Browsing Category

MUTINEER MAGAZINE

Flight to Napa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flight to Napa

So there I was, cavorting around Napa with people so versed in vino they were correcting the tour guide’s French. I was way out of my league. These weren’t just wine enthusiasts , these were wine fetishists, the kind of people who would send a bottle back, and not just because it’s empty. My confusion in their presence was topped only by the beauty of Napa, which took me completely by surprise – I felt like a caveman staring at an iPhone. The landscaping is like Zeus’s summer-home and the people are rad cause you know off the bat they like great food and wine. Napa felt like a distinctly Californian version of Europe without those fucking Europeans and I think I kind of want to die there.

The trip was as much about food as it was about wine, which was good because people aren’t going to waste a ten-year-old bottle of vino with Lunchables and Pepsi (I learned as I was breaking out Lunchables and Pepsi). Our first stop on the trip was the Woodhouse Chocolatiers where the rosy-cheeked owner walked us through the creation of our own chocolate bars, and my own hazelnut, sea-salt and milk-chocolate blend was unarguably the best. Only a day ago I was deconstructing my ex’s Facebook and now I was making chocolate bars with Willy Wonka.  What a difference an all-expense-paid day makes.

Chocolate for breakfast. What a wonderful way to start the day. Needing some actual sustenance they whisked us off to the Farmstead restaurant where the food was so fresh you could hear it screaming as it entered your mouth. This was farm-to-table dining, which is an easier way of saying “come eat on our farm”, and the portions were so big they served them in these huge Beowulfian bowls. I helped myself to seconds and thirds of the Pino they also make and figured if there ever was a time to get wasted at lunch, now was it.  As if to lubricate the finery in our bellies they then took us to the Round Pond olive farm where I learned that Olive trees are harder to kill than the Ents in middle earth and high-end olive oil is spicy enough that I would be a horrible Mexican.  All in all I was extremely blown away.

It quickly became clear that I was the comedian. Guffawing and knee-slapping I felt like Will Smith in the first episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Apparently wine-culture isn’t very big on being loud and apparently I am. While my companions lowered their glasses with nods of culinary approval I lowered mine with nods of four-letter-words. This experience was special, and when I’m happy I get loud. You should too.

But Newton shut me up.

Newton Vineyards is one of the coolest places I’ve ever been. Built on a hilly part of Napa’s valley walls the vineyards crest and fall like a roller-coaster made of grapes. The corkscrew-trimmed-hedges and Japanese air give it a distinctly Tim-Burton’s-Alice-In-Wonderland-feel, only with genuine substance.  In the distance their signature ominous-tree sits alone on a hill, one incongruent branch challenging you to an arm-wrestling match. It’s a real cool place.

We began by picking Merlot grapes and I’d be lying if I didn’t say my first thought when looking at grapes on a vine was that they look like dangling balls. This revelation made it even more surreal when I learned I was actually quite good at shucking said balls and after a couple of whacks wondered if there wasn’t a future in this for me. Maybe if comedy doesn’t work out I could become a migrant field-worker I thought, trucking round town hoping to escape my demons with each harvest. And it was at this moment I had my grand realization about the culture of wine. The shit takes time. The grapes I was picking wouldn’t actually be giving someone red teeth for another 4-years and by then we’ll all be in space-ships. Once we finished our harvest we toured the fermenting room and I couldn’t stop staring at the CO2 as it gurgled out of the casks. The sugars and the yeasts were doing battle and in many years this wine would come out of it’s cocoon a butterfly. The longer it stayed in the cocoon, the more beautiful the butterfly. Talk about patience.

Later we all sat down for an elaborate tasting and mixing session and for the first time on the trip I felt myself changing, just like the grapes. As an elaborate array of glasses sat before me I didn’t want to just chug them and start talking, I felt the wine deserved some introspection. Placing the liquidto my lips I described my glass as a “beautiful Parisian woman with a gun”, an image that my companions agreed was dead-on. After a perfect meal overlooking Napa I replayed the last two days in my head still unsure of what I ever did to deserve all of this. Drinking and talking are two things I’ve done a lot of in the past 11 years and this seemed to be the most desirable combination of both.

And it wasn’t until I was boarding the plane back to Los Angeles that all of this really began tosink in, the colors, the tastes. The swirling congregation of hues and smells meld into a playground for your senses and like a lover I was leaving would cherish the experience and run back as soon as I could. Napa is a place for the slow appreciation of man’s ecological potential, a place where easy-does-it does it easily. And while I’m sure my levity was nice in the beginning I was wise enough to let the land, and the wine, speak for itself. First time for everything I suppose.

 

 

My Father is a Scotch


My father is a scotch.


If people were booze, my father would be a scotch. Unlike domestic dads, my father has a cool sipability to him. He is not a vodka, wanting to please everyone, or a gin, wanting to please no one, he is a scotch. You might mistake him for wine, as everyone gets along with him, but scotch has an edge that fits John Morrison best. Of all the alcohols, scotch cannot be rushed, and of all the dads, neither can my father.
Scotch is patient, calm, and reliable, and you will only appreciate it if you are wise enough to do so. Just like him.


Like eggplant and expresso, Scotch was one of the things I didn’t understand until I was older. Having waited until college to start drinking at all, scotch tasted like an ashtray and I was doing just fine on 40‘s and hangovers. Sneaking a drink when home was frustrating though as my father would only stock the dreaded scotch and cheap swill was hard to find. “It’s brown liquor time!” he’d declare, pulling out a bottle and examining it like a surgeon. He’d then get out his triple-decker-shot-glass-with-a-handle and fill it to the brim in a single pour. These moments I remember.


It was also around that time that my father and I began to butt-heads about my future. Like any good parent he wanted stability for me and like any good comedian I knew stability wasn’t funny. I was enjoying drinking and doing whatever and whomever I wanted, and growing up was not something I ever planned on doing. My trips home soon became tense as heated conversations about my lack of future would boil over when both my parents were present. But when my mother was done fretting and retired to bed, generally with the sun, my father always made sure to sit with me when the house was dark. And as all sat quiet in my kitchen, the light a soft yellow, my father would twist the cork and he and I would finally talk. And in our raised glasses I began to understand the man that raised me. I began to see myself in his eyes, and I wanted to be him.


For he is a scotch.


Required to sit in silent contemplation for no less than three years, scotch tastes, if anything, wise. The oaky bite and peaty undertone has an ancient taste that makes the drinker feel like they’re kicking ass in slow-motion. To appreciate a scotch is to demonstrate maturity, and that is why you will never see a glenmorangie keg-stand at a frat-party.  While all other liquors go out of their way to please everyone, scotch pleases only itself. It takes time to make a good scotch, and the best things take time and planning. It was this he wanted me to understand.


So now whenever I drink scotch, I feel like my dad. I feel like him calmly sipping a drink while reading a book and I feel a deep and abiding calmness come over me.


For I am a scotch too.


What People Drink


WHATS THE LAST THING YOU DRANK?

Your approval.


WHAT DO YOU DRINK ON STAGE WHILE DOING STAND-UP COMEDY?


Well I’d like to drink a 30-year old single but I actually drink Pappy’s Bootshine Bourbon cause it’s what we get for free. Even when I have piles of cash I drink whatever swill they’re pouring cause it’s a matter of principle.



WHAT’S THE FUNNIEST THING YOU EVER DRANK?

Drank. It’s actually called… Drank. It’s an “Extreme Relaxation Beverage”, and It looks just like an energy drink except it does the exact opposite of making you energetic. Why anyone would need this in a state where you can get a prescription for relaxation is beyond me, just make sure you check the label next time you juice-up. Could be setting yourself up for an extreme nap next time you hit the slopes.



WHAT DO YOU DRINK WITH YOUR BEVERAGE?

Water. Lots of water. I tend to get The Hangover strength hangovers and through sheer necessity have discovered that if I am going to drink like I fish I better give the fish some water to swim in. Years ago back in New York I developed a trick that’s probably saved my life a couple of times called “the chug”. When you’re sixteen shots in and the wall is beginning to look like taffy, excuse yourself and go to the bathroom. Once you’re in, cup your hands under the faucet and start chugging water like a thirsty African. Do this every time you go to the bathroom, and in no time you’ll be a perma-pissin-sober-seeming citizen of the world. Much better than blacking out, and far cheaper.



WHAT DON’T YOU LIKE TO DRINK

Gin. Can’t do gin. Back in college I got real hammered on Bombay and ever since I just can’t do Gin. In fact even the mention of the juniper berry makes me a little sea-sick… Oh God I think I’m gonna lose it…



WHAT ARE YOUR GO-TO BEVERAGES AT HOME

Scotch. And my girlfriend’s a big wino, so any adult grape-juice we have around will do too.



WHAT DO YOU DRINK WITH BREAKFAST

As much coffee as I can. Typically the dregs of yesterday’s pot will be waiting so I’ll throw those in the wave while I percolate a fresh batch – it’s not about taste, it’s about waking up. And then I’ll have a bowl of something.



WHAT IS YOUR DESERT ISLAND BEVERAGE

“Ben Morrison’s Castaway Surprise” – Coconut water, urine and hope!



COCA-COLA OR PEPSI

Coke. But frankly I’d love to find those faceless sodas they drink on old TV. I remember an episode of Family Ties where Alex goes to the fridge and pulls out a “cola”. I want one of those.



CAFFEINATED BEVERAGE OF CHOICE?

Your approval.


Staples In My Head


Summer. Times Square. I had just finished a monster night of shows at Sweet Carolines and was lookin’ to mingle. Having long since finished the jack-and-cokes I got paid with, I convinced Anthony, the venue’s plump owner, to let me make my own. We all called Anthony the Beaver, cause he looked like one.

Given the rare opportunity to Ben-size my beverages I quickly made two Jack-with-a-splash-of-Coke’s and drank them with a smile. It was going to be a good night.

Infront of the club my cell phone rang – it was Andrew, my old roomate. “Yo Benny” he said, “I stole a key to the roof, let’s kick it”. He and I had lived in an apartment with a killer roof-deck some time ago, and the idea of boozing up there again was very appealing.  “I’m on my way”, I said, and with a click of my CD Walkman, set off for the subway.

Gliding at 140 beats-per-minute I wound through Times Square’s pre-apocalyptic river, as bourbon and adrenaline canoed through my veins. Making it to the 42nd street station I trotted downstairs giddy with the night ahead. As I rapidly approached the ticket-booth a warm creschendo of techno lifted my heart, and I jumped for joy. And then everything went black.

I was in the fetal position, and people were looking at me, that much I knew. Wobbling to my feet I touched my hand to my head in a daze, and it was covered in blood. Oddly I was most upset that this was going to make me late for the roof but when a huge NYC Thug walked up to me said “Yo. You fucked UP”, I knew this was serious.

Looking behind me I saw what happened – While jumping for joy I had launched my head into a low overhang, a sign for which was displayed so prominently it could have happened in the “Caution Low Overhang” station. Muttering expletives under my breath I held two bloody palms out to the woman in the ticket booth, and she called an ambulance with the nonchalance of ordering Dominoes. Once the EMTs came they asked what had happened. “Wheww hu see”, I slurred, “I whas jumping fah joy and I shmmashed mahead.” Just then my phone rang – it was Andrew. “Yo B, where you at?!” he asked, “Imma be a leetle late” I said, and then the EMTs made me hang up.

The New York City emergency room is not a nice place. Hallways lined with unlucky figures stretched endlessly into a beeping trench of shitty neon. Stepping over people who could be either sleeping or dead, I made my way to a dingy doctors office with a dingy doctor in it. “What HAPPENED?” He beamed. “Jussslike I saaaid – I was jhuuumping far johy!”. He paused, looking at my wound. “I’m going to have to shave your head.” “Noo!” I shot back, “Noo shave mahhead. Imma comedian… needmahair. What else you got?!” He looked around the room quizzically and settled on a staple-gun resting on a table. “How about staples?”. I paused, and for an instant the Staples commercial ran through my head and I thought “Yeah, we got that”.

He picked up the staple-gun and placed it to my dome. Gripping the handle tightly he slowly pulled the trigger, and with a KrrrCHUNK, began putting staples in my head. After twelve or thirteen had been laid across my cranial-gash, he wrapped my entire head with gauze, which bloodied as if I had survived a bombing in a middle-eastern market. After making me promise I wasn’t going to party any more he released me into the night, free to pick up where my head had left off.

Hopping out of the cab minutes later Andrew looked at my bloody-head-wrap in disbelief. “That’s a good look for you”, he said. Handing me a beer he and opened our old door and slunk through the rapey hallway towards the roof. Climbing up through the hatch on 199 1st Ave. the city lay out before us like an old friend that we could always crash with. Taking a long, cool sip of my beer, I hopped in place, finally content with my evening.

“What was that?” Andrew asked.

“Just jumping for joy…”

Funny People’s Pub



FUNNY PEOPLE’S PUB

I suppose I should start by saying that I wasn’t planning on becoming a stand-up comedian. I was going to theater school and got real drunk one night and apparently booked a gig. I guess I was sitting next to the booker for a comedy club, and although I don’t remember how, I talked my way into stage-time before passing out in the bathroom. You think you do weird things when you’re drunk.

ACT 1 – THE BOSTON

Located above an Irish Pub in the heart of NYU country, The Boston Comedy Club was often described as a crack-house-ski-lodge-with-jokes. A dingy horizontal room built around a small stage, The Boston had a long back couch and a motley bunch of aspiring young comedians drinking in the wings. Lined with the headshots of those wise enough to get out while they still could, The Boston was the de-facto spot to spend an evening scribbling out crappy jokes and talking smack by the back bar. Offering half-price drinks to its regulars, The Boston became a home-away-from-home as it was both the only stage that would take us and the only place we could actually afford to drink.

It was a great time to be 22. Nights ended with the sunrise over West 4th as the other comedians and I would rip each other’s fetal jokes into the dawn. Ronin, the Irish bartender whose accent became more coherent the more Jameson you drank, laughed with us until morning and pointed us to our trains when it was time. Like most 22-year-olds, I was virtually immune to hangovers and would go to whatever work I had conned my way into with a smile. In fact, I even got a gig playing a drug-addicted teen in educational anti-drug theater, until they fired me for being too “in-character”. I was good.

Seeking to get more stage time, I took over the Wednesday night show at The Boston and got the club to give my patrons four-dollar apple martinis. (Sex and the City had just come out and we hoped we might help the process). Getting the audience of NYU students and homeless vagrants nice and trashed, the Wednesday shows were some grade A mayhem. Once a gigantic recently-released-from-jail comedian went mental when they turned off his mic off at 2 AM. Stumbling into a rage he destroyed the club and threatened to kill everyone in it, except myself. Right after he left I bragged to a waitress that he had forgotten me, when of course he popped his head back in because he didn’t forget me, and yes, I was also to be killed. We made up sometime later.

I miss The Boston because it represents a time in my life when I wasn’t old enough to understand consequence; I partied and hit the stage simply for the love of those things. Now, if I’ve had a crap day I’m likely to drink to get me further away from the experience but back then I’d drink to get me closer – closer to understanding, closer to funny, and closer to the Montrose avenue L-Stop, which you’d have to be a little drunk for because that shuttle-bus only comes every thirty minutes. In the snow.

The Boston is closed now. Having moved away from New York years ago I look back at that time in my life with a cloudy nostalgia and a smile. Eight years later I’m still a comedian, and still a drinker, and I’m damn proud to say I didn’t understand how much I loved either, until I found The Boston.

ACT II – THE ROAD

Now three years into stand-up, it was becoming increasingly clear that boozing at the Boston would only take me so far. Unless I made it out of the orphanage soon, I would run the risk of becoming yet another artifact on that long back wall. It was time to hit the road, the asphalt dream of limitless adventure and thirsty ears throughout the country. If it doesn’t kill you, the road will harden you into the boozy humorist you dreamt about becoming after your first crappy set.

Freshly dumped by a vindictive Dutch girl, I bought a shady Honda off a shady Craigslist ad and set off for Kentucky. My first “circuit” started at Louisville’s Comedy Caravan, and I was to follow up with a week of one-nighters on stages and in beds throughout the Ohio / Kentucky / Indiana area. The money was crap but I was starved for adventure. Little did I know how much awaited.

As it turns out, on the road, people really like to buy you drinks. As my fellow comedian Adam Richmond says, “When you’re funny, people want to buy you drinks, and I, personally, have a free drinking problem.” Following my first show at the Comedy Caravan I had a gaggle of locals extending fresh jack-and-cokes for my sipping pleasure. Back in New York no one bought me drinks, but here free drinks would appear in quick succession as the price of admission for middle-America’s finest to ask questions to the big-city comedian : “Hey man you ever get mugged up in that city? No? You ever mugged someone? Want a drink?” “Hey man you buddies with Jerry Seinfeld? You are?” (I wasn’t) “Want a fresh one?”

Drink after drink I was falling in love with the road. I celebrated on the Saturday show by sleeping with an overweight mom, recently separated from her husband because he tried to shoot her with a shotgun. I told this to Rich Ragains, the local I was performing with, to which he replied in a Kentucky drawl, “That’s not too uncommon ‘round these parts, she probably said something.”

After doing my shows at the Comedy Caravan, I then put my liver to the test at Bear’s Place in Bloomington, Indiana, which is famous for its four-shot opus: The Fuzzy Bear. Standing on stage I could see the legion of frat boys sipping from their bear-shaped goblets, and it was only when I began drinking them myself that I was able to deal with their constant heckling. Hell, two Fuzzy Bears in and I was an honorary alpha delta drinka and could swear I saw some of the geese painted on Bear’s old-timey curtains take flight.

Say what you will about alcohol, you’re gonna meet someone. I recently did a show in Florida and had the good fortune of having a guy called Boston Bob be my driver. Hailing from the south-end myself, Bob and I were immediately old friends and hit the town with Good Will Hunting force. By the end of the weekend photos of me in a Hooters outfit hit the internet. Because I put them there.

I think my good friend Ben Gleib put it best when he said “When we drink things get blurry, and blurry people look just like your friends look blurry, so it feels more like home.” And that’s the adventure. Being a comedian on the road is constant new-kid-syndrome, and you’re funny. As soon as you’re getting tired of high-school you blow town and by sunset you’re the small-town hero of the kegger you’re performing at. Not bad for a theater-major.

I had always known that alcohol was a great social lubricant, but on the road it’s WD-40. Since that first tour I’ve gone on the road countless times and I’m convinced there’s no better way to sip through our fun-loving country. Bourbon in Kentucky, beer in Colorado, Hooters in Florida – each place has its specialty and crappy jokes go with all of them. It’s Kerouac meets Fear and Loathing.

If the road has shown me one thing, it’s that no matter where you are, people are great when they’re having a great time. With a laugh and a beer you can meet just about anyone. If you’re kinda funny and up for an adventure, you’ll see things you’ll always remember. Even when you want to forget them.

ACT III – THE IMPROV

It’s 10:45 on a Wednesday and I’m standing outside the Hollywood Improv. Dave Attell nervously paces next to me as he chain-smokes and goes over his set in his head. Mike and Reggie, the Improv’s awesome door guys, take tickets with a smile as the line for the show stretches past the cigar-club a couple of doors down. The energy in the line is nuclear; word is Chapelle might drop by and I can hear people in line calling each other “bitches” already. Giving me a fist-bump and a hello, Mike peels open the rope and lets me in. I’m just hanging out tonight.

Opened in 1974 by Budd Freidman the Hollywood Improv has played home to comedy’s superstars for the last 30 years. The vibe is electric but lacks LA pretension you can smell like Jersey cologne. “Where else can you stumble from a bar to work?” Freidman says. It’s Cheers for comedians.

Back at the bar I sit down next to Daryl Wright, who I’ve known since the Boston. He’s a skinny black comedian with great jokes and a slight stutter. No matter how much he drinks, he never seems drunk, but maybe that’s because he’s drinking all the time.

“Cheaper than cocaine” he says to me, tipping back another Bud Light Lime. “Sure is”, I say. Eddie, the older of the two bartenders comes up to me and places a whiskey coke and bar-snacks in front of me. “Thanks Eddie.” I say, popping bar-snacks into my mouth. I love Improv bar-snacks. My intestines do not.

In the hallway, Daryl and I can hear a comedian getting yelled at for bringing a fire-dancer on stage during his act without asking. I look at Daryl and he gives me a, “white boys are crazy look”, and I nod back. Because we are.

The Improv is everything I love about being funny and not being in AA. The perfect blend of bar and stage, it has the familial feel of the Boston, without the chaos, and the adventure of the road, without the traveling. It’s a place where everybody looks after you, even when you attempt to host the ten o’clock after an all-day pub-crawl. If Daryl is driving you home, you’ve had too much to drink.

Picking up my whiskey-coke, I head into the hallway leading to the showroom. On the way I pass a guy in a silver-body suit rapping with Craig Robinson, the big black guy from the Office. I met Craig a couple months ago when I stumbled into the empty showroom and he was playing piano. We sang about a bird, and it was good.

I step into a group of comics at the end of the hallway. Some talk smack, some look over their notebooks. A cute girl walks past us and our eyes turn in unison as if she has magnets in her pockets.

Scottie, the guy that runs the Wednesday shows comes up to me. “Hey man, we had a dropout, you wanna do a set?” I perk up. This has just become a work-night. A month ago I gave Scottie a framed portrait of a granny I found on the internet for his 30th birthday. This was him paying me back.

Setting my drink down, I try to shift from fun to focus; you never know who could be in the audience. “Every comic that hangs out there is hoping someone will drop out and they will either get a spot…or a movie deal.” Says Iliza Schlesinger, winner of the most recent season of Last Comic Standing. She’s living proof. A week ago, Budd Freidman himself was in the audience and pulled me aside to tell me that I was talented and “shouldn’t say f*ck every other word”. Apparently my language had been profane, and Budd Freidman pointing this out was as uncomfortable as my profanity had been.  “TV clean.” I tell myself, “8 mile.”

But what to talk about? I pat my pocket to find I’ve forgotten my notebook, which means I’m gonna have to wing it. “Don’t panic.” I say to myself, “Just open your mouth and funny stuff will come out.” Scottie pops his head around the corner. “You’re next.” He says. “Ross is getting off early”. I peek my head into the showroom and see Jeff Ross ending a monster set in front of a packed house. He looks so goddamn calm. I wish I was that calm.

I slip through the double doors and set my drink on the console trying to think of something funny. “Don’t put your drink above the mixer.” The showroom manager says. I take it off. No time to banter, the host is back on stage and the second he says my name it’s on. I make a set-list in my head. “Amsterdam, shrunk-to-a-gay, theater-school? No. Open with theater-school and run into Amsterdam, close with shrunk-to-a-gay. Don’t talk too fast.”

All of a sudden everyone’s applauding. The host has said my name and I gotta move. Finishing my drink in a single gulp I put in on a random audience member’s table as I walk to the stage. For some reason I flash back to when I got fired from doing anti-drug-theater, and I think I’ll begin with that story. The crowd seems rowdy enough, I’m with good people.

Taking the mic off the stand, the whiskey and coke hits me with a gentle pat. I look over the faces of the people staring back at me and take a slow breath. I feel like I’m on the Moon. Moving into the center of the stage I place myself under the brightest center spot

and find myself smiling. I want to tell these people everything. I feel they want the same.

A guy in the front row sips an apple martini trying to avoid making eye contact with me. He’s obviously self-conscious about drinking an apple martini and I think back to the Boston when it’s all we had. “The man in the front row is uncomfortable because he’s having an apple martini.” I say to the audience. “But it’s fine with me.”

I reach down to his table and grab his drink. Holding it aloft for the crowd I take a big sip.

“Just fine indeed.”