Inhuman Swill : Mormonism

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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Watching Tyler Glenn's video for his new solo single, "Trash," the anger is palpable and inescapable. But it also brims with pain and grief.

"Trash" exploded across the online Mormon world last week, causing the faithful to recoil and apostates to jump up and down in a fever. Glenn is the lead singer of Provo's Neon Trees. A lifelong member of the LDS Church, he made headlines two years ago by coming out as gay in the pages of Rolling Stone. He still believed, though—until six months ago, that is, when the church issued draconian new guidelines for the ecclesiastical treatment of children of same-sex couples.

Now comes "Trash," a video in which Tyler Glenn drinks liquor from the bottle, spits on a defaced portrait of Joseph Smith, enacts all four of the secret handshakes from the temple endowment ceremony, draws a red X on his face, and ultimately crumples amidst a blizzard of printed pages possibly meant to represent Mormon scripture.

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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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CJAD 800 AM, Montreal
This past Sunday morning, I appeared on Montreal radio to talk about The Accidental Terrorist. Specifically, I spoke with Dave Fisher on CJAD 800 AM, whose program "Dave's World" is the most popular weekend radio show in Montreal.

Of course, it was a phone interview, since I'm not legally allowed to travel to Canada. But at least my voice can travel north of the border, even if my body can't.

A big shout-out, by the way, to the excellent writer Michael Libling, who brought me to the attention not only of Mr. Fisher but also of Peter Anthony Holder, who interviewed me last fall for "The Stuph File Program."

Listen to the CJAD interview below:

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Mardi gras cake with baby Jesus
You may not be aware of it, but today is the day that many Mormons believe to be Jesus Christ's actual birthday. (Happy birthday, Mormon Jesus!)

It also happens to be the 186th birthday of the LDS Church, which was officially founded on April 6, 1830. I'm old enough to remember the church's much-ballyhooed sesquicentennial year (1980), and I certainly hope to live long enough to see it turn 200 in 2030. (Not that I'll be celebrating. I just have no wish to die that soon.)

This got me thinking. Back when I was a lowly 12-year-old deacon, 150 years seemed like a long, long time, especially relative to my age. But now I'm 48, which means that I have lived through a full quarter of the church's history. A mere four 48-year spans will take you back to before Joseph Smith sprang the Book of Mormon on an unsuspecting world. That's a remarkably brief period of time, historically speaking, especially for the lifetime of a church that I was raised to believe was the be-all and end-all of human existence.

My mother, at 70, has lived through well over a third of that history. My grandmother, who passed away a couple of years ago at 95, live through more than half. That's how young the LDS Church really is. All of Mormon scripture, doctrine, history and culture arose during two of my grandmother's lifetimes.

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Tarring and feathering of Joseph Smith
The term "anti-Mormon" is tossed around too lightly.

A few months back, I linked to a video in which Lewis Black read an angry rant submitted by an 18-year-old Mormon apostate named Trevor Sepulvida. A week after the video appeared online, Jana Riess of Religion News Service casually called it "anti-Mormon."

One of my old mission companions emailed me recently to share his impressions of The Accidental Terrorist, which he wanted to read because I wrote about our time serving together. He generally enjoyed the book and had only minor quibbles with what I'd written about him. But, he told me, he skipped the chapters about LDS Church history because they were "anti-Mormon."

My own sister is one of many church members I've heard call the Broadway musical The Book of Mormon "anti-Mormon," sight unseen.

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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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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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Association for Mormon Letters
I was very pleasantly surprised to wake up this morning and discover that The Accidental Terrorist is a finalist for the 2015 Association for Mormon Letters Award in Creative Non-Fiction. Okay, it would have been more accurate to say that you could have knocked me over with a feather.

The Association for Mormon Letters has been around for 40 years, fulfilling its mission to promote and study literature "by, for, and about Mormons." I honestly have no expectation of winning (and as nice as it would to attend the awards ceremony in Hawaii, I probably won't be able to go anyway). Being nominated is reward enough for me, as the inclusion of my book on this shortlist speaks volumes to the organization's willingness to push the boundaries of Mormon literature to include works that try to honestly address all aspects of the Mormon experience, even ones that may not be faith-affirming.

Thanks, AML! Best of luck to all the nominees.

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William Shunn

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