Thursday, May 13, 2010


Today was the day that the FBI raided Coolidge Corner. A gas station 2 blocks down from us on Harvard St. has been surrounded by the law, the media, and gawkers aplenty.

I just left my register shift and the rumors were swirling. Were they actually connected to the failed bomber jerk of Times Sq. or not? Was there a bomb here in Brookline? Did it have something to do with this guy? Could I possibly have wrapped a present in paper with winking owls for a terrorist before?

As of now, it's not entirely clear, but, at least thankfully, as of this moment, Brookliners are told we're safe.

Anyway, I am not trying to be glib here, but let's turn it back to what I planned to blog about today - let's talk about number one. I will tell you about being personally terrorized in my own work space.

Welp, I should preface this story by saying here at Booksmith, I help with the event series, and am sort of a comedian (with income in the triple digits!) It will all connect in a couple of paragraphs.

So sometime in late April 2008, my former sketch comedy group, Anderson, opened for national cult comic / personal favorite Neil Hamburger at the Middle East Club in Cambridge. The sketches we planned for that night had all been previously performed at other shows to much laughter. We opened for Mr. Hamburger the year before and the crowd really seemed to like our brand of smart-ish, anxiety-ridden potty humor. In other words, we felt good going into the show.

But sometimes you have an off night as a comedian or as an event host or a person trying desperately to write a work blog, and your jokes fall flat. Sometimes, there are crazies.

There was a man who was walking around outside of the club telling Mr. Hamburger's jokes to the passersby. The man was unmistakable. He was 50-something, his salt & pepper hair had not had contact with soap in sometime, wearing a filthy black track jacket, the foam headphones around his neck were deteriorating and attached to a Walkman cassette player. Neil's fans are loyal and he is so very quotable (I can't hear the Red Hot Chili Peppers, a frequent target of Neil's, without launching into his trademark "WHYYYY..."). So we didn't think anything of it.

An hour later, we Andersons got on stage. About one line into our first sketch, someone at the very front of the stage shouts "WHERE'S NEIL HAMBURGER? NEIL HAMBURGER! NEIL HAMBURGER! BOOOOOOO!" Sure, heckling is part of Neil's act, but not ours. The yeller was the man we'd seen reciting Neil Hamburger's jokes outside. He jeered loudly throughout our set until my friend did a very brave thing and chased him out. His jeering meant we were thrown off and, well, we didn't recover, and it meant people couldn't hear our jokes' setups. That meant weak laughs. Silence.

It kinda hurt. Okay, it was awful. Afterward, Neil reassured my friend Rob & said that he had a similarly horrific experience opening for a musical act - everyone who performs on a regular basis has some kind of experience like this.

Still, we were pretty bummed. We worked so hard!

The next night, I introduced Mary Roach's reading here at Booksmith for Bonk, her spectacularly funny exploration of the science of sexual physiology. It was my very first event-hosting experience. I was a wee bit nervous, and, I don't know, still hugely disappointed from the night before. I probably came across like an awkward doof more than usual, but there you go.

So, of course, she gave a wonderful talk. She is a wonderful lady and Bonk is a wonderful book. It answers the eternal question, "What is the deal with that inevitable, uh, occurrence occurring during rope-climbing gym class?" In addition, her description of pig insemination could very well terrify you into veganism for life. Also her account of the research study she partook in - amazing.

During the Q&A, a man stood up. He asked, "Have you read any Terry Southern?" He was 50-something, his salt & pepper hair had not had contact with soap in sometime, wearing a filthy black track jacket, the foam headphones around his neck were deteriorating and attached to a Walkman cassette player.

Rob, Brian (our former events director, who'd come to the comedy show the night before), and I all looked at each other. Was that the - yes, yes it was.

Ms. Roach paused. What would the midcentury cult fiction writer and man behind Easy Rider, aside from some of the sexuality in his works and who doesn't write about sex really, have to do with the science of sex? "No, I'm afraid I haven't."

"You should," he said definitively. He turned and clomped out of the room.

The sight of him struck terror deep into my soul. Would this man appear around every time I spoke into a microphone in front of a large crowd? Well, readers, he hasn't. I hope that he is okay, but I hope never again.


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