Inhuman Swill : Comedy

Michael Ian Black: NOTED EXPERT on Epix
It was a magical moment. That's how Barry put it, and who am I to disagree?

Barry Goldblatt is my friend and literary agent. He also happens to be literary agent to actor/​comedian/​author Michael Ian Black, with whom you may be familiar. This past November, Barry took a small group of us—me, Laura, and Colleen AF Venable—to see the taping of Michael's new standup comedy special at John Jay College in Manhattan.

Now, this happened to be the very next day after my book release party for The Accidental Terrorist, so 1) I was still on a pretty big high, and 2) the comedy outing felt almost like a continuation of the party from the night before.

As the line of showgoers entered the auditorium, a woman we called the Sorting Hat directed each little group to the exact row where she wanted them to sit. "Are you big fans of Michael Ian Black?" she would ask, before sending the young and attractive college students to the front of the house and the rest of us to the anonymous back middle. She needed the audience to look good and enthusiastic on TV.

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Caffeinated Confessions of Mormon Comics, Throckmorton Theater, 24 April 2016

Greetings from San Francisco! I've been meaning to blog about this crazy week for a while now, but this crazy week keeps getting in the way.

I arrived here yesterday afternoon, having flown from Baltimore after visiting a book club in York, PA, that was discussing The Accidental Terrorist. I'm telling you, you haven't lived until you've faced a roomful of strong professional women who all want to tell you what they think about your book. Fortunately, the comments and questions were uniformly thoughtful and perceptive. I wouldn't trade that experience for the world.


Sunday, April 24, Mill Valley, CA

But the week is far from over! Tonight I'm delighted to be joining the incredible Bengt Washburn and his Beehive State Boatrockers for an evening of standup comedy, storytelling, and loud laughter:

Sunday, April 24, 7:30 pm
Caffeinated Confessions of Mormon Comics
Throckmorton Theatre
142 Throckmorton Ave.
Mill Valley, CA 94941
Tickets: $21 to $36

Bengt will headline the show, I will tell amusing anecdotes from the mission field, and we'll hear from comics spanning the spectrum of views on Mormonism: Abi Harrison, Christian Pieper, Spence Roper. It's going to be a truly telestial evening. I hope to see you there.


Wednesday, April 27, Ridgewood, Queens, NY

By Wednesday I'll be back home in Queens, and I'm honored to be kicking off the debut of the Wednesday Night Reading Series at the monk, a fabulous Belgian beer bar in Ridgewood. Joining me is poet extraordinaire (and science fiction editor) Emily Alta Hockaday.

Wednesday, April 27, 8:00 pm
Wednesday Night Reading Series
the monk
68-67 Fresh Pond Rd.
Ridgewood, NY 11385
Admission: free

the monk is an easy walk from the Fresh Pond Road stop on the M line. Join us, expand your beer palate, and take home a new reading list!


Thursday, April 28, Forest Hills, Queens, NY

Last but not least, Line Break—the eclectic live literary magazine that I host at Q.E.D. in Astoria—has been given its own evening-long stage at the Queens Literary Crawl in Forest Hills!

The Queens Literary Crawl (which benefits the Queens Book Festival) is an amazing assemblage of more than a hundred literary luminaries all reading on various stages throughout Forest Hills on one magical night. One $9.99 ticket gets you access to it all, which includes our special Line Break stage at Aged Restaurant.

Don't miss the amazing lineup of writers we've assembled, including Jacob Appel, Marleen S. Barr, Carey Bernstein, Jeremy Blutstein, Malcolm Chang, Keith R.A. DeCandido, Alex DiFrancesco, Nancy Hightower, Robert J. Howe, Rajan Khanna, Barbara Krasnoff, Ilana C. Myer, Richard Taylor Pearson, and Sarah Riccio! (And of course I'll be there too, as both host and reader.)

Thursday, April 28, 7:00-10:30 p.m.
Line Break Reading Series @ Queens Literary Crawl
Aged Restaurant
107-02 70th Road
Forest Hills, Queens, NY 11375
Tickets: $9.99 ($20 at the door)

Aged Restaurant, like all the Queens Literary Crawl venues, is near the Forest Hills/71st Ave stop on the E/F/M/R subway lines. You have no excuse for not joining us!


Whew. That's it for my crazy week! Or is it? Stay tuned.

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Caffeinated Confessions of Mormon Comics, Throckmorton Theater, 24 April 2016

I'm delighted to be joining the hilarious Bengt Washburn and his Beehive State Boatrockers on April 24 for an evening of standup comedy, storytelling, and loud laughter. It all takes place at the Throckmorton Theatre in Mill Valley, California!

Here's the official spiel:


Sunday, April 24, 7:30 pm
Caffeinated Confessions of Mormon Comics
Throckmorton Theatre
142 Throckmorton Ave.
Mill Valley, CA 94941
Tickets: $21 to $36

We invite you to join us for Caffeinated Confessions of Mormon Comics: a night of bare-knuckled satire and stories of downward spirals. On this night, 6 comedians and story-tellers from all over the country gather at the Throckmorton Theatre in Mill Valley, CA, to tell jokes about the good, the bad, and the crazy parts of Mormon theology and culture. With a lineup consisting of active, inactive, and ex-Mormons, the jokes come from a wide range of perspectives, but are unified by the idea that, for at least one night, a little loud laughter might not be all that bad. (If you're worried about being offended, you probably will be.)

Headlining the show is the brilliant Bengt Washburn. He's been seen on Conan and Comedy Central and was the winner of the prestigious San Francisco Comedy Competition.

Also featuring:
Christian Pieper (Boston Comedy Festival)
Spence Roper (Limestone Comedy Festival)
Mike Grover (Second City)
Abi Harrison (Bob and Tom)

And special guest, author and storyteller William Shunn (The Accidental Terrorist)

Make sure to stick around for the Q&A session and the very special "Happy Ending."


Tickets start at $21. Get yours here, and I hope to see you at the show!

And if you need any added enticement, here's a sample of some of the Mormon-related material from Bengt's act:

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William Shunn at Up Comedy Club, April 17, 2013
A couple of days ago, I directed your attention to "Caffeinated Confessions of Mormon Comics," a comedy showcase that Bengt Washburn periodically organizes in different cities.

The reason this show is on my radar is that Bengt has invited me to participate in an April 24 edition of "Caffeinated Confessions" at the Throckmorton Theatre in Mill Valley, CA. I'm ridiculously thrilled for the chance to be part of this, taking the stage alongside real, working standup comics—even in the capacity of a storyteller, which is what I will be, relating the tale of my missionary misadventures.

The problem is, live storytelling in front of an audience of strangers terrifies me.

This is not a theory. This is a fact. I have no problem telling a story for a small audience of friends, and I have no problem getting up in front of an audience of strangers with a script in my hand. But when you ask me to wing it in front of those same strangers, even when I have all the bullet points of my story firmly in mind, it's classic stage fright. My mouth gets dry. My hands shake. My lungs constrict. My tongue thickens, and the words fall out of my head.

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Trump vs. Bernie (Anthony Atamanuik and James Adomian)
But Bengt Washburn is not my only comic friend you should be paying attention to.

Anthony Atamanuik (perhaps best "known" as a Silent Writer on "30 Rock") is the other hardest-working man in comedy. He's been touring the country lately in the persona of Donald Trump, debating James Adomian's Bernie Sanders in the sharpest, funniest piece of political comedy I've seen in a long time.

You should see them live if you can—there are still a few dates remaining on the tour—but the great news for Anthony and James and all of us is that, according to The Wrap, Fusion is launching a "new cross-platform video series that will see the Republican billionaire and the Democratic socialist senator argue over the issues driving the 2016 presidential election."

Fusion's "Trump vs. Bernie" partnership kicked off last night with a hilarious Facebook livestream of Trump and Sanders kicking it together in a hotel room as the Super Tuesday returns rolled in.

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Caffeinated Confessions of Mormon Comics: Thursday, March 24, Wiseguys, Salt Lake City

Comedy-lovers in Utah, you owe it to yourselves to get to the Wiseguys Comedy Club at the Gateway in downtown Salt Lake City on Thursday, March 24.

The remarkable Bengt Washburn is bringing his posse, the Beehive State Boat-Rockers, for an evening called "The Caffeinated Confessions of Mormon Comics."

If you have an irreverent bone in your body, you'll love this show, which features Christian Pieper, Abigail Harrison, and Spence Roper alongside Bengt himself, telling hilarious stories you'll never hear over the pulpit at testimony meeting.

I first met Bengt in the early '90s, when he was just starting out. He's one of the funniest, hardest-working people I know, so I hope you'll turn out to the show, or see one of his solo sets on March 25 and 26. You'll be glad you did.

[ Bengt on Conan O'Brien ] [ Bengt talks circumcision ]

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On his new comedy tour, Lewis Black has been reading rants submitted by fans at the end of each show. On November 8 in Oklahoma City, he read a rant from 18-year-old Trevor Sepulvida of San Diego, who had just sent in his resignation letter to the Mormon church.

The rant is brilliant, profane, delightful, and irreverent in the extreme. If you're Mormon, it may well singe the ears right off your head. We desire all to receive it. Bow your heads and say "Yes."

People: Video of Political Comedian Lewis Black Reading Teen's Mormon Church Resignation Letter Goes Viral on Social Media

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Grand motherfucker

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My apologies if you've already seen this. Months ago—way back in March, as a matter of fact—I conceived of a poem that would incorporate hiphop-style rhymes with science fiction storytelling and would be called (as I knew even then) "Grand Motherfucker." I would write the poem sometime over the spring or summer, then perform it at the September 4th science fiction edition of Tuesday Funk.

I made a few notes, but somehow I managed to not start working on the poem in earnest until late in the morning of, er, September 4th. I worked furiously for the next few hours, finally suturing up the last rhymes at around 5:30 pm. The show began at 7:30.

Better late than never! Here's how the poem went over last Tuesday night. Or perhaps how it went down. I hope you like it.

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Every sperm is sacred

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Here's a Daily Show story from last week that just about made me spit a tooth across the room. It's about the amendment State Senator Constance Johnson attempted to add to Oklahoma's odious "personhood" bill. The amendment would have tacked this language onto the bill:

[A]ny action in which a man ejaculates or otherwise deposits semen anywhere but in a woman's vagina shall be interpreted and construed as an action against an unborn child.
This video segment was the first I'd heard about the proposed amendment, and I'm embarrassed to say that it took me until partway through to realize that Sen. Johnson was making an absurdist pro-choice statement with her amendment. Then the story was twice as funny as it had been before.

Video link: "Bro-Choice" from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart

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The obligatory SXSW recap post

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Into the belly of the beast
I keep not finding time to post about my trip with Laura to the SXSW Interactive conference last month, but it was a swell time and I should probably jot down a few memories before a) they become totally instead of just mostly irrelevant, and b) they fall completely out of my head.

Laura has been to SXSWi a few times before, and she was adamant that I should come with her this year to feed the programming consultant side of my brain. We bought our memberships and booked our hotel last summer. We flew to Austin on the morning on March 8, the day before the conference started, which turned out to be a good idea in several ways, the first of which was entirely accidental. We ran into our good friend Scott Smith of Chicago magazine in the departure lounge at Midway that morning. With him were Andrew Huff of Gapers Block and Steve Prokopy of Ain't It Cool News. We were all on the same flight, and we ended up riding the bus from the airport into Austin together and all trekking to Frank for lunch (the only time that weekend we were able to get in, incidentally). We were also able to go to the convention center that afternoon and pick up our badges in fairly short order. The next day, lines at registration were a couple of hours long.

The panels themselves were varied and interesting. I attended discussions of augmented reality, artificial intelligence, smarter algorithms for pinch-and-zoom on touch interfaces, social/local/mobile services, online privacy, and even more abstruse topics. These panels all seem fascinating in retrospect, though I'm afraid that at the time most of them suffered from the problem of not quite living up to the promise of their descriptions in the program guide. Very useful stuff that, at worst, got me excited about doing more iOS programming.

There was time for entertainment, too. We made it out to Skinny's Ballroom to see Scott and Andrew (along with 18 other readers) participate in 20x2, an evening of two-minute readings. (They both crushed it. By which I mean they were good.) I saw a hilarious panel on comedy podcasting featuring Kevin Pollak and Doug Benson and others, and I attended Rainn Wilson's (sadly hit-and-miss) presentation about his spirituality site Soul Pancake. I managed to get into my own top pick of events, which was a live taping of Marc Maron's WTF podcast featuring Jeffrey Tambor. But it was Laura who scored the coup, using her Amex membership to get us a free pair of tickets to a special Jay-Z concert at Austin City Limits Live. ("HOVA! HOVA!")

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