It was twelve years ago today that I posted my first-ever blog entry about Ella. I hadn't met her yet. I was traveling on the West Coast. Laura was visiting her parents outside of Chicago. The neighbors asked if she would adopt their puppy. She said yes. History was made.
Laura flew Ella home to New York, and I didn't meet her until I arrived home a couple of days later. It was love at first sight, of course. This is the first photograph of Ella I ever took:
We've had plenty of ups and downs over the yearshealth issues, food allergies, several moves, dog attacks, bouts of fearfulness, surgeries, and, worst of all, bursbut through it all, Ella has remained a sweet, lovable, adventurous, bouncy, curious, intelligent, regal, goofy, strong-willed but good-hearted dog.
She's slowed down a little, but she's still in good health, and she'll still give a squirrel a run for its money. Here she is now, at age 12, in a photo taken by her dogwalker:
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!
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.
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."
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.
My first summer job was in a cabinetry shop. I worked there all three summers throughout high school. My boss was a crusty old shop teacher whose sense of humor and store of aphorisms had stopped evolving on approximately V-E Day.
He could be one mean sonofabitch. In fact, I can't watch Reservoir Dogs without thinking about him because he looked so much like Lawrence Tierney and said things like "My way or the highway" in so similar a way.
But sometimes he would saunter up and tell a joke, deadpan, like that one with the punchline: "No, you idiots. Pie are ROUND." Then he'd allow himself a tiny smirk of satisfaction and walk away.
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.
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 comicseven 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.
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 canthere are still a few dates remaining on the tourbut 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."
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.
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.