Went to the bank today; had my new AirPods on. Mimed inability to hear what the teller said, and explained “I was too busy being so cool with these obvious devices.” We got chatting about Apple products, and he asked if I was getting the new phone, and I said I liked the idea of something that turned on just be looking at me, and then realized how that sounded, so I said “it used to be another human was involved, but you get old.” Or something like that.
See, this was the bank where I usually go to make a deposit when I’m in a good mood, and the tellers are all so eager to please - they’re the best audience, and I want to be the fun customer. That’s usually the worst customer, but if I’m on my game I can be a fun customer.
In general, I don’t like any sort of sales / customer experience that’s just ordinary; if it can be different or enjoyable, why not make it something than the usual? You’d be surprised how many conversations at the till you can spark simply by responding to the question “how are you?” with an unusual adjective. That’s your first cue. If they respond, then have at it. Be jolly! Be chatty! Crack wise!
Isn’t this a bit pathetic? That I feel the need to do it, and that I’m telling you about it?
I watched a Seinfeld special on Netflix - he goes back to his Roots, back to the comedy club where It All Began, and does a routine from decades ago. There are interstitial bits of bio that reveal nothing, except for one key line: he says he didn’t care if people liked him. He just wanted them to like the material.
For him, I think it’s that simple. For others, maybe not so much. When you’re on stage (however the stage happens to be defined) and you’re killing it, you’re getting validated, and you’re controlling the audience. It’s a heady combo. You just made them laugh, which made them feel good, and made you feel good, and you know you have another line to feed them. And you give it to them! On your terms, of course, but they’re fine with that.
So why are so many comics such miserable, unhappy people who find themselves in the fargin’ New York Times raked raw for mortifying behavior? Why doesn’t this extraordinary validation and instant, genuine wave of approval from strangers mean anything?
For the last few years I’ve really enjoyed Louis CK’s work - his show, “Louie,” was a smart, hilarious, self-aware, poignant, naked work. The stand-up specials had some uncomfortable moments, but that’s his terrain. I started to watch the most recent one a month or two ago, and tuned out quick. Something was off; something was just wrong. He hadn’t changed, but the subject matter was distasteful, and all of a sudden I thought: I don’t like you anymore. Because of the material.
Watching the trailers for his new movie was like watching someone you knew ten years ago do something horrible - the sense of familiarity, the sense of distance, the strange ache you get when you see something to which you previously subscribed manifest itself in alien form. (People who used to be Republicans but left the party after the Trump nomination might know the emotion.) Really? A movie about an underage girl who has a relationship with a lecherous old movie director? Really? It’s okay because it’s in Black and White, and Woody Allen is an Auteur and “Manhattan” is a classic because it’s in Black and White? Because back then everyone just shrugged at Hemingway’s granddaughter getting rogered by this frizzy-haired perv because he could throw out a few jokes and set the scene to Gershwin, and the movie had Diane Keaton which made everyone remember “Annie Hall,” which was about actual adults?
What is the matter with you people?
It’s one thing to say that comedy comes from damaged places in needy people, and there’s always an element of aggression that gives the merriment its spice and sparkle, but it seems like for a few - or many, I don’t know - the validation translates seamlessly into license. It’s an odd process. I am a pasty wanker, so I had better make them laugh so they love me.
1. Hey! They laughed! They love me! I guess that means I’m not a pasty wanker.
2. Hey! They laughed! They love me! But I can’t believe them, because they don’t know me like me, so I have to prove I am really a pasty wanker.
Well, I don’t know where I’m going with this. Just started babbling, because it reminded me of a running joke at the office. Editor liked a straight non-comic piece I did recently, and reminded me that I could apply that tone to my column in the paper. We have this discussion every so often.
YOU CAN BE SERIOUS, she says.
IF I’M NOT FUNNY THEY WON’T LIKE ME, I say. Kidding. But not kidding at all.
Okay, whatever. So validation isn't cumulative; got it. Some men are predictable swine and talent does not equal character: old news. The big mystery is why smart, self-aware people can't confine the damage they do to themselves. Don't you only hurt the one you love?
Friday: dog picture.
That was yesterday, BTW; that's what I mean when I say there's still green. It's more important than you can imagine, if you live in a place where it's always green.