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One thing about when Robin Williams would come down to the Zoo on an open mike night. It would generally be very late. (The choice times for performing was around 10:00 to 12:00.) Robin was doing two things: he didn't want to take quality time away from beginning comics; and he knew nobody could follow him. Nobody follows Robin Williams. You follow Robin, you bomb. By definition. So he wanted to go up late.
As I've suggested, he's just a very decent person. Besides, with Robin, it really didn't matter when he went on. He'd come in looking for the last slot of the night. And the amazing thing was that he could walk into the Zoo at 1:30 in the morning, and I'd put him on stage in front of about 5 people - that's generally how many people we had at 1:30 - and within about 3 minutes, the place would be packed.
Somehow, the word got out on the street Robin was around. I don't believe in psychic nonsense like telepathic communication, but somehow, the word would always get out.
When I produced my first ACLU comedy benefit, Bill Mandel of the San Francisco Examiner reviewed the show. I performed for about twenty minutes. It was the first time I had performed (on stage - everything is different on stage) in about three years. Mandel, in his article, quoted three jokes I did.
Two of them I had wrestled with for years trying to get the wording exactly right. I can only remember one of them: "Have you ever noticed how fundamentalist Christians are rabidly FOR the death penalty? They always quote, 'Eye for an eye!' from the Old Testament. They never quote Jesus, 'Turn the other cheek' or 'Do good unto those who do evil to you.'
I guess they figure, 'If the death penalty was good enough for Our Lord!...' I still consider that the best joke I ever wrote. And I still think that despite knowing that many other writers have picked up on the irony of a "Christian" nation executing people and have written similar lines.
Cantu once said something to the effect that comedians in San Francisco are deluded, i.e., they think what can work here can work anywhere - but that San Francisco is the exception, San Francisco is the exception, and that's what the comics don't understand. I feel I'm on that same island with religious belief.
I can't understand how it could even be CONSIDERED by any rational person. But something like 80% of the people claim they have a firm belief in god? (although it doesn't show by their actions). Nicole's gay friend, Johnny, is a devout Catholic. How any gay person could still be a Catholic - Catholics are just behind the Southern Baptists in their anti-gay rhetoric - just boggles my mind. But this is how people think (or don't think).
So I haven't got the joke yet for something I observed, and it may take me a few years to get it, but I can't wait that long: I was riding on in the afternoon BART on a hot day. As the train was pulling out, I saw a teenager swaggering down the platform. He had the teenage cool pants on with the butt obeying gravity and just all a-sagging.
Because it was hot, he didn't have on a shirt. I noticed he was wearing a belt and my irony alert went haywire even though I still don't have the joke. I mean, at what point does a teenager, who by definition knows he knows everything, realize he's made a mistake and angrily screams, "God damn it! I bought my too big pants TOO BIG!" I just can't get that belt out of my mind.
It's like buying an Uzi and saying, "Hey! This thing fires too many bullets at once! Better stop up the barrel so nobody gets hurt!" Or something like that. That's now my second best irony episode. My favorite came when I was walking down Market and heard two bike messengers talking. The one, recounting with great flourish his great victory over a rival bike messenger, said, "So I rode right over and knocked that nigger off his bike!" His friend asked, "Which one? The Filipino?" He beamed, "Yeah!" I don't have a topper for that one, either.
Final note on teenagers: I love Mark Twain's line which goes something like, "When I was fourteen, I knew my old man was the most ignorant cuss on the planet. When I was twenty-one, I was amazed at how much he had learned in seven years."
Last minute email from Don Stevens regarding the above essay: "Wearing a belt to hold up pants bought to fall down is to attire what 'compassionate conservatism' is to politics." The ACLU crowd would love that. Hey, I play to my audience.
What do you think the point or subject of this essay is? I published this issue with some trepidation - I feel that some will perceive it as being sacrilegious. Others will take offense at what they perceive is an ethnic slur (". . . I was walking down Market and heard two bike messengers talking." ).
Stevens' essay illustrates why material dealing with sensitive topics is so risky. This essay is neither about religion nor racism. The entire focus of the essay is actually on that old bug-a-boo of writers: Simply trying to find the RIGHT word; So well articulated by Mark Twain, "The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between the lightning and the lighting bug."
Stevens simply used a couple of jokes about religion to make his point (although he did take a one-paragraph little side excursion about his feeling about people who believe in religion). And then he used a couple of other examples of real life observations - one being the ethnic stupidity of the bicycle messenger but his main point is about getting the RIGHT word.
And unfortunately that's what a lot of people who have the, "I believe in free speech BUT there are limits. . ." mentality will miss. But "free speech with limits" is an oxymoron. There is no BUT in humor. You either speak your truths or you keep silent about your truths. Regardless of what your personal beliefs are, you must always stand and delivery from your inner core essential beliefs.
The censors amongst us can drive you mad if you let them. Anyone my age (52) can the recall the stupidity of it all when Jack Par was censored for using the term 'W.C." in a joke. That's right, he actually was censored for simply using two letters of the alphabet.
"W.C." means "Water Closet" in the UK and "Water Closest" means "toilet" and NBC was terrified that Jack Parr's public utterance of "W.C." would lead all Americans down the path of moral decay. So I publish this to encourage you to say what you have to say and damn the consequences. Be honest; tell your truths. And strive for the right word.
Click here to read W.C. joke.
"San Francisco is the exception." Cantu note: Even I sometimes forget how non-mainstream San Francisco is. I was invited to fill in as a speaker for a Toastmasters District Conference and it was on emergency basis just two days before the event.
I spoke in a city just thirty miles south of San Francisco and most of the attendees were from the San Francisco Bay Area. But the only email I got regarding my stepping in at the last minute to help out was a criticism that in one of my more popular talks (how to find humor in the most dull of subjects - I am available for bookings - so call), I had made reference to an unmarried man and women living together. The emailer was offended that I had not respected the sanctity of marriage.
I was shocked. I never would have thought that could possibly be an issue. In my circle of ten close friends only two are married (and only one of those two has a child). For my reality being married is the exception, not the rule.
The Water Closet
A English lady visited Switzerland and was having difficulty finding a room, so she asked the local schoolmaster to help her. After a satisfactory room had been found, she returned to her home and did some packing. Suddenly, it occured to her that she hadn't noticed a W.C., (In England, the toilet is called a Water Closet) so she wrote the schoolmaster about the W.C. The Schoolmaster not knowing the meaning, asked the parish priest and together they decided that it must mean "Wayside Chapel". He wrote her the following letter:
It is my pleasure to inform you that there is a W.C. just 9 miles from your home, in the center of a grove of pine trees. It seats 229 people, and is open on Thursdays and Sundays. This is an unfortunate situation if you are in the habit of going regularly. You will, no doubt, be glad to hear that some people bring their lunches and make a day of it.
I would especially recommend Thursdays, for then there is an Organ accompaniment. The accoustics in the W.C. are excellent; even the most delicate sound can be heard.
My son was married in the W.C. and there was such a rush for seats that 10 people had to sit in the same seat. The looks on their faces were very interesting.
My wife is sickly, but dedicated. She doesn't go regularly, and hasn't gone for nearly a year.
I will be glad to reserve a seat in the W.C. for you, where you will be seen and heard by everyone.
Hoping I have been of some assistance.