Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Kitchen Nightmares

When it’s time to change, then it’s time to change
Move by the time come along for the ride, don’t you see
When it’s time to change, you've got to rearrange
Move your heart to what you're gonna be.
Sha na na na na na na… sha na na na na na!

--The Brady Kids

I'm redoing my kitchen. From soup to nuts. Everything but the kitchen sink -- and also the kitchen sink.

Let's first get the "whys" out of the way:

1) I own my place. (Duh.) Anything I do to make it better adds to the value of the apartment.

2) The kitchen is a wreck. It was assembled, seemingly out of cardboard and Elmer's glue, long before I purchased the condo in the year 2000. The cabinets and countertops are made of cheap, plastic laminate that is warped and stained. The appliances -- save for the fridge, which I replaced about six months ago -- are antiques. I have very little counter space and exactly one drawer (ONE DRAWER! IN AN ENTIRE KITCHEN!) which is too small to fit my utensils.  To put it plainly, the whole thing sucks.

3)  The mice have returned. For at least the third time in the past decade. I know because I can smell their piss and see their turds whenever I open the cabinet under the sink, and several weeks ago two of them ran through my living room holding hands. And yet, I cannot manage to catch any of them in the numerous glue traps I have set out all over the apartment like mini-landmines. Nor are the sonic rodent repellers I bought and plugged in having any impact. These mice have evolved to a point where they come and go as they please, invulnerable to any and all deterrents, and I'm fucking over it. I've plugged all visible holes with steel wool. And still they come. So if it takes ripping every goddamn thing out of my wall and adding 10 lbs of reinforced concrete and every dollar I have to keep them out, so be it.

Please die.

As for the "hows," I've opted to go with Home Depot for the entire renovation.

1) It's one-stop shopping; my designer, my contractor, my appliances, my countertops, cabinets and all other materials -- it's all there on West 23rd Street. I have neither the time nor the energy to go running all over the Metropolitan area picking out tile from this place and door handles from that place and a stove from this other place and so forth. I live alone, and I have a fulltime day job and what's left of a comedy career to which to attend.

2) Home Depot is not the cheapest (by a long shot), but it's reasonable, and their stuff lasts (unlike, say, that of Ikea, which, a number of people have told, me falls apart in six months).

3) Before I began this project, I solicited advice from people on Facebook... and heard every possible opinion under the sun. In the end, I went with Home Depot. I'm not soliciting any more advice at this point. Seriously. Don't give me any, or I'll kill you (along with the mice).

The "whens:"

1) It's already begun, sort of. I've met with the designer (a Ukrainian named Pavel) and the contractor (a man of unknown origin named Anuar). We've all agreed on a loose design, and I've purchased my new appliances (all stainless steel) and put down a deposit on the rest of it.

2) This Saturday, I meet with Pavel and Anuar again at Home Depot to finalize the design and pick out all my materials -- cabinets, countertops, flooring, backsplash, etc. I have no idea what I'm doing and am freaking the fuck out.

3) Once the materials are ordered, Anuar and his team will come in and demolish my kitchen (and block the mouse holes). Then it takes up to six weeks for the materials to arrive. So basically, for up to six weeks, I'll have no kitchen. This is a problem as I'm probably the only New Yorker who cooks. But I'll just have to eat a lot of take-out for a while.

The new design. The island won't look much like the one in the picture, though.

The "how much" and the "before and after" photos.

1) Stay tuned.

Homo stressed.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Redemption at the Elks

No I cannot forget where it is that I come from I cannot forget the people who love me
Yeah, I can be myself here in this small town
And people let me be just what I want to be.

--John Cougar Mellencamp

So once again, I knocked it out of the park at the Summit Elks Lodge. I don't quite understand it. Maybe it's simply because they know who I am. Maybe it's because I grew up in Summit, so I "get" people there and what makes them laugh. Or maybe it's just dumb luck. But for the fourth time in two years, I've sold the place out and delivered an all-new set to literally thunderous acclaim.

And God, did I need it.

Yes, I know nobody's laughing in this photo. I wasn't on-stage at the time.

I was handed a gift from God shortly before showtime. A girl I knew from high school -- let's call her Carly -- came up to me to say hi. "You remember my older brother." And there, standing in front of me, looking ridiculously hot, was one of the most frightening bullies from my childhood, Jason. (Also not his real name.)

Jason and I had both attended Camp Skoglund, an all-boy sports camp in Maine run by my elementary school principal, Wilbur Nelson, in the summer of 1980. It was a fucking nightmare. I feel like I've blogged about it at length before, but I can't find any such post, so here's the Cliffs Notes version:

1) It was all sports, all the time.

2) We had mandatory skinny dips in the lake on a regular basis.

3) Most of the counselors were anti-Semitic, as well as homophobic.

4) I was, well, me.

I was bullied constantly. I was taunted, teased, punched (on at least one occasion) and otherwise ridiculed.

How insane was it? Allow me one brief anecdote:

I had brought a little tape recorder to camp with me. I used it to make silly audiotapes, collaborating with other outcast campers like myself. One time, we made a parody of "60 Minutes." I was Dan Rather. (The fact that at age nine I was familiar with Dan Rather, let alone "60 Minutes," should give you some idea of how big a freak I was.) At the time, Dan Rather would always end the show by reading viewer mail. So on my tape, I did the same.

"Dear Dan," I said. "I am writing to complain about your story from last week..." and so forth.

One night, while I slept, some of the counselors found my tape recorder, listened to the "60 Minutes" parody, and taped over key parts of it. By the time I listened to it again, it sounded like this (and I recall it verbatim):

"Dear Adam: You promised me a blowjob several weeks ago, and you haven't given head once yet. What the fuck is your problem? Faggot!"

Nice, right?

Another one:

We had a camp log, written by the counselors, that was read in its entirety on the final night of camp. Here's a choice passage I remember:

"The following Saturday, the campers went to a parade in Boothbay Harbor. Adam Sank and Randy Schwartz followed the parade, hoping to pick up as many pennies as possible."

Randy was the other Jewish boy at Camp Skoglund.

And you wonder why I became a comedian?

Anyway, of all my fellow campers, Jason was the scariest. I don't recall actual physical violence from him, but there were constant threats and intimidation. His hatred for me was visceral. And I spent most of the summer trying to stay the hell out of his line of sight.

So flash forward 30 years, and he's sitting in the audience at the Elks lodge watching me perform comedy. I took full advantage of the situation.

"I understand some old friends of mine from childhood are here tonight -- Carly and Jason Kale! Carly, I have such great memories of you... doing theater together, and singing in choir together. And Jason, I have such great memories of you beating the shit out of me...!"

After the laughter started to die down, I continued.

"...Pushing me down in the dirt and calling me a 'faggot....'"

Another wave of laughter, before I added: "You were right, by the way. And if you'd like, I can prove it to you after the show."

The place exploded. I had 'em. And I would keep 'em for the rest of the night. It was like shooting fish in a barrel. Anytime I said something remotely homoerotic, all I had to do was tag it with, "Right, Jason?," and the crowd would go wild. As my brother-in-law, Bill, put it, I was in the sweet spot.

Happy Comics: Me, Veronica Mosey, Naomi Ekperigin and Mike Cannon.
The crowd loved them, too.

After the show, I greeted Carly and Jason again. I must say, he was good-natured about it. We hugged. But apparently he had accused Carly of giving me advance notice of his attendance. Neither of them could believe I had come up with all that stuff so fast; but I explained that that's what comedians do. Good ones, anyway.

All in all, it was a pretty wonderful night, and a reminder that there are still thrills to be had in this crazy business.

Now if I can just get Jason to come to every show.

Homo vindicated.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Crisis of Confidence

Are you on fire?
From the years...
What would you give
for your kid fears?

--Indigo Girls

A long(ish) pause since my last blog, yes. If you recall, when we left off, I was about to open for Martha Wash at Joe's Pub -- a gig about which I was feeling much excitement and trepidation. So how did it go?

It didn't go great.

It didn't go horribly, either. I mean, I don't think I embarrassed myself. The crowd just didn't quite know what to make of me. At the end of the day, I was opening for a (famous) singer at a music venue, which is not the ideal circumstance for a comedian. (It would have also helped had somebody at Joe's Pub introduced me. There is nothing worse than walking out on-stage in front of a cold crowd that isn't there to see you and basically being like, "Hi, I'm a shithead you've never heard of, and I'm going to tell you some jokes for the next 15 minutes while you wait to see the person you did come to see.")

Who the fuck is Adam Sank?

There were several other mitigating factors. It was ridiculously hot in the theater, and by the end of my 15 minutes, I was drenched in sweat. I thought perhaps it was just me -- but when I joined the crowd to watch the rest of the show, I realized it was hot everywhere. Prior to my set, I had not been allowed in the dressing room with "Ms. Wash" and her band but was rather made to stand in the service area, where I was repeatedly trampled by passing waitstaff. And as previously mentioned, there was no introduction for me. In toto, a rather stressful situation, and not one conducive to going out on-stage and blowing the roof off.

My dear friend, the infamous party promoter Daniel Nardicio, was among the crowd that night and tried to convince me, in his own backhanded way, that it didn't go as badly as I thought. "It wasn't that they didn't think you were funny," he explained. "They just didn't know you were a comedian. It felt like you were just the host, making a few remarks before you brought out the main act."

"Look," he continued, "I would tell you if you were really terrible. I mean, maybe I wouldn't. But you weren't."

Gotta love that old party goat.

Still, here's how I know it didn't go that well:

In the weeks leading up to the event, I was in regular email contact with a guy from the PR company handling the event. He was, for all intents and purposes, the show producer. Let's call him Frank. Anytime I emailed Frank, right up to the day of the event, he emailed me back immediately. And he was the one who greeted me when I arrived at the theater.

After the concert -- Martha was amazing, by the way -- I saw Frank backstage. I shook his hand and said, "Thanks, that was so fun!" His reply was: "Adam." Just that. My name. Accompanied by a frozen smile.

I got home that night and reflected on everything that had gone down. Had I chosen appropriate material? Had I been upbeat and energetic? Had I done exactly the amount of time they told me to? Had I mentioned Martha Wash a number of times during my set, acknowledging that the audience had come for her? Yes, yes, yes and yes. Perhaps I was being too hard on myself. I did my best, goddammit! Who could have done better, given the situation? Frank's reaction to me after the show probably had nothing to do with me -- he was probably busy and worrying about other issues.

Feeling somewhat relieved after this self-pep-talk, I dashed out an email to Frank the next morning:

Hey, Frank.
Just wanted to thank you again for last night. It was an honor and privilege to open for such an amazing artist. I hope to work with you again sometime soon.
Thanks and best,

Adam Sank
Comedian, Actor, Lover of Salad 

That was 12 days ago. I still haven't gotten a reply.

So yeah, it didn't go great.

This is only the latest chapter in a larger crisis of confidence through which I've been suffering for months now. It's certainly not the first of such crises; self-doubt is an inherent characteristic of most performers. In my experience, the only performers who never doubt their talent pretty much suck on-stage, and they're in total denial about it. But this is one of the longest and most debilitating of such periods since I started doing stand-up nine years ago.

To put it bluntly, I just don't feel all that funny lately.

Writing comedy has always been a challenge for me, as it is for everybody who tries to do it. But in the past, I could always rely on bursts of inspiration to keep me going. And lately, I can't. I wrote about this last month, and the problem is still happening. The creative voice is quiet. And when it does speak -- when I do get an idea for a new bit and work it out in my head and feel like, "OK, here's something great!" -- I bring it to the stage, and it fizzles. So I don't trust that voice anymore, and I'm kind of like, "Fuck you, Voice! When are you going to get funny again?"

And that leads to fear of going on-stage. And fear is death for a comedian. If you don't believe in your voice, nobody in the crowd is going to either. Comics are salespeople, first and foremost. And you can't sell a product you know is shitty.

Oh shit -- Donna Summer just died. Nobody's going to care about my stupid little pity party today.

RIP, Donna.


Something needs to change soon. Either I need to get over this shit, or I need to throw in the towel and admit that after nine years, I've gone as far as I can go in comedy, and it's time to find a new outlet for all my restive creative energy.

I have two important gigs this weekend -- my semi-annual show at the Elks lodge in my hometown and New Hope Pride, at which I'm opening for Poppy Champlin. So let's see how those go.

Homo at a crossroads.

P.S. I about to totally re-do my kitchen. I'll tell you all about it next time, and I promise it'll be less depressing than this ca-ca.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Martha and Me

It's raining men!Hallelujah, it's raining men... Amen!

--The Weather Girls

Tonight I open for Martha Wash at Joe's Pub -- one the most prestigious gigs I've had in some time. For the uninitiated (read: heterosexual) among you, Martha was one half of the Weather Girls, who sang the gay anthem quoted above. She also provided the lead vocals for C + C Music Factory's "Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)" and some of Black Box's biggest hits, including "Everybody, Everybody," which was actually my coming-out song. More on that later. Martha later went on to have a solo career.

You go, Ms. Martha!

I am incredibly excited, but also nervous as shit. Opening for a hugely famous and/or legendary performer is a tricky business. (And I should know, having opened for both Roseanne and Jennifer Coolidge.) On the one hand, nobody's there to see me. In a sense, it doesn't even matter how my set goes, because I'm only the amuse-bouche, sent out on-stage to tickle the crowd's appetite for the main course.

Jennifer and me at Comix in 2010.

Roseanne and me at Comix in 2007.

On the other hand, I consider it a great honor to be asked to perform with people of this stature, and it's also a showcase of sorts for any industry people who might be watching and could potentially offer me future work. I want to do my absolute best.

Or, to paraphrase RuPaul, I don't want to fuck it up.

As luck would have it, I have a rather lengthy coming out story that tangentially involves the song "Everybody, Everybody." And I expect the crowd to be at least 50 percent gay men. So I've decided to use that story -- edited down and with the Martha Wash angle played up -- as the bulk of my set.

It's a risky proposition, basing most of one's set on a single story. Kind of an all-or-nothing gamble, actually. Because if I were to get up and just do a standard comedy set, sprinkling lots of little jokes throughout, the odds are enough of them would land to qualify it as a "good" set. Whereas when you spend eight or ten minutes on a single story, and (God forbid) the crowd's not with you... you're fucked. But when I first started thinking about this gig, this is how I saw it going down in my head. So I'm going to trust my instincts. (Also, I've performed the story twice so far, and both times the reaction has been outstanding. It's my most "liked" video on YouTube. And even though it's a single narrative, there are a lot of little laugh lines built into it.)

And now, since nobody has asked, here's my take on the current season of "American Idol."

This has been an odd season for me in that I've watched every single episode and yet still feel utterly disengaged. Maybe I'm just too old to care anymore, but honestly -- does it really matter who wins? When was the last time we heard from Taylor Hicks, Ruben Studdard, or any of the other winners aside from Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood? They're all pretty absent from today's pop culture landscape.

That said, the talent this season is off the charts, isn't it? I feel like any one of the people remaining -- skinny teen whore Jessica, closeted gospel gay Joshua, perennially constipated Phillip, improbably accented Hollie and the just-booted Sky-Lab -- could have been the American Idol in past seasons. I can't decide whom to root for, although if you held a gun to my head, I suppose it should come down to Jessica and Joshua. (And really, I've grown tired of Phillip's shtick, though I wouldn't mind seeing his stick.)

Nobody should ever make this face.

Much has been made recently of the fact that none of the three judges seems willing or able to offer any real criticism of the singers, leaving all of the heavy lifting to turkey-faced Jimmy Iovine. Frankly, I think the show would do well to trash all three of them and just make Jimmy the single judge, perhaps with a rotating stable of celebrity singers.

Also, Ryan Seacrest has to stop pretending he's straight. Girl, as Martha Wash would say, "Have we got news for you!"

Wish me luck tonight.

Homo washed. 

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Hairy Situation

To shave-a da face,
to pull-a da toot,
Require da grace
and not-a da brute
For if you slip and nick-a da skin,
you clip-a da chin
You rip-a da lip a bit
And dats-a da trut!

-- "Sweeney Todd"

I'm not all that hung up about getting older, at least not for a gay guy. I mean, I do wake up some mornings and think, "Holy shit, I'm forty-one?! How the fuck did that happen?!?!" But I still look and feel more or less like I have since early adulthood. With one notable exception: My hair.

And not just the kind on my head.

Yes, I'm balding in the back, and some of the side hair is starting to grey. And that's a drag. But again, from the front, I look basically the same as I always have. (Or do I?)


Is it me, or has my nose shrunk?

No, the real problem is the hair growing everywhere else. On my ears, out of my nose, over my eyes, and let's not even get into the nether regions. The older I get, the hairier I get... and in all the places I don't want any hair. What could possibly be the evolutionary benefit of nose and ear hair? Feh!

And it's not just more hair -- it's coarser hair. Like fishing line. GROWING OUT OF MY FUCKING EARS!!!

To avoid turning into Andy Rooney, I have had to adopt regular and rather tedious grooming techniques. Every two to three weeks, I now get my hair cut and buzzed at Erik's Barber Shop on 10th Avenue. When I visited them last week, the barbers at Erik's asked me to give them a plug, and I'm happy to do so.

I've been going to Erik's for over ten years -- ever since they opened their doors. The place is staffed by a bunch of vaguely related swarthy, Russian Jews. I used to see either Larry or Tony, but then Larry moved on. Now I get my hair cut by Tony or Nathan (pronounced nuh-TON). Nathan is forever studying Hebrew from a children's workbook, and he loves to talk to me about comedy.

"How is the theater?" He always asks when I sit down for my usual high-and-tight.

"The comedy is fine," I always reply, hoping he'll learn the word. He never does.

"I have joke for you," he usually says.

Here's one of the jokes Nathan told me:

"The leedle girl. She is at school. And she have her period for first time. And she is crying. And the leedle boy see her in hallway. He say, "What is wrong?" And the leedle girl say, "I don't know. I am bleeding." And he say, "Well, let me see. Maybe I know what happen." So the leedle girl spread her legs, and the boy look, and he say, "I don't know what happened, but it look like someone cut your balls off!"

I actually tried telling this joke on-stage once, Russian accent and all. It didn't go over very well.

Tony, on the other hand, is less interested in my comedy than in my gayness, which he finds alternately fascinating and horrifying. Long ago he taught me the Russian word for gay -- "goluboy" -- which literally translates as "light blue." Apparently, light blue is considered a really faggy color in Russia, the way pink is here. "Ya goluboy" loosely translates as "I'm a fag," and I say it every time I see Tony, which makes him laugh.

Once when I came into the shop, Tony asked me which channel I wanted to watch on his little TV set. When I said CNN, he replied, "You sure? You sure you want CNN? You sure you don't want Gay-NN?"

I told that story at Carolines once, with Tony in the audience. It killed.

Once or twice a month, I visit Unique Threading in Chelsea to take care of the ears and eyebrows. (I used to go to Cinderella Spa on 125th Street, but it became a bit of a schlep and rather embarrassing to be the only white and male person there every time.)

Getting threaded at Cinderella.

When I was younger, I used to shave between my eyebrows to avoid the dreaded unibrow, but this resulted in eyebrow stubble (and in one unfortunate instance, accidentally shaving half of my left eyebrow off). So now I thread.

Threading, for the uninitiated among you, accomplishes the same result as waxing, but it's supposed to age you less than repeated waxing, which pulls your eyes down over time. In threading, the Indian lady takes a thread and twists it, like one of those rubber-band-propelled toy airplanes I played with as a child. Then she holds the twisted thread over my eyebrows and releases it in spurts, with each spurt tearing multiple hairs out at a time. It feels like being stung over and over again by tiny bees, but the results are lovely.

The goal, by the way, is not to look like a woman or a drag queen, but simply to look clean and fresh. If done properly, an eyebrow threading comes off looking like a minor facelift.

Then it's time for the ears. For this, the Indian ladies at both Cinderella and Unique use hot wax, which actually hurts a lot less than the thread. Using a little popsicle stick, they rub a little wax on a section of my ear, apply a small white square of paper, and then RIP!... before moving on to another section. This process is insanely satisfying for me, especially at Unique, where they are positively OCD about getting every last hair. I leave each time with the ears and eyebrows of a newborn baby. I love it.

Actual photo of me after leaving Unique Threading.

I've saved the most arduous and annoying process for last: Shaving my face. Again, this has gotten progressively more difficult over the years as the hair on my face has become darker, thicker and coarser. It's reached a point now where I simply cannot shave my chin and neck completely smooth, even using  a combination of scorching hot water, moisturizer, fancy shaving cream and my beloved Gillette Sensor Excel blades, which cost more than their weight in gold. I shave and I shave and I shave, and still, the whiskers remain. Also, the sink looks like a crime scene afterwards.

So why not just grow a beard, you ask, as in the photo above? Because, dear reader, a beard requires constant maintenance, lest I look like a terrorist. Beards have to be shaped daily -- carefully, meticulously shaped -- and you still have to keep your neck completely shaved. (There is nothing more hideous than a neck beard.)

I keep thinking that at some point, I'll just give up all these obsessive grooming habits -- that my desire for comfort and relaxation will overtake my desire to look young and pretty, and I'll just let myself hit the wall.

But for now, I'm holding on.

Homo groomed.