I haven’t had a vacation in years.
It’s hard. I work night shift, cleaning kitchens at a resort. I live like a vampire, scuttling home through the deserted highways of four a.m., falling asleep before the sun can touch me with its withering rays. I sneak out to raid thrift stores for fun skirts and vintage necklaces on my days off, and I make a day of heading to Philly or Pittsburgh for a comedy show about half a dozen times a year. But I haven’t gone anywhere and stayed for more than a scant few hours in my entire adult life (which is, like, four years, but still).
But the stars aligned and the Comedy Bang! Bang! live show and Paul F. Tompkins’ visit to perform standup came on consecutive days (Aug 9 and 10) and I had to see them.
Especially because it was those guys. I’ve been listening to CBB since it was still Comedy Death Ray Radio, since before Earwolf was a thing. It’s assimilated into my life as a constant and a comfort, it’s assimilated into my vernacular and, more importantly, into my heart.
And Paul is my favorite. Of any category you care to name. I’m not going to blather on embarrassingly for too long, but back when the Pod F. Tompkast had yet to reach double digits, I was very unhappy at my job, and would stand and cry over my dishwashing sink about, oh, once a fortnight or so. (This was because I needed therapy and to not live with my frustrating hoarder mother, and I achieved both of those along with a better position at my job.) But still, that’s not a thing you can be doing, crying at work for no discernible reason.
So on days when I got weepy, I would listen to the Pod F. Tompkast, and usually I was down to sniffling and sheepishly smiling before the Largo sketches. Those long, crazy riffs and Eban’s gorgeous piano trills got me through like nothing else could. I think I can still recite whole monologues from the first episode. (Off the top of my head: Thanks for all the cards… and letters… that you’ve stolen from museums, and sent to me via snail-mail. The most disgusting of mails. Not like e-mail, where everyone is on Ecstasy, just… rolling and sending replies and draining themselves of their precious spinal fluids.)
So, yeah. This was kind of a meaningful thing to me.
So on Wednesday, some cook did something to one of the fryers and spilled about two gallons of oil on the floor, which I cleaned up with a dustpan and a deckbrush and tons of Dawn soap for about an hour and a half. And I did this with a song in my heart. A song that went “I’m gonna see Scott Aukerman! I’m gonna see James Adomian! I’m gonna see Tim Heidecker! I’m gonna see Paul F. Tompkins!” Yeah, I sang it out loud for a little while, too. What of it?
When I got home, I had a major case of the Christmas Eves. Couldn’t sleep. It was futile. So I waited until it was light outside, ate a huge breakfast, pounded a 5 Hour Energy (or baby speed, as I like to call it), and started the four hour drive to Philly. Which ended up being a five hour drive because of falling rocks. Oh, planet Earth. It’s cute how you try to wipe up off the face of yourself at every turn.
I got there noonish, scoped a sweet vintage shop, had a sort of quantum nap state for an hour or so in my hotel room (I honestly got about five hours of sleep over the whole trip. I wasn’t even tired. I was too juiced on happiness and freedom), and ended up in front of the Comedy Bang! Bang! venue at about 5:45. The show, uh, started at eight.
Not to worry! I was third in line and the first two people were great! Walt and Jennifer, a lovely couple with whom I chatted effortlessly for about an hour. Walt is involved with Earwolf in some capacity, Tumblr and graphics, I believe, and it was heaven to chat about podcasts and comedy with people who knew what podcasts were. (By the way, get your act together about that, rest of the world.)
More people slowly showed, and including this dude who reminded me so much like Charlie from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia that it was borderline eerie. I did not say that out loud, even in a whisper to the people near me, because I am not a monster, but if I would have, they definitely would have hissed, eyes wide in thankful recognition, “I know, right?!”
I really had fun in both my massive waits in line (I was also third at the venue for PFT’s show). When I end up at a comedy club (and I love Helium, I really do), it can be super lonely, me there alone, dazed from hours of driving and not drinking, everyone else drinking and chatting with their friends and not so much invested in the show so much as a show.
These theatre shows were an oasis. A bunch of people I talked to made significant trips, and everyone was so excited about the shows. I heard knockoff Garry Marshall impressions and sung strains of the CBB theme song, a couple of awesome girls talking about how cute Dave Foley was back in the day, people rattling off comedy shows they’d seen and shows they were going to see, podcast recommendations… It was like a message board come to life, only not the saddest thing in the known universe like every single message board ever is.
I got a front row seat for CBB—slightly inadvisable as I was craning my neck the whole time, and it was probably the best comedy show I’ve ever seen. Kurt Braunohler opened, that magnificent sunshine-spilling Nordic giant… At one point in the show, he ate what turned out to be the worst convenience store hard-boiled egg imaginable with accidental and all-too-real disgust while he read some of his own Tweets that didn’t quite get the response he’d hoped for. It was a transcendent moment, a practiced stage bit suddenly made undeniably present. It was electric.
I accidentally forgot my regular glasses and watched the whole show with my prescription sunglasses. Scott commented on it (to my absolute delight), because it was weird. It was a genuine weirdness, though.
The show proper was tremendous. Scott has such an amazingly sharp and refined sense of humor that comes from this absolutely genuine and silly place, and seeing him onstage doing that voodoo that he do so well was a treat. The greatest thing was this audience participation thing that I can only inadequately describe as the “The Story of Everest” of improv games, which apexed after a vastly intricate series of carefully orchestrated scenes with the giggling, game male volunteer stripped to the waist, on his knees wearing a blonde wig and smeared makeup while pretending to be a cow, then snapped the long-built tension almost violently in a dizzying denouement that ended with a masterful flourish. It was pure magic.
James Adomian did some of his standup, wickedly funny and candid. I can’t even… He has an album. Just… get that.
Tim Heidecker did a magnificent anti-comedy routine, but this is Tim we’re talking about. The qualifier hardly needs to be written. But I like adjectives so I did it anyway. He came out, inexplicably damp from chin to groin (which was not acknowledged by anyone), in a terrible black leather-eque jacket and green-buttondown tucked into his moist jeans. He whaled the mic stand around with deft clumsiness, even knocking it right off the stage (a four foot drop that resounded with a visceral bang), and after a few minutes of that, went into a pandering, parodic standup routine that left all my laugh muscles devestated.
The podcast portion was terrific. Gary Busey. Garry Marshall (the surprise guest). Nick Nolte. Acronyms. That part people can listen to, so I won’t waste anyone’s time, except to say that James’s Busey outfit was insane. No shirt, some kind of thin scarf, a silken teal robe (open), sunglasses with the UV sticker still on, and one combat boot and one construction boot. Wow.
We ended up at the back of the meet and greet line, but it moved at a good clip. By the time we got close, we were able to see PFT was glaring contemptuously at Scott in every single picture, as if he were trying to stop the other man’s heart by sheer force of will. This became a hashtag on the next day. (#PFTglare) James made silly faces, too, while a pleasant theater employee snapped pictures with everyone’s weird phones that they had to explain to her. Here’s to you, theatre employee.
I got to show Paul the beaded purse I made of the pixillated logo of the Pod F. Tompkast, which was was a mutual delight. (I got several compliments on it in the line. Regular brag.)
And then I gushed. I knew I was gushing. What else was I going to do? Try to impress these amazing dudes in front of me with some pithy comment? Right. No one is getting anything out of that. No, I just said that I loved what they did, because I do, and then I got my picture. Then I sighed happily and gave a parting gush, heart fluttering, and fled to the warm, lamplit summer darkness.
As I walked back to the hotel, I started singing “Incident on 57th Street” softly, because it’s a good walking around song and is usually stuck in my head anyway. Two lines in, some lady passed me with a sharp “Ssh!” Come on, that was perfect. I love you too, Philly.
The next day, I went to visit the Mutter Museum, which I’d been wanting to see for a long time. Yep, I’m still a weird fifteen-year-old goth kid deep down in my soul. It was really a profound thing to see, a gentle and elegant reminder that life is strange, fragile and sturdy, and that death lingers, common as dirt, in the corners of any ordinary day.
Also, jars and jars of mutated fetuses put me off of ever having a child more than the thought of ever having a child already did (which was all the way off). Pregnant women basically just have skeletons growing inside them, when you think about. How are they not screaming in the kind of terror Lovecraft could only daydream about every second of the day?
After that, I just hung around in parks and a coffee shop and reread “That Is All” by John Hodgman to kill the rest of the afternoon. And, about three pages in, I ran into one of his several Mutter Museum references because the world loved me for a second.
I made my way down to theatre where Paul would be, entirely too early. The doors opened at 6:15, but for a show that was playing two floors above. A woman with rockin’ boots and brashly, fabulously unshaven legs gave directions to people who were clearly there to see the show upstairs and vaguely herded the rest of us the other side of the lobby. She cheerily, confusedly made some small talk with the tiny cadre of nerds here to see a man she had never heard of, while we kept repeating his full name like it was a spell. Paul F. Tompkins. Paul F. Tompkins. Paul F. Tompkins. As if we could summon him, Beetlejuice-style.
Eventually, they let us weirdoes swoop in on the first pick of the seats. Gradually the theatre filled with people until it was packed.
Garry Marshall introduced the show, to roaring applause when he said his name and nothing but waves of laughter when he rattled off his first credit of Valentine’s Day. Then he reminded us all not to die horribly in a fire or make unwatchable pirate videos of the performance. Then Paul claimed the stage.
The opening riff was amazing, and I am a little sad that it was ephemeral. Already it is fading from my grasp. It began with how plays are the worst because all you ever think about while you watch them is that everyone on stage is wearing someone else’s clothes. Where it ended, you shall never know. That is a secret everyone in that room will take to their grave. I assume. We didn’t make a blood pact, but I felt it was implied.
Watching his newest hour, I was really reminded why Paul is my favorite comedian. It’s just because he’s hilarious and it’s not just because he’s a magnificent storyteller and it’s not just because he’s a wonderful performer. All of those things are true, but it’s those things combined with the fact that he’s so powerfully, unflinching, gut-twistingly honest throughout it all. I was cringing in empathy so many times, completely in tune with the inner monologue of inadequacy and self-doubt and weirdness that EVERYBODY IS FEELING ALL THE TIME AND NO ONE EVER TALKS ABOUT. It’s this amazing tension dynamic that just burrows straight into my heart and explodes in this wonderful burst at the punchline.
Jokey jokes are great, but jokes don’t do that.
Also, I laugh really loud and a lot. Kind of like a female Pete Holmes. And there was this dude behind me who also had a really loud laugh, and it was awesome. It was like, screw it, we are both going all in on this. This is an echo chamber of stentorian laughs and we are going to ride it all the way home.
(I talked to that guy before the show, while we were hanging around in our seats, and he was very convivial. He was also wearing a nicely coordinated Stop Podcasting Yourself shirt. Good on you, guy.)
After, I got some stuff signed, and a took a picture with him in which I thankfully do not look like a madwoman with a frenzied grimace of fear. And I got to exchange a few nice words with my hero, which really meant the most of all.
Then I drove two hundred miles in the lightning-pocked darkness, across more than half of Pennsylvania, in a fugue-like haze of 5 Hour Energy.
Photographic evidence of some of these very events is forthcoming.