Friday, April 29, 2011

Tales of Woe From the West Coast (Part 1)

Last thing I remember
I was running for the door
I had to find the passage back
To the place I was before
"Relax," said the nightman,
"We are programmed to receive.
You can check out any time you like
But you can never leave."

--The Eagles
"Hotel California"

Shortly before I moved to San Diego, I became friendly with an openly gay television actor. He's not a household name -- it's not Neil Patrick Harris or TR Knight -- but he's a recurring character on a well-known and long-running series. Let's call him Donald.

Donald had stumbled upon my Therapy show one Sunday night and introduced himself afterwards. He was a fan of stand-up comedy and very much wanted to try it himself sometime. I told him I'd be thrilled to have him on the show, and we eventually became casual friends.

I liked Donald and still do. He's kind and warm and easygoing and has none of that phony Hollywood persona I find so repellent. He really plays no part in this story other than the fact that it was he who introduced me to the person who figures prominently in the first of my two West Coast Tales of Woe:

My manager.

Yes, folks, for one brief, shining moment, I had an actual professional business manager. Or least I thought I did. 

His name, for the sake of this story, will be Bruce Crenshaw. Bruce was Donald's manager and had been for years. He lived in L.A. but was in New York on business one week and had accompanied Donald to Therapy to see my show. Later that week, the three of us went to dinner. 

Bruce was exactly what you'd expect of a Hollywood business manager: Jewish, late 40s, with a hangdog look, a sardonic, slightly sour sensibility and a straightforward way of speaking. 

"I think you got something, kid," Bruce told me. (I don't know if he actually said, "kid," but that's how I would write it if this were a movie.) "You're likable. You got charm. I could see you doing TV stuff. Hosting -- that sort of thing. Look me up if you ever come out to L.A."

I was, of course, on Cloud Nine. But I also figured, when the hell am I going to be in L.A.?

Actual picture of me taken that night.

Fast forward six months. I'm living in San Diego with BW and have recently begun reaching out to all my L.A. industry contacts (of whom there are about three). Bruce is, of course, among them, and I shoot him a friendly email. He writes back immediately and says to let him know when I'm next in L.A. Later that week, I get my first L.A. club booking. A gay comic there is hosting a new show called "Thank Gays It's Friday" at the Laugh Factory and offers me a spot. I immediately let Bruce now, and he and I arrange a meeting at his office in West Hollywood the afternoon of my show. I am over the moon. (Which is somewhat higher than Cloud Nine.)

A few words about the drive from San Diego to Los Angeles: It's brutal. It's only about 130 miles, but somehow it never takes less than three hours and can easily take as long as five. The closer you get to L.A., the shittier it gets, with endless road construction, terrifyingly narrow, windy lanes and constant, hideous traffic. Before I moved, I had this crazy notion that I could easily commute between the two cities should my burgeoning show-biz career require it. Now I understand it's the equivalent of living in Philadelphia and commuting to New York. Which, I guess, some people do, but I could never be one of them.

(Actually, I just Mapquested it; Philly to New York is easier -- only about 95 miles. Still shitty, though.)

Ugh. I still get nauseous at the memory. What a shithole.

But none of that mattered to me as BW and I inched up the 405 in his black Honda Civic (whom we named "LaHonda"). I was on my way to my first Hollywood meeting. With someone who might want to represent me professionally. This was a major milestone.

I remember what I was wearing. Having watched countless episodes of "Entourage," I knew that Hollywood was all about dressing down, but in a chic, fashionable way. So rather than wear slacks or a tie or something dorky like that, I was dressed in my most expensive gay jeans and a tight, olive-colored graphic t-shirt. I was tan and in good shape and still in my 30s. I looked good.

This was not taken that day, but it's more or less what I looked like 
at the meeting. Except I didn't walk into the meeting holding a microphone.

BW and I pulled up to Bruce's office. BW dropped me off and then drove off to shop or get coffee or have sex with a stranger or something. (Just kidding! I'm sure whatever he did during my meeting was entirely wholesome.) I was met in the lobby by a quintessential Hollywood assistant -- a young, cute, perfectly dressed gay boy who acted like we were old friends but had a simmering undercurrent of hostility. He ushered me in to meet Bruce and his partner. 

The meeting lasted about a half hour. I don't remember anything we discussed because I completely left my body during the course of our conversation. This happens sometimes when I'm greatly excited about something. It used to happen to me whenever I got onstage and still does in rare moments -- when everything clicks perfectly and I'm firing on all cylinders. And I was. I was on. Not in a loud, obnoxious, needy way; in a cool, confident, charming "I got this" kind of way.

Given the title of this blog posting, you probably think you know how this story ends. Bruce stands up, shakes my hand, and says, "Not this time, kid. But come back and see us again sometime." I wander out into the oppressive L.A. sun, crushed, dazed, searching in vain for the air-conditioned comfort of LaHonda and the solace of BW's tender, consoling embrace.

That's not what happened. Instead, Bruce said, "Well, I'd love to represent you. Email your head shots and resume to my assistant when you get back to San Diego, and let's start sending you out for stuff."

I was in the stratosphere. This was it: My life-changing moment.

Or so I thought.

(To be continued.)

Homo deluded.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Wake-Up Call


Thought I knew my mind like the back of my hand
The gold and the rainbow, and nothing panned out as I planned
They say only milk and honey's gonna make your soul satisfied
I better learn how to swim cause the crossing is chilly and wide

Twisted guardrails on the highway, broken glass on the cement

The ghost of someone's tragedy -- how recklessly my time has been spent
And they say that it's never too late, but you don't -- you don't get any younger
I better learn how to starve the emptiness and feed the hunger...

--Indigo Girls

You know it's been a long time since I've last blogged when I actually couldn't remember how to log on to this site, or even what the URL was. I confess I've been going through something of a midlife crisis since turning 40 in February. Nothing major -- it's not as if I did something crazy like quit my job, give up my long-running comedy show and move across the country for a guy I barely know. (I already did that when I was 37.)

No, I've just been feeling incredibly... inert. Stuck. Paralyzed. Unable to do anything other than meet the minimum requirements of my life: Sleep. Get up. Go to work. Host weekly Bar-Tini show. Go to the gym. (Not nearly enough.)  Eat. (Too much.) And waste hours and hours of my life watching shitty reality television and checking Facebook and Twitter obsessively.

It's not depression, exactly. Depression is more extreme -- more intense. (And I know whereof I speak. In 2002, a year before I started doing comedy, I quit my job as a daytime producer at Fox News to become the 11 o'clock producer of "Eyewitness News" at New York's ABC affiliate, and I immediately slipped into a debilitating psychological state. I have a journal from that six-month period full of rantings like, "Snap out of it! What the hell is wrong with you?!" and descriptions of my inability to make a dentist appointment. That's how depressed I was: I didn't have the energy to call the dentist and make an appointment to get a cleaning. THAT'S depression.)

This is actually what got me through it.

No, this feels more like existential laziness. Like when I was a teenager and would come home from high school and collapse on the sofa staring blankly at "General Hospital" and "Oprah" until my father would mosey on in from his home pediatric office into the den and scream, "No daytime TV!" at me until I'd tell him to go fuck himself.

Dear Ol' Dad.

I just don't know what to do with myself lately. Or more accurately, I do know what to do, but I can't seem to do it. "What to do" -- what I should do -- is to get my ass in gear and start working on my career again. ("My career." I always feel so ridiculously campy saying that -- like Joan Crawford in "Mildred Pierce.")  But I don't know what else to call it. My career. This... thing. This drive to become a professional comedian that I started in 2003 -- as a direct result of my Eyewitness News-based depression -- and that has now apparently driven me to my current state of ennui. I need to start working on that again. I need to, but I haven't been able to for a long, long time now.

It's not that I've given up comedy per se. I still do it, after all. I still book and host and promote a weekly show for which I am constantly writing new material. And I still get booked to perform at other places -- some terrific places, actually, as seen by the list of my upcoming gigs. And I still love doing it. Truly, I do. After eight years, I still love walking onto a stage, telling original stories and having people laugh at those stories. It makes me feel like I'm using the best part of myself. (As opposed to the aforementioned reality TV watching, which makes me feel like I'm using drugs. And not in a fun way.)

What I don't do -- and haven't done for over a year -- is to work on the business side of comedy. Which is the side I hate and the side at which I am truly terrible. I am the opposite of a Hollywood type. I don't know how to schmooze. I don't know how to network. I don't know how to "brand" myself. All I know how to do is work hard and be funny, and, as I have learned over nearly a decade of this business, neither of those qualities has much to do with success.

This became most apparent to me during my brief and ill-fated attempt at living on the West Coast. Two really traumatic things happened to me, career-wise. I've never blogged about them because A) It's considered really bad form when an aspiring performer tells everyone how badly his career is going -- "Hey everyone, look at what a fucking loser I am!" -- and B) When I say "traumatic" I'm not exaggerating. These were things that kept me awake many a night and contributed in no small way to the disintegration of my relationship with Boy Wonder. They changed me. They hardened me. They turned me from a starry-eyed, plucky optimist into a bitter, jaded old Joan Crawford-like shrew.

Last night I had Leah Bonnema over for drinks. Leah is a new friend of mine -- someone I've gotten to know in the last year. She's not only a terrific comedian -- recently named to "favorite female comic" lists on both the Huffington Post and College Candy -- but also a genuinely lovely person.

Anyway, I rambled on for several hours about my existential bullshit and terrible tales of West Coast woe, and after listening to it, Leah gave me her version of tough love. (Which is actually rather gentle.) She pointed out that the people who make it in this business are the ones who get the door slammed in their faces 1,000 times... and keep knocking until they find the one door that opens.

Which of course I know is the absolute truth. But maybe I need to be reminded again and again.

Leah also told me that she thinks I shine as a performer when I do the news headlines every week at That Sank Show, as well as when I host my little "Are You Smarter Than a Homo?" game show there. Before she stumbled off drunkenly into the night (after a total of one vodka-soda), Leah made me promise that I'll start videotaping these segments every week and putting them on YouTube.

So I will. I promise. And thank you, Leah.

I also realized, after she left, that I need to let go of what happened to me on the West Coast. And the only way I've ever known how to do that is to blog about it. And so I will... next time. I promise.

And thank you, Leah.

Homo Emerging From Cocoon. ♥   

Don't miss THAT SANK SHOW tomorrow and every Wednesday night at Bar-Tini Ultra Lounge! This week's lineup is headlined by Christian Finnegan (Comedy Central Presents) and features Shawn Hollenbach and Joanna Ross! Details here.