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This Saturday (July, 31): An Awesomely Awkward Comedy Show
In the upstairs at Courtyard Hooligans Pub on 140 Brevard Ct. in Charlotte, NC. 8:00 — 10:00 pm. Hosted by Michael Robinette. Featuring me, Chris Layton, Tyler Greene, Jon Dunn, Adam Portrais, Katie Hughes and Chris Weathers. I’m doing 15 minutes & I organized this event. I’m pretty excited about it. The promos I wrote for the show contain nonsense such as this:
Are you socially awkward? Do you prefer that your comedy comes from similarly awkward people? Do you like to watch the audience scratch their heads and look about in nervous confusion? If so, you’re in luck! We told Courtyard Hooligans Pub that we wanted this to happen or else we’d show up every day for a month straight and dry hump complete strangers… in the face! So they decided on the comedy, which is a shame… because we were really looking forward to the illegal sex acts.
“ZEN” by DeVan Penegar. An abstract painting of mine. To see more art of mine go to www.devanpenegar.webs.com and click on the Art Gallery section.
Sitting in my apartment, way up on the seventh floor, I stare at this previously blank laptop screen unsure of where the words I type will take me. I’m a degenerate comedian and writer. I say “degenerate” because, performing my chosen subject matter in the sensitive Bible Belt, that is apparently what many people think of me. Family included. I’m not going to lie though, the label fits my personality onstage and off so I’ve embraced it.
Speaking of not lying, I’m a bit of a liar. I’m not in the seventh floor of an apartment. This is a psych ward and, another awkward truth, it’s not my first time in one. May not be my last. Don’t make a big deal of it. I’m in here voluntarily.
Looking in a mirror, I see my beard has become rather large and somewhat Amish in nature. I would trim it down to normality but razors, scissors, etc. aren’t allowed in here. Not even electric clippers. Seriously, how would you even begin to off yourself with electric clippers?
They did allow me to keep my mp3 player with me in here. Odd considering, if I were so inclined, I might be able to strangle myself with the headphone cord. The only thing on my player is the Tom Waits album “Real Gone.” Not exactly easy listening for when you’re taking a time out to discover your next move in the chess game called life. “Chess game called life?” Who the hell says shit like that? I’ll have to remember to edit that cheese out.
Anyway, the great thing about Waits’ “Real Gone” is that, if you’re the special type of person who is drawn to this kind of music, it sounds like how an acid trip feels. Swirling mood shifting foot stomping carnival blues madness. There is a line in his song “Shake It” that I really identify with. I’m not even sure what Tom means with the line but I feel like it describes me about half the time. The music stops and he screams, “You know I feel like a preacher waving a gun around!”
So you’re probably wondering what led me to check myself into this psych ward, right? Well, that’s a little personal. Seriously, don’t be such an intrusive ass. Although, I will tell you this: Things were starting to get to me so I showed up here to get away. Vague? Sure, but that’s all you get. This is my third night here though and now this place is starting to get to me. I’ll probably head out in the morning. I hear there is a Zen meditation retreat in the mountains. I might get a ride out there to figure some things out.
A week ago, maybe more than a week, it all blurs together after a while, I had an odd conversation with my boss. You see, I spend most of my days working in an electrical warehouse with no air conditioning, sweating my ass off in the company of rednecks, the kind of people who haven’t even heard of Steinbeck and could much less grasp the existential despair in The Grapes of Wrath. I’m not yet privileged enough for my stand-up career to be full-time. It’s a drag. I envy anyone whom isn’t a slave to their job and obligations.
Anyway, my boss wasn’t aware of my comedy, probably because I hardly talk to the guy. I guess someone filled him in because he said to me, “So you’re a comedian? You?!? Really???”
“Yeah,” I told him, “Believe it or not, I don’t contemplate suicide all the time, just on the company dime.”
Oblivious to the truth in that joke, he simply gave a slight smile and said, “Come on now, that’s not a good attitude for the workplace, now is it?”
There is this Nine Inch Nails song “Every Day is Exactly the Same,” it contains the opening line, “I believe I can see the future, cause I repeat the same routine.” That’s what this job is like for me. An endless look into a dismal future. It’s like I’m Bill Murray in “Groundhog’s Day” but they never wrote Andy MacDowell’s character into the script. It’s not just the job though. I need to meet new people. New opportunities. New women. A lot of new women. People unaware of my past.
I believe life is without meaning until we give it one. Discovering our meaning and purpose in this world can be as frustrating as trying to get the clothes off a “saving herself for marriage Christian.” I’m still tearing away at the clothes of my meaning but I know I’m onto something. I’ve at least got the bra off.
Every morning at work there is a train that passes by on the tracks outside our parking lot and, every morning, I fantasize about hopping on. Like an absurd character in a Bukowski poem, I would hop off in a place unknown to me to experience something wild and new.
I once even attempted to write a short story based on this train fantasy but, after getting a few pages in, I could no longer separate the main character from myself. I never finished the story. Stupid noisy train.
I’m supposed to return to work next week. Fuck it, I’m checking out of here, heading to the mountains and not looking back.
— DeVan Penegar
In a small sanctuary a memorial service is underway. Only a few people are in attendance. Our hero David Penner, a scruffy redhead in his mid twenties, is seated all the way in the back pew taking it all in.
A bubbly middle aged woman is at the podium speaking of the deceased. She is the kind of Southern Belle socialite bullshitter that would bleed Merlot if you cut her.
“Charlie Frankford is… I mean, was… a good man. A church going man of principles. He always had the Bible by his side.”
David shifts uncomfortably in his pew. He looks like he wants to shoot himself. The Merlot bleeder carries on. “Charlie is in a better place now with the Lord and he would really want y’all to donate to the church on Sunday morning. Listen y’all, we need to reach our monetary goal to send our missionaries out to Vegas to spread the good word to those Hellbound heathens.”
David eyes her with contempt as she leaves the pulpit.
A tall stick of a man is now speaking, as slow and monotonous in his speech as Ben Stein. “My name is Ted Bickley. I was Charlie’s supervisor.” He’s reading off a note card. “He was a good guy, worked with me for ten years and rarely took any sick days or vacation time. He was a reliable man. A good man.”
The stoic Ted goes back to his pew, sitting next to a smoking hot blonde.
David makes the long walk up to the podium. Once there he pauses, thinking, then clears his throat.
“Seriously? Do any of you know anything remotely personal about the man? He was certainly not a church goer. He was simply registered as a church member here during his childhood. Nothing more. The man was a freaking agnostic, people! He didn’t have much of a family, no friends other than me and you people would’ve barely passed as aquaintances. Regardless, I’ll grace you with a story about the man. I remember a time when he was mindfucking this friend of his, telling her he had great news: he finally understood what religion is all about. She got way too excited and said, ”Charlie, finally! What made you turn your life around?” Charlie said, “Well, I read this verse that completely spoke to me: Psalm 137:9. Blessed is he who taketh thy little ones and dasheth them against the stones!” Sensing Charlie’s sarcasm, the chick said, “Don’t you think you’re taking that verse just a little out of context?” Charlie simply smirked and said, “No… I think that God is telling me it’s okay to kill your baby.” Needless to say, Charlie never had to babysit for that bitch again.”
His audience is not amused. Two women walk out as David carries on.
“Hey Ted, just so you know, Charlie always bitched about you. Said you were the biggest tool he’d ever had the displeasure of working for. Actually, he said you weren’t just a tool but an entire fucking tool box.”
David pauses, smiling to himself. Ted’s face is turning red. The chick next to him seems equally disgusted.
He continues, “This is how nice of a guy Charlie was. A seriously nice guy. Ted, Charlie told me he once considered blackmailing you so he could get a raise. He didn’t though because in his mind it would’ve made him as low as you. He was gonna, you know, use the fact that you were cheating on your smoking hot wife with your secretary against you.”
In a matter of seconds, Ted’s wife turns from disgust with David to shock, then rage. She stands up, staring down her husband. “Is this true?”
Ted doesn’t answer. She slaps him hard and storms out. People gasp and whisper amongst themselves.
The sadism is glowing in David’s eyes. “Come on, Ted! With your secretary? What a cliche.”
Ted hesitates before running after her. On his way out he shoots David a look. Our hero gives him a sardonic shrug.
“Well, with that out of the way… Hey, how rude of me, I never introduced myself. My name is David Penner. I mainly knew Charlie from the bar I frequent. I considered him a friend. Charlie was… Well, let’s face it. Charles was not a well loved man. Hell, forget love, he was barely liked. Nonetheless, despite what all you phony bastards think of him and don’t actually have the guts to say, Charlie meant the things he said. He hated church and you all know it. He called them social clubs for the self-righteous. But you were right about one thing. He did have principles. His own. He was direct with people, regardless of how they would react to his brutal truths.”
David pauses, staring at the casket of his lifeless friend. He sighs.
“I distinctly remember the first time we talked at the bar. He said to me, “David, you ever drank so much tequila that when you piss the next morning it smells like Cuervo?” And that was the moment I knew we were going to be friends.”
Again, his captive audience is not amused.
“Anyway, we got to talking about stuff like goals and unfulfilled dreams and such and eventually Charlie stopped me dead in the middle of our conversation and said, “David, you’re a fairly Zen motherfucker on the outside but one sad bastard on the inside.” He always had a way of reading people. He said, “David, you need to find a way to get the inner you to match up with the funny outer you that you put on display for the world.” He was right. Not long after that, I started focusing more on my writing.” He pauses, searching for more to say.
“You know, Charlie was never big on poetry but I always felt he would’ve appreciated the writing of Charles Bukowski, having had a good bit in common with the guy. Bukowski wrote, “Watch out for little death when he comes running but like all the billions of little deaths it will finally mean nothing and everything: all your little tears burning like the dove, wasted.”
Complete silence. With a slight grin, David walks out, thinking to himself, “To have given the fuckers anything less would’ve been an insult to the memory of my friend.”
We’re left with everyone’s baffled faces.
— DeVan Penegar
We need to make books cool again. If you go home with somebody and they don’t have books, don’t fuck them.”
—John Waters, filmmaker, writer
[Note: In the spirit of self-affirmation, this uncharacteristically motivational pregame pep talk was written more for myself than anyone else… but more importantly, what are you doing in my locker room anyway? At least put a towel on.]
William S. Burroughs wrote that, “Every man has inside himself a parasitic being who is acting not at all to his advantage.” I have become more aware of this side of me lately. I think it’s dangerous to fail to recognize that we all have a dark side to us. We must be aware of this and come to some kind of realization of how to subdue this creature before we can continue to evolve into who we’re meant to be.
I don’t fully understand why, but there is a side of me that would like to undermine my creative endeavors and keep me at a standstill. For a long time I’ve felt that I’ve been limited by both my redneck surroundings and my neurotic shortcomings but now I realize that I was only at a standstill because the parasite didn’t want me to move forward.
I like how the Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh often uses the metaphor of Heaven and Hell existing within us when he speaks of mindfulness. It’s true, a negative mindset can become your own prison if it takes over. [Cue cheesy Creed song.] I’m breaking out of my cell.
While listening to the Modest Mouse song “Jesus Christ Was an Only Child” some thoughts occurred to me. Jesus Christ was an only child and so am I. Aside from that, there really aren’t too many similarities. He collected followers. I collect vinyl. He turned water into wine. I would’ve been more likely to turn it into whiskey. He could walk on water. I sink quicker than a witch at a Salem trial and I’m pretty sure Jesus never told jokes about awkward sexual situations on a stage and, if he did, I bet he turned the story into a parable ending it with some cheesy moral twist totally killing the punch line. Not once did I ever read about Jesus telling a joke. A man really should not be allowed supernatural abilities if he can’t at least tell a clever one liner, am I right?
Anyway, back to Modest Mouse. Until this morning, it had been a while since I listened to their ’97 album “The Lonesome Crowded West” in its entirety. After getting reaquainted with gems such as the aforementioned Jesus Christ song, the spastic “Doin’ the Cockroach” and the mellow coming down from a trip that is ”Out of Gas,” I felt compelled to start the first in a series of short essays on music that means something to me.
Singer-songwriter Isaac Brock is a man full of lyrical contradictions. In the opening to “Doin’ the Cockroach” he sings, “I was in Heaven. I was in Hell. Believe in neither but fear them as well.” Spiritual ambivalence and existential frustration are reocurring themes throughout the Modest Mouse catalog but Isaac Brock won’t beat you over the head with his angst. The Modest Mouse style has always been a cocktail mix of cynical and hopeful, relentlessy upbeat while expressing exhausted despair. Thankfully the lyrical angst doens’t come without a bit of humor. In the closing song “Styrofoam Boots,” Brock sings of a character that may have a Messiah complex saying, “Every time anyone gets on their knees to pray, well it makes my telephone ring and I’ll be damned.”
Musically, “The Lonesome Crowded West” is one of the more experimental Modest records. Consider the length of a song such as “Truckers Atlas,” a sprawling 11 minute journey. Also consider guest musician Tyler Reilly’s beautiful violin playing on ”Jesus Christ Was an Only Child” that simultaneously reeks of American folk and Celtic undertones, one of the highlights of the album. While the song would have definitely fit in on one of their later releases, such as ”Good News for People Who Love Bad News” with its brass section, it feels at home on this album with its violin perhaps in spite of the fact the other songs lack anything other than your guitar, bass, drums and vocals. The album does strikes me as a bit long, coming in at 70 minutes and sure it lacks the catchy choruses that would become a hallmark of their later records but there aren’t any songs that make me think, “God, I’m skipping this one.” That’s the mark of a great album.
Open mics are interesting, not just as great places to try out new bits but because it’s awkwardly amusing to catch those whom really shouldn’t be on a stage. It’s kind of like watching one of those American Idol contestants whom can’t sing but everyone tells her she can sing and man, dear sweet nailed to a cross ironically influential to anti-Semitic Mel Gibson Jesus, does she try to sing her heart out but she just can’t hit the notes. Of course, this is all coming from me, a guy that loses the audience on jokes of existentialism and rape.
Regardless, sometimes I wonder if a comic could actually gain a following because of just how bad he is. People could show up to laugh for the wrong reasons, the comic never knowing the difference. It could be one of those naked emporer situations. Remember Hans Christian Andersen’s story “The Emperor’s New Clothes”? Everyone is aware of the emporer’s nudity but no one dares to mention it (except for a boy at the story’s end). A friend of mine (also a comic) even has the notion to turn this bizarre scenario into a movie. I swear, there have been some nights at comedy shows and open mics where I found myself leaning against the wall listening to some hack get a surplus of pity laughs and I imagine this scenerio playing out like a guilty pleasure reality show.
There are a lot of people with birthdays in July in my family but I don’t like to say “Happy Birthday!” Instead, I like to say “HAPPY ACCIDENT DAY!” because I find it is often far more accurate.
KISS is touring again. I swear, if I wanted to see a group of freaks breathing fire and spitting blood… I could just go to a local Church of God.
I’m currently working on a memoir and trying to decide on a title. Either “Dry Humping the Corpse of Dignity: A Day in the Life of DeVan Penegar” or “Moist Mangina: The DeVan Penegar Experience.” Shockingly, the publishers like neither.
The Beatles said “Love is all you need.” LIES! I tried to exist on love alone and found that, quite often, you will need both food and a beverage.
Anyone ever wonder if Stevie Wonder ever complained about going on blind dates?
If Jesse James ever publishes a memoir I hope it contains Shakespearian lines such as: Again I had that nightmare of butch Nazi chicks tying me down and screaming at me, “End it with Sandra!”
“The mall cop’s fat fingers molested the weiner once more before placing it back in the bun. The taste of victory awaits.” —from my novel Hot Dog Stand Porno, soon to be in Oprah’s Book Club I’m sure.
Ever get the feeling the world is trying to keep you from being you? There is this phrase I’ve often heard that intrigues me. “I feel like myself again.”
Due to the divided world we live in, the feeling usually doesn’t last long. Sometimes it can feel like every aspect of society is asking us to choose a side. We aren’t meant to be so simplistic as to view things in black and white, good and evil, clear cut right and wrong. It has become easier for us to identify what we don’t believe in than what we do. We can easily judge the world around us yet looking within is a chore. Detaching from our internal world, we latch on to the external. Why are we afraid to trust our instincts and go against the grain of society? Is it because it’s easier to go with the flow, even if we’re flowing in the wrong direction? We are ourselves all the time and yet this feeling of self can be chipped away to the point where we aren’t quite familiar with who we are and who we want to be anymore.
I “became myself again” when I started doing stand-up comedy. It felt so right and perfectly natural, as if it were a bodily function (and no, as far as I can remember, I haven’t had any “bodily functions” onstage). The problem for me is that at this point in my life comedy is not a full time job. I’m still working a road to nowhere warehouse job to get by. Do I feel like myself during those hours of the day? Not really. Well, I feel like a caged version of myself: me without the freedom to do as I wish, a slave to a paycheck.
I’m reminded of that scene in Office Space in which the Peter Gibbons character says, “We don’t have a lot of time on this earth! We weren’t meant to spend it this way. Human beings were not meant to sit in little cubicles staring at computer screens all day, filling out useless forms and listening to eight different bosses drone on about mission statements.” Okay, so I work in a warehouse, not a cubicle but it’s a mutual feeling we share. Am I really meant to spend my time on a forklift, shipping material and cutting wire? Surely that isn’t MY destiny.
Ever think about what you would be doing if society didn’t impose itself on you? For me, it would be a toss up between traveling around the country doing comedy full time or (on the opposite end of the spectrum) isolating myself from people, becoming a Zen monk. Comedy is my addiction but I’m also fascinated by the “Way of Zen.” The way of the Zen masters, in the words of Dogen, is to “expect nothing, seek nothing, and grasp nothing.” Of course, this seems to clash with a comedian’s view of things seeing how ambition goes hand in hand with comedy if you hope to achieve any kind of financial stability in this line of work. So “seek nothing” seems to go out the window. I’m trying to find a balance though between doing comedy and practicing Zen.
Back to the job that consumes the majority of my week, the thing that both hampers and helps my comedy ambitions: working in a warehouse. The pay is low and the company can treat its employees like shit but as bad as the economy is, where can I go? I don’t have to tell you guys that no one is hiring so, yes, I do consider myself lucky. Regardless of this luck, five days of my week basically feel like this: mind numbing work, drive home, then maybe three hours to myself, sleep, do it all over again. It’s a slavery society has imposed on us. We’re all slaves to money in one way or another. Is there really anything we can do to fight it?
Timothy Leary advocated that we “tune in, turn on, drop out” to get back in touch with ourselves. By “drop out” he meant to “detach yourself from the tribal game.” But how can we detach ourselves from our jobs and the routines we’ve become trapped in unless we’re willing to become homeless? It’s an existential dilemma that me and countless others deal with on a day to day basis.
The word existential often refers to people trying to find some kind of solid meaning in their existence. A meaning they can hold onto. Perhaps when we ponder the meaning of life, we’re trying to grasp a meaning that is too large to scale. Maybe we should break it down and focus on what the meaning of life is to us as individuals and not as a whole. In his book “Man’s Search for Meaning”, psychiatrist Viktor E. Frankl wrote that “the meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day and from hour to hour. What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment.” My personal view is that life is meaningless until we give it one.
Often, at least from my experience, our frustrated search for a meaning can be temporarily replaced by a frustrated search for pleasure. I used to fill my void with alcohol and that became a problem. You should know you have a drinking problem when you wake up on someone’s balcony, covered in so much vomit… it looks like you’ve been mudwrestling. Or if you’ve ever thought, “I know it’s only noon but… I’m drunk… and this unicycle seems like a really solid Ebay purchase.”
Even after I quit drinking, the futile search for pleasure continued. I recall more than a few nights of being high on Xanax in a strip club at two in the morning with a dancer that for some reason didn’t appreciate my warped humor. What? Surely I’m not the only one with an addictive personality whose sexual libido went on a rampage during an existential depression, right?
Anyway, my point in all this is that we are self-determining. I could have stayed in that rut but thankfully I pursued creative interests. I don’t have all the answers on finding balance in life but I do know that what we become within the limits of our capabilities and surroundings is what we make of ourselves. We don’t owe society anything but we owe it to ourselves to be ourselves.
—DeVan Penegar, June 20, 2010
In his play “No Exit” Jean-Paul Sartre wrote that “Hell is other people.” More and more I’ve come to realize how true that is. If you’ve ever had to endure an adult couple conversing with eachother in affectionate baby talk… you have had a little glimpse of Hell.
Recently, in my local coffee shop, I had to wait in line behind a gushy couple displaying vomit inducing exuberance for eachother. How is talking to your boyfriend or girlfriend like he or she is an infant a turn on? If you’re someone who talks to your significant other in that way, you do realize that on a subconcious level… you find the mannerisms of infants… to be sexy.
Moral of the story: All you baby talkers, stay out of the maternity ward.
Dale Jr. & Clay Aiken gave birth to a rapist stoner. A clip of me performing on May 25 at Standup Carolina near Myrtle Beach, SC. There was a very small crowd there that night. In fact, calling it a “crowd” would be an extreme exaggeration. Regardless, good time, great venue.
I’m getting really tired of hearing the same crap all the time on the radio. I don’t have a working CD player or tape deck in my car, just the radio, so I’m constantly flipping from station to station.
Lady Gaga. Seriously, I could eat a bowl of alphabet soup and shit better lyrics than Lady Gaga. The amount of airplay she’s getting is insane! I cringe when “Poker Face” comes on the radio now. It’s not even that it’s that bad of a song, it’s just that every single of hers that gets released experiences radio overkill. Now the “Telephone” song she did with Beyonce “look at my ass” Knowles is the big hit. I’d rather watch a 300 pound bull dyke have her fat removed and shoved into gorgeous Olivia Wilde’s special place than hear “Telephone” for the fifth time today. Everyone I know that likes Lady Gaga started out either not liking her music or being uncertain about their like of it. Eventually they all gave in. I admit, her songs are catchy as hell but I’m not giving in because all the people that have play her music over and over like obsessive little Gaga junkies and I’m not going down that road to ruin.
Nickelback. I swear, I’d rather shave my ass with a cheese grater than hear the next Nickelback single. I would rather hear a two hour audio tape of Fran Drescher going down on Roseanne Barr than hear a Nickelback album in its entirety. I would rather go see a Yoko Ono tribute act than see Nickelback in concert and that’s saying a lot considering how big a Beatles fan I am.
Also what’s with Theory of a Deadman? Their “Bad Girlfriend” single sounds EXACTLY like Nickelback. It’s as if their singer and Chad Kroeger are interchangeable.
Okay, the venting is over. For now.