Inside the Head of a Performer VI: The Big Show – Part 4

Inside the Head of a Performer VI: The Big Show – Part 4
The FINAL Preparations

Anyway, the entire week leading up to the show, I spent every moment in my car working on my routine. This is the only benefit in not having a functional car stereo that I’ve found. At least an hour and a half a day can be dedicated to practicing routines, writing new material or figuring out how many bottles of beer need to be taken down and passed around to get home.

I finally looked at video of the last real feature spot I had, which was at Taglines in Eldersburg. There was some good stuff, but no surprises. I looked at the notes I made for Vijai’s birthday show last year, because that was 10 minutes of funny dick jokes. Again, no real surprises. So I asked around, specifically to my fiancée (at the time), Jenn. I was a little surprised at her answer. I basically asked her to rank 3 of my 2-minute bits in order of how she liked them. 1) Volleyball, 2) Day Camp and 3) Cornhole.

I had also added an introduction which had a joke about the Orioles and the Wire, because local jokes endear the performer to the crowd and current jokes give the illusion that you’re just funny and not doing memorized shtick on stage (note the word “illusion”). I also wanted to squeeze in a 3-minute bit about homophobia for MY fans. Some people would be there to see me and I wanted to make sure to include some intellectual social commentary to stay true to my mission statement as an artist. Believe it or not, I’m not just up there trying to make people laugh for 15 minutes. At least not anymore. That’s become too boring.

I timed all my bits to make the decision more mathematically sound. And I made my final set list. It read:

1. Intro

2. Dating

3. Douchebag

4. Volleyball

5. Day Camp

6. Homophobia

Altogether, this would last 20 minutes. Truth be told, I figured on taking a little more than my 15 minutes, but I had planned on cutting the 2:30 day camp bit. I just left it on my post-it note as a precaution, in case Aries pulled a mini-Dave Chappelle on me. A very mini one.

And so, still mentally unable to really dedicate any concentrated time on preparing, I started practicing in my car bit by bit. Literally. I would take one entire 45-minute drive and make sure I had my 4-minute dating bit ready. It wasn’t hard to get it all memorized since I had already done it all before, but there were a few subtle changes I needed to make. For example, everywhere I used to say “girlfriend,” I needed to say fiancée. Also, I wanted to make the order flow and make sense. A lot of comics will just jump from bit to bit. Some even acknowledge that they are up there telling jokes “Man, that shit is funny. You guys suck” or “Whoops, messed up that line” or planned stuff like “I wrote that joke in a Jeepers Creepers bathroom.” You wanna do that, it’s cool with me. I have made a conscious decision not to. It creates a different mood and in my experience, it’s usually one of unprofessionalism. If a joke doesn’t hit the way you wanted to, get over it. Make the next one funnier. Again, I want to maintain that illusion of just being funny, not a guy doing shtick.

By week’s end, I was sick of my material, but comfortable with it. I even took a few car rides off thinking about it because it was burning a hole in my brain. I put more effort into the new section on homophobia and the opening with the Orioles and Wire jokes to make me feel more comfortable, but it was pretty well memorized. The trick is to have it so well memorized that I wouldn’t need to think about it and instead I could think about the crowd or the next joke. For my head to be in front of my mouth so I could be in the moment. Not sure if I knew it all that well.

I Took a Walk – Part 2

I Took a Walk – Part 2

Remembering my college years has been pretty difficult recently. I made the mistake of staying at UMBC for an extra seven years to work, until I got “a real job,” which incidentally has yet to happen. Most of my memories of the days I was in school have been written over with newer memories of those last seven years, which is a legitimate function of the brain. If you park in the same parking lot for a year, you’re going to have a hard time remembering what spot you parked in six months ago. Your brain will discard that information as a defense mechanism, as to not confuse you. Now try parking there for 12 years. Most of those visual cues that I could use to unlock a memory lead to other memories of the more recent seven years. But thankfully, not all of them.

Last night, I stopped by UMBC on my way home with the intent to unlock some of those memories. And it wasn’t easy. I had to drive passed the Rec Center and Erickson Field where most of the memories from my working years reside. Erickson Field had effectively rewritten all the memories from the old Library Field and so much construction made it very difficult to recall the first years that I spent there. So I stopped at Susquehanna, remarkably untouched for the last 19 years, walked up the stairs and just sat on the landing. Something I hadn’t done in probably 15 years. And then I took a walk through parts of campus I hadn’t seen since my years as an undergrad. The walk to the dining hall, the field space behind Susquehanna and the other field space by Patapsco. These areas were thankfully somewhat protected from the overwriting memories of my years at the Rec Center.

When I first saw those big mirror-like doors at the entrance to the dorm, the memories started to come into focus. I immediately remembered that time that Laura didn’t really think I would actually shove my ice cream cone in her face so she called my bluff. She was wrong. I remember coming back from breakfast – probably the one time that I ever went – on the day I was up all night studying for finals only to realize that I had gone there in my boxers. That game of four square on the deck with people I didn’t know as well who were obviously ganging up on me, but I was able to hold my own. Sitting there and asking Kady how much money she would give me if I went up and just kissed that girl walking by. “Probably none. I might give her a few dollars.” I think she missed the point. Man, I wish I could have gotten inside there.

I walked to the dining hall and passed the basement of Susquehanna, where Mike Giese and I hit our blind 10 in our first spades tournament and coined the term “going to the well,” which would become a common phrase in our circle of friends. I learned Magic, spades and hearts and stayed up until the sun came up about every weekend night and sometimes during the week playing one or more of them. I would set the alarm for 6:30 on Saturdays and Sundays so I could make it into the dining hall before they closed for dinner.

And there was the dining hall. Another sacred area protected from life after graduation. So many memories came back immediately. Walking there in groups numbering in the 20s. Waiting for those 20+ people in the lobby. Moving tables around in all sorts of configurations to accommodate such a large group. I remember that group slowly dwindling in numbers with each passing year. I remember being forgotten by Shannon specifically and getting so overly-sensitive about it. And when she offered to stay and I said “You know you can leave if you want,” she took it the wrong way and got equally overly-sensitive. There was also the ravioli eating contest that thankfully most of the group missed the end of but heard about.

And then there was this other type of memory that was all too common. The one where I walked by a small corner of the dining hall and stared at it. “Something happened here. I don’t know what, but something happened here. And it involved Pat.” And that was it for that memory. Those were far too common during this walk. What used to be the field behind Susquehanna is now one of those temporary trailer-type buildings. The volleyball court next to it was heavily under construction. And Patapsco has expanded into the field that used to be over in that area. Not much outside of the dorm and the dining hall remained from what used to be. And that’s fine. It just makes the memories harder to get back.

Yesterday, the divine beings or laws of random chance that govern this universe took a person who was an integral part of those memories. Jenn Summers Barrett was part of this world for me. I got an e-mail from Shannon notifying me of her passing. My immediate thought was one of “well, this must be her mom or aunt or some misunderstanding,” because people my age can’t possibly pass away. But it wasn’t. My first question, which is the least important one, was of course “how did this happen?” As this would only really suit my morbid curiosity, I decided not to burden anyone who would know any details with this question. From what I understand after calling Shannon yesterday, some infection or virus came on quickly over a two week period. It’s sometimes amazing how frail the human body can be. Jenn was married with two little daughters.

So I spent most of last night inviting in memories of Jenn. I know we shared a love for Die Hard. I in fact, remember buying her the VHS tape of it and hiding it under her sink as a Hanukah gift. I remember at one point she told someone else I was handsome with short hair, so I never let it grow too long. I also remember her playing soccer at one point in time and running away from the ball when it came near her. And though I couldn’t really get a grip on any real substantive specific memories, I knew we were close at one point. Close enough for her to let me stay in her room when she was away for surgery for a week and my room’s AC unit was broken. And that was the day I slept through four classes and no one knew where I was to find me when I didn’t show up for my presentation with Marky Mark worth 75% of our grade. But that’s a story for another day.

I mostly remember her voice. I can still hear it today when I look at old pictures. Somewhere on the way to Fran Dresher but without reaching annoying status. And her hair. Long, dark and wavy. But the waves were not like most waves. Given a certain length of hair in which the average person with wavy hair will have 5 waves, Jenn’s hair had about 17. They were small and defined and there were a lot of them. And I remember that she was kind.

I lost touch with her around the same time I lost touch with everyone and for the same reasons. People graduated, met other friends, had kids, got married. The Tower of Babel had fallen. Adulthood had dictated that we couldn’t go to the dining hall 20-strong every night, and for good reason. We had responsibilities. And that’s fine. I don’t say any of this with any longing or regret. I love my wife and the life I have now and I tell her over and over that it’s because of her that I’m at a point in my life where I can honestly say that I’m happy for the first time as an adult. But it’s fun to visit this long-forgotten world once in a while and feel those emotions that I hadn’t felt in years. Back during a magical time when we were old enough to make our own decisions but still young enough to have hope. I enjoy the world that I’m in, but I enjoy visiting that other world, when a younger and much different Dustin Fisher ruled my thoughts and actions. To experience memories from a purer time. Back before student loan payments, employee evaluations and even sex. Back when other things mattered.

Unfortunately, these memories aren’t the easiest to recall for the reasons I’ve already mentioned. There is way too much stuff on the top of this storage unit to get back that far. I spent a better part of the last couple years trying to remember stories – writing them, performing them, etc. But there’s a huge hole around the years that I attended college. I’m thankful to have the memories that I do have. I just wish I could recall more of the specifics for when we talk at our annual Christmas Party, which we still have 40 strong attending, a stat I’m extremely impressed by. I’d like to be able to recall some of the actual events rather than just some vague recollections of people and tendencies.

And a lot of these memories aren’t even real memories – just memories of memories – a story recited over and over until I forgot why it was funny. I talk about that first weekend at college, running around campus at night, taking on the persona of Night Stalker, given to me by some of the fans of the X Men movies. But I don’t really remember it. I just know it. I can’t put myself back in that place. I can’t feel it anymore. And that’s a shame.

Thankfully, I got a little lucky. I have an ace in the hole. Since March 3rd, 1995, I kept a diary of sorts. Most people know this as the Quote of the Day. This was a daily e-mail that I sent out to the friends I spoke about in this long diatribe. And it lasted years. And I still have them all. I occasionally will glance through them, usually looking for something specific, but it has functioned at least serviceably well as a method to pry open a window to this world that I seem to have lost. These little entries can provide a little shot of nostalgia when I have the time and one day, I hope to upload them to my website to share them with those that would like to have a shot of their own on occasion.

The Native Americans believed in two deaths: the death of the body and the death of the spirit. The death of the body is just that. The heart stops pumping and the blood stops flowing through our veins. The decay of the earthly cells that make up our physical being. The death of the spirit is when the last story is told about a person. So as long as we keep a person alive in our memory and our stories, their spirit will live on. Maybe this is why I fight so hard for these memories. And so, years and years from now, when Jenn’s daughters are in college and they ask Tim about what life was like “back then,” her spirit will still live on. Jenn’s death is a tragic event that no words can capture. But it’s important to remember to keep the stories about her alive. The more we share a memory, the easier it is to access next time. And according to the Native Americans, the spirit lives on with those memories. You will be missed, Jenn. I’m so sorry.

Review of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2”

Review of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2”

OK, America. I have now watched the entire Harry Potter series. I hope you’re happy. And no, I’m not going to go see the Twilight series. That’s too far, America. Stop asking.

If I was 19 and grew up with Harry, maybe I’d have appreciated it on some level. The movies are glorified versions of prom and field day and other middle and high school crap. It serves well as escapist fantasy, especially to those middle schoolers who had intimate knowledge of what a wedgie felt like. But what about the rest of you people? You adults out there in your 30s, telling me I need to read the books to understand. No, I don’t. My issue with the series is the “make up the rules as you go along” magic which governs the Harry Potter franchise, making any outcome possible at any time. Oh. Elves can walk people through circles of protection? How flipping convenient? That must have been so hard to write.

So now that we understand each other, how was this movie? Cheesy and formulaic. Again. It reeked of a franchise that needed to make sure that it got in everything the world wanted to see in the last episode. Voldemort dies, check. Ron and Hermione get together, check. An underdog does something really important, check. Everybody important lives, check. It even supplied us with an epilogue that gave us closure and all the “keep your loved ones close to your heart” morals a middle school kid needs. They covered all their bases and once again, nothing you couldn’t have predicted or written yourselves.

The redeeming scene from the film came when Professor Snape, who was really the only three-dimensional character throughout the series, was flattened. It turns out he wasn’t conflicted, but everything he did was for Harry, thus making him good, so as not to confuse the middle school kids. But it was nice to know that he wasn’t such a bad guy after all, especially since Bruce Willis threw him out of a 30-story building back in the 80s.

But my favorite part of the film was when Harry was temporarily dead (but in the most original of twists, it all turned out to be a dream – nice!) and you could actually hear people in the seats sobbing. A lot. More than I have ever heard and I saw Titanic on opening night. Mind you, I am certainly more predisposed to crying in public than the average bear and if you’ve ever sat with me through the first 5 minutes of Finding Nemo, the second five minutes of Up or the last 5 minutes of most Monk episodes, you know. But I laughed. People really love this guy. And they also don’t know that the writers would never really kill him off, even though Dumbledore said it was ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY in order to kill Valdemort. And what evil villain kills the hero he’s been after for the last ten years but never actually checks to see if he’s dead himself? Besides Dr. Evil and The Penguin?

All things considered, this was very pretty to look at, but laborious to sit through. If I did a shot of sake every time the writer bailed herself out with double-talk and nonsense like in that scene that explained the Elder Wand, I’d be drunk by the second act. And I’d have probably enjoyed myself better. 4 bugs.

Double Feature Duel: Storytelling vs. Big Fish

Double Feature Duel:

Storytelling vs. Big Fish

Bout #7: A boring old forgotten movie I took a chance on vs. a movie admittedly in my All Time Top 5 that I watch every Fathers Day. OK, let’s get this over with.

Title: This might be Storytelling’s greatest strength. It’s why I decided to waste a week of my Netflix subscription, especially since I’ve gotten into storytelling both on stage and in my memoir classes. But Big Fish is such a great metaphor in this story. And one of my nicknames. Point, Big Fish (0-1)

Funnier: There was an amusing scene with an obviously socially awkward Paul Giamatti on the phone leaving a girl a message in Storytelling that I wrote over and over for 10 years straight, but Big Fish had a triumph of mood, which made the entire story just fun. And there was Albert Finney. Point, Big Fish (0-2)

Better Turn: Storytelling is shot as two vignettes, “Fiction” and “Non-fiction,” the latter being about twice as long and half as interesting as the former. The turns taken separately were interesting enough, (especially the Selma Blair sex scene), but seeing Will Bloom find out that some of his dad’s stories may have actually been true is a real way to get the audience into the second act. Point, Big Fish (0-3)

Better Ending: Please. The son having to indulge his father by telling his own story, finally endearing him to his father is still a moment I cry at every year. And the epilogue with the funeral scene where he saw that all the stories his father told weren’t necessarily all lies made him finally understand his father. I can’t speak enough for the end of this movie. Oh, and Storytelling had an ending too. Point, Big Fish (0-4)

Better Message: You can afford to give a little to try to ease the inherent tension created by a generation gap – not to mention conflicting personalities – in families. There was a line in Storytelling where the teacher of the fiction writing class said “Once you start writing, it’s all fiction.” This may have touched me as a Creative Writing student. If it weren’t complete bullshit. Instead, it pissed me off. Point, Big Fish (0-5)

Better Acting: Ewan McGregor, Golden Globe nominee. Helena Bonham Carter, 2-time Oscar nominee. Albert Finney, 5-time Oscar nominee. Marion Cotillard, Oscar winner. Jessica Lange, 2-time Oscar winner. And sprinkle a little Steve Buscemi and Danny DeVito on top for flavor. Oh, and garnish with Robert Guillaume and his two Emmys. Sorry Paul, you’re losing another acting point here. Point, Big Fish (0-6)

More Creative: There are not many movies that can beat Big Fish here for several reasons. The mere world created by the flashbacks with the Ewan McGregor character is enough to win most creative in about any fight. But add in the present day Billy Crudup trying to reconcile the truth with Albert Finney amidst these flashbacks is brilliant, or at least brilliantly done. Point, Big Fish (0-7)

Poster: I lied. The title isn’t Storytelling’s greatest strength. A group of college age students looking up at a book four times their size with the single word “Storytelling” on it was compelling enough for me to want to see it. BUT, Big Fish has trees growing out of the dynamically shaped words themselves as if they were trees. The poster is very Tim Burton-on-his-best-day beautiful and already puts you in the mood the story will soon create. Point, Big Fish (0-8)

Watch again: Yeah, it’s a clean sweep as I predicted. Point, Big Fish (0-9)

Overall: If there was a 1 vs 16 game in this bracket, this was it. And Duke just did to Coppin State what you would figure. Bug scale: Big Fish – 10.5, Storytelling – 2.5.

Double Feature Duel: The Pixar Story vs. Body of Lies

Double Feature Duel:

The Pixar Story vs. Body of Lies

Bout #6: The Pixar Story and Body of Lies. These movies had a lot in common in that they both strung together still pictures and played them in rapid succession to create the illusion of movement. Passed that, they really didn’t have a lot in common.

Title: Pixar never really rely on clever movie titles to drum up business. Cars, Toy Story, Cars 2. Up is really one of their most clever titles and it’s only 2 letters. So go figure a documentary about their empire would have a similarly drab title. Point, Body of Lies (0-1)

Funnier: How could you go against a movie dedicated to telling the story of the franchise that has produced some of the funniest movies in the last decade? Here’s how. It was a documentary. It wasn’t really trying to be funny. Enter Russell Crowe. I forget how good of an actor he is because he’s now a movie star, but his deadpan delivery of his well-placed zingers was enough to earn this point. Point, Body of Lies (0-2)

Poster: “Trust no one. Deceive everyone.” That’s the tag line on Body of Lies. The Pixar Story simply has a storyboard scribbling of Buzz Lightyear drawn very small comparatively flying up to the sky. I like the simplicity and the symbolism. Point, The Pixar Story (1-2)

Better Turn: The Pixar Story is a documentary. Didn’t really have a turn. Point, Body of Lies (1-3)

Better Ending: Or an ending. Point, Body of Lies (1-4)

Better Message: Follow Your Dreams vs. Tell the Truth. I’m not a big advocate of the whole following your dreams thing, but I understand it. And to be honest, I don’t really think Body of Lies has a legit message. Point, The Pixar Story (2-4)

Better Acting: Documentary. Despite cameos from Tom Hanks and Tim Allen, I’m going with the movie that had actual acting. Point, Body of Lies (2-5)

More Creative: There are a lot of categories here that kill the hopes of documentaries. Oh well. Sorry, Pixar. I’m sure you’ll get over it. Point, Body of Lies (2-6)

Watch again: Believe it or not, after all that, I’d still probably watch The Pixar Story again. Mostly because Jenn fell asleep during it and it’s on Netflix streaming, but still. Point, The Pixar Story (3-6)

Overall: And we have our first upset! Granted, it’s like the 8-9 upset, but still. On a bug scale, I’ll give The Pixar Story a 7.5 and Body of Lies a 7. And yet, Body of Lies wins the head to head matchup. That’s why they play the games. And the games ain’t lookin so good for future documentaries. Sorry again.