Friday, October 29, 2010

Use Your Privilege




With all due respect to Comedy Central's Farce On Washington, I think sanity is the last thing America needs. The mainstream concept of "sanity," I mean. We are daily assaulted by The Sane, told what is Real and what is Not, what is Holy and what is Treasonous. BAM BAM BAM. Right into our skulls. The Sane never sleep and never stop. They are relentless.

Fuck Sanity.

Maybe I'm missing the satirical angle here, if there is one. When Jon Stewart apologized for calling Harry Truman a war criminal, I initially thought, "Hey! Nice parody of the wimpy, obedient pundit!" Then I realized that Stewart was serious. Had any other global leader ordered nuclear strikes on civilians, I suspect that Stewart wouldn't be so understanding. But this was an American president -- a Democrat no less! How ugly and partisan it would be to question Truman's action, or worse, satirize it. That is something an insane person would do. And as we know, Jon Stewart is among The Sane.

Again, Stewart could be putting everyone on. I certainly hope so, yet doubt it. You don't achieve mainstream prominence by calling our terrorist culture by its right name. And you sure as fuck don't mock it. Stewart knows his place. Just the other night he sat across from a man who oversees a vast network of theft, torture and mass murder. And how did our most celebrated satirist since Mark Twain react? With deference. Respect. Sanity.

If you have a taste for insanity, or those who don't proclaim themselves Sane, then come to Mottley's Comedy Club next Friday and Saturday in Boston. Barry Crimmins, the real Mark Twain of our times, makes his return to the stage. Joining Barry will be Erin Judge and yours truly, hoping to channel whatever satirical energy I can grab. But this is Barry's show. If you're anywhere near the Boston area, drop in for comedy, booze, and disrespectful observations. Should be fun. A rally for The Crazed.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Tell Me Nothing




Some of you reached out to say that I'm underestimating Tea Partiers. That our imperial decline is giving way to native fascist forces hiding behind Constitutional rhetoric. That even though they're murderous, corporatist, criminal and hopelessly beyond reform, the Democrats are our only safe option. So why reject the last tattered parachute on a burning plane?

Dunno. I've long wondered what dying in a plane crash would be like. I'm sure it would be horrendous, terrifying, yet magically still, the final snapshot in your brain before nothingness or that multicolor musical extravaganza snake-waving tent apostles promise. I've listened to cockpit tapes of pilots scrambling to save fatal flights, the terror in their voices among the most direct expressions I've ever heard. No amount of technology can silence primal screams. So while that tattered parachute is tempting, I worry about where I'd land.

Does that answer your question? Didn't think so.

Look, America has always been populated with lunatic know-nothings, so the Tea Party is hardly a frightening new feature. Their confusion, idiocy and anger are evident, as is their marginal status. Yes, they can be cruel, as we've recently seen. I simply wonder how politically astute Lauren Valle truly is.

Outraged liberals frantically wave the free speech flag to defend Valle's action at the Rand Paul debate, but seriously, what do you expect when wading into that type of crowd? It's like moaning about being stung after brushing against a hornets' nest. This is one reason why elected Democrats ignore liberal pleas. Who wants to hear from the clueless and deluded, especially when they'll vote for you no matter what?

I'm happy that Valle is pressing charges against the twisted fucks who assaulted her. I doubt they'll fully understand why they're being charged, but then countless Americans walk around in hazes to begin with, so that's nothing new. Suing Valle's attackers could be the most effective action MoveOn's been connected to, primarily since Obama's election, when their "antiwar" rep was shown to be fraudulent.

Harassing rednecks through the courts has no real societal effect, but it'll make MoveOn members feel like they're doing something, and it's a guaranteed fundraising tool. Hopefully, it will also provide some cheap entertainment until the next season of Mad Men. I just don't see Don and Megan lasting more than a year.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Still The Envy Of The World

Tariq Aziz's death sentence is no surprise, the imperial hypocrisy standard fare. What's interesting is his crime: persecuting and killing Shia Muslims. Y'know, that Iran/Hezbollah/Hamas gang currently holding saifs to civilized throats? Plus, Aziz is a professed Christian -- that superior faith standing between freedom and Sharia Law? So really, what's the problem here?

In a fixed system where personalities replace politics, Aziz is Saddam Lite, faded, feeble, ready for the grave. His sentencing brings with it some Bush-era nostalgia, reinforced by Condi Rice's current memoir tour. Rice expresses zero regret for helping turn Iraq into a radioactive killing field --




Nor for her hand in slaughtering Iraqi Muslims. Which makes sense. Rice is lauded while Aziz gets the noose. Why fuck with a favorable narrative?

Aziz's sentence provides the briefest distraction. Our imperial policies continue to disintegrate, our domestic politics dumber and more venal than ever. Our educated class tries to spin this positively, but they're pretty much talking to themselves. Most Americans either don't care what their betters say, or are too ravaged by reality to notice. There are those, primarily Tea Partiers and Obama liberals, accelerating the partisan two-step, but few are seriously buying it. The result is a lot of jagged noise and unfocused fear, like a bag of shrieking rats sinking in a lake.

The video of a MoveOn member assaulted by Rand Paul supporters illustrates this point.



Naturally, online libs are screaming about fascist violence, how we're in the early stages of Nazi America, and so on. I'll grant that Paul's groupies are behaving horribly, even criminally, if the activist or MoveOn decide to press charges. But the notion that we're approaching a Tea Party putsch flatters idiot reactionaries while further deluding liberals that Democrats, however "spineless" (i.e. partners with the GOP in theft and corruption), are the sole rational alternative.

That neither Tea Party nor MoveOn are any threat to our corporate owners merely deepens the absurdity, turning scuffles like the above into bad street theater. This must make any elite watching momentarily happy, for as awful as our dying empire is for them, at least the peasants are attacking each other.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Hanshan Skipped Town



When I began wearing the mask, I stayed indoors to get used to the fit. Public mask adjustment is distracting. People are anxious enough.

Before long, the mask became my face. It gave me confidence -- not insane confidence, where I'd chase departing flights down a tarmac, but feelings of pride and security. It blended well with my wardrobe. The eyeholes were large enough for peripheral vision, but narrow enough to preserve the mystery. I got rid of my beard, because masks and facial hair simply don't mix. You look like you want it all. But when you commit to a mask, choices must be made. Basic mask balance. Some mask wearers never achieve it. They're usually the ones leaning against public buildings.

Most people accepted my mask. Sure, there was a transition period where they laughed and made cruel remarks. But you can only laugh at a masked man for so long, especially when he isn't laughing with you. No matter how absurd it looks, a mask eventually defines its space. That's when the laughter stops.

I own five identical masks and keep them in steady rotation. Cold water wash, then tumble dry for 10 minutes. Air drying helps slow the masks' wear and tear. I have a laundry mask as back up in case I must wash all the masks at once. But I rarely wear it. It feels cheap and obvious.

Will I wear my mask to the grave? I intend to. Though I prefer cremation, the thought of my masked corpse in a casket amuses me. Of course, I won't be able to stop those intent on pulling off my mask. That's a given. The real test is, which mourner will wear it?

Oprah recently confessed to inspecting her shit after each dump. It's reassuring to know that some religious figures give their flocks permission to explore themselves. Still, Oprah is too calculating to simply say this and move on. There's an angle here, but fuck me if I can see it. Oh, you're good Oprah. The best. I slowly applaud your genius. Finding a new marketing approach in your feces is perhaps your deftest move yet.

Oprah's admission made me imagine how other notables take craps. Think of Donald Trump straining, sweat moistening his comb over. LeBron James' power shits, enough to choke a mule team. Paris Hilton snorting blow off her forearm while launching blackened missiles. Sarkozy. Putin. Obama. Hillary! Celebrity dumps create their own music, pop tunes from pampered bowels. Paparazzi camp near sewer openings, hoping to get shots of famous shit. What's Lindsay been eating? Is Angelina's as elegant as her profile? Is stress causing Kardashian diarrhea?

Maybe that's Oprah's plan: creating demand for A-list turds. It's what we deserve and secretly desire. Shit happens, but only if you matter.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Ready For Correction




Jerking off to June Cleaver is an early, happy memory. In a mainstream world, June was the right age to be my mother. But with my parents barely past their teens, June assumed an older erotic role. Her pearls and sharp dresses enticed, but her relaxed attitude was the hook. She played her part like a silent flute, floating through suburbia, untainted by its toxins. Compared to June, Donna Reed was dead, Laura Petrie a nervous wreck.

Leave It To Beaver provided calm during stormy family times. Ward may have been a patriarchal bore, but he was tender with his sons, even when punishing them. Wally and Beaver always feared that Ward would beat them, but he never did, at least not on camera. Maybe the show was anti-spanking agitprop, and if so, it played musically to my young ears.

In my home, yelling, tension and violence were common. When watching Beaver, I entered an alien world, bounced on its cushions, ran down its back lot streets. I came right when supper was called, for I knew there'd be no anger, no pressure to eat what made me gag. June served the meal with quiet grace and smiled, roast beef reflected in her loving eyes.

Betty Draper would hate and try to undermine June. Yet Betty wouldn't mind being jerked off to, so long as no one else watched. Afterward, of course, Betty would call the cops while piously claiming violation. Maybe that's why I've been with more Bettys than Junes. Betty's bad behavior is expected, a familiar pain. June turning on you would be devastating. Who needs that heartache?

In June's time, football helmets were becoming weapons. Once face masks appeared, the race to create thicker, streamlined helmets commenced. Pro football in the 1960s was much wilder than now. With hard plastic bars protecting players' faces, defensive backs began head hunting receivers, no rules against excessive hits, even if out of bounds. Films from that period show guys getting hammered, bodies buckling, heads slamming the turf. Today, most of this would result in suspensions and steep fines. But despite those bans, the current NFL faces its own physical and ethical dilemma.

The increasing number of helmet hits and concussions are becoming a PR nightmare for the league, which has announced stricter rules against defensive plays. Not only are helmets to the head and face verboten, so too any hit that may, as Steve Young put it on ESPN, "make you cringe." What does that mean? Few observers seem to know. It will probably be an in-the-moment/subjective call, putting defensive players at a disadvantage. Any solid hit may result in league action. Like judges at an obscenity trial, NFL officials will know it when they see it.

Many old players are bemoaning additional restrictions. "Football's a violent sport!" they shout, sharing tales about classic injuries and being carried semi-conscious off the field. Football is indeed a violent sport, which is why it's America's national pastime. But it's also corporate entertainment, raking in billions, and any threat to profit margins must be dealt with. The NFL's already struggling with crippled players from its less profitable past, when few cared about what the game did to the body. It clearly doesn't want another generation of walking wounded sullying its image. But when your fortune is made through violence, how do you police your product's chief selling point?

Some have suggested going back to leather helmets, sans face masks. With no face protection, players will be less likely to use their heads as weapons. While I dig the retro-Red Grange look, I'm not sure how realistic this is. It would certainly alter how football players appear in commercials. Would Peyton Manning be as amusing with a scarred face, busted nose and missing teeth? Maybe not. But football fans would consume all the same. That part of the game needs no adjustment.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Lawn Jokey

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

What America Will Crave

Though The Project is an evolving mélange of memoir, satire, and ribald tales of heart wrenching intensity, I'm keeping my showbiz options open via several concepts I intend to pitch when I'm in LA. Bills still have to be paid, and they don't call it show "art," do they? Some might, but this is a ruse to lure you into accepting the tenets of corporate entertainment. By the time you've figured it out, it's too late. You're a pig and a sell out like the rest of them. Is that what you envisioned in those pure, air guitar days?

I have my eyes wide open, like Alex in A Clockwork Orange. I only hope that the metal clamps prying open my lids don't sully the pitch. Executives tend to be timid.

ACHY BREAKY CAMP

Billy Ray Cyrus puts fathers with marginally talented daughters through six weeks of Cool Dad training. This includes dressing like a middle-schooler, wearing long, stringy hair (or if they are African-American, big Julius Erving Afros), finding the right hair dye, soul patch sculpting, and talking to their daughters in seemingly parental but utterly servile ways, because you don't scold or punish the golden goose, especially with her manager, agent and lawyers around. Miley Cyrus pops in and out, donning large wigs and speaking in British, French, and Spanish accents. Why? Have you already forgotten Billy Ray's lessons?

PUSSY HUNT

David Spade tries to nail every young starlet and model he can corner, employing sarcasm, baby talk, name dropping, and semi-sincere flattery. We follow Spade through LA's hippest night spots as he uses club lighting to mask his aging features. Between trysts, Spade shares his philosophy with the viewer, a blend of narcissism, dick jokes, and Rousseauian sentimentality, which turns out to be a cover for Spade's Hobbesian cynicism. Not that the girls understand the difference. They just want to see the Playboy mansion.

WALKING TALL

A sitcom where the actors perform on stilts. Not sure what the plot is or who the characters are, but come on! We're talking actors on stilts here! People will watch to see if they fall or crash into each other. Kinda like NASCAR on stilts, which is another good idea.

SO YOU THINK YOU CAN F*?K

Wannabe porn stars have sex in front of celebrity judges Jenna Jameson, Nick Manning, and La Toya Jackson, who critique their techniques and offer advice on how to avoid most STDs. Manning begins to think he is the show and is fired amid tabloid controversies, replaced by Pauly Shore, then Bobby Flay, who insists that contestants eat a nice meal before sex while La Toya pleads for work in Vegas. By this point the original premise is unrecognizable, and not even Nick Manning's return can save it.

PLANTS HAVE MORE AWARENESS

Five teens mumble and stumble their way through suburbia, barely able to speak in complete sentences or understand the basic mechanics of everyday life. Nothing much happens. A dog might liven things up a bit, but these idiots would probably try to eat it. Dr. Phil appears, lectures the teens for ten minutes, pauses, looks at them, then leaves. He bursts back inside, pretending that he heard something, then launches into a monologue about his childhood. The teens stare off into space.

QUEER HEIL FOR THE SKELETAL GAL

Ann Coulter romps through New York City with reactionary gay men, spending copious amounts of money while advocating imperial war, privatization, corporate personhood, and the marginalization of Muslims. Tony, a graphic designer of Lebanese descent, has second thoughts, but is wooed back when the gang throws him a male stripper party at Log Cabin Republican headquarters. SEX IN THE CITY tongues TRIUMPH OF THE WILL which gives THE BOYS IN THE BAND a handjob.

GET OFF MY LAWN, MAN

A vanity project of sorts, where I try to keep kids out of my yard, not by yelling or threatening violence, but by telling them long stories about how much better music was when I was their age, and acting out bits from Monty Python and the original SNL. Also, I don't cut my grass, which deepens the mystery: Who's this old guy in the robe, and what's a Conehead?

Friday, October 8, 2010

Stage Kissed



"I can't stand faggots! They everywhere! Rubbing our noses in it!"

"It's the women! They turn men into queers!"

"They ain't born that way! Don't sell me that shit! They choose to be sick!"

So went the discussion on the A train from Brooklyn. A large Trinidadian and a Black man from Bed Stuy argued only about the details of their mutual hatred, one insisting that gay men are demonic aliens, the other blaming ancient Greece and Rome for same sex unions. I sat directly in the middle of this, trying to read the NY Post's sports page, chewing my bottom lip to keep quiet.

Was it their skin color or physical size that silenced me? Would I be less hesitant were they white suburbanites or rednecks? Their reasoning was so ridiculous, their claims so outrageous, that any attempt at correction would be pointless, and dangerous, given the Trinidadian's outburst when a skinny Black kid tried to do just that.

"You a fag?!" he yelled.

"No. I'm straight."

"You sound faggish! If you straight, why do you care about fags?!"

"You're missing the point . . ."

"Fags need to go!" the big guy thundered. "We don't tolerate that shit in Trinidad! We kill them!"

This was too much for his queer-fear friend.

"Yo brother, no need to kill them. Just ignore them."

"No! They gotta die! You hear me?!"

That's where I got off the train, ears ringing with rancor. Even after the doors closed, I could still hear him yelling. As the train left, the sound of classical violin took over, a young Asian man playing with sweet intensity. Ugliness immediately transcended by beauty. That's what I love about the city.

It's easy to assume that queerphobia rests merely with the ignorant. But I've seen similar attitudes from supposedly-intelligent comedians. Indeed, the Trinidadian would've howled at some of the bits I caught this past week.

One comic, Jeff, who I've seen before and enjoyed, did this inexplicably bad routine about the dime being the gayest coin. "It's thin, light, has a guy on it that gays wanna look like [FDR?], and when you spend it, everyone knows you're gay." Yeah. I get that all the time. (And time rhymes with dime which makes me . . .) This was the most creative fag baiting I saw. The rest were mere insults. Yay comedy.

Dealing with my straight life on stage was no less daunting. Turbulent emotions guided my bits about marriage fading, relationships in serious transition. I act as if it doesn't bother me, but it does, in ways I've yet to fully comprehend. Riffing off this mindset has led to some interesting discoveries, a few funny, others wistful, melancholy. What I consider sad has gotten laughs, and what I thought were punch lines led to nods and cocked heads. If there's a template for what I'm doing, it eludes me.

A key difference between my relationship material and that of many other male comics is a lack of aggression. A lot of these guys either hate or fear women, or pretend to for comedy's sake. Bitch, cunt, whore are commonly tossed around, and I'm amazed that women stand ups don't defend themselves more. It's as if they roll with misogyny to show their toughness, oftentimes using the same words. Honesty does reveal malice and anger, but I don't get the impression that male comics are trying to learn as they perform. Spite seems more their speed.

There have been abusive, crazy women in my life, but I would never crudely trash them on stage. I retain enough toxic emotion as it is. While I avoid verbal abuse, I do examine darker sides to my relationships, which require no added poison to make them tangible.

This time out I pondered how relationships end, going from my parents' acrimonious divorce to my more amicable situation to bizarre lovers I've known, like the middle-aged stylist/dominatrix who fucked Michael O'Donoghue and wanted to stick a loaded .38 up my ass during sex. I performed pretty much the same set at Otto's Shrunken Head and Teneleven's Freakshow Mic. I assumed the former would be dodgier than the latter, but again I guessed wrong.

Otto's resembles a grass-lined Tiki hut leftover from Bela Lugosi Meets A Brooklyn Gorilla. Mike Toro ran the mic, which was very welcoming to new performers, the small room filled with comics and civilians. I went up early, talked about marriage and old girlfriends as the audience flowed along, smiling, laughing, and happily for me, not texting or checking email.

I was more storyteller than comedian, animated but relaxed, going where the subject matter took me. I ended with how modern porn, with its many disgusting amateur genres, offers no real fantasy release, but instead has turned me into porn reactionary. "Bring back the pros!" I pleaded. "Bring back people who know what they're doing and look good doing it!"

It was a smooth, fulfilling set. Another step forward. So naturally I figured the same material would fly at Teneleven, where I've done fairly well.

Yeah.

Here the audience was much quieter. Lines that got laughs at Otto's laid there at Freakshow. I had their attention, commenting on their silence, which elicited scattered laughter, but nothing overwhelming. They stared at me, grinning. If, as O'Donoghue insisted, making people laugh is the lowest form of comedy, then my Teneleven set was decidedly high brow. Or maybe they just didn't find me funny. I know the feeling.

Still, I felt fine about it. Enduring quiet without breaking pace is good exercise, but you don't want to make a habit of it. Then again, Samuel Beckett played with "terrible silence" and he was a laugh riot. Godot as emcee, giving Estragon the boot.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Faces Look The Same



The noise in the back grew louder. Several new audience members had arrived, young, chatty, oblivious to the comics onstage. Two female comics on either side of me told them to shut up, which turned heads to the rear but did little to quell the talking. Ray Combs then approached them, quieting them momentarily as another comedian struggled to regain the room's attention.

Problem was, Ray used humor as crowd control, and soon they were laughing at Ray's quips instead of watching the main show up front. This threw the Lantern off balance, angering Kara Buller, the comic to my left, who kept turning and demanding that Ray and his private audience immediately zip it. They did, then didn't, then did. I wasn't sure what was going on or why, but Ray's peers, while pissed, seemed to expect it from him.

In recent weeks, Ray had tested when not trashed accepted stage behavior (including a set in the nude), which given the profane looseness of NYC's stand up scene is saying something. Now he was tweaking off-stage boundaries, part of an overall performance piece devoted to personal implosion. On one level I appreciated it, since I share Ray's disdain for the scene's provincialism. But the conservative show biz elder in me, which defers to professional demeanor and respect for other performers, however awful, was disturbed by Ray's conduct.

I wasn't alone. Several comics sarcastically "thanked" Ray for keeping the audience alert, if distracted. Kara seemed the angriest, but was easily the funniest, ripping Ray and pretty much everything else in her set (like the original SNL -- "too many Kissinger jokes" for a generation born after Vietnam and Watergate). But these animated riffs were all negatively aimed at Ray, who appeared to take each slam as his due. Clearly, this was what Ray wanted: an angry break before his self-imposed exile. It would be anti-climatic to silently walk away; anti-comedic, too. What stand up simply walks off stage without an exit line?

Upstairs at the bar, I finished my Absolut as Ray entered, two comics alongside him. Unlike many stand ups, Ray is very social and willing to talk about anything. His energetic talent attracts those incapable or unwilling to match it. They just want to share Ray's vibe.

"We need to talk," I said.

Ray nodded, polished off his pint and followed me outside. It was a beautiful Fall night, people spilling across Bleecker Street, laughing, shouting, kissing. Ray and I walked to the curb and leaned on a mailbox.

"So," I asked, "what the fuck's going on?"

"What do you mean?"

"Talking through the sets. Pissing off the other comics. If you were emceeing, you would've ripped someone like that in half."

"Yeah. But I wasn't."

True. Emcee Steve lacks Ray's killer instinct, wearily enduring the disturbance. Though he tested Ray's mood with a Family Feud quip, Steve declined to push harder, which was wise. He's not on Ray's level, especially when it comes to retorts. And given Ray's mood and mandate that night, I doubt it would have ended well.

Ray smiled. "I'm so tired of this scene. It's the same thing every night. Same comics, same material, same bullshit. What's the point to it all?"

I had no ready answer, since only the comics know their own agendas. But considering the present environment, there really isn't much beyond approved corporate outlets.

"What's your end game?" Ray asked.

Certainly not stand up, not as it's understood. The more I perform, the further from the form I get. I suppose that's the plan, but where it ultimately takes me I've no definitive clue. There's the multi-volume book that augments the stage work, but again, the final destination is nowhere in sight. Perhaps that's all I'm meant to know at the moment.

"I'm gonna take some time off, think about things away from these mics," Ray mused. "Then I'll come back with an all-new approach, something that's mine and not connected to my name."

Ray hit it. His father's showbiz shadow has darkened much of Ray's act. In order to evolve, Ray must banish the ghost, or at least keep it off stage. He'll never get over Ray Senior's suicide, but maybe now he can create confessional humor that flows directly from his heart. Ray has a lot to say. He simply needs quiet to find the right voice.

"I might change my name to Pat Sajak Jr.," said Ray as we hailed an uptown cab. I later learned that there's already a Pat Sajak Jr. No matter. When it comes to game show offspring, names are not important. It's how you survive the lightning round.

NEXT: Smooth sets over rocky emotions.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Air Triggers




Greg Giraldo's death hung over the Village Lantern, disbelief and resignation the main reactions. Giraldo was a comedian with a history of substance abuse, so checking out at 44 due to pills (albeit accidentally) shouldn't seem shocking. Still, Giraldo's early exit served as a reminder not only of mortality, but of the ephemeral intensity of comedy life.

I never met Giraldo, wasn't crazy about his roast gigs (insult trains bore me), but enjoyed many of his stand up bits, even if his manic delivery unnerved me on occasion. It seemed there were raging storms in Giraldo's head, common for many comics, but not so poetic riffs, which Giraldo produced when ignited. He was a comic's comic who defied the cliché. He railed against idiocy, complacency, and American madness, ending in a New Jersey hotel room, much like Mitch Hedberg. Maybe comics should cede that swamp to Snooki and The Situation, and seek lesser jinxed states in which to do hotel drugs.

Ray Combs and I discussed the limitations of comedy careers in the corporate state. Comics either serve the machine or get trampled, though one's service is no guarantee of survival. Greg Giraldo made a mark, but how long will this last? And to what end? Ray and I chewed over this and related topics at length, but well after yet another chaotic Lantern late show. There's something about that room on Wednesdays that stirs a comedian's deepest anxiety. This bears Ray's mark, which shows no sign of fading soon.

Ray ceased being an emcee months ago, but the Lantern remains very much his turf, recognized but not seriously challenged by the other regulars. This reality was in full force Wednesday night. When I arrived Ray was well into a pint, nervous smile and energy flashing. He performed in the early show and was fueling up for his late set. We chatted briefly before Ray started working the room, joking around in an oddly aggressive way. He'd been telling me that he's contemplating quitting comedy, that the New York scene is stagnant, dull, uninspired. I agree, at least the parts I've seen and experienced. But I didn't take Ray seriously. His talent is too ingrained to simply toss aside and forget.

As the room filled up, the emcee Steve opened by reading half-formed jokes from a large notebook. I haven't gotten used to this, and consider it lazy or a sign of weakness. If you can't memorize jokes or riff sans text for five to ten minutes, then you're probably in the wrong profession. Yet a fair number of comics I see have no shame in reading their bits. Like texting during another performer's set, reading material onstage is largely treated as standard practice.

Steve yelled to Ray in the audience, asking him what he thought about Steve Harvey becoming Family Feud's new host. This is delicate ground for Ray. For all the jokes about his late father Ray makes, he stiffens if anyone else takes a shot, however glancing. Ray immediately defended his father's Feud reign, noting that no subsequent host ever enjoyed the same ratings as Ray Senior, which is true. In the larger scheme, caring about which game show host captured the most eyes is superfluous, but this isn't about ratings and market share. It's about Ray's father, whose suicide continues to haunt his namesake.

I don't think that Steve meant to be mean about Ray's dad, but a dig was there, supposedly all in good fun. Ray didn't see it that way, ordered another pint, and began talking to other comics while the show commenced. It was a low murmur in the back, nothing too distracting, but evident. Then Steve called my name and I took the stage.

I was a bit nervous about my newest material, knowing that it's bound to offend certain sensibilities. I go after comedians who perform for the troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, how many of them act as if they've seen combat or somehow "helped" the war effort, congratulating themselves for their patriotic service. Some of these comics affect tough guy poses at home, making queer-baiting, sexist, racist jokes, talking trash, being politically "incorrect" (the white comic's ultimate dodge). But when faced with a kid in uniform, these tough guys melt, fall to their knees and suck endless camo pipe. They eagerly become court jesters for drone strikes and chemical warfare.

The reason for this, apart from résumé padding and stroking nationalist conceits, is that most if not all of these comics have never served in the armed forces. They turn soldiers and Marines into action figures they can emulate and worship. The military becomes mystical, a place to project their masculine fantasies. That the majority of them would never enlist, much less survive boot camp, is beside the point. Performing for the troops feeds their illusions without serious physical risk. They get to play soldier and live to brag about it.

Having served in the Army, I know that the reality is much different. In boot camp, they not only break down your civilian identity to forge an obedient militarist mindset, they study you while training, looking to see where you fit in the machine. And though intelligent recruits do exist, so do a fair number of sociopaths and seriously maladjusted youths. Clearly, this hasn't changed, as reports of torture and dismemberment by US`troops filter back home. Indeed, it's probably worse now, as the military, faced with recruitment challenges, loosened its requirements, inducting gangbangers and kids with violent criminal records. Severed fingers and bleached skulls are no doubt the least of it.

The material went over well -- very well, in fact, at one point eliciting applause. I went on stage with a few bullet points in mind and improvised off them. I didn't get to the routine's real meat; that will come with longer sets. But what I did touch on connected, not only because it was so different from the other comics, but because I played around with it, turned horror into comedy without missing the larger point. It was an energizing, instructive set that made me hungry for more.

NEXT: Ray and I get serious; comic scenes from a marriage.