The line was, “We travel the globe passing judgment on the ideas behind comedy sketches.” That was the first of the two lines I had to say in the sketch I appeared in last night on Conan. Simple. I was one of three members of the “Council of Comedy Ideas”—wizardlike elders who show up and confront Conan about a sketch he’s just begun. We had robes; we had beards; we had pointy hats. There was music. There was an Amish guy in a Speedo, a fat John Kerry, and two girls in bikinis. There was Spirit gum holding the beard to my face (some of which is still caked in the stubble inhabiting my doughnut-loving cheeks). The sketch was live in front of the studio audience. I knew my lines. I had a cue card. Simple. The sketch starts. My turn to speak. In my best wizardish voice: “We travel the globe passing judgment on the ideas … ‘um’ behind comedy sketches.” Sh**. I messed up on my line. Sh**. Sh**. Be cool. Pay attention. You’re still in the sketch. Stop thinking about it. Look confident. You have another line. Where are we on the cards? Sh** …
Once the sketch ended, I went with Brian (the writer who wrote the sketch) and Mike (the head writer) to watch it on a monitor. I figured we would re-shoot my part and fix it up. They decide that we won’t. Damn. Now I’m bummed. That sh**’s going out to the TV audience. I look disappointed. I’m also sweating a surprising amount. I’m still dressed as a wizard. A sweaty, desperate wizard.
After beard removal, costume change, and ample teasing, I head back upstairs to my office. Pathetically I try to pre-empt any jabs by bringing it up first with every person I encounter. “Hey, I’m the wizard who f***ed up his lines.” To which several people reply “Oh. I didn’t see the sketch.” Even better. Now I’m a neurotic, self-absorbed former wizard. It reminds me of the two times in my life I grew a moustache. Both times I tried to have the moustache and just be one of those guys who has a moustache and looks OK with it (Tom Selleck, Sancho Panza … pretty much those two guys). It turns out I’m not quite a “moustache guy.” With a moustache I look like a supporting actor in a gay porno about diner busboys. (Possible title: Sugar Packets or Sweet & Low.) But I figured I should own it. It’s an exercise in not being insecure. During the moustache phases, when I ran into someone I would think: “Act like the moustache is normal for you. Be a moustache guy. Don’t talk about it.” But the moustache felt like a friend I had to introduce. A dark, unattractive friend who would often tell people what I ate earlier that day (especially if it was something granular). So, I would immediately say something like: “Hey, check out the moustache. Pretty ridiculous, huh? Yeah. It’s an experiment. I’m just gonna have it for a little while. I know it looks bad.” In response I’d get, “Huh? Oh. Right. You have a moustache.”
Dinner arrives. While I eat my dinner (polenta, mushrooms, Rice Krispy treat), I write out the line on a piece of paper—”We travel the globe passing judgment on the ideas behind comedy sketches.” I look at those words. The letters. I start to rearrange them. It’s an old habit from when I used to get restless in classrooms. Somewhere along the way it became therapeutic. I think I like making anagrams because there is something absurd about finding different meaning in a certain group of words. (Sounds like the beginning of a novel about a guy who kills himself with a dictionary or something.) And it’s a receptacle for obsessive thinking. After tinkering for a bit, I come up with something that seems to capture the moment: “God, he can’t speak on TV—says ‘um’ when it’s ‘behind’—begs, ‘Hell, go edit me.’ Rejected.” It’s funny—I was thinking that writing the word “wizard” so many times in an 800-word diary entry would be kind of a red flag for dorkdom. It just became clear to me that I’ve waved a much larger, much redder flag.
Well, no turning back. … One time, in the pre-Conan days when I was a proofreader, I was bored. I had a bottle of Rolling Rock beer. I noticed the words printed on it. I wondered if I could rearrange them into a poem or something. Something with some meaning relevant to drinking a lot of beer. The result was this poem. I call it “All the Words on a Bottle of Rolling Rock Beer in a Different Order.”
Yesterday was my birthday. My mom called me. And my brother did. And so did my sister. My dad didn’t because he died 10 years ago. I don’t know why I mention that. Maybe because I listed all my other family members and it seemed to beg the question. Maybe not. I guess birthdays are one of those times when you think about people you’ve lost. I’m not a big birthday guy. I share a birthday with Ralph Waldo Emerson and Miles Davis, and also a bunch of other people who neither of us would recognize. I’m not really a person who needs to do something big on his birthday. Having said that, I did not like that I had to work until midnight on my birthday. They gave me cupcakes at work. I ate two. Even better than anagrams. I like that we keep count of life with cakes. That’s a great concept. When I see a new baby, I think, “There is that much more cake coming into the world.” But when somebody dies I think, “The cake streak is over.”
After work, I met a few of my friends at a bar called the Scratcher on Fifth Street. Here is a picture of three of my friends who were there. You’re looking at 60 percent of my birthday party. My friends Lisa and Shonali were the other 40 percent. I left the bar at 3:05.
This is me right before I got on my skateboard and headed across the Village. The streets were pretty empty. The muggy day had turned into a cool, almost chilly night thanks to a breeze carrying some mist. As my right flip-flop propelled me and my skateboard down Houston Street, I watched the empty sidewalk float by and thought, “We travel the globe passing judgment on the ideas behind comedy sketches.”
(Note: When my dad died I did not think, “The cake streak is over.” I was mostly crying and hugging people I’m related to. The cake idea came much later.)