To the Editor of Money Magazine

I was dismayed to discover that your list of the fifty best jobs didn’t include any in entertainment (and only one that was on the creative side– creative director). I’m a stand-up comedian and I wouldn’t trade my job for any other (not even for my high school job– working at an ice cream parlor with unlimited on-the-job eating). While there are aspects of my profession that an audience doesn’t see (marketing– working to get booked, for example) there’s nothing like getting paid to brighten people’s days.

Sure, not everybody can do my job (it takes talent as a writer and performer, plus years of practice) but neither can anybody just get into medical school, pass the bar exam or become an engineer.

Making a list of the best jobs but leaving out the creative ones is like having a list of the best places to live but excluding all the coastal states. But then I notice that “Magazine Editor” didn’t make the list either– maybe you’re just not that happy. Not a problem… I know just what you need… come to a show!

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posted on 2/8/08

For every person about whom you think “He’s awful, why is he getting opportunities that I’m not getting?” there’s someone else saying the same thing about you.

Comics, if you’re gonna eat it* on stage, try not to do it when the waitresses are in the room.

This is especially true for the waitress you have a crush on.

This is possibly even more importantly true if one of the waitresses is dating the booker.

Try not to have a crush on the waitress dating the booker.

If you can’t help it, try even harder not to mention the crush to anyone.

Don’t assume that the writer of this piece has a crush on a waitress, or that any particular booker is dating someone working at the club.

Don’t even assume that comedy clubs HAVE waitresses.

* comedy slang for having a terrible show

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How to Audition

posted on 1/30/08

People have been asking me about auditioning for Last Comic Standing, so here’s what I know.

I was the first NY comic to audition for Last Comic Standing II. And I was way not ready– very new in stand-up. While waiting to go on stage I thought of an addition to strengthen my opening joke, an addition I still use. And I promptly forgot about it when I nervously stepped on stage. The judges Bob Read and Ross Mark, who book The Tonight Show, were very nice to me; I didn’t realize how nice until I watched the show and saw how they treated some other auditioners. I made them laugh a few times which isn’t as easy as it sounds at 10 AM (7 AM on the L.A. time they were living on) in front of people who watch comics for a living. And as I sat next to them at the call-backs I saw them sit through many comics without laughing much at all.

They asked me if I were nervous because I was performing for only two people. I said “No, I’ve performed for audiences half this size” which got a laugh. Two, actually.

One thing I noticed at the LCS II call-back show is how tight most of the sets were. That is, instead of getting a story started, then set-up, set-up, punchline, the comics who did well had almost every single sentence get a laugh. A punchline would also set-up the next sentence and it would flow from there. So a three minute set would have well more than fifteen laugh lines. It was a great show to watch as well as educational and inspiring. And quite humbling for a new comic.

AND– they weren’t just looking for comics– they were casting a reality show– so the comics not only had to be funny, they had to reveal who they were. And that’s not easy to do in three minutes and still fit in fifteen to twenty punchlines.

First of all, realize that a comic may get only two or three sentences– if the first set-up is too long, or the first joke doesn’t hit– you may not get a chance to continue. So put the shortest, strongest jokes up front.

Secondly, have to have at least something that not only says “Laugh at this, it’s funny” and “I know what I’m doing and I’m ready for prime-time TV” but also says This is who you are and what you’re like and why you should be allowed to continue.

Thirdly, one does not want to end up on the blooper reel– where they show comics looking ridiculous. (well, some people want to be on TV so badly they don’t care, or they don’t realize they’re being made fun of– and if on a network TV show they show you for eight seconds and had to bleep you six times, or they followed your attempt at a joke with a shot of the judges’ blank stares, yes, they’re making fun of you).

So to avoid ending up on the blooper reel I have gone through my jokes one sentence at a time to eliminate anything that might not sound good out of context. Specifically one joke has a punchline that works well with the set-up but the punchline alone sounds creepy. Cross out that joke.

Then it’s Avoid any joke that is on a common theme. For example, I may have the greatest “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” joke (I don’t; but I do have a decent, original one that fits my persona) but I’m sure that as the two hundredth auditioner they will have heard jokes that start with “What happens in Vegas…” ten times already, and number eleven isn’t going to thrill them. Same with references to penises, breasts, TV commercials, the TV shows that the NY auditioners are/were on (“Law & Order” and “The Sopranos”), X is different from Y (NY/California, men/women, black people/white people, etc.), contrasting ethnic backgrounds especially if they rely on offensive ethnic stereotypes (I’m half black and half Jewish so I’m really good at raising my own bail money, kind of jokes, and yes, I realize that half of that comment is more offensive than the other half but that’s what first came to mind as I type this– I’m not that good at writing offensive jokes)…

Then I cut out any sentence that’s unnecessary. A bunch of blogs ago I questioned whether it’s better to have a three sentence joke that gets 80% laughter or a two sentence version that gets 60% laughter. And while I still don’t have the answer for audiences, for auditioning I go with two sentences and 60%.

Then I get on stage as much as I possibly can in the next week and a half to practice my two minute audition set plus my four minute call-back set.

Then I show up at the audition and I hope that I have the set of my life. Twice in a row.

Knock ’em dead, everybody that’s trying. I want all of us to rock. Good stand-up raises it up for everybody. And good stand-up on TV gets more people to come see our shows. And I want NY comics to dominate as we should– after all, NYC is the center of stand-up comedy.

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A Few Good Men & a Few Others

posted on 1/5/08

My mother sent me the link to a study reporting that drinking low-fat or non-fat milk may lead to cancer.

Thanks, mom. I read the same newspapers you do, and then some. You know what causes cancer? Not dying of something else first. Sure, some things are known carcinogens: Smoking. Having a job wrapping asbestos around pipes. Frequent sex with YWG.

So. An early study claims ~ … Unless the study reported something like “We fed low-fat milk to forty subjects, and thirty seven of them burst into flames” I’ll think I’ll wait until the outcome is replicated in further studies.

I didn’t get a chance to read the study or to submit it to my panel of experts. But perhaps it’s what they were drinking milk instead of that’s the problem. Maybe they were drinking low-fat milk in place of wine. Or beer. Or Erbitux. And maybe, just maybe, the people who drink regular milk are mixing it with their Kahlua or Baileys and that, too, knocks down some cancer.

To whichever idioticalite at the Clinton campaign who thought it was a good idea to load six buses full of supporters on a narrow sidewalk right outside of Grand Central Terminal at 5 PM on a Friday: Get a clue. The sidewalk is only two people wide there– don’t pick a street leading to one of the busiest train stations in the country. Three blocks up or one block over would’ve worked much better. Or at least you could’ve had them line up single-file.

Hillary, you ought to know better. You claim to be a New Yorker– you’ve ‘lived’ here over a decade. And you’re FROM Chicago. I expect this behavior from someone who grew up in one of the forty six states without people. But you? I know, you don’t spend a lot of time walking by yourself around Manhattan. You’re driven by Secret Service agents and followed by your posse, or whatever non-rappers call hangers-on.

If you plan to run the country like you are running this part of your campaign then I’m voting for someone else. It’s the little things that piss people off.

I get it. It’s not your fault. You don’t dictate the logistics of loading buses to New Hampshire. You leave that to lower-ranked people twelve levels down from you.

Oh, you say, why would how some idiotical lower-level person in a campaign affect how she’d run the country as president? That lower-level person isn’t going to become Secretary of State or be appointed to the Supreme Court.

Well, baby Einstein, maybe not. But that lower-level person is going to be offered a job as a mid-level bureaucrat in the Clinton (Mrs.) Administration. And while you think that it’s the Supreme Court and the Cabinet that matter, think of where the decisions are made. There are over six hundred federal District Court judges who each try one case at a time. There are fewer Appeals Court judges and they seem to work in threes. And the nine justices of the Supreme Court? They hear cases together– it’s ONE court. So as a group which do you think has more power?

That lower-level person is going to clog something in the system. Something way more important than the sidewalk at rush-hour on a Friday.

A long time ago I volunteered to work on a presidential campaign. The weekend before Election Day they sent me to hand out campaign literature. My instructions? “Your corner is 86th and Lex. Get to work.”

Yes, baby E, you’d think that someone with a college degree doesn’t need to be told how to hand out flyers. You’d be wrong. Why? Because another guy was given the same intersection and he stood across the street from me at the top of a subway entrance. And what he did was to shove a flyer into people’s faces and say “Snarf Garftarf* for President.” After a few minutes I, the novice campaigner, took him aside and said “Look. This is New York. You shove a flyer in people’s faces, all you’re doing is annoying them. You want them to read this propaganda, not crumple it up and throw it at me when they get across the street. Here’s what you do. Engage them. Ask politely if they’re voting on Tuesday. And then ask for whom. If they say Snarf Garftarf, thank them, tell them they’ve made an excellent choice. If they say the other guy, ask them to read the flyer, maybe you’ll change their mind. If they say they haven’t made up their mind, THESE ARE YOUR PEOPLE. And if they say they’re not voting, ask why, and maybe you can convince them that they CAN make a difference.”

Although, it turns out, the most frequent reason people told me they weren’t going to vote? That they’re illegal. Not “Sorry, I’m not a citizen” or “I’m just visiting your country” or “I have a Green Card.” “I’m illegal.” Not only common at 86th & Lex, but readily admitted. I had no idea. Immigration should volunteer for a presidential campaign, they could probably knock the twelve million illegal immigrants down by a few million. Just here in NYC.

And it turns out, when you shove a piece of paper in people’s faces, nobody takes them. Ask them a polite question, they may stick around. We were the first group to run out of flyers. Which means that all the other teams were as ignorant as my co-hort across the street…

Which may explain why the Garftarf Administration didn’t accomplish much in all its years in office.

And now, with the jokes, comes the whining.

Today, for about the eightieth time this year, someone told me what to do.

Now, if the “You should” is followed by “get off my foot” or “not vote for Ron Paul” that’s good advice.

But if your “You should” is followed by your telling me how to manage my career, and you’re not an entertainment lawyer, or an intellectual property lawyer, or a manager of comedians, or an agent, or writer, or comedian, or club owner, or club manager, or comedy club waitress (comedians who are smart or at least paying attention learn that comedy club waitresses see a LOT of comedians and a LOT of audiences and overhear managers and owners, and know quite a bit about making or screwing up a career), or television executive, or comedy writer, or my mother, then please just shut up.

My mother has the right to tell me what to do. She’s earned it. It doesn’t mean I have to listen to her. But she can say whatever she wants.

Even if it’s “Get on ‘The Tonight Show’ and stop drinking so much low-fat milk, it’s no good for you.” (Nice call-back, huh?)

Because probably, just probably, though for some reason you THINK you know something about the entertainment business, well, you don’t.

That’s why you’re my dentist, not host of “The Tonight Show.”

Saying “You need a good agent” or “You should get on that TV show, what’s it called, ‘Last Comedy Standup'” or “Why don’t you call ‘The Tonight Show’ or HBO and ask if they’ll put you on TV” or “You should create a funny sit-com” clearly demonstrates that you DON’T know how this business works.

I don’t know what compels people to think they know how to write a TV show just because they spend seven hours a day on the couch (or DESPITE the fact that they spend seven hours a day on the couch), or that they know how comedians get ‘discovered’ (hint: we don’t GET discovered. We WORK, and WORK MORE, work HARD, and ACHIEVE success– we don’t just show up once in a while and hope someone ‘finds’ us–- just like any other career- have you ever heard of an oncologist getting ‘discovered?’) but really, doctor, I don’t say things like “You know what you should do? You should figure out what cures cancer and patent it and sell it.” (hint– you want to know what cures cancer? Anti-low-fat milk pills– invent some of those)

Okay, first of all, EVERY comic wants to be on “The Tonight Show”– even Jay Leno is trying to figure out a way to stay on the show past when his contract expires. You don’t just call up Bob and Ross (they’re the guys who book the comics for the show– and if you didn’t know this then maybe, just maybe, you’re not in a position to give career advice to a comedian) and say “Hey guys, I’m ready, what nights are free?” After at least ten years, IF you’re a comedy GENIUS (in the category of comedy genius to get on the show after ONLY around ten years of hard, hard work-– Ellen DeGeneres, Jerry Seinfeld, Steven Wright; sorry, probably not me but ask me when I’m ten years in) MAYBE, just MAYBE, you get a SHOT AT IT.

And you don’t just write a sit-com. Nobody in TV takes a sit-com idea from a new guy. What you do is, you write a spec script for a TV show (that means a script for an existing show, on speculation, because nobody’s paying you for it and nobody will ever buy it). Then you get someone (agent, manager, hot chick that producer wants to bang, blackmailer that has video of said producer and hot chick caught in the act, and the ‘hot chick’ is really a man) to show it to someone at A DIFFERENT show. He says “Gee, it doesn’t totally suck.” It proves maybe, just maybe, you can write for someone else’s characters. Eventually you get a job writing for a show. You write. You get stuff on the air. You prove you can continue to produce under pressure. To write under deadline. To Not Suck.

Then, maybe then, someone will look at your new sit-com idea.

And if it beats the one-in-a-thousand odds, it gets picked up.

Yeah, roughly a thousand-to-one. That’s why the word ‘maybe’ appears fourteen times in this essay.

Or, if you’re really, really talented, and really lucky, you go the Aaron Sorkin route. You work your ass off writing during the day while tending bar at a Broadway theatre at night. Your third produced play gets to Broadway. It’s a hit. You write the screenplay. THAT’S a hit too (“A Few Good Men” as if you didn’t know).

Oh, it might help if mommy or daddy’s a top entertainment lawyer or otherwise already in the entertainment business.

Not a dentist.

But please, unless you ARE Aaron Sorkin, or Jerry Seinfeld, or Jay Leno, or one of their agents, attorneys or managers, how about you finish looking at my teeth or whatever you’re supposed to be doing, and let me manage my own career. It’s going rather well, I must say.

It must be since I flew to the dentist in a new glass cockpit Cirrus SR22 Turbo GTS.

My dentist drives a Saab.

And if you ARE Aaron Sorkin, I’m not going to ask you to read my screenplay (that would be crass) but if you don’t buy me the beer you’ve owed me since 1988 then I’m going to remind you that I stole three bases in one game against your team when we were kids.

* His name wasn’t Snarf Garftarf, but wouldn’t that be a cool name for a president? I’m keeping his name secret (but a family member of his is mentioned in this article and I’m pretty sure nobody named Erbitux is running for president this year)

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How NOT to get booked

posted on 1/1/08

As I look back on last year, and having finally managed to clean off my desk, I wanted to let people who feel not-as-good-about-themselves-as-they-ought-to, to have a reason to think that they’re doing most things right. Because a lot of your competition isn’t.

I produce a comedy show- Ivy Standupsm– it’s not “The Tonight Show” but it’s a pro show at one of NYC’s A clubs as well as a few select places outside NYC.

I get frequent requests from comics to appear in the show.

And for the most part they make my decision pretty easy.

If you’ve ever written a book and looked for a literary agent you know that their slush pile is so big that they’re simply looking for a reason to say no. Spelling errors, wrong genre, not following their submission guidelines… all make it easier for them to toss you aside and get closer to the bottom of the pile with no guilt.

All of us comics want to think you have to be smart to be a comedian. We want to think that. And while I’m sure that some very good comedians are bad spellers it’s certainly not what we want to see. Especially if the show you’re asking to be in is the Ivy League show.

And especially since if you’re emailing us– you have a computer that has a built-in spell-check. USE IT!

I’m not sure how well the grammar-check feature works since I stopped using it a long time ago but if you’re not sure of the difference between to, too and two, you might try it. Or ask someone to proof-read for you.

Secondly, if you send me a video (or a link to a video on the web) please, Please, PLEASE make sure I can watch it without throwing up. I got one video that was so hard to watch… well, let me give you some background. I’m a licensed pilot. Instrument-rated. I’ve trained for a commercial pilot’s license. I’ve done aerobatics. Steep turns. Side slips. Power-on stalls. Spins. Flown upside-down until the instructor said “Enough. Right the plane.”

All this to say I don’t easily get motion-sick.

The best way to describe this one video? It had to have been shot by an epileptic, having a seizure, while drunk, in a tornado, during an earthquake, while sitting on top of a bowl of jell-o.

While being beaten with a Louisville Slugger.

And tickled at the same time.

Seriously, I couldn’t watch it because I was getting motion-sick.

I got another video that started with a wide shot of the stage before zooming in, so I knew it was a big room. I couldn’t see how many people were in the room, and by the sound I figured there weren’t many people there. The comic didn’t get many laughs, and barely any applause. Which is okay– I was considering hiring the comic, not the audience.

But the tape he sent me wasn’t just of him. He included the end of the performer before him, and a bit of the intro of the person following him.

And they got great applause. Which he didn’t. It’s one thing to send in a tape with a quiet audience. It’s another thing to send in a tape that shows that the audience just wasn’t that into you.

If you don’t have a quality video to send, one that is a good representation of how good you are, and is watchable, just wait to send something.

It’s much better than sending something that just sucks.

SUCKS gets remembered. Your career can wait. And my show just isn’t that important. It’s not going to make your career. And if it could? Would you send a crappy tape to “The Tonight Show?”

Yes, we too know how hard it is to get a quality tape. Shows with good sound recording are few and far between– if the audience isn’t miked then it could sound like nobody’s laughing. So you have to work hard to get into a show with good recording.

Pay your friends to fill the club, beg, promise to wash someone’s car. Whatever it takes to get on a show that will get you a good tape.

One in a club, not shot in your basement.

If your mother yells that dinner’s ready, we know it’s not in a club, and that you still live with your mother.

And if a waitress drops a tray of drinks during your set, or a drunk interrupts, or the emcee makes fun of you in his introduction, or the mike cuts out, or you screw up a couple of jokes, or something else goes wrong so that the tape isn’t great?

Pay other friends, wash a herd of cattle, hire a videographer yourself, whatever it takes.

Just don’t send a tape that makes you look like an idiot.

And if you have a good tape and the booker still says no? Don’t write back to say “I’m funnier than you are.” Even if you’re sure you are.

Because I’m not giving up my spot in the show. It’s MY SHOW. Funnier than I am? That’s a given. Otherwise I’ll simply give myself a longer set. I LIKE being on stage. I can fill the time; I have plenty of material.

The question is: Are you funnier than other people in the show? Because if not, why would I bump them for you?

I already know they’re reliable, they’re funny, I’ve worked with them before. They show up. They don’t question my judgment. They can probably spell.

And to be clear, even for those who’ve sent me awful tapes I’ve tried to be constructive and positive, despite it going against my nature (I’m a native New Yorker). So when I write back to say “Thanks for submitting. I can’t use you right now– but feel free to write back in another year– and to be clear, I HAVE put people in the show long after their first query” please don’t argue.

Because while I do give try to give people another shot, I don’t give arguers another shot. Nobody wants to work with a pain-in-the-drain.

A story– a long time ago I tried out for a sports team. It was the U.S. National Dragon Boat team. Yeah, not exactly the highest sport in the U.S. but it was a team representing our country in the World Championship. And in China, where the sport originated, it IS a big sport. It’s like football to them. In fact it is the second most popular sport in the world, China being a fifth of the world’s population. It’s also the oldest continually raced sport around, at almost 2500 years old.

I was living in NY. The practices were in Philadelphia. Five days a week. I came to the team late, and everybody else trying out had dragon-boated before– almost all were on the team the year before, and were active, competitive kayakers or canoeists. I was a rower, quite good but rowing is a different range of motion from dragon-boating.

One day the coach took me aside. Told me he didn’t think I was going to make the team. That he wouldn’t ordinarily say anything, but as I was commuting 2+ hours a day, each way, just the commute alone almost a full-time job, he felt it his obligation to let me know. But that I was welcome to try again the next year, and to stop by if I were in Philadelphia again.

The next night I showed up at practice. He asked why. I said “Pete, I appreciate what you told me last night. It was the right thing to do. And with that knowledge you know that I can’t complain if I don’t make the team. But it’s still my choice to keep trying, and that’s what I’m gonna do, until the selection process is finished and you’ve chosen the team.”

And he understood.

And when it came time to select the team, and he had us race against each other, I won every race, and made the team.

I didn’t just win my races, I trounced people.

I’m sure that if I’d said anything the night he suggested I go home and not come back, other than “Thanks for talking to me,” I probably wouldn’t have gotten the chance to even race for my spot. But I appreciated what he told me, and I didn’t argue.

We made the finals in Hong Kong, beating every other Western boat. Even though we sank in the heats and semi-finals and some of us caught stomach bugs because Hong Kong Harbor is filthy.

To be clear, do not ever swim in Hong Kong Harbor.

If your plane crashes in Hong Kong Harbor and you manage to escape from the wreckage, you might not be one of the lucky ones.

Just saying.

The point is, don’t argue. Just get so good that you’re chosen for the team. TROUNCE everyone else and nobody can question whether you belong there.

Dan Naturman has been in several of my shows. He’s really, really funny, and he’s good to work with. People still ask me if he’ll be in the next show. If he weren’t a nice guy I’d still put him in the show, because he’s a great comic and my job is to put on the best show I can. Within reason. But most others? If they were jerks I’d never have them back. I’d find someone else for their spots.

Dan’s good enough to be a prick and still get booked.

You’re probably not.

To be clear– I like Dan on and off the stage. Don’t misquote me. And he regularly trounces. That’s his job. We all try. He succeeds.

But for you to get booked– have a good tape. AND be nice. And if you’re trying out for a clean, smart show, try to have a tape that’s at least somewhat clean. Not one full of Monica Lewinsky jokes. That’s not only not what I’m looking for, it’s a decade out of date. If I tell you I want “Smart and clean– what’s right for people entertaining clients” and your set opens with “Where my pot smokers at?” I will probably continue watching, but I may not watch the full ten minutes.

I’d rather spend the next nine minutes trying to catch up to Dan.

If you want us to bring Ivy Standupsm to your city, here’s a good way to do it– ASK.

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Overheard Today in the Post Office

Posted on 12/24/2007

Clerk:  I hope Santa’s bringing you something nice this year.
Adult Patron:  Santa won’t be visiting my house any time soon.
Clerk:  Why not?  Are you Jewish or Moslem?
Adult Patron:  No, I’m an asshole.

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“Go To The Mirror, Boy!”

Posted on 11/29/2007

Greetings from Lost Angeles, land of 3 AM traffic jams, metered on-ramps and billboards advertising breast augmentation operations ($2999, if you’re interested; I assume that means for both).  Yes, I know, doctors prefer to call it a “procedure” but technically speaking I think the correct word is “installation.”

Just like when you’re hanging art on the wall.

It took over an hour on the freeway before I spotted a woman driving an SUV who was NOT speaking on a cell phone.  Then I saw her bumper-sticker: “Support Deaf Education.”  I guess that explains it.  Here they don’t just number the highways, they’re very specific that THEIR highways in California are the ONLY highways.  In NYC I often drive on 87.  Here it’s THE 405.

Unless you’re Russian, in which case it’s just 405.

Or you’re Paris Hilton, in which case it’s “Oh, like, I’m not really good in math but I want to go over there.”

Had an uneventful flight, courtesy of just enough frequent flier miles to sit in Business Class.  Where I get a reminder of just how snobby I might be about some things.  Right after take-off they offered drinks (at noon, otherwise known as 9 AM California time), including Champagne.  I love Champagne, and asked what brand it was.  The flight attendant said she’d check but in the meantime she handed me a glass.

It tasted like a penny dissolved in kerosene.  There are a lot of great American wines but nobody’s caught up to the French when it comes to sparkling wine. Say what you want about their lack of military prowess, but they know how to make beverages.  And when you come right down to it, which is more important, anyway?  Yeah, English-speaking countries did bail them out of two world wars, but if it weren’t for the French 230 years ago we’d still be calling soccer “football” and naming our children Nigel.  And doesn’t the world already have enough Nigels?

This time I remembered to bring some CDs to listen to in the car so I’m not limited to news radio or that nutty Dr. Laura.  Whose doctorate, by the way, is not in psychology.  I’m pretty sure it’s in animal husbandry.  My rental Corolla is a cute white car but the sound system doesn’t do justice to the opera I brought.  The Who’s “Tommy” in case you didn’t catch the “Go To The Mirror, Boy!” reference as the title of this blog.  Anyway I think it’s very Californian of me to notice how the car stereo sounds before I say anything about the weather.

My headlining gig was cancelled (nothing to do with me) but the producer said he’d try to find me something else since he heard good things about me. I wonder whom he asked since I never provided him with any references.  Somebody’s due a bottle of Champagne (the French kind, not what American serves in Business Class) but I don’t know who.  Anyway I have a bunch of other performances scheduled and the weather’s nice here despite the ongoing fear of returning wildfires.  Wind gusts of 18 miles per hour are major news here but maybe it’s nothing to do with fires, just warnings about bad hair days.

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Monsters at my Door, a tale of 10/31

If you’re too young to stand up or old enough to drive to the store on your own to buy candy, I don’t mind that you’re with your family at my door.  I even encourage it.  But you shouldn’t be trick-or-treating.  If you’re carrying a 1 year old I know that it’s not your child eating the candy.  If you tell me that I’m wrong then I’m calling the Administration for Children’s Services.

If someone comes to your door looking scary I suggest you make sure they’re in costume.  Otherwise you risk offending a very scary-looking person.

And her husband?  Even scarier.

A kid came to my door tonight in full Home Depot gear.  And by that I don’t mean dressed as a sales associate.  Clearly he was a NASCAR driver.  I understand why NASCAR vehicles have advertising on them.  But your children?  Fine with me. I’m a Home Depot stockholder.  They’re not my kids.  Thank your sponsor for the tiny dividends.

A few years ago I came back from France just before Halloween.  I bought a lot of my favorite chocolate when I was there (Lindt Madagascar– milk chocolate with bits of cocoa beans, like a very, very good Nestles Crunch bar).  That wasn’t what I was giving out, not at $2 a bar for a product unavailable in the U.S.

At 9:45 PM on Halloween I was about to turn off my outside light– the universal signal for “It’s late, go home, you’re too old to be trick-or-treating anyway”– just as the doorbell rang.  I had about ten bars of Halloween candy left, so I figured I’d get rid of most of it and be done with Halloween for this year.

I opened the door and there were 30 kids outside.

The smart thing to do would’ve been to say “Sorry, I have only ten bars left, send the littlest kids forward…” but I didn’t think of it.  And the Lindt was on my dining room table right near the front door.  So 20 kids got really, really good candy.

The next year five thousand eight hundred kids came to my door.

From every country but France and Madagascar.

They all got Nestles Crunch bars.

I remember being annoyed at people who weren’t home on Halloween.  One day a year is all anybody asked.  We didn’t care if they were away on Christmas, New Years, Thanksgiving, the Fourth of July or my birthday.  Just when we rang the bell on 10/31.

So I vowed to be home every Halloween.

Even if Home Depot and Grandparents are asking for candy.  Even if a one year old gets taken away by ACS.

Nowadays kids seem to have Halloween all figured out.  When I was a kid you got together with a few friends and went door-to-door.  These days kids are much more efficient.  They come to the door and the first kid to get candy rushes to the next house.  So that by the time you’re finished giving out candy most of the kids are gone.

Eliminating the biggest impediment to gathering as much candy as possible– waiting for the people to answer the door.  Now when the kid gets to the door it’s already open.

Saving the kids time.  And yielding more candy for each kid over the course of a limited evening.  While the homeowner pretty much can’t leave the doorway because so many kids are coming.

I blame the Bush administration.

Their “The First MBA President” idea, combined with trickle-down operations management, means more kids at my door each year.

Kid, if you can’t interrupt your cell phone conversation to say “Trick or treat” then you’re WAY too important to be going door-to-door for candy.

By the way, it’s really hard to prepare a whole chicken when the doorbell keeps ringing and I’m by myself.  I think my parents are right– it’s time I got married.

To someone who likes answering the door.  Or washing my hands.

Or at least visits France frequently and brings home good chocolate just for me.

And if that doesn’t happen… if your 14 year old daughter comes to my door dressed as Marilyn Monroe, please send her back when she’s 18.  If I’m still single: she can have the Lindt.

As long as she’s not carrying a 1 year old.

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From The Joey Reynolds Show

Due to the good graces of way too many people to name I appear from time to time on the nationally-syndicated Joey Reynolds radio show.

Two months ago it was Joey’s birthday and many of his friends stopped in during the show, which is live starting at midnight (it goes national at 1 AM).

During a commercial break The Amazing Kreskin walked into the studio. Think that guys like Kreskin travel with an entourage? Not when they’re 70.

People there knew him and someone asked how he got home from a recent gig. His response? Something like “It was awful, I got lost in Jersey and it took me hours to get home.”

Not so amazing, huh Kreskin? You claim to find lost objects and people but you can’t seem to find your own house?

Then later, in what passes for the green room at a radio station, Kreskin put down his bag, walked past the food, then said “Where’s my bag? I just put it down three minutes ago…”

The Amazing Kreskin, the great mentalist, mind-reader extraordinaire… couldn’t even read his OWN mind. But he did look around and find his bag. I’d found the roast beef and rye bread, which to me was a far more important feat. His biography hypes his power to find hidden objects. I guess his bag wasn’t hidden– it was in plain sight so maybe that didn’t count.

But Kreskin was a very nice guy.

Or did he simply plant that idea in my mind? I guess we’ll never know.

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 If Only Senator Bathroom BJ Had Read THE CONSTITUTION

Because Article 1, Section 6 clearly states:

“The Senators and Representatives shall receive a Compensation for their Services, to be ascertained by Law, and paid out of the Treasury of the United States. They shall in all Cases, except Treason, Felony and Breach of the Peace, be privileged from Arrest during their Attendance at the Session of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same; and for any Speech or Debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other Place.”

The senator claims he was on the way to Washington, DC when he was detained by the police.  Except that if he knew his rights he could have pointed out that they weren’t allowed to detain him.

One of the few senators who is not a lawyer, Senator Craig none-the-less claims to be a defender of the Second Amendment right to bear arms… but apparently he couldn’t be bothered reading all those words that appear in the Constitution prior to the Second Amendment.

To quote Nelson Muntz of The Simpsons… Ha HA!

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The Answers to Your Questions

I’ve gotten a lot of mail lately and don’t have time to answer it all individually.  Here are the answers– if you asked then you know what the question was.

Yes, even if your wife watches it still counts as gay.

Of course she says they’re real– she’d look like an idiot if she told you she paid for them and they’re still uneven.

Of course not.  If I were trying to kill him, he’d be dead.

Of course not.  If I were trying to kill her, she’d be dead.

I won’t tell anyone.  Why would I admit I know you?

No I won’t give you her phone number.  Didn’t you just spend ten minutes telling me how crazy she was?

I don’t have a sister.
No, it must’ve been someone else you saw in an orange dress on Broadway last night. I look horrible in orange.

No, I don’t think I need to thank President Bush for all the material he’s given me.  It’s been more than offset by record budget deficits, increased pollution, high energy prices caused by the lack of any viable energy policy…

No, I don’t think I need to thank the Clintons for all the material they’ve given me.  It’s been more than offset by the repeal of the equal time rule, a huge decline in respect for the office of the president, the time I’ve spent stuck in traffic at Westchester County Airport when the Clintons flew in and out, high energy prices caused by the lack of any viable energy policy…

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Proud to be an American?

Posted July 4, 2007

Someone recently asked if I were proud to be an American.

I don’t think that pride is the right word.   I am glad to be an American– there aren’t too many other countries that afford anywhere near the freedom and opportunity available here.

But Pride?   What have I done that has created those freedoms and opportunities?  I didn’t help draft the Constitution.   I didn’t create the Industrial Revolution.   I didn’t even help win World War II*.   America’s Greatest Generation?   Nope, I grew up in the Me Decade.
Or was it the Al Franken Decade?   I forget; it was so long ago.

What HAVE I done?  Let’s see- I vote, I pay all my taxes without complaining, I don’t litter or steal or kick puppies and it’s been a long time since I killed someone.  Even though a lot of people have deserved it lately.  I’ve also been part of the capitalist system, making funds flow more efficiently so we can have factories and power plants and buildings and stores that sell really nice-smelling soap.  And money for your retirement– you might have more of that too, partially because of what I’ve done.

Occasionally I also make someone laugh.  Now if you’ll excuse me there’s someone I have to go kill.  He cheated on his taxes and kicked a puppy.

I’m so glad to live here.

*My father did and I am proud of him.

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Dirty Words on TV

“All the President’s Men” was on channel 31 tonight.  In the space of less than five minutes Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee used two different four-letter curse words.

After the initial surprise of hearing the F word and the S word on over-the-air television, my next thought was:

A movie as important as “All the President’s Men” should never be censored.

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As they say, No Good Deed Goes Unpunished, even on-line

A recent on-line dating exchange:

Her (initial contact): Funny and Jewish all rolled into one man..lol wow

Me: Hi.  Thanks for writing.
I don’t think we’re a match, but I wish you the best of luck in your search.
-S

Her: Presumptuous aren’t you ??
I don’t think we’re a match —I didn’t ask you that.  Why would you think that?

Me: Well, I thought that most of the time when people write to someone on a dating site, they’re looking for a date.
I think that it’s polite to say no thank you.  Most people don’t bother writing back, choosing instead to let the other person simply twist in the wind and wonder.  I’m not like that.
I came here looking for someone to love, not seeking an argument.

Her: I wasn’t looking at you for a possible match….but just curious why you say we aren’t.

Me (unsent): Because you don’t handle rejection all that well.

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Ah, the Beauty of a Drunken Beauty

Last night I had two shows at Ha! Comedy Club in NYC.  The first show was well-attended for a Sunday early show.

The emcee did a passable job warming up the audience though he had a bit of trouble trying to have a conversation with a European who didn’t understand his questions (comics– if this happens to you, here’s my suggestion: Cut and run. Say thank you and move onto someone else; don’t try to keep communicating with someone who doesn’t understand you).  Danny McDermott was up next and did well with a short set, but towards the end a drunk woman in the back kept interrupting him.

I was the next comic up, and it was clear that the woman was getting drunker and drunker because not only was she interrupting more, but was getting increasingly difficult to understand.

Some clubs will rapidly throw out audience members who disturb the show.  Ha! isn’t one of those clubs.

After a few interruptions I asked her her name.  She laughed.  I said “Your name is Ha?  Then you’re in the right club.”

At one point I said “I can’t understand a word she’s saying… and something tells me I’m better off.”  All my lines to quiet her down got laughs from the rest of the audience but didn’t do much to get her to stop talking.
The audience finally told her to shut up and while it took me almost a minute to finish a fifteen second closing joke, it was worth it.

On my way out of the showroom she stood up and hugged me, telling me how funny I was and how much she’s enjoying the show.  I noticed the guy at her table, ignoring her.

A few minutes later she came outside.  She was beyond breath-taking.  She said it was her one year anniversary, and she was angry at her boyfriend because he kept telling her to shut up, but she wanted to talk to the comics because that’s how it’s supposed to be.  As politely as I could I told her no, that’s not how it works.  That the emcee may ask questions at the start of the show, but after that it’s our turn to talk.  But that didn’t stop her from her touchy-feely state.
The other comics were staring at her, but to me she smelled like betrayal.

Clearly she wanted attention of the male kind.  But I’m not the kind of comic who’ll have sex with an audience member in the bathroom so she can get back at her boyfriend.  Or for any other reason, for that matter.

Besides, Ha! has a secret r… oops.

I’m looking for Ms. Right.  Not Ms. Right Now.

She went outside to smoke a cigarette.  The emcee and I were standing outside the showroom when she came back.  She continued talking to us, telling us how much she loved us and how funny we were.  She was also having trouble standing up.  At one point I asked her to which side she was most likely to fall so one of us could be ready to catch her…

I didn’t want her attention but I felt it was my duty to the other comics to keep her out of the showroom for as long as possible.  Which worked until she decided to return to the showroom and headed for the wrong room.

We steered her back to the waiting room and kept her occupied until it was time for her to leave.

She was so annoying that a gay comic commented that “She makes me even GAYER, if that’s possible.”

After the show one comic gave her his business card.  I pointed out that she was the drunken one who kept interrupting the show (with the bright lights in your face on stage, it’s often difficult to recognize someone from the audience after the show).  He said he knew.  When I suggested that she probably wasn’t the kind of person he wanted coming to more of his shows, he disagreed, saying that she might not always be drunk, and she’s the kind of woman who may bring a dozen friends to the next show.  Comics– what’s your take on this?

The second show was almost sold-out, the audience was warmed-up and happy when I took the stage, and I can’t even begin to explain to non-comics how great it is to tell an opening joke and have sustained laughter for ten or fifteen seconds and have that energy continue all the way through a fifteen minute set.  The kind of show where you know that you won’t get through half your material because they’re laughing so much, and because every spontaneous riff you throw in gets laughs, and you feel like you can do no wrong.

Ah, the joys of being a performer.  And in general the pride from doing a good job dealing with a difficult situation.  I can’t wait to go back.  Even if she’s there again with eleven equally-drunk friends.  Even a difficult audience is better than no audience at all.

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Random, Rainy-Day Thoughts

The Ivies vs. The Sopranos…
Last night was our Ivy League Comedy Showcasesm at Gotham, probably the nicest club in the city. I had a great time hosting the show, as I always have.

Then tonight I did a ten minute set at a club that’s in the basement of a chain restaurant a few blocks north of Times Square, in front of a bunch of Soprano mobster-wannabees.  Who wouldn’t shut up for anybody, not even their friend in the show whom they came to see.

Both shows were fun in their own ways.  At the Ivy show, I said “I just heard on the way here that the head of undergraduate admissions at M.I.T. had to resign because she lied on her resume– claimed to have gone to medical school when she didn’t even go to college.  And I’ve been thinking for the last hour that there has to be a joke that’s perfect for this audience.  And I thought, and thought, and thought… then realized: HEY, M.I.T. is not IN the Ivy League!”

At tonight’s show I had to fight for the audience’s attention.  But the way to do that, in circumstances like this, is to engage the biggest trouble-makers.  The only way they’d stop talking to each other is if the comic talks to them.  I really don’t like making the show about them, it’s like rewarding bad behavior, but for the sake of the rest of the audience– if the only way to make the show fun for everybody is to joke with the noisy folks, that’s what to do.  So I did.
When the mobster-lite is from Harrisburg, PA, it’s easy.

Virginia Tech jokes:
The killer sent his video manifesto to NBC News, which aired it.  That’s typical. This crazy murderer gets a TV credit, and I’m stuck handing out flyers in Times Square in the rain.*

Whenever there’s a tragedy like this people take advantage of the situation to advance their own political agendas… no, I’m not talking about comedians.  The pro-gun folks say that if more people had guns someone would have returned fire and fewer people would have been killed.  A nd the anti-gun folks say that if we made guns harder to get, this would never have happened.
I don’t know which side is right.  But I do know that if everybody had a gun, I would’ve shot at least four people just on the drive in tonight.

* I don’t really hand out flyers in Times Square.

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The Differences Between Democrats and Republicans

Okay, it’s considered a really overdone topic in comedy– the differences between men and women, or between New York and Los Angeles.  So how about… the differences between Democrats and Republicans?

I used to say that while they may share the same goals they differ in approach.  And that the difference between a Democrat and a Republican is that when an expert proposes a solution to a social problem that involves spending money (such as “I can improve reading scores by 20% or cut poverty in half; it’ll cost a billion dollars”) the Democrat says “Wonderful.  Here’s a billion dollars, best of luck to you!”

The Republican says “Prove to me that it works, WITHOUT spending any money, then you can have the billion dollars.”

Here’s another difference: When the Democrat asks a bureaucrat to take care of something and it doesn’t get done on a timely basis, the Democrat says “Wow, I didn’t realize how busy they were– so busy that they couldn’t get to my thing as quickly as I would have hoped.”

The Republican says “Those lazy bureaucrats should be fired– clearly they’re just sitting around doing nothing instead of getting to my thing when they should have.”

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Random stuff

You can’t spell “Slaughter” without “laugh.”

I got spam email today– the subject was “World Wide Lootery” which I thought contained a rather ironic spelling error.

Last week at a business lunch one of my guests was trying to hide his Blackberry below the table, so while everyone else was chatting he was busy emailing in secret.  Or so he thought until I said something.

He said it was important– it was an email from his wife.  Their son’s teacher called, said he had trouble focusing and paying attention.

Clearly due to the great example his father must set.

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Notes from Saturday Night’s Party

A Polish-American friend of mine invited me to her birthday party.  She said she invited 20 Americans and 80 Polish people.

I was the American who showed up. A ll around me, conversations in Polish that didn’t switch to English when I approached, speaking English.

One of my best friends in college was Polish, so I tried the only Polish I knew. Because he taught all of us Polish drinking songs.

Somehow, entering a conversation by saying what apparently translates to “The streets will be rivers with the blood of our enemies, and at the end of the rivers of blood, the navies of our enemies will be washed away” didn’t endear me to them.

The party had entertainment.  I discovered that Polish drag queens aren’t that convincing as women.  Say what you want about America– we may not make the best cars, or the best beer, but our drag queens are second to none!  Take that, you overly masculine Polish she-men!

I started a conversation (in English, this time) with an attractive woman.  What does she do for a living?  Tax accountant.  Perfectly respectable profession.  Until… she told me, completely seriously, that after tax season she’s moving to Kenya because she’s sick of the city.  I don’t know what’s wrong with rural Rockland County, but apparently the idea of retiring in her thirties to survive for $4000/year on her savings is attractive to her.  I don’t know what she’ll do if Kenya gets more modern and the cost of living rises… but that’s not my problem. If she likes kissing giraffes (she said she did) that’s between her and Mrs. Giraffe.

The next woman I met is a fashion designer.  With no designs on moving to Africa. We spoke about fashion models.  She said that clothes look good on tall, thin women.  I said that doesn’t prove anything.  Any clothing will look good on Tyra Banks.  If she wants to prove what a great designer she is, design something that looks good on Rosie O’Donnell.

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Won’t Get Fooled Again

I saw a television commercial for Chevrolet.  The ad’s theme song was “American Pie.”  For the six of you who don’t know the song, it’s about the death of Buddy Holly.  And for the four of you who don’t know who Buddy Holly was, he was one of the pioneers of rock music in the fifties, until he died in a plane crash.  He was a great inspiration for a lot of rock groups who followed, including The Beatles (in fact they chose the name “The Beatles” because Buddy Holly’s group was called “Buddy Holly and the Crickets”).

I understand that “American Pie” mentions Chevrolet in it (“Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry…”).  But the song is not about cars.  It’s about the death of an American icon.

Like General Motors?

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The Republican Club at NYU is running a game called something like “Spot the Illegal Immigrant.”  Participants compete to be the first one to spot a student wearing a sticker that says “Illegal Immigrant.”

Protesters are saying that the game is racist.

Exactly which race is illegal immigrant?  Because I’m pretty sure I’ve met illegal immigrants from six continents.

Illegal immigrants come from all ethnic groups.

Except one.

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Last week the British military announced that Prince Harry’s unit would be going to Iraq.

This week the Prime Minister announced that Britain would begin to withdraw forces from Iraq, reducing its deployment.

Co-incidence?

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I saw an ad on the internet for a service for shy people that said “Shy? Send your marriage proposals via email…”

Ignoring for a moment the use of the PLURAL in the ad…

Well, I guess it SHOULD be plural– why get turned down by one woman for proposing by email, when you can spam MILLIONS and hope that maybe one person clicks the wrong box?

How do you email an engagement ring?

I totally understand the honeymoon– with a little Photoshop you can easily paste your face into a porn site.

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Women are Funny. Vanity Fair isn’t Funny… nor fair.

The January issue of Vanity Fair had an article entitled “Why Women Aren’t Funny.”

The article was, of course, nonsense.

The March issue published a number of letters in response, including mine.  Since the editors of Vanity Fair severely edited my letter, leaving merely an almost incomprehensible few sentences and even editing out my middle name, for those who are interested here is the original letter:

As possibly the only comedian ever to do a statistical analysis on gender differences in comedy I wish to refute some statements made in “Why Women Aren’t Funny.”  I strongly disagree with the claim that most funny women are either homosexual, large or Jewish despite the fact that one of my best friends in comedy happens to be all three.  Most female comedians in America are heterosexual, normal-sized Christians.

Your columnist asserted that there are more terrible female comedians than male comedians despite the preponderance of male comedians in the industry.  Isn’t it likely that these female comedians just don’t appeal to him so he labels them not funny?  If they’re working comics they must be making somebody laugh or they would soon be unemployed.  How often does Mr. Hitchens go to comedy clubs or open-mikes?  Because my experience has been that most of the really awful amateur comedians tend to be men.  When taking the stage, even if they don’t have great punch lines, women generally at least have a point to make.  And in my opinion most of the really bad amateurs are men who go on misogynistic tirades with nothing funny to say.

My gender analysis, done earlier this year, revealed that approximately a third of amateur comedians are female.  A smaller percentage of professional comics are women, although mathematically one can’t directly compare the two populations at one point in time because of the several years it takes to go from beginner to professional.  Women do appear more likely to take a class when starting in comedy, whereas men are more likely to just write some jokes and show up on open-mike night.  And while almost all women who attend open-mike nights seem to want to be comedians, some percentage of males who show up are just in need of attention, or medication.

Perhaps one reason that women comprise less than half of all working comics is the same reason there aren’t that many women in investment-banking– it’s a hard business, with a lot of hours and a great deal of self-sacrifice.  It’s quite difficult to start a family and be on the road forty weeks a year.  And anyway, as a male-dominated industry it’s a long, hard fight for women until the numbers start to even out over time.

What will help the numbers even out?  If people would stop publishing articles claiming that women aren’t funny.  It’s clearly not true.  What can your readers do?  They can go to comedy clubs to see female comics.  Comedy is a business; it runs on money.  Your money is your vote.  Go out and vote.

Shaun Eli Breidbart

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Now I’m Customer Service and They’re the Customer

Dell called me yesterday about the computer I ordered for my father, which I’d already picked up at UPS earlier in the day.

Someone who may actually have been speaking English called to ask if the computer had arrived.  I said yes.  She then told me that I’d be receiving an email survey about the customer service she had just provided me.  I explained that SHE called ME, and that in fact I was the one helping her (I didn’t bother to ask why Dell didn’t check with UPS instead of me).  But that I didn’t particularly care to send HER a survey.

She didn’t understand.  But then she asked if there was anything ELSE she could help me with.  At which point I asked her what she had already helped me with.

She didn’t understand that either.

Sure hope the folks designing and assembling the computers are a bit smarter.

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Um, not Exactly My Dream Girlfriend

“I play a push-up game with my boyfriend. We take half a deck of cards, flip them over one by one, and whatever number shows up, he does that many push-ups and I do half…”

Champion marathoner Melissa White, quoted in “Runner’s World” magazine.

I’ve played a push-up game or two with a girlfriend, and it never involved half a deck of cards. And I’ll bet it was a lot more fun for both of us.

By the way, shouldn’t the name of the magazine be “Runners’ World” instead?   I don’t think the world belongs to only one runner.

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The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People

I got this book as a gift.  The cover says there are over 15 million copies in print. That’s more than 10% of the entire work force!  Do you think that 10% of the work force is highly successful?  Has the success of the work force improved much since this book was first published?

Have you been to the Gap or Home Depot lately?

I think his next book will be titled “The Seven Million Dollars of Highly Successful Self-Help Book Authors.”  By the way, the Self-Help section in my local Barnes & Noble is in the basement.  That’ll do wonders for your self-esteem.

And if you really want my critique of this book– it’s based on ‘research’ done by the author.  NOT research of highly-successful people.  No, that’d make sense. It’s based on research of OTHER self-help type books written over the past two hundred years.  Most of which were themselves not based on any research.

In college we called this “Mushing all the small bits of left-overs together and throwing it in the microwave because you’re hungry and drunk and there’s nothing else to eat.”

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My violent new years resolutions

If you think that saying “My bad” after doing something stupid is an automatic excuse, I will punch you in the face then say “My too.”

If you drive recklessly while talking on a cell phone I will snatch the cell phone out of your hand and throw it in the river.

If you’re at the front of an elevator and think that it’s polite and chivalrous to step half aside and partially block the door while waiting for others to exit first, I will shove you into traffic.  Or at least out of the elevator.  Just get out of the elevator.  And don’t stand there with your hand on the door acting like you’re helping.  There’s an electric eye– the doors won’t close on anybody. It’s not 1976 anymore.

Global warming is maybe two degrees a century.  Not a lot in terms of temperature change, just a lot in terms of its impact on the environment.  If you blame much warmer than usual weather, like a sixty degree day in NYC in January, on global warming, I will shove you into a melting glacier.

If you didn’t order dessert that means you don’t get to eat dessert.  Don’t think it gives you a license to stick your fork in mine.  You had your chance to order when I did.

One more thing: “If life hands you lemons, make lemonade.”  WAKE UP!  You don’t get lemonade from lemons.  You get lemon juice.  You need sugar to make lemonade. And if you had the sugar, you probably wouldn’t be complaining about the lemons, now, would you?

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Welcome to Brooklyn

Posted on 12/08/2006

In some ways it’s a rite of passage for a comedian, especially a white comedian, to play at an urban club.  As you probably know if you’ve ever watched “Showtime at the Apollo,” some audiences don’t go to be entertained.  They go to boo the performers off stage.  Maybe it’s empowering; I don’t know as I’ve never been tempted, while sitting in the audience, to make the show about me and start booing.

Comedians, at least those who have enough sense to research and ask questions, know that the best way to approach this kind of audience is to get them laughing so soon that they want to pay attention instead of taking over the show.  And every comedian with any experience knows that if there’s an elephant in the room you have to address it.  I’ve just never before been the elephant.

Wednesday night was my first spot at an urban club.  I was the first comedian up after the emcee who conversed with the audience, told some jokes, and mentioned, not joking, about a recent NYPD shooting in which white officers fired 50 rounds at black men in a car, killing one of them on the morning of his wedding.

And then he introduced me by saying “Are y’all ready for some white people?” (‘some’ being a generous term; I was the only one)

I opened by saying that I didn’t mind being the whitest guy in the room, I just hated being the oldest guy in the room.  Then mentioned that the MC talked about “…the cops who shot fifty times, and then all of you turned to look at the white guy…”

“I didn’t shoot anybody fifty times, I didn’t shoot anybody forty times, I didn’t shoot anybody. The only thing I’ve EVER shot in my life was a Diet Coke can, and Diet Coke cans are WHITE.”

The only white guy in the room made people laugh and all was good in the world.  Or at least in that one room in Brooklyn.

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Maybe I should stop making fun of their country

Posted on 7/3/2006

My web host allows me to see which countries have provided my site with the most visitors.  Of course the U.S. is on top by far.  Followed by Germany. More German visitors than from Canada, the U.K., Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa COMBINED!

Germany.  So now I have something in common with David Hasselhoff, good beer, people who like to drive really fast and this year’s World Cup.

A lot of Germans speak very good English, further proof we won the war.  Now if only we could go to war with the food service industry, so the busboy would understand me when I said “No, I’m NOT finished with that.”

I’m also popular in the Czech Republic, Poland, Holland and Japan, other countries I’ve never visited.  And I’m popular with people in the U.S. military, and more popular in Malaysia than in Sweden.  More in Fiji than in Switzerland, and I’ve been to Switzerland.  If you go to Switzerland, yes, eat the chocolate.  Skip their wine.  France is nearby, drink their wine instead. I’ve never performed in either country, but I made people laugh on an Air France flight a few years ago (in French) and I’ve had fun performing a few sentences in French in American comedy clubs with Swiss people in the audience.

Even though they hadn’t brought any chocolate.

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Fat Jokes and Sex Shops

Posted on 7/3/2006

I installed some software that tracks how people found my website (www.BrainChampagne.com). It tells me the keywords that people may have used in a search engine that brought them to my site.

Of course many people come to the site seeking free comedy videos, or advice on how to tell a joke (I wrote a column), or jokes on selling (I spoke about marketing comedy and some info appears on the website).

Quite a large number of people are seeking fat jokes.

Two people (yes, two) were seeking sex shops in Raritan, NJ.  No, I don’t have a link on my site– but one page does include the words Sex, Shop and Raritan (in unrelated posts).

Two people searched for Florida Gun Safety Comedy.

And two people this month typed in Standup Comedian Starbucks.  I guess when you can’t sleep, you can search.

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What Goes Around, Comes Around

Posted on 6/20/2006

As the woman walking in front of me on the sidewalk rummaged through her purse, a ten dollar bill flew out and landed in front of me.  I picked it up and caught up to her.  “Excuse me, miss…”

She turned around angrily.  “Can’t you see I’m on the phone!” she shouted.  I shrugged.  There was no evidence of a phone–nothing in her hand, no wire running to her head.  She brushed her hair back to reveal a wireless earpiece.

“See!” she scowled at me before turning away and returning to her phone call.

I kept the money.

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Diary of a mad joke-writer

Posted on 3/31/2006

I wrote the perfect joke last night. Could not get to sleep. Around 3 AM I thought of it. Eight words. Just eight words. That’s it. Silly yet deep on so many levels.

I’m not normally a one-liner comic. Yes, I write jokes, and I wish my humor were more story-like, more revealing of myself. But I’m decent at writing jokes, so that’s what I do. Usually set-up, set-up, punch, or set-up, set-up, punch, punch, punch.

Now the comics reading this think they know where it’s going. Jokes that are funny at 3 AM usually dissolve in the daylight. But not this one. Eight words. Followed by a tag that went even deeper and yet politicized the joke.

This morning I woke up and I was still laughing. Tired, but laughing. Remembering that I have a show tonight, and a show on Saturday night. I couldn’t wait to tell this joke on stage.

All day I thought about this joke. By 3 PM, only twelve hours after this perfect joke was born, I had a third tag– another punch line that not only capitalized on the eight words, and not only built on the next tag, but also added to the joke AND made fun of it all in just another eleven words.

Word-efficiency! I’d have them on the floor in twenty five seconds.

Now you all see where this is going.

There were sixty people in the room, sixty people who had paid to hear jokes.

I wanted to open with this joke, to shake the building until the bottles fell off the bar.

But I was seventh in the line-up. Seventh, after the two drink minimum would have broken through everyone’s blood-brain barrier. And how could I follow the perfect joke? Everything else I say would pale in comparison.

So I thought maybe open with something tried and true. No sense knocking their socks off if they couldn’t feel their feet. And I did. An opening joke about a cab driver, The Bronx and arson. I know it works.

It did. All three tags. The three-liner. Another three-liner that builds upon the previous. Then the next tag, one sentence that makes them laugh, then groan. That suckers them in so I can point out the futility, the silliness, the irony of their groans. For another laugh. I’m such a whore.

Then the perfect eight words. The joke I’ve been thinking about for sixteen and one half hours.

Followed by the perfect silence.

It was so quiet I could hear the subway. The Montreal subway, three hundred and twenty five miles away.

And then the next tag.

That woke them up.

And the next?

Better.

I felt exonerated.

Remember The Rule: Do not open or close with a new joke, no matter how funny you think it is. Because YOU are not the judge, nor the jury. You are the prosecutor. Your job is simply to present the evidence. THEY will render the verdict.

There is a reason people state these rules. Because we never know what’s funny. I thought those eight words were perfect.

And in a way, they were. They were the perfect set-up to the two tags that followed.

I’ve had set-ups that got bigger laughs than the punch line. I’ve learned to live with that, even feel joy– hey, if they laugh, who cares what I thought when I wrote the joke? If they don’t laugh, it’s not a punch line. But if they laugh at the set-up, IT is a punch line.

So it’s only fair that once in a while, what I thought was the perfect punch line is only a good set-up. Not ONLY a good set-up. A good set-up for two very good punch lines.

Hey, if you set out to build a car that runs on dirt, and you end up building a car that runs on oranges, don’t fret. Plant oranges.

Copyright 2006 by Shaun Eli.  All rights reserved.  Including the rights to a car that runs on oranges, if you build it.

AND… THE UPDATE:

Wow.  Got on stage on Saturday night before a packed crowd.  So packed that they had to bring in more tables to seat everyone.

I went up fourth.  As I’ve mentioned, I prefer to go up early, before the two drink minimum gets through the blood-brain barrier.  Fourth is good.

I opened my set the same way I did the night before.  Went into the eight word line, but this time thinking of it as the set-up to the two tags that follow (actually three tags now– I thought of another on the way to the club).

Worked just fine.  I’m happy.

What’s the joke?  Come to a show.  You’ll know which one it is.

See you at the clubs,

Sincerely,

Shaun Eli

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Women are Funny

Posted on 3/25/2006

Over the last month four different female comedians have spoken with me about the troubles in being a female comedian. One said that comedy was rough for women because club owners, bookers and producers often hit on the comedians, making it difficult for them to rebuff these advances and still get booked on shows. I, occasionally billed as a feminist male comedian, do notice the difficulties women go through in this business. It is harder for women to get booked than it is for men.

In the early eighties when I started going to NYC comedy clubs regularly as a fan, bookers were less likely to hire female comedians. They said that audiences didn’t like women comics, that all they did was talk about their periods and complain about men. Some club owners were even quoted as saying that women simply weren’t funny enough. It was very rare to see more than one woman in the line-up, even if the show had a dozen comedians.

And unfortunately, when people see a small amount of truth in something, they may believe the whole thing. The small amount of truth being that in fact there was a percentage of working female comics who did talk about their periods and complain about men. Sure, male comics talked about their girlfriends but they were more likely to say “MY girlfriend stinks” whereas the females were saying “ALL men stink” and for an audience there’s a difference between the two statements. I’m not her boyfriend but I am a man, and I’m therefore being insulted for my gender.

Some generalizations may have had a bit of truth twenty years ago, but no longer.

It’s been my observation lately that at amateur shows and open-mikes in NYC around thirty five percent of the comedians are female (this is more than a guess– I’ve been counting). The percentage of professional female working comics is probably much lower. But before the statisticians start calling, I do need to point out that you can’t compare the two– you’d have to look at the proportion of female amateur comics several years ago vs. working comics now (and not just in NYC) because it takes years to go from starting out to making money. And maybe only one percent ever make it to the professional level.

It takes a long time for things to change. Right now one NYC comedy club, Laugh Lounge, is owned and booked by a woman, and the person who first auditions comedians at The Comic Strip is also a woman. Many other clubs have women who book/produce shows. And if you look at who is booked at some rooms, the proportion of women seems to be on the rise. There’s no Title IX in comedy, but there are women who are doing all they can to help other women succeed. Change is happening. Not terribly fast, but faster than it would happen without the women in comedy who are there helping other women. But there is a group of people who can help women comedians even more than the bookers and other comedians can. It’s you. How can you help? Keep reading.

Some people say that one reason that men are more successful in the business world is that while women tend to seek consensus, men are more likely to try to win people over to their point of view. Genetics? Upbringing? Sexism? A combination of all three? We don’t know. I will say this about comedians– search for comedians on the web and you will discover a lot more male comedians than female comedians, and the men’s sites are more likely to have content that draws you in– as an example, look at my site (www.BrainChampagne.com) or Steve Hofstetter’s (www.SteveHofstetter.com). Of course there are exceptions– Laurie Kilmartin’s website (www.Kilmartin.com) is a good example of a woman’s comedy website with a lot of content. But only 15% of the comedians choosing to list themselves on ComedySoapbox.com are women, and an equally small proportion of the comedians who regularly post blogs, one of the site’s most popular features, are women. Marketing is very important in comedy– the more we promote, the more people we get to shows. And it’s putting people in seats that gets us booked.

I’ve learned that the comedy business is half about being funny and the other half is about people. The business really runs on favors. You gave me a spot last year when I asked for one, so I’ll tell my agent about you. You introduced me to this booker, so come open for me on the road. You gave me a ride home when I was sick and it was raining, now I have a TV show so come audition for it. Successful comedians have learned to be nice to other comedians– more than half their help as they start in the business will come from other comics.

Want to know the reason that comedy clubs put on theme shows such as Latino comics or gay comics? Because they attract an audience. Vote with your feet– if you see that NYC’s Gotham Comedy Club is putting on an all-women show, go to it. If the room is full the owners will notice and put on more of these shows. They’ll probably also put more female comics into the regular line-up. If you go to The Comic Strip because Judy Gold or Veronica Mosey or Karen Bergreen is playing, mention how much of a fan you are within earshot of the person at the door. Amateur comedians are told that one step in getting noticed is when the waitresses at comedy clubs start talking about them– they see a hundred comedians a week and what they say carries some weight. More importantly, if you, a paying customer, let it be known why you went to a show, you will be heard. It’s not exactly as scientific as the Nielsen ratings, but it works.

Why aren’t female comedians getting their share of TV shows? Where’s Laurie Kilmartin’s sitcom, or Jessica Kirson’s? I don’t know. I don’t think TV executives are geniuses, and surely they prefer going with what has already worked instead of risking something new, but if the few female-centered shows were drawing in huge ratings, the networks would notice. There seem to be a lot of television shows about young women– they’re all on UPN or WB. How are they doing? Obviously well enough that we’re getting more of them. It actually took Fox to put on a number of TV shows about black families (after very few of them on network… “Good Times,” “The Jeffersons” and “The Cosby Show” come to mind) and now there are a lot of them. And black people are what, fifteen percent of the country? Women, you’re are more than half, and I’m pretty sure you all own televisions.

Why aren’t there any women hosting late-night talk shows, traditionally a job given to a stand-up comedian? I don’t know. Joan Rivers had a shot at The Tonight Show but she blew it. Frankly I really liked her on Monday nights but I don’t know if I could have watched her five nights a week because she was, to me, more of a character than a person I wanted to invite into my home on a regular basis. I would quickly get sick of having so much of her. I would have said the same thing about Rodney Dangerfield, by the way. But perhaps this is still the result of sexism. Possibly women in comedy have to be more character-driven in order to get to the top, and then at the top they’re locked into their character. Roseanne and Ellen got sitcoms, but Jay Leno got the comedian’s biggest prize. I think he does a fabulastic job and I’m thrilled he buys some of my jokes, but when Johnny Carson retired part of me wanted Rita Rudner to get the job.

A long time ago people said that women would never be TV stars, until Lucille Ball proved them wrong. In the eighties people said that the traditional sitcom was dead because it had been done to death, until “The Cosby Show” showed that the problem was not the sitcom format but simply that we needed better sitcoms. For a long time people said that standup comedy as a TV show or movie theme wouldn’t work, until Jerry Seinfeld proved them wrong. Some people even say that Kevin Costner will never be in a movie without baseball. Eventually he may prove them wrong too. There will consistently be number one sitcoms starring women. Maybe even, shockingly, with me, a feminist male, as the head writer of one of them. What will make these shows number one? When you all watch them. That’s what made Oprah the Queen of daytime TV. Viewers. It’s as simple as that.

And before you go completely batty, remember that while the winners of all three seasons of “Last Comic Standing” were men, not one has a TV show. Pamela Anderson has had how many?

You want more female comics to succeed? Get yourself to their shows. There are thousands of comedy clubs in big cities, in little cities and even occasional professional comedy shows in small towns, all over the United States. Comedy is a business; it runs on money. Your money is your vote. Go out and vote.

Shaun Eli

Feminist Male Comedian sm

Note: This was written for publication last year and never run.

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The Stupidity of Being Dishonest

Written 2/17/2006

Yesterday someone I don’t know contacted me through the feedback form on my website. She said that she was taking a friend out and asked if I could mail her eight free tickets, and mentioned a particular date.

A date when I do not have a show scheduled (and my website lists my schedule).

There are some shows I do where I can occasionally ask the club to comp people’s cover charge, so I wrote a nice email to the address she gave on the feedback form.

I said that I didn’t have a show that night, but that I appreciated her interest. I explained that most of the clubs at which I perform don’t have actual tickets but simply add the cover charge to the bill at the end of the show. And that I would be happy to let her know the next time I could get the club to waive the cover charge for her entire party.

The email bounced. She filled out the contact form but didn’t give me her correct email address (she gave me her mailing address for the tickets, but lied about her email address).

So she’s not going to receive my offer of free tickets, because though I emailed her, at this point I don’t think it’s worth my while to type out a letter, print it out, fill out an envelope, put a stamp on it, and mail it to her. Even if I did, I doubt she’d bother to write back to tell me whether she’s actually coming, so why would I go through all that trouble for someone who might not even show up?

No, an actual letter is too much work. I’d rather just blog about it.

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Cheney should have served in the military

Written on 2/13/2006

Because in the military they teach you an important rule: You’re not supposed to shoot your friends.

What a bizarre country. The Secret Service uses a vast amount of resources to protect our leaders, but then they give people shotguns and say “Feel free to stand near the vice president and shoot at quail. Try not to hit any people.” And this confused some of the older Secret Service personnel because two vice presidents ago was a guy named Quayle.

Do you get the feeling that if it had been the other way around, that if Vice President Cheney’s friend had been the one doing the shooting and had accidentally hit the vice president that he’d have been sent off to Guantanamo Bay and never be heard from again?

In other news, the author of “Jaws” died over the weekend. Ironically, he was eaten by an alligator.

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In Today’s News– from the front page of the Bloomberg Professional Service

Created on 1/12/2006

Since registration dates are getting earlier and earlier each year, couples in NYC are advised to register their future children for private pre-schools and summer camps prior to having sex during ovulation

Wal-mart is being sued in Pennsylvania for requiring its employees to work for free through breaks and after their shifts end. “You have a friend in Pennsylvania…” you just can’t see him because he’s in the stock room on his lunch hour.

I suggest starting the trial at 9 AM and not stopping for anything until the jury has reached a verdict.

The U.S. Trade Deficit has started shrinking as exports reached a record. Apparently now foreigners have enough money to start shopping at our country’s new Going Out Of Business Sale.

California regulators have approved a $2.5 billion subsidy program for solar energy. It’s a trick. Good luck getting the sun to sign off on it.

“Supreme Court nominee Alito Seeks to Assure Democratic Lawmakers of Views on Presidential Powers”– does this remind anybody of every movie and TV show where someone makes a deal with Satan but somehow Satan cheats and wins? No matter what Alito says, once he’s confirmed he’s in for life, which could be a very long time unless he accepts a ride home from Senator Kennedy, a pretzel from President Bush or signs a $50 million deal with Comedy Central.

Home Depot says that the S.E.C. has made an informal request for information on the company’s dealings with vendors. I hope they’re more successful than I’ve been with all my requests for information from anyone from Home Depot. I’m still waiting for a response to my question about the generator I’m thinking of buying for Y2K.

“Cape Cod Indians Worry Abramoff Links May Hurt Casino Chances, U.S. Aid”– Listen, we all feel bad for how this country has treated, and continues to treat, Native Americans. But hey, aid OR casinos, okay? One or the other. You don’t need both.

“Toyota, Bullish on U.S., Doubles 2006 Sales Growth Target Set Last Week”– apparently their executives stopped by a Chevy dealership yesterday and revised all their sales goals upward. When they finished laughing.

“Federated to Sell Lord & Taylor to Focus on Macy’s”– The company has hired JPMorgan Chase and Goldman, Sachs to advise them on the sale. Maybe this is why sales are down– when a retailer needs two investment banks to tell them how to sell, something is clearly wrong.

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Wine with Food? How about Wine with Movies?

Posted on 1/7/06

Millions of words have been written about which wines go with which foods. To the best of my knowledge up until now no one has written about which wines go with which movies. This occurred to me as I was fetching a wine to drink as I screened “The Godfather” for about the fifth or sixth time.

Many people might suggest a Chianti or Barolo but I think a strong red zinfandel such as a Martinelli or Hartford would be a better choice. The taste seems to follow the sepia tones of the film, and more than one Italian-American has told me that red zin reminds him of the wine his father used to make at home. Besides, zin would go better with the cannoli.

For “When Harry Met Sally” I’d suggest an over-oaked chardonnay.

“American Graffiti”– a blanc de blancs Champagne.

“The Producers”– an inexpensive ice wine (Selaks from New Zealand, for example, where they pick the grapes then place them in a freezer instead of the more traditional method of letting them freeze on the vine).

“The Taking of Pelham One Two Three”– cough medicine.

“Casablanca” anyone?

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Goodbye, old cell phone

Posted on 12/1/2005

I won’t miss your easily broken antenna, your scratched screen or that fact that your charger plug is loose and I sometimes have to jiggle the phone to get it to recharge. I will miss your choice of ring tones. I hope the battered spouse who receives this now-donated phone gets through to 911 when she or he needs to. I know I always did.

My new phone comes with 35 ring tones, each one annoying. But it has a camera that has already helped me fight a parking ticket I received because apparently not all ticket agents have the same definition of “Sunday” as the rest of the city.

I’ll miss some of the numbers I didn’t bother copying to my new phone. Such as the woman I dated two or three times who kept saying she wanted to see me again, but apparently she defines “see me again” the same way at least one ticket agent defines “Sunday.” I don’t know when it is, but it never got scheduled whenever I asked.

I won’t miss the woman I dated for three months who still had to schedule our Friday and Saturday night dates around all her internet secret first dates that she thought I didn’t know about. Won’t miss her even though she was quite lovely-looking, always smiling, a genuinely happy person, the only one with all three of her numbers (home, cell and work) in my phone.

I’ll miss the woman I dated for five months, dated until I gently asked her what the cause of her twitching was. I thought it might be a form of Tourette’s Syndrome, but I’ll never know because she denied twitching (“What hump?” for those of you who remember the movie “Young Frankenstein”) and then broke up with me. Her loss; her shy cat was beginning to like me, an accomplishment previous boyfriends had never achieved.

I’ll miss the fact that I could call my parents by pressing one button and saying “Folks.” Now I have to flip the phone open and push two keys. Way too much effort to say hi to the people who brought me into this world and raised me with values I appreciate and want to instill in my future children. Especially because every time I call them they tell me how much they love me and how much something in their house needs fixing and when can I come over and do it? Not tomorrow? Saturday, then? I’ll always suggest Sunday.

I’ll miss having a booker’s cell number programmed directly into my phone and being able to call her anytime I wanted to confirm shows. I’m sure she’s not missing it.

I’ll miss seeing my ex-girlfriend Jen’s phone number in the phone, even though I didn’t call her after we broke up (for those of you saying “They’re ALL named Jennifer” this was Jen #3). I have fond memories of my time with Jen #3–I was dating her when I started stand-up comedy, and if you’ve heard my joke about dating a doctor, that’s Jen. Actually I did contact her recently– she’s married and eight months pregnant. She’s possibly only the second long-term girlfriend I’ve had who didn’t almost immediately after our breakup marry a doctor. But that’s maybe not exactly an exception to the rule because SHE’S a doctor; perhaps the rule is that ONE of them has to be a doctor. She’ll make a great mom. She’s so good with babies and children. And yes, she’s a pediatrician, just as the joke goes.

I won’t miss the most recent ex-girlfriend, the one who broke my heart by not falling in love with me even though I thought we were perfect together, right down to the compatibility of our stuffed animals and that we both referred to her liquid soap dispenser as the soap house and to my bedroom as the sleeping pod. I won’t miss her because her number is in my new phone, which I got just before we broke up. Oh, her photos are there, too, and they come up when she calls me. A photo of her when she calls from home, and a photo of her holding her cell phone camera, taking a picture of me, when she calls from her cell phone.

I’d give up the cell phone entirely to have her back and in love with me, but since that’s not going to happen, buy some stock in Verizon. I’ll be putting new numbers in the phone and making a lot of calls.

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The On-line Dating Dictionary– some help for on-line daters

Posted on 12/1/2005

“I work hard and play hard” means I work too many hours then get really, really drunk and throw up on your new shoes.

“I want to experience all that NYC has to offer” means “I’ve lived here for ten years and still the only things I can think of to do are to see movies and go to dinner with my friends.”

Fat means fat… Zaftig means fat… Medium means fat… In Shape means fat (spherical is a shape)… Firm and toned means fat and will beat you up for saying it… Thin means fat (people lie)… A few extra pounds– “in the right places” means… the right place is ELSEWHERE! Be glad it’s nowhere near you!

“I like going to new restaurants” means “I like going to the newest, most expensive restaurants. And just being able to pay is not enough– you have to be able to get a reservation at the newest restaurant two minutes after I call and tell you about it.”

“My glass is half-full” means “I think I’m an optimist but since I can’t think of any examples I’ll just use an old cliche.”

ANYTHING IN ALL CAPS- I WILL SHOUT AT YOU through our entire first (and last) date.

Consultant- lost my job.

Self-employed- lost my job years ago.

Entrepreneur- lost my job two years ago but I found a thesaurus.

Enterpernuer- lost my job two years ago, found a thesaurus but didn’t look at it all that carefully.

“I’m intelligant”- maybe, but you’re not intelligent.

“My friends and family are very important to me” means “Daddy pays my rent so I answer the phone when he calls.”

“Communication is key” so after one date if you stop returning my phone calls, eventually I’ll figure out you may not want to talk to me anymore.

I love to travel” (woman) if I won’t sleep with you in NYC, I won’t sleep with you in Paris either. But I encourage you to fly me there just to make sure.

“I love to travel” (man)- If my team is doing well, I’ll disappear every away-game weekend to watch them play, and, win or lose, I’ll forget to call you when I’m away.

“I enjoy all that life has to offer” (woman)- remember, “life” includes your American Express Gold Card and Tiffany’s.

“I enjoy all that life has to offer” (man)- I expect you to offer me everything I can think of, and I’ve watched a lot of porn.

“Please be able to laugh at yourself” because this Sunday at brunch with my friends, we will all be laughing at you, and I don’t want you to dump my egg-white omelette/beer in my lap if you happen to be nearby and overhear.

“Loyalty is very important to me”- my last three lovers cheated on me.

“I am just as happy to sit at home and watch a movie as I am going out.” (Woman)- No, really, she’s not.

“I am just as happy to sit at home and watch a movie as I am going out.” (Man)- Don’t expect me to buy you dinner past the third date- I expect you to cook me dinner if I bring a DVD over.

“I’m as comfortable in a sexy black cocktail dress as I am in jeans and a t-shirt” or “I’m as comfortable in a tuxedo as I am in jeans and a t-shirt” Because I’ve put on weight and my jeans no longer fit.

“I’m down to earth”- I’m shorter than most of my friends.

“I’m not good at writing about myself but this is what my friends say about me”- I have no idea who I am so I copied a bunch of ideas from other people’s profiles.

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The Name is Shaun

Posted on 11/04/2005

Often people ask me “Is Shaun a Jewish name?” or “How can you be Jewish and be named Shaun?”

Let me clear up the uncertainty. Shaun is very much a Jewish name. Prominent in the Bible were Shaun Macabee who saved the Jewish people from massacre when a tiny bit of oil burned for eight days (the holiday Shanukah celebrates this). There was also King Shaun, famous for such inspirations of brilliance as suggesting cutting a baby in half (nowadays, of course, with extended and convoluted families we cut babies into eighths, like pizza). And, in the Talmud, Rebbe Shaun of Letichev is very prominent, known for such wise sayings as “Doing the right thing for the wrong reasons is better than doing nothing at all” and “”Instead of adding so much salt when you’re cooking, why don’t you leave it on the table and let the individual diners salt the meal according to their own tastes?”

Shauns are famous for more modern accomplishments as well. Shaun Graham Bell invented the telephone; later his grandson Shaun Walker Bell invented the cell phone, after an unsuccessful career as an oil man and an attempt to invent the smell phone.

Shaun Einstein, of course, was responsible for the famous saying “Nice work, Einstein!”

And then there was the Japanese engineer Shaun Ota, who invented a toy that later became a car. Of course he named it after himself. Yes, the ToyOta.

Copyright 2005 by Shaun Eli Breidbart. All rights reserved, except feel free to name your son Shaun. Everyone else is doing it.

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News of the Day

Posted on 10/27/2005

The NYC Transit Authority is looking for ways to spend an unanticipated billion dollar surplus. How about… soap?

Or maybe a joint marketing promotion with Gillette– buy a Metrocard, get a coupon for a stick of deodorant.

arriet Miers withdrew her name for nomination to the Supreme Court. I find it hard to understand how the extreme right wing that got Bush elected won’t believe their extreme right wing president when he says Trust me, I’ve known her for years and she’s as right-wing as the rest of us.

Perhaps someone found a bad review of brownies she made for the Klan’s bake sale? Because that wasn’t she, it was Trent Lott.

Is it possible that someone found evidence that Harriet Miers is not a virgin?

Tropical storm Beta is now forming in the Caribbean. Beta? Are we TESTING storms now?

News stories show Floridians lining up for food and water… but they’re not Floridians, that’s just the end of the long line of Louisianans still standing in line.

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Buying a Job

Posted on 10/25/2005

The Laugh Factory in L.A. recently auctioned off (proceeds go to Katrina victims) the opening spot in an upcoming Jon Lovitz stand-up comedy show. The winning bid was over $7,000. My smaller bid was apparently not enough.

Bidding for stage time? Why would a comedian do that? Please let me explain why I bid.

$2750 for a ten minute spot at The Laugh Factory

vs.

Bush’s four year term in The White House

At that rate, it would cost you $576,576,000* to buy a four-year term in the White House. Here are some advantages of buying the time on stage vs. buying the presidency:

1. I can finance the $2750 myself, with no help needed from Exxon, Philip Morris or the gun lobby.

2. The tape of my spot will surely have fewer gaffs than any ten minutes of Bush in front of a camera.

3. I can say whatever I want without worrying about offending those who claim to support me. I can contradict myself, change my mind, even insult myself.

4. The money goes to help Katrina victims, unlike any money actually being spent by the Bush administration.

5. I can leave early, and they won’t put Cheney on stage.

*Calculation based on 24 hours. The president isn’t any more productive when he’s awake, so why not include the time he’s sleeping?

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ARE They on The Job?

Posted on 10/19/2005

On September 26th I wrote about a problem I had with the NYPD, and how they finally responded that they were doing something about it. I’d tried to report a crime, volunteering information as a witness, and I was pushed off from precinct to precinct as nobody wanted to take ownership of investigating this crime. This because precinct commanders are rated on how well they decrease crime in their territories, so they do what they can to prevent people from actually filing a police report.

Two days after my blog I got a letter from the precinct commander. The letter apologized for taking six months to get back to me but giving me the good news that an arrest was made and that the Manhattan District Attorney’s office was prosecuting the case.

Good news if it were true. But it’s not. I called the D.A. on the case. He said that while he’d like to continue, they haven’t been able to locate the perpetrator, and without being able to bring him in, they don’t bother issuing an arrest warrant (apparently they, or indictments, expire).

When I finished college, returned to NY and was living in The Bronx I was called for jury duty. A simple case– two cops saw a guy with a gun and arrested him. This was pretty easy because in 1989 in The Bronx about one in three people walked around with an illegal handgun. The defendant was a twice-convicted felon who contradicted himself on the stand. An easy verdict, I thought.

We couldn’t reach a verdict. Why not? Because the other jurors didn’t believe anything the cops said. Why would they lie, I asked.

“Because that’s what cops do,” they explained. “You naive child of the suburbs, babies cry, old people die and cops lie. That’s what they do. They don’t need a reason. They just do. Like alcoholics drink, cops lie.”

Eventually we convicted the guy, but it took a whole day of deliberations (more on this in a future blog).

My father is a retired law enforcement officer, a veteran, and someone I look up to as a model of integrity.

But tomorrow, when I start another round of jury duty, I won’t be thinking about my father’s honesty. Foremost on my mind might be how the NYPD is telling me what they think I want to hear, with reckless disregard for the truth.

Inspector, the next time your officers lose a case in court, keep in mind, you might also be to blame.

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Attention Commuters

I could swear I heard this announcement in Grand Central Terminal this morning:

“Please be advised that the Constitutional rights of anyone carrying a backpack or other large item are subject to violation at any time.”

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The NYPD is on the case

In February I was a witness to a non-violent crime. When I called the relevant precinct to make a statement and to give them further information on the crime they told me it wasn’t in their area, and to call a different precinct. Six phone calls later, all to find out which precinct covered that address (no exaggeration, seven phone calls in total) I was steered back to the first place I called. This is, of course, after the responding officers told the victims that what happened wasn’t illegal (it was clearly a premeditated fraud, and the District Attorney’s office looked into it but apparently never issued an arrest warrant for the perp).

It’s well-known in NYC that precinct commanders are judged by the amount of crime in their precincts and they will do anything they can to get that number down, even if it means implying that their officers try to avoid taking police reports. I’m sure that they’re great and brave when it comes to risking their lives to catch violent criminals, but if it’s just a property crime, well, too bad. Someone ripped the mirror off your car? Sorry, that’s a matter between you and your insurance company. Your druggie son stole your jewelry? Well, we’re not family counseling, we’re cops.

I sent an e-mail to the NYPD suggesting that they do something to stop their officers from deterring people from reporting crimes and that they post legible precinct maps on the city’s website (there’s one on the internet but it’s not detailed enough to be useful around the precinct borders). I also mentioned the crime and suggested that someone call me for further information.

Well guess what? Today (September 26th) I got a call from an officer at the precinct that covers the location. Seven months later, he’s getting back to me. He said that he’s new in that precinct, and to call him directly if I have any future problems in his precinct.

I’m glad the FDNY works on a different time-table.

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New Game

From now on, whenever anyone says iPod, you have to say “You pod?”

Why do motorcyclists rev their engines at stoplights?

Because twisting a small penis doesn’t make the same loud noise.

Why do Harley riders rev their engines at stoplights?

To keep them from stalling.

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Our MBA President

I just want to remind everyone that when George Bush ran for president the American people were promised that this first “MBA President” would apply business techniques to government, making it operate more efficiently.

The deficit, the war in Iraq and the feeble response to Hurricane Katrina demonstrate that while our “MBA President” may have mastered the principles of financial leverage by running up record deficits, he is a miserable failure at strategic planning.

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I Was Wrong

All this time I thought that big business should not be running the country, that the government should be separate from industry. That the logging industry should not control our forests, that oil company executives should not be writing our energy policy.

I was wrong. We need the government completely run by corporations. For example, we should have Costco, McDonald’s and FedEx running FEMA– they would have had all the stranded flood victims fed and evacuated in about a day.

Too bad President Bush cut the government’s $40 Costco membership fee from this year’s budget, or we’d have had a lot more drinking water to ship…

It’s been reported that the government was asked for funding to repair the New Orleans levees but the president cut their funding to an amount insufficient to prevent last week’s disaster. That’s typical government thinking– someone asks for money, they give him less, and it’s not enough to solve the problem. When it’s a social program, typically the democrats ask for money, the republicans don’t give them enough, then when the program doesn’t succeed due to lack of funding, the republicans say “See, it doesn’t work.”

In this case I presume that either party would do what they can to cut the budget, and preventing this disaster was one of the items cut. But we’re the richest country in the world– we can afford to fix everything, but apparently tax cuts for the rich were more important than the lives of 100,000 poor people in Louisiana.

If you went to a plastic surgeon and were told that the procedure has a one in a thousand chance of complications, you’d probably go ahead with the surgery. Unless the doctor said that “by procedure I mean each time I press the Suck button on the liposuction machine, and I do that five hundred times during an operation,” because with such terrible odds you’d be nuts to go ahead with the procedure.

The levees breaking was maybe a one in a thousand chance. But I wonder how many other long-shot emergency items have also been cut. Are there more Katrina/New Orleans levees waiting to happen? And what are we doing about it?

As hard as it is for a black person to catch a cab in the city, it’s clear that it’s even harder to hail a helicopter.

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News of the Day

Posted on 09/01/2005

President Bush has praised the newly-proposed Iraqi Constitution. You know he hasn’t read it…. He hasn’t even read OUR Constitution.

Volunteers are flocking to hurricane-damaged areas to help out. Hey, they HAVE people! Plenty of people, people with nothing to do. They need people with some SKILLS, like utility workers, not more unskilled people they have to house and feed. Turn your truck around, Gus, and go back home. The two hundred bucks you would have spent on gas to drive to New Orleans? Give it to charity, let them buy food for the hurricane victims, and use THEIR expertise to get it to Biloxi and New Orleans.

Dolce & Gabbana announced that they plan to begin selling low-rise jeans for men. Low-rise MEN’S jeans? This would be horrible… if any men actually shopped at Dolce & Gabbana.

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News of the Day

Posted on 08/24/2005

President Bush is meeting Chinese President Hu. President Hu? This has Bad International Incident written all over it.

Last week Madonna was injured falling off a horse. Usually it’s the other way around.

The president of Turkmenistan has outlawed all lip-synching, even at private parties. Let’s call this what it is– the first step toward a total international ban on karaoke. My friend Phil, stationed in Ashgabat, probably doesn’t realize how lucky he is.

After calling for the assassination of Venezuelan President Chavez, Pat Robertson is now saying he was misinterpreted… even though he clearly talked about assassination. Perhaps somebody showed him a copy of the Ten Commandments, so he’s trading in “Thou Shalt Not Kill” for “Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness.” I have no comment on the Commandment “Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbor’s Oil.”

I am tired of people writing editorials and letters to newspapers saying that if politicians are for the war in Iraq why aren’t their children in the military? This is not a relevant question:

Their children, once they reach 18, are free to make up their own minds. Not only is it not their parent’s decision, but it’s also wrong to assume that the children of pro Iraq war politicians are also for the war.

Furthermore, the children of politicians may be able to make other, equally important, contributions to society. I don’t think too many people would take someone who could be a brilliant cancer researcher and say “Hey, grab this rifle– you may not be a better shot than the next guy, but hey, screw the cancer research and start shooting.”

Yes, I realize I’m defending the president’s drunken daughters. But now that they’re adults, they’re free to opt to spend the rest of their lives getting drunk instead of defending our country. As long as they don’t get so drunk that they throw up on the Japanese Prime Minister’s daughters.

Hey, at least they don’t have their own reality show. I guess it’s because their daddy already does.

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New Scientific Study on Business Productivity

A new study conducted by the Wharton School of Business in conjunction with the Pew Research Institute and the Marist Poll determined that the personal computer has increased American productivity by 34%… but that American workers now spend 47% of their work day playing on the internet.

Disagree? Where the hell are you sitting right now? And where were you sitting the first time you found www.BrainChampagne.com?

Please bookmark www.BrainChampagne.com and read it every morning on company time.

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NBC’s Newest Show

Since the finale of their show “I Want To Be A Hilton” didn’t get the ratings they expected, the network has announced a follow-up contest show: “I Want To Beat The Crap Out Of A Hilton With A Louisville Slugger.”

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Four Cops Stopped Me

Posted on 08/01/2005

They stopped me from getting on my train. They took me aside and said that they wanted to look in my backpack.

I said no. My backpack contained no contraband, only my date book, cell phone, some magazines, some confidential business papers, and a copy of the Constitution. Really. It’s in my backpack. Hey, some people carry the whole Bible. Oh, and about a half-dozen empty soda cans. I’m a caffeine addict, an environmentalist, and thrifty. Nobody needed to know that.

When “Seinfeld” first went on the air, my roommate and I wrote a spec. script for the show. The producer wrote back, saying no thanks, but explained that they didn’t know what they were looking for, because they were new at this and had no idea what they were doing. It was a nice letter, nicer now in hindsight because apparently, knowledge or not, they did just fine.

I wrote another script. You’ll see why this is relevant in a few hundred words.

I asked the police officer if she would prevent me from getting on my train if I refused to consent to a search. She said yes. I told her “Then I guess I’m taking the next train.”

Which I did, though I used a different entrance to the platform so they wouldn’t entirely keep me from getting home. Which I would have done with my regular train, but I didn’t have enough time.

As you know if you’ve read my earlier blog I think these random searches are a stupid, and unconstitutional, idea. Stupid because you can say no, which means that anybody carrying something illegal can just leave (okay, they caught one idiot carrying M-80 fireworks, but so far that’s it). It’s not a great use of thousands of police and civilian hours. And because a terrorist could choose to blow himself/herself up right there, killing civilians AND the police officers. Or, as I did, simply take another train. And unconstitutional because the Constitution says “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated…” By my way of thinking, the right to stop anybody, at any time, claiming the “right” to search their belongings, is unreasonable. My time is a valuable resource, and I don’t need the police looking through papers of mine which might be confidential, through property of mine which might be embarrassing, because they think that random stops deter terrorism. What if I were a journalist, an attorney, an investment banker or a doctor, carrying papers that were not for the police to examine? It might not be only MY rights which were being violated.

I called my parents to tell them that I was thinking of notifying the ACLU that I was stopped, and that I was volunteering should the ACLU, of which I am not a member, decide to sue to stop these random searches.

Both parents were against it. My mother said that the government had new powers, powers to which she is opposed, but you can’t fight them. My father also thought I shouldn’t fight.

My father’s family lost everything in the Great Depression, and his father died when he was young. My father fought in World War II (on our side). My mother came here from Russia, her parents fleeing totalitarianism. They abandoned everything they had when they came here, and were dirt poor back when there was no Welfare and Brooklyn still had plenty of dirt. My mother had to walk miles to college when she didn’t have the nickel for the trolley (really). Yet somehow she and her sister managed to get through college and a master’s degree program– because back then, City College was truly free.

Mom told me that even after living in the U.S. for decades, when her father saw a police officer he walked the other way. Because for his entire life in Russia, nothing good ever came out of a possible confrontation with a police officer. Keep in mind he was a Jew in a small town in Russia, where for sport the Cossacks would get drunk and beat up Jews for no reason. My family was smart– they got into the alcohol business so they had some control– if you’re drinking, the last person you want to beat up is the guy who makes the booze. But still it wasn’t a great life for them. Of course once they got here, like so many other immigrants, they had to start over.

Neither of my parents had it easy. Yet somehow they not only got through it, they raised three sons who, between all of us, have seven Ivy League degrees (one of which is mine).

When I told my parents that I intended to volunteer to fight the searches—— Well, this was the first time I’d ever heard either of them actually sound scared of anything. My parents. Two of the toughest people I’ve ever known, and my circle of acquaintances has included Olympic gold medal rowers, U.S. Marines, a pediatric oncologist, Israeli commandos, black belts in karate.

My own parents, scared of OUR OWN GOVERNMENT.

In AMERICA. The land of the free and the home of the brave.

Which made me realize I’m doing the right thing by volunteering to fight this. Because, as someone once said, and has often been quoted, the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.

Okay, now to explain the Seinfeld reference. I wrote a second spec. script. A couple of months later I watched as they aired MY SCRIPT. The same two plots, virtually the same story, some of even the same types of sentences and ideas. Yet I hadn’t even heard from them, and you can be sure that someone else was listed as the writer. I was LIVID. STEAMING. READY TO EXPLODE, for the five minutes it took me to realize that I hadn’t yet sent them my second script.

Yes. A co-incidence. Wow.

So, let’s say I wasn’t Shaun. I was darker-skinned, named Abdul or Mohammed, carrying a copy of the Koran. And they’d stopped me.

Do you think I’d have thought I was chosen randomly? Of course not.

So, not only do these random searches waste time, frighten people, waste resources that could be put to better use, but they also risk convincing people that they are the victims of stereotyping, of discrimination, of the violation of their equal rights. That too is a risk we should not be taking. Because people come to this country to ESCAPE that, not to experience it. We’re supposed to be the best country in the world, the one in which everyone wants to live, the shining example for the rest of the world to follow. Not just the richest. The most just. The one with the lady in the harbor, welcoming your “…tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” She’s been here more than a hundred years, yet we haven’t even had the decency to give her a full name. I suggest Janette Liberté. But that’s another story.

As an aside: I am for the legalization of marijuana. Also for the legalization of marajuana and the legalization of marihuana. Any drug that has three different spellings is fine with me.

Someone else once said, of nazi Germany, “When they came for the communists, I didn’t speak up because I was not a communist. When they came for the Jews, I didn’t speak up because I was not a Jew. When they came for the Catholics, I didn’t speak up because I was not a Catholic. When they came for me, there was no one left to speak up.”

I have to speak up. We have to draw the line somewhere. Better now than later.

I had no drugs in my bag. I do not use marijuana, by any spelling. But I feel that cannabis (this saves me from favoring a particular spelling) is probably less dangerous than alcohol, has been shown to have few if any harmful side-effects (okay, if you overeat because you smoked some then you may risk heart disease) and yet it’s illegal while alcohol and regular cigarettes, which kill hundreds of thousands of Americans a year, are legal.

Gee, I wonder who’s making those campaign donations. Hello?

So, since I’m against arresting people for possession of, or use of (as long as they’re not driving), cannabis, I think that these random searches inhibit people’s ability to buy, transport, sell and use the drug. Another reason to oppose these searches.

If enough people say no, maybe we can make a difference. Maybe instead of searching randomly they’ll put their brains to use to find a better way to stop terrorists. Because, guess what? The terrorists know they’re searching backpacks on NYC public transit. Heard of Philadelphia mass transit? Heard of the local supermarket? Heard of hiding a bomb under your shirt, instead of in a backpack? So have the terrorists. If you try to stop them somewhere, they’ll figure out where else to go. Stop looking backwards for train bombers, and think progressively, and figure out where they’re going NEXT. Like you should have, schmucks running our country, before September 11th. Because, as I said in a letter to the New York Times that was published three years ago, “Terrorists had previously tried to destroy the World Trade Center. The White House had received warnings of hijackings. A 1994 Tom Clancy novel depicted a terrorist crashing a 747 into the Capitol Building during a joint meeting of Congress. Just about everybody who had ever played Microsoft’s Flight Simulator game before Sept. 11 had crashed an imaginary airplane into a virtual World Trade Center.” I wrote this letter after Condoleeza Rice, then our National Security Advisor, said “I don’t think anybody could have predicted that these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center.”

Hey, wake up and smell your job description.

To quote the leader of our country, “Either you’re with us, or you’re against us.”

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How Stupid Are We? How Stupid Do We Think They Are?

Posted on 07/22/2005

On my birthday yesterday I learned that the NYPD plans to begin random searches of backpacks in subways.

“Those who are ready to sacrifice freedom for security ultimately will lose both” – Abraham Lincoln

But let’s even forget about the fact that the country is starting to feel a bit like a police state– random searches, secret uncontestable search warrants issued by secret judicial panels, people being labelled “enemy combatants” so they don’t have to be given their Constitutional rights (when the phrase “enemy combatant” does not appear in the Constitution). Let’s even forget that with all our airline security, while we’ve caught a lot of guys named Gus who forgot that they were carrying guns, we haven’t caught anyone with any actual intent to hijack a plane. And the highest-profile reported case of actually catching a suspected terrorist in this country turned out to be a guy who bragged to his friends that he was selling weapons, but since he had no access to weapons and didn’t know anybody evil to sell weapons to, the FBI conveniently pretended to be a weapons supplier and also found an FBI phony weapons buyer so they could actually arrest a guy with no access to either side of his transaction. Essentially they made him an arms dealer so they could arrest him for being an arms dealer.

Enough on that. Let’s look at the idea of random backpack searches. They say they’ll be random and there won’t be racial profiling. Sure, because Middle-Eastern isn’t a race. Do you think they’ll randomly open an eighty year old white woman’s big purse? How hard do you think it is to slip a small time bomb into Phillis’s purse when she’s not looking?

The NYC subway system has millions of riders a day. They’ll be able to stop only a few thousand people. So if you’re a suicide bomber, the odds are with you. Oh, and if they do stop one, do you think he’ll open his bag and let the cop find the bomb? No, he’ll blow himself up (along with the cop, and everyone behind him in line at the turnstiles). It will rain blood and metrocards. Mission accomplished.

So let’s search everyone, so the subway will be eight dollars a ride (cops are expensive) and it takes as long to get on the D train as it does to get through security at JFK. Don’t even think of taking nail clippers to work. Oh, you work in a nail salon, Kara? Not anymore.

Sure, let’s search every subway rider. So the suicide bombers give up on the subway… and instead blow up everyone in Gristedes, the movie theater, on the sidewalk. Maybe we’ll have door-to-door suicide bombers.

At least until winter, when they can hide the bombs under their winter coats.

Or recruit women. Do you really think Officer Subway is going to ask the pregnant woman to lift up her abaya to show that she’s really pregnant? Will they make Fat Tony prove he’s not really Mini-Tony?

Will pretty French tourists stop bringing sexy underwear on vacation because they don’t want to be embarrassed in public by Officer Subway pawing through their suitcase? Because if that happens, I’m buying an airline ticket to Europe.

Just for the record, I’m okay with some unobtrusive way to search, such as a machine that can sniff explosives. But anything that wastes my time, and invades my privacy, I have a problem with.

And I heard on the radio yesterday that in the past four years there have been 1600 accidental incursions of the giant flight restrictions around Washington, DC. That’s 1600 incursions and not one attempt on anyone’s life.

Think about that. 1600 pilots who screwed up. Which means that probably there have been hundreds of thousands of flights that had to divert around that airspace. Do you realize what a monumental waste of time and fuel that must be? Can’t we find a better way to protect our leaders than shutting down the airspace all around them?

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Please stop talking about “Thinking outside the box” if THERE IS NO BOX.

Don’t tell me to “Do the math” unless there is actual math to be done.

It’s not “A win-win situation for both parties” unless there are four winners.

And please don’t say yourself or myself unless you or I are both the subject and object of the sentence. In other words, you can look at yourself. I can look at myself. But I cannot look at yourself unless you and I are the same person. And I’m pretty sure we’re not. Because when I do look at myself, I see me, not you.

If you have a problem with that, get back inside the box.

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Suing the Landlord

Posted on 7/13/05

So I had to sue my landlord. Back in the winter they were doing reconstruction on the apartment upstairs. The standard way to gut an apartment is to bust out a window, park a dumpster in the alley below, and throw all the debris out the window into the dumpster.

And, if you’re not an idiot, when it’s four degrees outside you remember to cover up the gaping hole when you leave on Friday evening.

If you’re an idiot, the pipes freeze and the apartment below gets flooded. Under NY State law, it’s pretty clear that the landlord is responsible for the flood. I sent a nice letter asking for compensation and he said I’d have to sue him. So I did.

Since only a few months earlier we’d had a fire (Note– an unsupervised three year old, curtains and a cigarette lighter… any two of the three, no problem. All three, a big problem) I didn’t have much left to damage. I sued for around $1050. The night before the Small Claims Court date, the lawyer for the landlord’s insurance company called me. To ask questions. I pointed out that in Small Claims Court he’s not entitled to discovery (the asking of questions) but anyway explained why he was going to lose. He pretty much understood that I knew what I was talking about. And I found out that his office was an hour commute from the courthouse. So I suggested that he simply send me a check for $1050 rather than bill an equivalent amount to his client and still lose. He said he couldn’t do that.

When I asked if it was because he had to show up in court in case I didn’t, he pretty much said yes. I asked him the address of the courthouse. He said 34 Fifth Avenue. I asked him to read me my address. He said 17 Fifth Avenue. I said “Do you really expect me NOT to cross the street for a thousand dollars?”

He showed up in court. I met him outside, said “Hey, I crossed the street, do you want to give me $1050?” He said no. We went into court, where the judge asked if we could go outside and try to settle. So we tried.

He asked what I wanted. I said every darn penny I lost due to his client’s client’s contractor’s negligence. We quibbled over the value of one picture frame, and settled on $1025. He pulled out a standard contract that said something like “Plaintiff waives all claims from the beginning of time until (fill in today’s date).”

I said that sounded rather drastic– could we say July 4, 1776? Because I might have some rights under the Magna Carta that I’m not yet prepared to waive.”

He crossed out “From the beginning of time” and wrote in “July 4, 1776.”

So if the Magna Carta has no Statute of Limitations…

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She No Longer Loves Bad Boys

Posted on 06/30/2005

Last Thursday was my girlfriend’s birthday, and she had a party. I was walking to her apartment carrying four dozen roses. In the water bottle pockets of my backpack I had two bottles of Champagne sticking out very noticeably.

As I passed by Columbus Circle I saw a woman wearing an “I Love Bad Boys” t-shirt. She looked at the roses, then at the Champagne, then at me. Then back at the roses, and the Champagne.

Bad boys just don’t know how to treat women” I said to her.

“It’s your anniversary.” She said to me.

“Nope.”

“Then what is it?”

“It’s Thursday” I told her. “Happy Thursday.”

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Kiss Your House Goodbye

Posted on 06/23/2005

Eminent domain is the Constitutionally-allowed power of state and local governments to seize private property for a public purpose, as long as they pay for it. Mostly it’s been used for a public good– they tear down some houses to put up a school or firehouse, or they take a piece of farmland to put in a highway or some railroad tracks. This has been done for hundreds of years and without the power of eminent domain we’d probably not have very many roads or firehouses.

The Supreme Court just ruled that the power of Eminent Domain allows state and local governments to seize private property and give or sell it to other private enterprises merely because the newer enterprise promises to add value to the property. In other words, they can tear down a slum and put up fancy housing because that will lead to economic development and higher tax revenue. Oh, they have to pay the people who own the slum properties, but they pay the market value for a slum, not what the land is going to be worth once the slum is replaced by fancy housing.

Of course with the slum gone the price of the least expensive housing goes up, and the poor people who have been forced out of their homes are screwed. Well, you should’ve lived in a communist country, you poor suckers, because here in America you live where you can afford to live, and if that means the street, well, you should be thankful it’s not a busy street.

The Supreme Court vote was 5-4, and I find myself agreeing with the conservative minority that there ought to be stricter limits to eminent domain. Otherwise, the state can seize a K-Mart and sell the land to Target, because Target promises higher tax revenues. That is, until Wal-Mart comes along. Where does it end? Ask Bill Gates, or Exxon, or maybe China.

I’d complain more, but I don’t have the time– I have to get in touch with my town to force my neighbor out of his house– I’m sure that my assessed value would go up, and thus tax revenues to the town, if I got rid of my neighbor and put up a huge house with a lovely indoor swimming pool. I’m thinking a movie theatre and bowling alley, too. Or those mini racing cars.

My neighbor’s in his sixties, but I’m sure he wouldn’t mind moving in with his daughter. I’d let him come back and use the pool, but if word got out about the pool then somebody richer might come along and force me out of my house.

think I would get to keep my gun. Thank God for the Second Amendment. You can have my house when you pry it out of my cold, dead hands.

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We stink. We STINK. WE REALLY STINK!

Posted on 06/13/2005

I’m a first-generation American. I vote and pay my taxes proudly and I think this is the greatest country in the world. But still we stink.

Let me explain. A few nights ago I was watching Fear Factor. One of the bug-eating episodes, not one of the bugs-crawling-all-over-you episodes.

Yes, we are entertained by watching people eat disgusting creatures in search of a $50,000 prize.

There are five billion people on our planet, and a lot of them go hungry. Some of them will die of starvation. But here in America we are paying people to eat stuff they don’t want to eat, just so others can be entertained.

Maybe we should pay them $40,000 and spend the other $10,000 on helping people grow more food. Or perhaps for every hour of Fear Factor people watch, they should be required to spend five minutes watching people go hungry. And don’t even get me started on all the mass murder going on in Darfur that we’re not doing anything about. It may not be on the same scale as the Holocaust, but this time we know all about it and we have the military means to stop it. And by stopping it, perhaps discouraging future mass murderers. Instead we’re sending the message that we’ll let them get away with it. Oh, unless they really piss us off. Our country’s leaders claim to be men of God. They sure aren’t men of men.

Now that I’ve brought down the room, go see a comedy show and get cheery again. Or at least scroll down and read some of my funny blogs. But I had to speak my mind. With my job comes some responsibility to speak out.

Oh, you think I owe you some jokes? Okay.

Some sad news. The founder of Wine Spectator magazine has passed away. Or, as the magazine is reporting it… “His Bordeaux is continuing to age, but he isn’t.”

Scientists are saying that the surface of the earth has been getting brighter, but they’re not sure why. I can tell you one thing: it’s not the people.

For more comedy, please visit the Expired Comedy section of this website.

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I’m having a great day

Posted on 06/01/2005

We found out who Deep Throat was, and all day I’ve been glued to CNN, watching Nixon resign, over and over and over and over….

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I Think I Lost This Round

Posted on 05/30/2005

Every few weeks my neighbors have a garage sale. To try to sell the same useless crap that nobody bought at the previous garage sales. Nobody buys anything. But still every sale fills up our quiet street with cars and clogs the neighborhood as my neighbors sit hopefully in their driveway all day.

So a couple of weeks ago I went over and asked what they wanted for EVERYTHING. Not much, so I bought it all to finally put an end to this nonsense, and on bulk garbage day I put it ALL out for the garbagemen.

But my neighbors beat the garbagemen to my curb, and they took all the stuff back, and now today they’re having another garage sale.

Anybody have any ideas that don’t involve a gallon of gasoline and some matches?

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Today’s Mail

Posted on 05/02/2005

In today’s mail I got an invitation for an AARP credit card. A surprise. I’m sure they’d give me one even though I’m only 43.

The bigger shock was an invitation to celebrate Anne Frank’s 75th birthday. A party which will include a live musical performance by Cyndi Lauper. The woman who made her career by hopping around on stage in bright colors, screeching and singing “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.”

I quote from her song:
Some boys take a beautiful girl
And hide her away from the rest of the world
I want to be the one to walk in the sun
Oh girls they want to have fun

This is in such poor taste I’m at a loss for words.

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Driving While InTalks-icated

Posted on 05/01/2005

Sooner or later… two people are going to be talking to each other on their cell phones while driving, and crash… into each other.

Confucius say: He who crosses street while talking to girlfriend on cell phone get run over by woman driving SUV while talking to her nanny on cell phone.

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My waitressing fantasy

WRITTEN BY Marianne Sierk and used with permission (Shaun’s comments follow)

Originally Posted on Comedy Soapbox 04/22/2005 at 09:35 PM

“I’m working at a restaurant on Lake Ontario this summer for some cccyash for my move to LA that feels like it will never happen. Tonight it was raining and yucky out so I only had 4 tables and am home already, writing to you, faceless Blog. In any case – I had a revelation as I was starring at the lake waiting for my last table to wash down their fish fry with our finest white zinfendel (Go Rochester!) and I imagined how I’d like to die – at least for tonight. I’d take as many orders for dinner as I can – then I’d pretend to put them in the computer – but I’d really be ordering Filet Mignon’s for everyone. Right before the first load of misordered steaks comes in – I’d rip off my bow tie and scream, “Surf’s up!” I’d run off the pier that’s connected to said restaurant and jump in the choppy lake waters. I’d be found with my tux shirt still on, apron afixed to my new polysesters, $14 CASH still secure within my pockets. Maybe my wine key would be lost, but I’d be CLUTCHING my lighter. (I don’t smoke, but birthday candles don’t light themselves….) I’d just let myself drift as far out as I can – and then eventually give up whatever struggle would come naturally and let the polluted Lake Ontario water fill my asthma ridden lungs – a huge smile embedded on my face. Two hotty italian busboys would gallantly throw down their Windex bottles and buspans and scream…..”NOOOO!” and jump in to try to save me – but it’s too late! It’s always too late. I’m a strong swimmer, but no match for the great tides of a Great Lake. Someone get me out of this city. The End. (in so many ways)PS – I swear this isn’t a cry for help – just a fantasy!”

Comments are below

The Response, Posted on 04/22/2005 at 10:45 PM by Shaun Eli

Same fantasy, minus the death. You win the $205 million lottery. Order steak for everyone.

Then run away, in your Ferrari, driven by comedian and excellent driver Shaun Eli. Okay, Brad Pitt.

When the police chase you, you drop a note out the window that says “Just Kidding. Bring this to the restaurant.” And with the note are fifteen hundred dollar bills. And an address in Malibu for them to mail the speeding ticket.

You and Mr. Pitt leave the car at a local airport, where pilot Shaun Eli is waiting with a plane to fly you two lovebirds to California, after a stop in Vegas where Mr. Pitt can beg you to marry him (you politely turn him down, explaining that he’s just a toy).

You spend a night (actually it’s from 9 AM to 11:30 PM but in Vegas there is no time) in a cheap hotel under assumed names. Then you kiss him goodbye, find a waiting pair of Ducati motorcycles, with expert motorcyclist Shaun Eli waiting to escort you to your new home in Malibu, where real estate agent and skilled interior decorator* Shaun Eli is ready to show you around and help you furnish your new home.

Fabulastic chef Shaun Eli goes shopping and returns to prepare you a wonderful dinner while you relax in a bubble bath. He then leaves you with two bottles of Champagne, and a wonderful dessert, as a ragged Brad Pitt enters the house for one final goodbye fling.

*Shaun Eli is not a licensed California real estate agent and his decorating skills are subject to some debate.

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At What Point Do We Not Mention Race?

Posted on 04/22/2005

I went to pick up my date at her apartment. At 119th near Lenox. For those of you not familiar with Manhattan, this is in Harlem (Lenox is also known as Malcolm X Blvd and as I’m sure you can imagine, there’s no big push to name streets in white neighborhoods after Malcolm X, although there ought to be a push to rename all the Jefferson Davis streets and schools after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or Rosa Parks or at least Chuck Berry).

My date didn’t answer the buzzer, and she wasn’t answering her phone. But she never answers her phone and her buzzer doesn’t work that well. Someone came out of her building, and I asked him if he knew if Evie were home.

Her building is a five story brownstone with only two apartments per floor.

He said he didn’t know who she was.

I said “She looks around thirty, she has long, dark, wavy hair, she’s thin and pretty, she’s a schoolteacher, moved in around five months ago.”

He had no idea who she was.

“She rides a bicycle a lot.”

“Oh, you mean the white girl! Why didn’t you say so? No, I don’t think she’s home.”

Okay, why DIDN’T I say so?

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Think about this

Posted on 04/21/2005

A new study reported that most traffic lights in the U.S. have not had their timing changed in over a decade. That’s right, before those shopping malls were built, and back when that housing complex was still farmland. Back when fewer cars travelled, and came from and went to different parts of your town.

The reason for the lack of change? State and local traffic engineers don’t have the resources to study traffic patterns and re-time the lights. They say for only FOUR DOLLARS PER CAR they could re-time most of the traffic lights in America, saving us millions of hours in travelling time, millions of gallons of gasoline, and wear and tear on our cars (including the tires and brake linings that wear down every time we have to slow down to stop at another red light). And of course cut down on pollution, that thing we used to care about back before the oil companies took their first four year lease on America with an option to renew.

So the next time you’re stuck in traffic, listening to some politician on the radio bragging about how he’s going to lower your taxes, think about what more he intends to cut from the budget. The money has to come from somewhere. It’s already come from your time, your gas, your brakes, your tires, your lungs…

Comedy: A non-polluting, self-renewing national resourcesm

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There is no “I” in “Team”

Posted on 04/14/2005

But… HALF of T E A M is M E.

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Google this! (warning: if you are easily offended please scroll down past this entry)

Posted on 04/14/2005

Somebody told me that no matter what phrases you Google, you will get some number of hits. I wasn’t sure. So…

I took the most random and unrelated of phrases and here’s what I found:

“Kansas City” + penis + buddha + “Home Depot” gave 651 hits.

arthritis + shoes + cunnilingus + oregon gave 146 hits.

But substitute fellatio for cunnilingus and you more than double the number of hits. Change it to fetus or calculus and it goes up further still. Algebra does even better, more than 2000 hits.

eraser + logical + river + telephone + cashew gives 83 hits.

welder + nostril + basketball + labor gives 77 hits.

Note that I was totally sober when I tried this experiment.

So you can imagine how my mind works after a few drinks.

My stand-up comedy is clean. Apparently my blogs are not always.

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Mister can you buy me beer?

Posted on 04/11/2005

When I was seventeen I worked in a supermarket. I had a beard and looked older. Once when I was leaving, two sixteen year olds stopped me and asked if I could buy them some beer (the drinking age in NY at the time was eighteen). I told them I couldn’t, because I wasn’t old enough. They didn’t believe me. Of course I probably could have bought beer anywhere EXCEPT that store, since they knew how old I was.

Last night I was sitting at the bar at a comedy show, next to an eighteen year old. She asked me to buy her a beer. I told her I’d be glad to, in about three years. The bartender knows me, and obviously knew that this woman was too young to buy alcohol, so had I bought a beer and given it to her, we both would have been thrown out. Not that I would have anyway.

I couldn’t buy her a beer in any state; that’s illegal. But I’m pretty sure it’d be okay if I bought her a gun.

And if a woman with a gun asks me to buy her a beer, well, I don’t think I’d say no.

And probably the reason that having a beer is such a big deal for her is simply that it’s forbidden. In many European countries kids are given small amounts of alcohol to taste as they grow up. It’s not something forbidden to lust for. And they don’t have the same problem with drunken teenagers and young adults as we do. Certainly they don’t have as many people trying 21 shots on their 21st birthday and dying from their first exposure to alcohol.

Raising the drinking age is credited with cutting down on drunken driving, but in fact all the exposure to the issue, and stricter law enforcement, is probably responsible for much of that.

Perhaps we should lower the drinking age to sixteen, but give kids a choice– a license to drink OR a license to drive. That way every group of friends would have a designated driver, and they could switch off every few months.

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Trapped in an Elevator

Posted on 04/07/2005

This week the NYPD undertook a massive search for a missing Chinese restaurant deliveryman. When his bicycle was found chained up outside an apartment building, they searched the building and found that he had been trapped in an elevator… for three days. An elevator with an emergency call button AND A CAMERA.

In the meantime the police arrested a man because he had a blood-colored stain on his shirt. It turned out to be exactly what he claimed it was: barbecue sauce from a dinner he’d eaten three days earlier.

Anybody who lives in an apartment building and doesn’t change his food-stained shirt for three days probably deserves a little jail time.

Don’t you agree?

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Mitch Hedberg

Posted on 03/31/2005

Mitch headlined one of the first shows I ever did, at Stand-Up New York. I’d seen many of his TV appearances but had never before seen him live.

They announced that he was trying out material for his appearance the next night on “Late Show with David Letterman.” He read much of his material from his notes, and if anybody tells you that you can’t be that funny working from notes, they are W R O N G.

Mitch Rocked.

Then he did most of that material on TV the next night.

Mitch Rocked.

Until at one point they cut to a shot of his shoes while he was in the middle of a joke. This caught his attention, he made some off-hand comment about the irrelevance of showing his feet, he lost his rhythm and what I thought was his strongest joke, didn’t work well.

Mitch taught me a lot from this experience.

I learned that you can be really funny trying new material from a notebook, if you’re really, really funny. And I learned never to look at the monitor when you’re on television.

I hope some day I can benefit from both these things.

The world lost a great comedian this week. Someone who was different, who didn’t see the world sideways so much as inside-out. Someone who could make us laugh not only from a surprise or an unusual observation, but simply from a brilliant manipulation of the English language.

Three comedian websites I monitor (SheckyMagazine.com, ComedySoapbox.com and The Standups Asylum group on MSN) have had more comments on Mitch Hedberg this week than on just about any other topic, ever.

Mitch, you are already missed.

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A Dubious Honor

I have been named one of Westchester’s Most Eligible Bachelors.

More interestingly, if you type NYC Arabian Comedian into Google, my website (www.BrainChampagne.com) comes up first.

I’m not Arabian.

Not even close.

Sell your Google stock.

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Business School Admissions and Business Ethics

The New York Times reported on Monday that some business school applicants were able to hack an admissions website to find out whether they’d been admitted, prior to the release of the information.

Harvard, MIT and Carnegie Mellon found out who the students were and denied them admission on the basis of the students’ lack of ethics (Harvard said the students were free to re-apply next year, but I’d bet they won’t get in then either).

As one of the first business school students to take a business ethics class (this was in the early eighties), I applaud the universities’ decisions.

Some students have protested, claiming that hacking into a website to find out early what they would eventually have found out anyway is no big deal, likening it to taking a pencil home from the office.

I’d say it’s more like stealing a pencil during a job interview. Would you hire someone who did that?

If the students believe that what they did was not wrong, they should be amenable to having the schools publish their names, so we can decide for ourselves whether we ever want to hire these people.

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Tourists from another planet

Posted on 03/16/2005

Those of us who live in NY are used to seeing all sorts of strange behavior.

Sometimes we can figure it out. Sometimes we can’t.

Last week I saw tourists, who spoke with American accents, taking a photograph of a Starbucks. Where could these people be from that they’ve never seen one before?

I’d bet that there were probably four or five Starbucks coffee shops inside the plane they flew on to get to NYC.

Unless they flew to NYC in a time machine from the 1950s. Or, with any luck, from not too far in the future.

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A Typical NYC Conversation...

Posted on 03/15/2005

Street Vendor: Three for ten dollars. They’re ten dollars EACH in a store.

Tourist: How do I know they’re not stolen?

Street Vendor: Of COURSE they’re stolen.

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Score One More for Feminism

Posted on 03/12/2005

Say what you want about Prince Charles’ fiancee, but after they’re married I expect that very few little girls will be saying that they want to be princesses when they grow up!

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Comedians in the Talmud

“Rav Beroka of Bei Hozae was often in the market of Bei Lapat. There he would meet Elijah. Once he said to Elijah: ‘Is there anyone in this market who has earned eternal life?’ Elijah said to him: ‘No.’ They were standing there when two men came along. Elijah said to him: ‘These men have earned eternal life.’ Rav Beroka went to them and said: ‘What do you do?’ They replied: ‘We are jesters, and make the sad to laugh.'”

– – – The Talmud (a collection of ancient writings on Jewish law)

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Hospital Suggestion

I was visiting my friend Sara who teaches and does research at a medical school– I met her outside the hospital entrance, where a large number of patients, many with IVs attached, were smoking.

If the hospitals are going to let the patients go outside and smoke, wouldn’t it be much more convenient, and HEALTHIER, if they just put nicotine into their IV solutions?

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Jewish Geography

Someone accused me of anti-Semitism because I used the phrase “Jewish Geography” to refer to asking if someone knew someone else because he was from the same town.

So I quote you from Genesis 29:4–

“And Jacob said unto them: ‘My brethren, whence are ye?’ And they said: ‘Of Haran are we.’ And he said unto them: ‘Know ye Laban the son of Nahor?’ And they said: ‘We know him.’ “

So there!

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Final Score: Commandments 10, Justices 9

Posted on 03/09/2005

The Supreme Court is hearing a case about whether it’s legal for governments to post the Ten Commandments.

All nine Supreme Court justices are either Christian or Jewish. Two religions which believe in the Ten Commandments as a central tenet.

Therefore I believe that all nine justices ought to recuse themselves from this case.

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Censorship vs. Simple Bad Taste

Posted on 03/08/2005

According to today’s New York Times, a recent issue of the New York Press (a free weekly newspaper) had a front-page satirical article on the “Upcoming Death of the Pope.” After a public outcry over the article, the editor resigned.

I find the subject to be in bad taste (although I didn’t read the article and admit that the content might be funny, despite the subject matter).

But– also according the the New York Times, Representative (and mayoral candidate) Anthony D. Weiner said that “Everyone has a right to free speech, but I hope New Yorkers exercise their right to take as many of these rags as they can and put them in the trash.”

Actually there is NO such right. That is censorship. I haven’t looked at the inside cover of the NY Press lately but I hope they are smart enough to say that ONE copy per customer is free, which would make taking more than one paper and discarding it stealing. That is NOT one’s right.

I find the subject of the NY Press article in bad taste. I find Mr. Weiner’s comment beyond bad taste; it’s offensive and a violation of the our right to create and read articles written in bad taste.

Given a choice between the two, I would take the NY Press over Mr. Weiner.

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Harvard X

Posted on 03/05/2005

Medical researchers at Harvard University have announced plans to start testing the psychedelic drug Ecstasy on humans.

And you thought it was hard to get into Harvard before!

Actually the study is to see if the drug could help relieve the suffering of terminally-ill cancer patients. White House officials are against the study because they say it could legitimize a dangerous drug. It could lead to the use of other dangerous drugs, such as alcohol, morphine and maybe even that very popular drug that CAUSES cancer, tobacco.

And the president’s biggest fear, the one that has led him to cut funding for medical and scientific research? That someone might eventually develop truth serum.

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The Gates!

Posted on 03/03/2005

Mayor Bloomberg said that New York City’s economy received a $254 million boost from tourists coming to see The Gates, which, for those of you who haven’t seen this, is pretty much a bunch of orange curtains hanging from scaffolding in Central Park.

1.5 million visitors, including 300,000 from other countries, came to NYC specifically to see The Gates. Hotel occupancy was up more than 10% and some restaurants near the park reported double their normal business.

Top Broadway shows? The World Series? Wall Street? The center of fashion? The headquarters of the United Nations? Great restaurants? Top comedy clubs? The country’s greatest museums? Hit television shows? Symphony orchestras? Greenwich Village rock music clubs? Foreign art films you may not be able to see anywhere else? The Bronx Zoo? Nope, people come to see curtains. I guess that’s what we should expect in a country where NYC is the third most popular tourist destination, after…

Orlando and Las Vegas.

But we ARE glad you came. New York is the world’s most international city, and it wouldn’t be, without you. Please come back, with or without something specific to see. Just please walk faster or stay to the right on the sidewalks. We live here, we’re usually in a hurry, and sometimes we’re in a hurry to do something to make the city a nicer place for you to visit.

I said sometimes.

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Changing the Presidents

Posted on 02/22/2005

A congressman wants to take President Ulysses S. Grant off the fifty dollar bill and replace his portrait with that of President Reagan. General Grant, who won the Civil War, saved the Union and gave birth to the question “Who is buried in Grant’s tomb?” The answer to which, by the way, is “General AND MRS. Grant,” for all of you who got it wrong.

I have a better idea– leave Grant on the fifty, but reissue the thirty year Treasury bond and put Reagan’s picture on that. After all, nobody ever did more to run up government debt than Reagan (not yet, anyway, Bush still has four more years).

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A stunningly beautiful woman kissed me tonight

Posted on 02/17/2005

A stunningly beautiful woman kissed me tonight. As part of our acting class. She kissed me passionately… then slapped me across the face.

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That idiot

Posted on 02/14/2005

Paris Hilton says she trademarked the phrase “That’s hot.” As if she’s the first one ever to say it. As if she had any legal chance of actually enforcing her rights if someone else used it in an advertisement.

So here’s the phrase I am trademarking: “Paris Hilton is the best example of why the inheritance tax rate ought to be 100% ™”

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What goes around, comes around

Posted on 02/10/2005

Back in college, one of my classmates showed up one day in a bright yellow track suit. Really bright yellow.

She looked like a giant banana.

I wanted to tell her. But I didn’t.

I might have been the only one who remained silent.

I think hearing this so much made an impression on her. I saw her six days a week for a whole year but never again saw the yellow track suit. Not once. I doubt she was happy about it.

Cut to: Several years later. I meet a woman who completely wins me over. Charming. Smart. Beautiful. Funny. Willing to go out with me. A woman possessing all five of those important qualities is rare.

On our first date I told her where I went to college and she told me the name of her new best friend, who also went there.

The giant banana. Of course.

I knew that the moment she got home she’d call the giant banana and ask about me. And I knew that what she wouldn’t be told was that I was a giant jerk for calling her a giant banana. Because I didn’t. What didn’t go around couldn’t come around.

Cut to: Several weeks later. Thought that the five-qualities woman might be my soul-mate. She didn’t see it that way, and was not in the right place in her life for me. We parted ways.

Cut to: Now. She’s semi-famous. Married. Still lovely, and still very funny. I’m really happy for her success. She earned and deserves it.

Flashback: A few weeks ago. A bunch of comedians are in line to sign up for an audition. It’s cold and many of us have been waiting for a couple of hours to get our audition date, which is supposed to be randomly chosen when we get to the front of the line.

One comedian arrives late, starts talking to his friends in front of us when the line starts to move.

I ask him, politely, to go to the back of the line. He refuses, says it doesn’t matter because the dates are randomly chosen. Though we didn’t think they’d run out of audition spots, anything’s possible, and I explain that our feet are cold and we all want to get inside a few seconds earlier.

He doesn’t move. Until I turn to my friend and say “This isn’t very smart of him. A bunch of us are not only comedians but we also book shows, and we remember stuff like this.”

At which point he walks toward the back of the line.

Cut to: A minute or two later. We get to the front. They changed their policy. For this time only, they are assigning dates in chronological order. So it did matter where in line one stood.

And we will remember him.

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My toughest show ever

Posted on 02/06/2005

I really like to open a show. It’s a challenge, taking a cold audience and getting them laughing. My style of comedy stands up to the challenge, I think, because I believe in lots of punchlines (in other words, quantity perhaps over quality), starting right from when I take the stage. No long set-ups, just grab the mike and start hitting hard. Plus, sometimes this has the advantage of avoiding the problem of following someone who just isn’t that good, or someone who abuses the audience and loses them (doesn’t happen often, but it happens).

Tonight I performed my third set at the Tribeca Arts Festival. I was the only stand-up comic (second time that’s happened there). I followed some musicians and poets.

There were around fifteen people in the audience (this was Super Bowl Sunday). Some of them had heard my stuff the first two times I appeared there. While I did vary my sets the first two times, the opening this time had nothing new, although the order was moved around some.

Nothing. For the first minute, barely a chuckle. After three or four minutes of material that usually does really well (and did so the prior two weeks), I got some laughter. But not much. I switched to crowd work (asking the audience questions, coming up with humorous responses) to get the audience on my side. They’d been paying attention, just not laughing.

The crowd work helped a little, then I did some more material and some real laughs finally ensued. Eventually. But it was a hard slog. I didn’t lose them. They were listening, but I could have been giving a lesson on how to gut fish to the seafood department for all the love I felt.

After I left the stage I figured it out. The person who preceded me was a poet. When I saw her two weeks ago, she had told a long story about a young girl forced into an arranged marriage who was repeatedly raped and tortured by her husband, and the horrible life she led.

I think this is the summit of A Tough Act To Follow.

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Epilogue to My Toughest Show Ever, or Thank You, Kind Stranger

Posted on 2/7/05

Last night I posted a blog about the tough show I had just come from, when I was the only comedian and I went on immediately following a poet who speaks about the rape, torture and abuse of a young girl. It took a long time for the audience to warm up to comedy, and it was a difficult few minutes on stage getting to that point (and I use the term ‘stage’ loosely since there was no stage and no microphone).

This afternoon I was shopping and a guy leaving the store said hello to me. I said hi in that non-committal way that means Okay, hi to you, but I have no idea who you are and probably you have mistaken me for someone else.

He said “You were very funny in the show last night.” So he was talking to me. A major coincidence with so few people at the show on Super Bowl Sunday, in a metropolitan area with fifteen million people.

I said thanks, and mentioned that I didn’t get a lot of laughs. He confirmed that the person right before me told a gruesome story and brought down the whole audience and it took them a long time to get over what she said. I had the unfortunate luck of immediately following her. I suppose this means she is a very talented story-teller, which of course did me no good.

Kind stranger, your attendance at my next show is on me– if by a second coincidence you’ve come across this blog, email me and I’ll see that you get comped at my next show. And if somebody else thinks he can trick me into giving away free tickets, you’ll have to tell me the name of the store, what I was buying, and don’t forget that I know what the guy looks like– I just saw him in the shoe department of Bloomingda,, ha, you didn’t think I was really going to tell you where, did you?

Thanks again, kind stranger.

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Two sides to every story

Posted on 01/21/2005

A bunch of us were friends with Phil Vosh in college. Phil and I were teammates for four years and housemates for two. Many other friends of ours also lived in the house.

A couple of years ago I received a letter. The return address was Celeste Vosh in the same city where Phil lived.

Before opening the envelope I assumed it was a wedding announcement. As far as I knew, Phil had no siblings. His parents don’t live in the same city and his mother’s name is not Celeste.

It turns out it was an invitation to a surprise party.

I called. Celeste is Phil’s sister. One of two. When I discussed not knowing that Phil had sisters with the rest of the crowd, only Buzz, Phil’s best friend, knew about them. The rest of us had no idea.

e all found it bizarre that Phil had never mentioned anything to us about his sisters. We all knew about everyone else’s siblings. We questioned Phil’s sanity.

Then I figured something out. The other side of the story. The reason we never knew that Phil had two sisters? Because we never asked. It wasn’t Phil. It was us.

By the way, if you’re thinking about having a surprise party for a Marine Reserves Lieutenant Colonel who works for the State Department, speaks three languages fluently and has two Ivy League degrees, don’t expect to really surprise him.

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Great New Way to Lose Weight

Posted on 01/15/2005

It seems to me that the less one eats, the faster one loses weight. So here’s the diet I’m trying– NOTHING. For the past six days I’ve eaten nothing and had nothing to drink. And so far the only thing unusual is that my house is suffering from an infestation of midget giraffes riding flying motorcycles.

And there’s something wrong with my computer– the keys on the keyboard are really hard to push down. It’s getting really hard to type anyth

qt hjbexr

4 tb[

kg klglukrlkn

qiwu sgfr,sf,dasfr;l,/. zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

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Why I can’t date date vegetarians

Posted on 1/14/05

I respect the ethics of vegetarians who say that it’s immoral to use eleven pounds of edible grain to create one pound of edible meat when people are starving all over the world, even though meat-eating is not the cause of starvation and an entire world gone vegetarian would not cure starvation. The reason people go hungry is not a worldwide food shortage, it’s a worldwide compassion shortage. We could feed the whole world for less than we spend on coffee, but we’d rather have the coffee. Why? Because we’re selfish. People die but unless we see them, we fail to act. Millions of people starve each year, way more than die from tsunamis. But flood destruction makes for better video so for that we write the checks.

But back to the vegetarians. Here’s why I have trouble dating them.

First date she tells me that she just doesn’t like the taste of meat, but isn’t uncomfortable when other people eat it. So I order a steak and get dirty looks through the whole meal.

Second date. Before I even glance at the menu she says “They have two pasta dishes I like—why don’t we each get one and we can share.” Saves the dirty looks but I have to eat fusilli with string beans, asparagus and chick peas in a pink mouchure sauce.

Third date she suggests the restaurant. It’s vegan and the word “tofu” appears on the menu eighty seven times. I like tofu, given something nice to flavor it. By itself it tastes like styrofoam. But they can’t serve styrofoam since it’s environmentally unsound, so they serve plain tofu, in eighty seven different shapes. I ask for a diet coke and all six waitresses, pale and unhealthy-looking, give me dirty looks like I ordered a broiled baby in kitten sauce with a side order of smallpox.

Before the fourth date even rolls around I’m on PETA’s mailing list and my barbecue grill is missing. And that’s the last straw.

P.S. The word “vegan” is not in MS Word’s spell-check.

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My name got popular

Posted on 01/12/2005

While Shaun (or Sean or Shawn) is a popular name in Ireland, even among Irish-Americans it hasn’t been a common name in the U.S. (they prefer Patrick, Kevin and Timothy, for some reason, and not Shaun).

Growing up, until age 25 I probably had met only three or four Shauns in my life. Sean Connery was James Bond, and that was pretty good. But then there also was Shaun Cassidy, and he’s no James Bond.

round fifteen years ago I started to notice other Shauns. I’d be in a store and I’d hear “Shaun! Put that down!” in a very stern voice. I’d turn around and see an angry mother yelling at her five year old son. It was a weird experience, since before then I’d almost never heard my name apply to anybody but me.

Growing up I knew people with names like Phyllis and Harvey, and they didn’t like their names because these were old-people names, names that had been popular sixty or seventy years earlier, so most people with those names were senior citizens. Like all our Jennifers will be in forty years.

But now all those Shauns are grown up, and it seems to be a pretty cool name. The only drawback is that I read about a lot of Shauns getting arrested (Sean Combs and the over-the-Carnegie-Deli shooting a few years ago come to mind; there have been tons of others).

But all in all, other Shauns, welcome to the club. It’s a fun club, even if we can’t all agree on the spelling.

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While trolling through my computer I found this piece I had written years ago

Posted 1/5/05

ENRON CORPORATION BALANCE SHEET

Post Chapter 11 Bankruptcy Filing

(prepared in accordance with Grossly Arbitrary Accounting Principles)
(amounts in $ millions)

ASSETS                                                                      LIABILITIES

Cash                                        $0        Account Payable, accounting fees                      $25
Accounts Receivable               100          Account Payable, Satan                                    100
Less:                                                  Stuff we won’t tell you about                             4240
Allowance for Doubtful Alibi      100       Management                                                      10
A/R, net                                     0        Income Tax Payable                                             0
George W. Bush                      100          Restricted Stock (Employees’ Retirement Savings)  0
Dick Cheney                             50         Employee Severance Payable                               5
Electricity for running                          Cumulative Effect of Accountant Changes             55
Texas Electric Chair                   20       Related Party Transactions                                   7
Investment in Affiliate                          Republican Party Transactions                         1700
(Republican Party)                   250
Equipment (shredders)               22
Proceeds from Sale of Souls     125
Real Estate (places to hide)          5
Limited Partnership Interests     225
Limited Morality                       800
Limited Interest Appreciation
Restricted Securities (LIARS)  1400
Vials of Anthrax, Plague and
Jonestown Kool-Aid                   12
Intangibles (arrogance, greed)      8

SHAREHOLDERS’ EQUITY
Restricted Stock (Employees’ Retirement Savings)  0

For entertainment use only.  No shareholders were harmed in the making of this parody.

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Clean out your closets, re-live your childhood

Posted on 11/28/2004

I’ve been fortunate that even when I lived in a small apartment in NYC I had enough closet space (or perhaps not nearly enough clothing). So I’ve saved a lot of stuff.

On Thanksgiving I decided to clean out some of the boxes of papers. Wow! Certainly I don’t need gas credit card bills from fifteen years ago. That gets recycled. I found copies of my high school comedy newspaper (it was actually the Computer Club newsletter but writing jokes was much more fun than writing about computers). I wonder if there’s any material in there that’s actually usable on stage! I’ll have to have a look. Some of the stuff I tell is material I wrote fifteen years ago and it does well, although some stuff I wrote when I was younger is hack and I don’t use it (of course– the definition of hack is stuff that so many people think of that nobody should be telling it because it’s too obvious).

I found a letter from a girl I liked in college taking a whole page to thank me for UPSing her one of my cheesecakes. She loved the food, didn’t love me. Last I heard she’s been divorced around eleven times.

I found stacks of letters from two girls I had corresponded with in high school. I really don’t want their letters, but I’d like to see the letters that I’d written them. At the time I thought I was a pretty funny writer. I guess I should ask them if they want their letters. One is someone I still keep in touch with from time to time. She lives in upstate NY with a nice husband and a house full of kids. The other one has a unique enough name that I’m sure I can Google her and find her. She’s probably some famous mathematician or something (I have always been attracted to smart women).

I found a NYC subway map from the 1970s. One of the barely comprehensible ones with the thick parallel lines that came about after the totally incomprehensible ones with overlapping lines. I’d always wanted one for decoration. Unfortunately this one is ripped along the folds. Anybody remember the QB train? When was the last time you heard someone refer to the BMT? I’m getting old.

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What I’m Thankful For

Posted on 11/26/2004

I’m thankful that I have a healthy and loving family. I’m thankful that I live in a great country in which two different stores are selling DVD players for $18 this weekend! I’m thankful that I’m happy about this even though I already have a DVD player and am not looking for another one.

I’m thankful that people laugh when I stand in front of the bright lights and tell jokes.

I’m thankful that my website host allows me to see which ISPs are used by people who visit the site (no, I can’t see any information on the individuals, just a list of ISPs). I’m thankful that I apparently have some fans in the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Brazil and the United Arab Emirates even though I’ve never been to any of those countries.

I’m thankful that earlier this year I won a semi-bogus award for economic forecasting, and am thankful that some people took it seriously enough for it to be picked up by the national press. And I’m even more thankful that John Dorfman, the fund manager and journalist who ran the contest, was nice enough to allow me to put a plug in for my comedy career when he wrote the press release.

I’m thankful that most of the other comedians I’ve met and worked with have been helpful, friendly and kind.

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Using hands-free cellular phones while driving

Posted on 11/25/2004

A family member sent me an article on a study of hands-free cellular phone use by drivers (the study said that it’s dangerous whether or not you hold the phone). Here was my response:

I do not use a cell phone when I drive, and keep in mind that I’m an instrument-rated pilot who has specific training in just such multi-tasking: communicating detailed concepts while navigating and maintaining safe operation of complicated electronic and mechanical equipment. And yes, I, with all this training, knowledge and experience, do not use a cell phone when I drive. That should tell you something.

On Tuesday a client called me while he was driving. I suggested he call me back when he was parked. He said he was using a hands-free earpiece. I replied that this was just one more thing to break when he crashed.

To those of you who say that it’s just like having a conversation with a passenger, well, it’s NOT. When you’re with a passenger in the car and something unexpected happens- a sudden lane-change, the guy in front of you slamming on his brakes, a ball rolling into the road, or whatever– the conversation naturally stops. But if you’re on the phone and you stop talking because something unexpected occurs, the OPPOSITE happens. Your pause causes the person on the other end to START talking, to fill in the silence. Sometimes followed by your crash. Your brain can process only so much information at the same time.

Yes, I have an opinion on this matter.

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Free food has more Calories

Posted on 11/24/2004

Why?

Because you eat twice as much of it.

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I’m with stupid

Posted on 11/23/2004

If your friend is wearing an “I’m With Stupid” t-shirt, and you’re standing next to him on the side to which the arrow is pointing, you ARE stupid.

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Patriotism

Posted on 11/21/2004

Putting a ribbon on your car does not make one a patriot.

If you want to be patriotic, give blood, sign your organ donor card and pay your taxes without complaining.

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ABC apologized

Posted on 11/19/2004

ABC issued an apology for showing a woman’s bare back (this means above the waist, not her backside) in a commercial run during a football game.

An ABC spokesman said that it was a wardrobe malfunction– the woman’s burkha accidentally opened.

In the future they will ensure not to show any part of a woman, except her eyes.

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Friendly vs. Nice

Posted on 11/17/2004

There is a difference between being friendly and being nice. A parable should exemplify.

A man was walking along a riverbank on his way to an important meeting when he saw a child drowning in the river. He asked the child what happened. The child said that he wanted to go swimming but the only nearby pool was not open. He explained that he got caught in a strong current and couldn’t swim well enough. The man spoke with the child, complimented him on his choice in clothing and said he would inform the child’s parents where he was. The friendly man then rushed to his appointment.

Shortly thereafter another man was walking along the riverbank and spotted the drowning child. The boy explained that though his parents told him not to go swimming in the river, he disobeyed them. The man rescued the child, then scolded him for disobeying his parents and for risking not only his life but also the life of the man who rescued him. He then suggested that the child take a swimming class. He told the child that the class would make swimming more enjoyable and would teach him not only how to swim better, but also to learn his limits so he will know when and where to swim, and when and where not to swim.

The first man was friendly. The second man was nice.

People are either friendly or nice. Some are neither. A few are both, but a third of those end up in a tower with a rifle, and when they are caught their neighbors are surprised, and tell TV reporters “He was so friendly and nice I never thought he’d end up shooting people.”

So now you know.

– – – S H A U N   E L I,

Nice, not necessarily friendly, and a former Water Safety Instructor

(By the way, if you see someone drowning, your LAST choice should be to jump in. First look for something to throw, like a rope or something that floats. And if you jump in fully-dressed, you will likely drown.)

For tips on water safety from the American Red Cross, click below:

http://www.redcross.org/services/hss/tips/healthtips/safetywater.html

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TV gone bad

Posted on 11/15/2004

I recognize that television programs are for entertainment, not information. But last night’s “Crossing Jordan” went so far past the line of ridiculous that I have to comment.

In the show, they know in advance a commuter plane is about to crash because the pilots stopped responding to radio calls and an Air Force plane flew past, looked inside and saw everyone passed out.

Okay so far.

But they are able to predict within a mile or two where the plane will crash (and they go there and watch the plane crash– not exactly the safest thing to do). This is nuts. While they may know exactly how much fuel is in the plane, they can not be sure exactly how much wind they encountered along the way, exact rates of climb, fuel burn, etc. Figuring out how the auto-pilot was set would allow them to guess along what line the plane would crash, but not where on that line.

And then, when the plane does crash, it blows up. Not exactly consistent with running out of fuel before descending and crashing.

The medical examiners are trying to identify burned bodies. So when they find cell phones among the bodies (turned on, by the way), what do they do? Use them to identify the bodies? No, they pile them on a table!

Oh, the representative from the National Transportation Safety Board doesn’t know the difference between a Cockpit Voice Recorder (which records sounds) and the Black Box (which records flight data). But of course he can arrive at the crash site in minutes. Wonder what plane he flies!

I can accept some straying from reality on a TV show, but there have to be limits.

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Italian Food

Posted on 11/09/2004

A friend and I went out for Italian food this past Saturday.

It’s been our observation and experience that if the restaurant has a lot of old people eating there, we don’t end up liking the food. We refer to it as “Old people’s Italian food.”

But we’re getting older. We were wondering– when we’re old, will we be eating the same food we prefer now, and the younger people will refer to THAT as old people’s Italian food (and eat the kind of food we don’t like)? Or will our tastes change, so that old people’s Italian food will always be old people’s Italian food?

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Arafat

Posted on 10/29/2004

While they’re not disclosing the cause of his illness, one theory is gallstones.

Ironic, isn’t it? If the leader of the Palestinians is brought down by tiny little rocks…

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The last debate

Posted on 10/14/2004

I finally figured out what the look on the president’s face reminded me of…

The smug look of a kid who knows that no matter how badly he plays, he is certain he’ll get picked for the team because his father is the principal.

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Bush’s Bulge in the First Debate

Posted on 10/13/2004

It was actually a tape recorder playing a loop tape reminding the president “Don’t mention the draft. Don’t mention the draft. Don’t mention the draft.”

Since he wasn’t wired in the second debate, he forgot, and mentioned it.