, playing with it, looking to see what legs it had. As with Upright Citizens Brigade, I received laughs where I wanted them; and like UCB, they were a bit delayed, the images sinking in after a beat. My stuff was so different from the other comics that I had the room's attention, but there was tension as well. I noticed this last time. The current NYC scene, at least those parts I've encountered, seems really uncomfortable with, at times hostile to, political/social material. This would be confirmed the next night.

No matter. The set felt good, and as I came off stage, a Black patron who laughed through my bit gave me an appreciative nod. For a beautifully brief instant, I was Whitey on The Moon, Gil Scott-Perrin smoking lunar dust. This revolution will be syndicated.

NEXT: Bombing internationally, but in a positive way.