Monday, July 21, 2008


Today's a busy one, but I want to post at least a couple times a week, so here's a quick memory I'm sharing that is about what nearly became the greatest tragedy of my journalistic career.

So, the time was fall '99, Christmas season to be exact. I was a fall quarterly paid intern for the Chicago Tribune, the first weekly newspaper person ever to be picked up by the Tribune, or so I was told. It was a thrill and an honor to work for the paper i most loved in the world.

But I got sent on all sorts of random assignments, and one of them was to watch Michael Jordan show up at the Boys & Girls Club he'd named in his late father's honor and hand out thousands of Christmas presents to hundreds of needy kids. Afterwards, we in the press would be blessed with the privilege of throwing some questions his way.

At the time, Jordan was the most popular man on the planet. Or at least, definitely in Chicago. I had never been in the room as a reporter with anyone this famous, knowing that my take on it all would be THE definitive story people could read. I was nervous, but I grabbed my mini tape recorder and got my place in front of the man, the myth, the legend.

That is, i had a place until the TV cameras barged in, at which i point i was literally ordered to move. I wound up getting pushed and jostled around to the back of Jordan, leaving me no option but to swing my arm around his head from behind and hold the tape recorder just under his mouth.

Let's just say Jordan is a "low talker," or at least he was that day. Mushmouth from "Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids" was Winston Churchill next to Jordan. This surprised the hell out of me.

Anyway, I'm standing and straining for my tape recorder to pick up whatever it can. And the other, far more veteran reporters were starting to notice my tippy-toes act and trying not to snicker. If I fell one step wrong, i'd either fall smack into Jordan or away from him, choking him, maybe both. And again, we were being filmed for the TV news.

Just then, things got worse. I had just been getting over a horrible cold, my nose building up an itchy sensation over and over before releasing visible globs of goo anytime i sneezed. It was allergy season for me...And I knew something was about to make me sneeze.

Ya know how, if you are trying to prevent a sneeze you start twitching your face and blinking your eyebrows? This was worse, much worse. I had to twist my face muscles into pretzels in order to hold it in as The Greatest Athlete Ever kept mumbling. And the other reporters were starting to notice and trying not to laugh.

That only made me feel worse, and more nervous. And of course the more you think about something happening, the more likely it is that it's going to happen. On top of that, I'm convinced that I'm God's personal court jester, the one human being that He most enjoys watching crazy shit happen to.

So i know that i won't be able to hold it for ten seconds more. With 5 seconds to spare, Michael finally shut up and I whipped my microphone out of his face and proceeded to double over with the LOUDEST SNEEZE EVER. My nose shot out clear sticky goop at rocket speed straight into the floor. Everyone saw it.

Including Michael.

I was mortified.

He was pissed.

Thank God he had an image to maintain. As everyone else backed away in disgusted horror or grossed-out giggles, Jordan shot me a look that I don't think he ever gave to any other member of the public, at least. It was a look that wanted to kill me. And then he turned and walked away, leaving me as the source of gossip that day for the entire Chicago press corps as i found a paper towel and proceeded to mop up my mess.

And to think I didn't get picked up by the Trib after my fall session was over. Hmmm, wonder why.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

KILLER COMEDY (I read this essay last night at a show in LA and got the most insane reaction of my ten-year career. Enjoy...)

Let me begin by saying every word of the following story is true. Only the name of the other guy has been changed, and that’s not to protect his innocence, but rather to protect my life. You’ll see why soon enough.

(MY TRADEMARK SHOULD BE STARTING WITH “SO”) So it all started Sunday night. I was at the Comedy Store, waiting to see if I made the list to be on the night’s open mike show. It was there that I met Kelly, another comic, way younger than me, but with the unjaded eagerness that I once had way too many Hollywood days ago.

We started talking about comedy and the scene, where to perform and when, how and why. Soon enough, we found we both had been left off the list. So I asked him if he knew another place to perform that night, and he invited me to come along to an open mike at a place called Rusty’s Surf Shack out on Santa Monica Pier. I love the ocean, really love the Pier, and was jonesing to perform. So I went. He seemed innocent enough, and had an SUV while I was dependent on a series of buses to get anywhere. I hopped in, thinking ‘no problem!’

Well, about two minutes into our drive, Kelly has something to tell me.

“Don’t take this wrong. You seem like a nice guy, but if you hurt me, I will kill you.”

“What?!” I gasped.

“I’m a sociopath. I’m being treated for it because I almost became a serial killer. My dad would want me to tell you that.”

Right about now, I’m thinking that this has GOT to be a setup for a reality show. There had to be a hidden camera in this car and Ashton Kutcher waiting in a control booth in the back of a van somewhere on Sunset, waiting to give Kelly the sign to tell me I’d been “Punk’d.” But after five seconds or so of silence, nothing happened. And I started to think “Holy shit, this guy’s for real.”

So I asked him “Why” his dad would want him to make that kind of comment to a stranger.
“To get that out there.” He was quiet, eyes focused on the road, but still appeared a bit nervous. But hell, I was the one who needed to be nervous!

“So…” I asked him, “You mean, you’ve KILLED someone?”

“No, but I’ve thought about it. Thank God for therapy.”

Right about now, I’m realizing this guy’s for real and I’m assessing my options. No, actually, I’m thinking to myself “You are so EFFing stupid! You just stumbled your way into getting picked up by a GUY in West Hollywood! But instead of being gay (or so I HOPED) he’s a killer!”

I asked him if I should get out of the car. He replied calmly, LIKE THE KIND OF COLD-BLOODED, STONE-FACED KILLER YOU SEE IN A HITCHCOCK MOVIE OR, SAY, HANNIBAL LECTER – “Do you want to get out of the car?”

Now talk about the most loaded question of all time. If I say “Yes! Let me out now!” would that piss him off and make him want to kill me in utter defiance of my wishes? Or should I stay, acknowledging both my pathetic need for a ride to Santa Monica and trying to be supportive and friendly of this young guy’s efforts to fix his urges in therapy. Surely even prospective serial killers need friends, right? And just like I wouldn’t want to be racist or homophobic, I certainly wouldn’t want to be killer-phobic either.

So I stay in. I do make one vow to myself: I’m getting a car as soon as freakin’ possible.

But for now, I’m here, stuck in an SUV with a teenage comedian who’s prone to fits of homicidal rage. And I’m always too curious for my own good. I’m drawn to weirdness and weird people, and though I’m scared to walk in the fire myself, I’m more than willing to watch or ask about what it’s like.

“Actually, can I ASK you about it?” I ask.

“About what?” he replies. Oh, I don’t know. The weather. Hollywood. The stock market. What the hell was he THINKING I wanted to ask him about?! Killing! Oh, wait, calm down, I don’t want to be sarcastic and enrage him. THAT would be a shame – to have a perfectly nice conversation going with a sociopath and THEN piss him off with a joke, of all things.

“Um, who do you want to kill? I’m not your type or anything, am I?”
There’s a question I never expected to ask a guy. Especially one I just met in West Hollywood.

“And besides, you’re not my type.”

I have never been so happy to be rejected in my entire life. Yet I ask him what IS his type for killing?


Now, this kid is WHITEBREAD and driving an SUV. He still lives at home and has his parents supervising his incredible regimen of psychological therapy, and he admits to me that he lives in Manhattan Beach.

“Dude, you live in Manhattan Beach. No offense, but have you even MET a gangbanger before?”

He pauses…”No. I guess that’s why I haven’t killed anyone yet. The people I think about killing don’t live anywhere near me.”

And besides, since most gangbangers are black and Latino, does that make you a racist? I ask. Is it about that?

“No,” he replies. “I’d kill the heads of Enron too. Basically, anyone of any type who destroys people’s lives and doesn’t even care about it. It’s sort of a vigilante thing.”

“You ever watch ‘Dexter’?” I ask, referring to the R-rated cable show that follows the exploits of a vigilante serial killer.

“No, my parents won’t let me.”
Amazing! This guy has the capacity to KILL people, but he still worries about what his parents think is appropriate television programming!

“How old ARE you?!” I ask.

“19.” He looks 25, easy.

So we get into Rusty’s Surf Shack, grab a table and wait for the open mike to start. It’s at this time I ask him how he got into comedy.

“Come on, man. It’s substitute behavior. Where else do you get to kill strangers every night? And that’s the whole GOAL!”

Just then, I KID YOU NOT, the old song “Psycho Killer” by the Talking Heads starts playing on the Surf Shack’s sound system. I don’t point this out to him. No need to accentuate the moment.

Besides, he’s excitedly telling me about his job now.

“I just got hired as a sushi chef. I’m working with Ginsu knives.” He says this with relish. I nearly spit out my drink.

“They give you knives and teach you how to use them,” he adds.
“So it’s not just a job then. It’s practice, in a way…” I say, joking darkly.

“I know.” He replies, a little too excitedly.

About this time I notice the sweatshirt he’s wearing. It says “Psych Ward.” And has a serial number on it. It was designed as a joke, and for most people it is. But Kelly helpfully points out, “Oh, I’ve been there, dude. UCLA. Three different times.”

There’s still time to kill before the show – no pun intended. I decide to scare him in return.

“I’d like to talk to you about my faith.”

“Oh, you a Jesus freak?”

“No. I’m a Scientologist.”

“You are?!” he says. Now HE looks nervous. Leave it to Scientology to be the religion that freaks out serial killers.

“No, not really,” I say. “I’m Catholic.”

“Then I’m sorry about your childhood,” he jokes.

Wait a minute. YOU’RE the killer, I’m thinking. What happened in YOUR childhood? But I’m, again, afraid to ask, instead soaking in the irony of a serial killer and a Christian sharing the same table. Which is scarier?

I tell him I admitted to my faith because I have trust in God that I’ll be OK and that he won’t let me get hurt.

“”Isn’t that the way it always works?” he replied. “Trust God, then bam! A hurricane comes along, or a car accident and bam! They’re just as dead as the rest of us,” he says.

Dark but true. I admit I have no reply to offer.

“I’m just sayin,’” he says.

So he went on that night and indeed killed. From the stage. And thankfully, so did I. We were a regular team, only I was afraid he’d try to take it further and make me his accomplice, like we were the two weirdos in “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.”

I thought, maybe I can be his friend at the open mikes, see him ‘round the scene. But I’m not gonna get in his car again.

Then I realize it’s almost midnight. It’s gonna be a bitch getting home on the bus. Guess who I hitched a ride back to Hollywood with?

He dropped me off at a bus stop on Sunset near La Cienega.

I turned to say thanks. He said he had to hurry home ‘cause of curfew.

“Oh, strict parents?”

“No. Legally enforced. The state wants to know where I am after midnight.”

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


For those who don't know, I've interviewed dozens of comedians in my years as a reporter. You can find the profiles in my "Famous and Funny People" blog section on my site, This interview was with Lewis Black at Vroman's Bookstore in Pasadena, CA on Friday, June 20, 2008 after he did a hilarious Q&A with the audience at a book signing for his new collection of essays, "Me of Little Faith." This interview hasn't appeared anywhere but here so enjoy...

America's Funniest Reporter: Nobody seems as crazy as they did in the Bush elections about religion, but the fringe keeps saying that Obama’s a Muslim. So how do you feel religion is playing out in this election? Is it a factor?

BLACK: I think it’s playing out a little less, but it just gets stupid. It’s playing out stupid. Before it was idiotic and now we’ve moved to stupid. They say Obama is a Muslim because they can’t say bad things. They can’t use the other words they’d like to say, so they come up with that as the excuse.

AFR: Do you think we’re moving past this permanently?

BLACK: Yeah, I think so. I think most Americans are tired of it. Once you have a president who says he’s religious, but people see he’s just insane, they pick up on it. I think people are sick of it. You see it even with the born-agains, saying these people have got to just stop it. I think it’s the end of it. And a lot of that outpouring had to do with 9/11. That’s how people respond when the shit hits the fan.

AFR: Do you think that when things calmed down and saw more trouble wasn’t coming they backed off from it?

BLACK: Yeah, I think so and they’re sick of it. Look – you can be on your hands and knees all you want but you gotta know how to fix things. Look there’s a flood now in the Midwest and they’re still putting up sandbags. No amount of prayer, you can pray whatever, but we ended up in the position where they didn’t do the basics. Look that was in ’93 that the place flooded. They were told in ’93 to build a larger embankment, and they didn’t. We have to start doing things when they do something and go, yeah now we gotta get it done.

AFR: So this is a problem that goes across other administrations.

BLACK: It goes across all of ‘em. This country’s never dealt with its problems, always fooling around with other crap.

AFR: Some people act like Obama is the Messiah. What is your reaction to that?

BLACK: I think the kids are reacting to something they’ve never heard, which is hope.

AFR: Do you have faith in him?

BLACK: I don’t have that much faith anymore. Hope is a great thing if you’re 22. I’m 60. Hope’s not that big a deal. Hope to me is that the hotel I stay in will have a breakfast buffet tomorrow. That would be nice. I think what he’s doing is great. I think what’s really amazing is that people go “God he speaks so well.” Like there’s something wrong with that. How do we know he can do anything? Well if he can speak that way he can focus people. That’s the important thing. Whether he gets anything done with the idiots wandering around is another thing. I don’t think it’s that difficult. It’s just here’s what the liberals think, here’s what the conservatives think, let’s meet in the middle and move on. Something’s gotta give.

AFR: Gay marriage is fresh in the news, and All Saints Church here is the most liberal church in America and has said they'll crank out gay weddings as fast as they get asked. So how do you think gay marriage will play out in relation to faith? Are people chilling out about it?

BLACK: In a sense it’s – it’s a hell of a thing to compare it to, but abortion. States allowed abortion, and eventually it became the law of the land. It’ll take a number of years because it has to do with ignorance. If people don’t spend time with gay people, they don’t get it. It’s a concept and a concept that weirds them the shit out. All you have to do is get out in the country 20 minutes to see that they’re not exposed to it. Compare this to parts of the country, it’s like 10 years ahead out here. They just got cable!

AFR: Has there been any presidential candidate ever that didn’t let you down?

BLACK: No! No, not really. Look all that had to happen, all my generation had to do was legalize pot and they couldn’t do it. It’s that simple. I mean really, that was it. They couldn’t even do the basics. I was reading an article by a friend of mine today. Hemp can’t be grown in this country. You’ve gotta be kidding me. Not even cannabis – hemp! It’s a law that’s 40, 50, 60 years old

AFR: What do you want to be doing next?

BLACK: Next? Lying down.

AFR: No, your next big project?

BLACK: I do the show, it goes back on the air July 30. I go back on tour, the CD comes out August 5 and then I do a run in New York but after that I don’t know. I may do a movie this summer but it doesn’t look like it.

STILL MORE STUPID AMERICANS (I really don't hate my country, just morons like these - people in concession line at movie theaters)

So tonight i went to see "Batman:The Dark Knight" in IMAX at Universal Studios Citywalk in an advance critics' screening. It's a cool place to see it and we're 4 days early, which is pretty badass.

But then i get there and after navigating a line that's a mile long, i finally have a secure place in line and feel I can run for snacks. So I run, which for me is a feat. (See my photos section if you have questions about that.)

But once I get in line, there's like two teenagers running the stand for about 20 customers, who are all hoping to hustle and make their movie in time. So we're talking SLOOOOOOW service. But it's moving. Until the two Latino guys in front of me step up to order.

Normally, I post color-blindly, not drawing attention to someone's race. But in this case, you'll see my point.

These guys start stammering through their order. It's a given in Southern California that at least one side of any exchange in a customer service line will not be in English - either the customer or the employee, or when you're REALLY in a hurry and trapped behind them, BOTH, will not speak the language of the country they're LIVING in. And yes, I CAN talk smack and pass judgment because my dad came here from Poland, where the language is really different from English rather than sharing half the words or barely changing the spelling, and HE took the time to learn the language out of respect for the system that he CHOSE to move to.

So as they look at the menu screen as if they've never been to a movie theater in their life (again, this kind of crap only happens when you're about to be late for the hottest movie of the year). Not to mention they had ten minutes in line behind the morons in front of THEM to decide what they wanted. But nope, they're consulting each other now before asking the clueless cashier if Coke is available there as a drink.

Ya think?!? I wonder if Coke is in a movie theater. Hmmmm.

So just as they're about to get it over with, BAM! Here comes either their buddy or cousin or friend, another guy who can't speak the language despite being here long enough in this country to have spawned the apparent 8 and 10 year old kids that are with him.

And whadaya know? They invoke the Unspoken Family Rule of Linecutting: If you've got a family member in a line - the bigger the better, of course, because the whole POINT is to piss off as many people as you can, right? - then BY ALL MEANS step right up and join them the SECOND they manage to be at the front of the line. Skip the wait of the people behind you, and make sure you order as much as possible for every last little rugrat in your family.

Ah, yes, another scintillating five minutes go by as I fantasize about the fact that I'LL be fast and set a new trend in motion. But while i just want a large popcorn and a Coke/Hi-C fruit punch suicide combo drink, i have to hear these pinheads discuss "How you say?...." "You know, this....ah, yes, size of drink." Please save the English language discussion for a CLASS that will ultimately answer all your questions faster any way.

Now that she's got your order, wait, she's gotta now hear your kids change their minds five different ways. "Red slushie!" "No, blue slushie!" "Large!" "No, small!" And the poor girl behind the counter is totaling them up, switching them around and....

Well, that's the point I think "Why am i about to spend $6.75 more for a bag of popcorn that really took 12 cents to produce?" and storm off back to my place in line JUST in time to get in the theater.

Oh well. I'm on a diet anyway.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

A QUICK COMPLAINT ABOUT MORE STUPID AMERICANS (Not a bash on America, but on the people that likely resulted in Bush being President twice)

The longest line I've ever seen to see a celebrity appearance was outside a Borders at Sunset & Vine in Hollywood. It was around the time Bill Clinton came out with his second book, "Giving," so I thought perhaps people were there to see him or some other President? Perhaps the Pope?

No, they were there to see Dog The Bounty Hunter!!!

And even more upsetting - he had a book!! These people had come to see this human Gremlin claim that he knew how to construct a sentence, and then another and another until somehow he managed to produce a book.

If THIS didn't prove the legend of the Hundred Monkeys - that if a hundred monkeys of normal stupid intelligence typed forever, eventually one might miraculously produce something readable - I don't know what does. The guy looks like the monster from "Predator", only he's also wearing Paris Hilton's brand of hair extensions - and his job consists of capturing the dumbest white trash America has to offer. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if a few of the morons in the crowd were people on his "git" list!

I can imagine that thought process: "Sure he might catch me if I git my book signed, but he's FAMOUS!"

Now, I have a fundamental question:

Before you get a book contract, shouldn't you be required to have an audience that KNOWS how to READ?!

Dog's fans all looked like they were lost inside the store - because I don't think they'd ever SEEN a book before. And they actually acted surprised when he walked in peacefully, rather than kickin down the door or breaking through the wall like the Kool Aid Man.

But to be surprised when he "turned out" to be racist? Sorry, look at him - he's King of the Racists!

You don't "accidentally" say the "N" word. At least guys who dress like that don't.

WHY I CAN NOW UNDERSTAND THE APPEAL OF MASS MURDER (or, thoughts on the douchebag morons who line up to buy IPhones)

(This came from my raw thoughts in my new Spider-Man comedy journal...[look, i won that at a Nerds in Love event in Chicago last month, so b*** me]. And it has plenty of fake F words in it...So if you can't handle that so be it today. It's a rarity. But I DESPISE people who line up for IPhones and crap like that. Here goes...)

So another I Phone came out today, and I'm ENRAGED! I understand the mindset of mass murderers on days like this, when we see firsthand, before our very eyes in broad daylight, just how f***ing stupid and lost we are as a society.

Why do I care so much?!

Ask THEM why do THEY care about a stupid f***ing phone?! It's JUST A PHONE!

But no, they say, it's not just a phone. "It's got email and you can watch movies and..." well, who knows what the f*** else. Everything you need to keep from looking in the mirror, searching your soul, or reading the f***ing news.

It's an election year, people! We are about to elect a man with 2 years of relevant experience to be the leader of the free world! You can't get hired to manage a CIRCUIT CITY without FIVE years of relevant experience! Obama for President? Yeah, great f***ing idea!

If he wasn't black, he wouldn't be anywhere NEAR the presidency. I'm glad we've progressed in the last 40 years, and I'm sure I'd vote for a black guy with credentials. But his time we're DOING what Chris Rock himself warned about in 1996 with Colin Powell: blindly making up for centures of injustice because one guy "speaks so well."

But I digress.

The reason I HATE these people, why there's not enough bullets to fill them with , is that they're lining up for something where the price is gonna drop in 2 weeks and will be outright replaced in 6 months. This is the THIRD edition of it in less than 18 months! Anything else, you'd demand a refund or stop buying new ones because you've been had! But if you had any sense, you don't buy a new one - you demand a refund.

Why DO they have 3 versions of the IPhone already? Do you REALLY believe that it just keeps magically improving? Yeah right - and they didn't know from the get-go with the first one that they could afford to have a $200 price cut. That bait-and-switch ALONE should have had every Mac store in the nation up in flames.

But no, THESE people - our fellow citizens, who are sucking off our oxygen supply and providing nothing but carbon dioxide to this world in return - line up early and wait wall night and all day NOT EVEN NOTICING that the a**holes in charge from the Mac store are offering them bottled water but asking them to pay for it! We'll take $600 for a phone but we at Apple can't spare being paid a dollar for water!

Why am I so mad? Because I know that while things like the IPhone are dumbing us down and numbing us out, REAL brainpower is going into it! Excuse me, isn't anyone else outraged by the fact that we've had AIDS around for 25 years without a SINGLE cure, yet we're on version 3 of this s*** already?!

It should be the LAW that EVERY SCIENTIFIC MIND in the country is put to work on curing diseases and solving the energy crisis and off the quest for a better telephone. We HAVE TV, folks, and radio, and DVD players, better movies than anyplace on the planet, but we DON"T have our priorities straight.

And for that, I sign off by saying you can waste your life squinting into the little picture on your IPhone, but I'LL keep MY eyes on the big picture.