Road Diary: The Jewish Community Centre in Sherman, Connecticut

Last weekend myself and 6 other comics were booked on a show up in the remote woods of Connecticut.The venue was a local Jewish Community Centre in a small, remote town called Sherman. 

The booker of the show, also a comic, was generous enough to let me hitch a ride with him up to the show. It was about a 2-hour drive, which of course included my obligatory stop for clam chowder and coffee.

We arrived at the venue for soundcheck to find a small hall with a raised stage with a baby grand piano and a Japanese divider screen, and one single old man sitting asleep in the front row. I guess he wanted a good seat.

The other 4 comics trickled in as the hall filled up with elderly patrons. We surveyed the sea of blue rinse and baldness with growing concern about what material we might use in the show that would go over with this octogenarian crowd. We were told to work 'clean'.

Once everyone was seated, a voice from behind us said "5 minutes to showtime!"
I slunk over to my friend and fellow comic, Neil Rubenstein to say hello and prepare for my inevitable spectacular bomb.

The lights were dimmed as a small, bespectacled lady in her 80s shuffled out in front of the crowd, now adjusting their hearing aids, and addressed them with a warm welcome.

 

But then...    she said,

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I froze. This could not be good.
She continued...
 


Dumbfounded, I turned to my left to see Neil's reaction...

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I turned back to the old lady as she continued with her welcoming address...

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A wave of audible gasps could be heard rolling around the now mortified audience. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Was she being serious?
I turned and grabbed Neil's arm to find him stifling a laugh, convulsing in an effort to suppress a gig-ending guffaw.

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Neil and I briefly excused ourselves from the room as we breathed out and conferred with each other in the break room -- "Is this really happening? Is she honestly doing this right now?" He replied, "This is going to be a bloodbath."

We composed ourselves and snuck back through the doors to see that our hostess had now decided to bring out a brochure, showing a series of old violins from a museum in Connecticut.

We caught the end of her sentence...

 

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At this point, Neil was giggling uncontrollably and trying desperately not to make any noise, but it was too late. The only two young audience members (in their 40's) in the audience had spotted Neil laughing and it had become contagious. They began stifling their own uncontrollable chortles.

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The hostess added, "And you would be able to see those at the Museum of Recovered Art..." whereupon Neil leaned over, and after three attempts finally got the words out,

 

"... but, sadly, the museum burned down."

 

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at which point I burst out laughing, along with the rest of the back row of comics, sick of mind and bereft of soul.

Then, just as we thought it was all over, there was one last addition to her devastating spiel...

 

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Because of course it was.


She then straightened up, looked to her left and said...

 

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I did not do well.

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On The Road Again

I got an email from my Agent telling me this last weekend I was to be heading back to Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey to host 4 shows at Bananas Comedy Club.  It's a well-run club but it's a little out of the way. Not to worry. It's a good thing I like buses. and people from New Jersey...


That Friday, I had lunch with my friend Tom Gammill before we went into Esquire Magazine to pitch to the new Cartoon & Humour Editor, Bob Mankoff. It was an odd meeting, but then nothing Tom and I end up doing together isn't odd. We had one last wine at Columbus Circle to plan our pitching strategy going forward before we both lurched forth into the cool breeze and parted ways.

I was headed to the home of infinite joy and wondrous smells (The Port Authority Bus Terminal) when fellow comic, Anthony LeDonne texted to say he was within beer distance so I stopped in at the Smith on the Upper West Side to brace myself for the onslaught, before jogging downtown through peak hour sidewalk-dawdlers to board the happiest vessel on Earth: The #163 to Hasbrouck Heights.

I was the last to board, so I was squeezed snuggly between a tattooed gentleman in a tank top and a septuagenarian with a scorching case of halitosis. 

 


The trip lasted about an hour longer than anticipated on account of a car accident on the highway. Everyone seemed to have a cold of some kind, so it was like a symphony of sneezes and snorts the whole way there. Bless.

Upon arrival, I checked in with the booker and got my meal voucher before trying out the new seasonal "Pumpkin Martini". A warning: Never ever do that. Ever. It was repulsive. I would have rather eaten a soggy clump of Autumn leaves.

 


I met the feature, Sean Morton, at the bar. A hilarious comic who will be headlining the Borgata for all of Thanksgiving week. He had to change his shirt after each of the 4 shows as the lights on the stage were so blisteringly hot he sweated out my entire body weight in water.

 



The headliner, SNL's newest cast member, Chris Redd was insanely funny. Out of Chicago, he had a Second City improv background, which really showed when he went to crowd work. Masterful stuff. He even managed to dig himself out of an anti-Trump chunk in a crowd of vocal Donald Devotées. Quite the sight to behold.

I snuck back into New York on Saturday for a cheeky lunch with le wife before galloping back to the Heights for the final 2 shows on Saturday night. It was great fun hosting -this time I was way more successful than last time, so I came away with my head held high, instead of slumped like a schlub with a herniated disk.

Before jumping on the bus Sunday morning I stopped in at my least favourite diner in America -Fisher's Restaurant for a dose of good old American cholesterol. i got the American Flag pancakes, which were topped with Strawberries (Red), Cream (white) and Blueberries (Blue.) Doesn't get more patriotic than that...



On the F-train home, I looked up and saw a guy who was on my train on Friday. he reminded me of the guy in Half-life who walks around mysteriouslyfor the whole game. He creeped me out.


 

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UK Sketchbook: Lakes International Comic Art Festival

That's right, this week I decided that instead of recuperating from the severe sleep-deprivation incurred by the most intense 4 days of non-stop insanity at New York Comic Con, I’d immediately fly to the UK for an even more intense 4-days at an international comic art festival.
 

Because of course I did.
 

 

Long-time subscribers will remember earlier in the year when I popped across the pond to Manchester to lend a hand planning parts of this festival. It was a long 48-hours, during which time I slept a total of 4 hours. 
 

 


You’ll remember my flight over on that occasion was with the infamous Thomas Cook airlines; a company that provide little more than a seat and a fart-filled fuselage. I sat next to a screaming baby that entire trip.

This time was no different.

 

On Wednesday afternoon, I got a haircut, pulled on my crappy suit jacket and (over)-packed my bags for another Thomas Cook flight to the motherland, and sat right in front of — you guessed it — another fucking inconsolable baby.  

I swear it was the same one. This baby has been following me around the world. It screamed the entire flight. Don’t believe me? Click here.
 

 

Already sleep-deprived, I desperately tried to get a wink of rest on the 5-hour flight… to no avail. Screaming baby was having none of it. By the time I landed in Manchester, I was greeted by the lovely Karen, a gardener from Kendal, who waited patiently while I ingested a year’s worth of caffeine to reanimate my lifeless, zombified body. It was 9:55am.

You see, I was to go straight from the plane and be driven 2 hours directly to Kendall College to teach a full theatre of engrossed students a slew of invaluable tips on using a Wacom tablet to create your art. I struggled to put two sentences together, but managed to cover the most important advice.

 

The lovely Karen patiently drove me through the centuries-old town of Kendal, educating me on the local wool industry and many lakes* of the Lakes District. *There’s one lake. I was so tired I barely retained any information but enjoyed hearing all about the history of Cumbria.
 

 

I had now been awake for 24 hours and desperately needed sleep, so she dropped me to my lodgings for the duration… Stonecross Manor Inn. Or as the locals call it “Fawlty Towers”, or "Flowery Twats"... or something.

This place was built in the Cretaceous period. The creaky walls burbled with sounds of boilers and snoring septuagenarians. The power sockets buzzed and cracked whenever anything was plugged in, and the Wifi was only available if you sat on the bottom of the staircase and held your laptop up at waist-height— Oh, and did I mention it was haunted?

Yeah. It was once an infamous girls orphanage.
Because of course it was.

This hotel was not the festival’s first choice for guests. The main hotel in town usually housing the VIPs was being used for a wedding this weekend, so we were relegated to the edge of town in this haunted old boiler-factory. I checked the guestbook to see who had previously stayed here.
 

 


After a brief nap, which was interrupted by a screaming baby in the next room (yes, actually) I spent a good hour trying to figure out how to use the shower. Like most hotels, they appear to have come up with their own wacky twist on ‘tap that turns on and water comes out.’  I had to solve a riddle and answer three questions to a troll before I could get a slow stream of warm, off-brown water to bathe in.

I ambled downstairs to be welcomed by my fellow National Cartoonists Society compatriots; Steve, Luke, Joe and Deb McGarry, Tom and Anna Richmond, and the inimitable, legendary Sergio Aragones. We stood around waiting for the shuttle bus to the Mayor’s welcome party, sharing horror stories of our first encounters with Fawlty Towers. We’d all been invited to the VIP opening night dinner and were to be received by the Mayor — a man of few words.
 

 



After a couple of complimentary sparking rosés, we were ready to mingle with the rest of the Festival guests and sit down to a welcome dinner in the aforementioned theatre.

 

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I did fanboy out when I met Manchester-based New Yorker illustrator Stanley Chow. If you’ve ever seen my social media avatar (above), you’ll know what a huge fan I am of his style.

You’d have seen it at the top of every single online New Yorker article next to the writer’s name. he somehow manages to defy the conventions of asymmetry in caricature and create these perfectly symbolic illustrations, perfectly encapsulating the person and their entire aura in the process. He’s a wizard. With a Manc accent.
 

 

I found my place at a table with Graham Dury from VIZ (UK’s equivalent of MAD), along with Stan Sakai (Ninja Turtles / Usagi Yojimbo) and Sergio Aragones (Living God.)

After mains, there was a 26-question quiz for each table to compete in. The questions were projected up on to the giant screen right behind my head. At one point there was a question about me. Every other table got it wrong.

Because of course they did.

 

 

At the conclusion of the quiz, we filtered out into the night and down the streets of Kendal, to a local pub at which we’d be spending a lot of time this weekend by the name of Ruskins Bar. There, we sang karaoke and drank locally brewed ales until the wee hours, because body clocks be damned. I sang Drops of Jupiter by Train. I reckon they liked it.
 

 



After a lengthy wait in the rain, we were shuttled back to our haunted lodgings in seemingly the only cab in town for a nightcap and a spooky few hours of sporadic shut-eye.
 

 

The next morning after a quick English breakfast of baked beans on toast with sausages, we were whisked away to the Mayor’s Parlour at the Town Hall, to be taught all about Kendall’s history and its rare, priceless artifacts. 
 

 

We sipped our cups of tea in fine china while a tall gentleman by the name of Simon hovered about the parlor, nervously holding centuries-old relics with his white cotton gloves. At the conclusion of his session, he offered for us to don our own pair of gloves and hold the various shiny things as Simon told us fun facts about them.
 

 

From there, we walked through the rain, across the bridge to the local tap house for some local ales and ham sandwiches. They loved their beer very much in this town and had even specifically brewed a number of beers for the festival itself. For dessert, we had chocolate cake. Made from beer.

 

Another nap was in order before the big live drawing event in the Festival Hub: The Brewery Arts Centre (I told you they liked their beer.)

Steve McGarry and I co-hosted a night of live-drawing with two artists hooked-up to giant screens, working on Wacom Cintiqs, while Sergio Aragones drew by hand, with a live camera feed from overhead lit up the stage with his drawings. 

The theatre was completely full, and the demand so high for viewing that they ended up simulcasting the event to an adjoining venue for more people to pile in and watch.
 

 

Seeing Sergio draw live is like seeing all seven wonders of the world at once. I would implore you to look it up on YouTube. The man is as prolific as he is hilarious — and the most generous, charming person you’ll ever meet. That night we awarded the inaugural Sergio Aragones Award for Excellence in Comic Art to Dave McKean. You can see his work here.

We also officially announced the UK chapter of the NCS and inducted our first batch of new, British members. This has been in the works for years, so it was nice to be there when it finally came to fruition.


The rest of the weekend was a blur. I attended events, moderated a talk with Canadian cartoonist, ex-NCS President, and Pulitzer prize nominee Lynn Johnston on her comic strip For Better or For Worse. I demonstrated on the Wacom tablets at the ‘Wacom café’ and met a tonne of insanely talented comic artists that all made me feel welcome, and at the same time like a hobbyist, dabbling in the scribbling arts.
 

 


I was booked to do a ‘cartoon-a-room’ event to teach kids how to draw, not realising of course that I was following the famed comic artist for The Walking Dead, Charlie Adlard. Lovely guy. Tough act to follow!
 

 


The biggest highlight of the weekend for me was getting to sit and do signings next to Sergio. I only sold about 5 cartoons, but I was spending most of my time leaning over watching him draw and sign all his collections of books and prints. We chatted about cartoons — and about the fact that in spite of his appearances, he is 80 this year.

He said he liked my Wacom video which made me smily like a goofball for the rest of the day. I didn’t get to see him for the rest of the weekend. I’m glad I got to spend that time with him.

 

 

One big event that I’d been looking forward to was the so-called “Knockabout Cabaret” event on Saturday night — a variety show of music, comedy and humorous slides from all corners of the globe. I was asked to do a 15-minute comedy set, about which I’d been quietly nervous all day.

I re-jigged my set to tailor the jokes to a UK audience but got the sense as I saw the MC “warm-up the crowd” that no amount of re-jigging would help. It was futile. I was walking onto a beach of gattling gunfire with no weapon.

I did my 15 minutes to varied response… they liked the Smiley bit, but I lost them when I started ragging on the queen. (Bad move). I think by the end of the set they couldn’t have been more nonplussed by my lack of local references and verbose stories in jaunty dialects.

I left the stage dejected and sunk my sorrows into a couple of local brews, sinking into the shadows to avoid the glares of Her Majesty’s subjects, as the following, baffling act took the stage.

 

 


The MC called him onto the stage but alas, the act was nowhere to be seen… he was out the back of the room somewhere. As the MC figured out where he was, the enormous gentleman ascended from the shadows to reveal he was wearing a skin-tight unitard, a mask, goggles and was holding an electric guitar.

The audience clapped once again as he slowly took the stage, plugged in his guitar and leaned into the mic. What happened next was 30 minutes of jaw-dropping bewilderment and a stony silence from the audience that rivaled even my performance.

 


The performer screamed mercilessly into the mic while violently strumming his Fender until the strings broke, and he had to stand on stage to re-tune it. He asked the audience to take a beer break while he tuned his fractured axe. It didn’t end well for him.

The final night’s farewell party at old Ruskin's Bar consisted of a comedian by the name of Gavin, who unfortunately shared my comedic fate from the night before. After the Bohemian Rhapsodies and the Britney Spears medleys of the karaoke encore, the show came to a close as we cabbed it back one more time to trusty old Stonecross Manor Towers Gaol Institute for the Daft for one last nightcap.

We were treated to some old English folk songs from old English folks until eventually, we turned in around 3:30 in the morning.

I got 3 hours sleep before stumbling down the stairs with my suitcase only to find my ride to the airport had gone to the wrong hotel. Not to worry… it was only a swift 2.5 hours to Manchester at 6:30am in peak-hour traffic. At this point, my brain had gone into suicide mode and was thinking of quick and convenient methods of ending it all. After arriving at the airport and taking 1 solid hour to get through security, it made me wish gone through with it.

 

 

By the time I got to the plane I was an exhausted husk of a human, collapsing into my chair and passing out before we left the tarmac. Not even the screams of the baby in the next row could keep me from my coma. 

And yes, I’m pretty sure it was the same baby.

 

 

2017 San Diego Comic Con Sketchbook

 

San Diego Comic Con International is a relentless 4-day cavalcade of Cosplay, comic fans and crazy critters. I always take as many photos as I can and sketch from them after the fact. I was drawing people all 4 days at the NCS booth, caricaturing people as their favourite comic characters and superheroes.

Here are a few snippets at the insanity...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This guy was waiting in line behind me.
He didn't blink one time. Not one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Uber Driver Called Getty (Who Used to be Called George.)

Today I flew to LA to decompress before pushing forth to my third San Diego Comic Con. Upon landing I was met by Gary Leli, a fellow New York comedian who is relocating to California. Gary is as classy as they come— he picked me up in a car that looked like it was straight out of a Bond film. We put the top down, donned our sunglasses and zipped through LA traffic listening to Billy Joel before arriving at his beautiful Hollywood home. Dinner and drinks were in order. Lots of Drinks. (My flight had been diverted to New Mexico because there wasn't enough fuel in the plane to get us from New York to Los Angeles. Because of course there wasn't.)

Copious cocktails were bookended with a nightcap cigar on the deck in the warm open air: We were at the zenith of our chillaxitude.

The next morning we decided we’d hit the historic Beverly Hills hotel for some libations and merriment. His fiancée, the lovely Lindsay, ordered us an Uber. The phone bleeped to tell us he’d be here in 4 minutes, and that his name was Getty.

In his profile photo he looked like Buddha (if Buddha always wore a cap he made himself and drove a Toyota Sienna).

As the car pulled up, the doors flung open to reveal a veritable treasure trove of snacks, water, apple juice, fresh bananas, soft drinks and wonderment. Our driver was wearing a cap that said "Dr. Food Man Chew" and by golly did we take heed.

I grabbed a banana and a water and went to town as we hummed towards the Hills of Beverly. Getty had a story -and dammit, he was going to tell it whether we liked it or not.

Apropos of nothing, he held up a sign that he'd kept on his dash that read "Dream Big." It was at that point he told us about his life as a Chinese chef at his restaurant Food Man Chew, and about his son who -of course- was a stand-up comic.

He rattled of his spiel as he'd almost certainly done a million times prior, and in doing so missed about a dozen turns on the GPS, ensuring the length of the trip matched the length of his story.

At one point he said, "I changed my name to Getty because I read a book about a man named Getty. Very interesting fellow. So I change my name to Getty."

He paused.

"It used to be George" he said.

He then went on to tell Gary that he could teach him to make hot and sour soup in two hours, and that we were all going to win the lottery. At which point he reached into his sunglasses compartment and grabbed a lottery ticket for tonight's draw and handed it back to Lindsay.

If we win, we're going to track him down and split it with him, so he can re-open his restaurant and make Gary some soup.

Thanks for the ride, Getty.

 

 
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The Sounds and Sights of Hasbrouck Heights: Part 1

The Sounds and Sights of Hasbrouck Heights: Part 1

"You British?" the man at the table in front shouted. "You limey fuck!" he added, as the audience erupted in rapturous applause.

I looked down, still gripping the mic like a police baton, and tried to think of something clean, witty and funny to come back with. I snorted, then opened my mouth to respond, but all that came out was a small puff of dust.

 

This was going to be a long weekend...

The Half-Ass Comedy Tour

The Half-Ass Comedy Tour

Tired of waiting for things to magically happen for us in our comedy careers, Tristan and I went ahead and phoned a bunch of clubs in the Mid-West and booked a week of road gigs for October.
A bunch of them said yes.

Fear and Loathing in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.

Fear and Loathing in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.

I don't remember taking any of these photos...

My head throbbed as I squinted at the clock to see it was 11:20am. I'd just realised I'd left my drivers license in New York, and I had to pick up a rental car 20 minutes ago   ...in Pennsylvania.