Lewis Black

High Culture and Low Humor

I spent 5 days in a schizophrenic haze. Not something as cool as a mental break — just a vacation with my 90-year-old dad.

In 4 days he insisted on visiting 3 museums and the New York City Ballet — twice.

“Since my hearing is gone, I’m focusing on the visual now,” he said.

We did the Brooklyn Museum (and Botanical Gardens), the Frick, and the Met. We stayed at the aging Empire Hotel 200 steps from Lincoln Center and the Ballet. Saturday was a Stravinsky “Festival”. Tuesday night was Robbins choreography to Tchaikovsky.

At least that’s what the program said. In those two sentences, we have more than exhausted my knowledge of both ballet and classical music. I Googled to get the names right.

After a day staring at “high art” or watching the dancers high jumps, I pumped the old man with a glass of wine or one beer and left him to sleep it off at the hotel while I snuck out to the comedy clubs on the west side of Manhattan.

It was days in monumental public spaces with high ceilings, massive windows and architecture that matches the art. It was nights of dark, crowded spaces (mostly basements) that smelled of beer and disappointment. (Why do they always put comedy in the basement?)

In the daylight we talked of millionaires and billionaires leaving their “collections” to posterity. At night, it was mostly dick jokes.

Although the ballet dancers revealed a lot more about their dicks than the comedians did.

It takes a few minutes to get used to the male costumes. If I were a gay man, I’m sure I would really enjoy the ballet.

Saturday, I walked the 15 blocks to StandupNY, which boasts of launching lots of famous comedians. They were not there when I was.

But at least it was on the first floor. I walked right up and sat in the back at a table by myself. I was so far back, most of the other acts came and sat with me while waiting to be called on stage. But I was still only 20 feet from “the stage” — no one was more than 20-feet from the stage.

I only had two beers, but I can’t remember one name or more than a few jokes. In 90 minutes, there were probably ten people on stage. It was a Saturday night. Most of the comedians were interesting if not funny. Most of them complained that the audience “sucked.” I’m still not sure what we were doing wrong. Seemed like we laughed at the funny stuff — we didn’t heckle or throw sit.

The room looked like it was designed for throwing shit. The adolescent in me would have gone nuts with a bag full of water balloons.

The comedians got funnier and the complaints got less as the night went on. Maybe it wasn’t us after all?

Comedy on Sunday and Monday night was a slightly different story.

Sunday went to the Broadway Comedy Club, which was a basement and it wasn’t on Broadway. Classic brick wall behind the “act” and the rest of us got gray ding for walls.

This image, makes the basement look a lot better than I remember.

They stacked us up the stairs of the office building at “showtime.” We stood on the steps for 15 minutes breathing on each other and raising the humidity and temperature. It was 60-degrees outside, but I was inside between the 4th and 5th floors sweating like it was 90.

The early show emptied, and they lead our 9 p.m. group down the stairs like it was the jetway to purgatory. They put me next to my friend, the post, at a table with 3 other couples.

Another show, I don’t remember shit, but one “failure” and one “teacher” stood out.

A blonde surfer looking dude complained “winters in New York are the devil’s dick”, and that was his best laugh of the night. He reveled in his trip to the California sun and bill himself as “Gay Jesus.” Second best laugh, because that’s how anyone else would describe him. Then he complained about his acting career, New York (some more) and fell into a short list of gay sex jokes that mostly revealed how many things he could hold in his ass at once. Not his crowd — all “ewww” and no laughs. Seemed like he got off stage early, and that was his best idea for the night.

The most memorable comic for me for the entire stay was one of the Sunday closers (can’t remember if he was actually last). But this little dude was wearing sunglasses in the dark and refused to take the stage or the mic. He shouted from the isle and practically sat down at people’s tables. Once I got my fat ass and my chair turned around, I could see the last half of his act.

Steve Marshall’s message — we are all equal, we are all the same and 90 percent of his material were comments on race and dick sizes.

Weird combo I know, but he made it work. (Swedes have big dicks — who knew?) We all laughed when he tried to walk like a black guy or survive a rough hand job from a white chick. “There are sparks flying off my dick,” he said. “that’s why I can’t cum.”

He greeted everyone on the way out, and that’s why his name stuck. Googled him later and found out he used to be a teacher, and connected with him on Twitter.

Day 3 of my comedy odyssey and I learned no one is funny on Monday. Went to LOL comedy lounge near Times Square.

Showed up a few minutes late, and they walked me to the last seat in one section of the front row just as the first act was finishing. I was so close, I had to strain my neck to look up at the comics.

They seemed to feel my pain or my lack of a smile and spent most of the show looking the other way. I had the feeling it would have be funnier without me. The giant, staring, old, white guy in the corner was creeping everybody out.

I do remember the hostile Canadian. His 15 minutes were more therapy than comedy. Claimed he was a “headliner” in Canada. While calling us “cunts” for not laughing, he was frustrated that he wasn’t “famous yet.”

“I showed you my man purse with my viagra in it… I’m being brutally honest here… why aren’t you laughing?”

There’s a sick part of me that enjoyed the failure more than the laughs. But that part gets bored after 20 minutes. After 3 nights in a row of comedy, it made me wonder about the sanity of people who do this kind of thing for a living. Good thing I had the museums and the ballet to bring me back “to reality”.

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