From Chapter One ...
Seminal in Seminole
About 90 miles south and west of Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Route 377 off the Turner Turnpike, is Seminole, Oklahoma. The name Seminole is of Indian origin, having something to do with the tribes that moved from Florida to Oklahoma, but to me, when I hear the word, I think potluck dinners, bumper stickers that read "They can take my gun from me when they can pry my cold, dead fingers from it ," and oddly named convenience stores with misspelled portable signs in the parking lot. I am in Seminole to do comedy in an Elks Lodge, of all places. These people, the Elks, were the movers and shakers of a town that seems to do precious little of either. They are car dealers, videocassette distributors, oil rig operators, and real estate sales people. They are not investment advisors, bistro-owners, and romance novelists. Their names are Big Jay, J.D., Jodee, and Maxine, and it seems like all their male children are named Tyler. They don ’t drive yellow SUV's or convertible Cabriolets, they mean the Pledge of Allegiance when they say it, they prefer Rush Limbaugh to National Public Radio, they believe in prayer in public school and hunting season with similar ferocity, and they tell racist jokes with abandon and aplomb.
Seminole is the perfect place for sociologists and comedians, as long as neither stays too long.
So, it is here, at the Seminole Elks Lodge, that I have been sent by a local booking agent to do comedy. There are two of us performing. I’m the first act, and I ’m making 100 dollars for my 20 or 25 minutes. The other comic, Jed Kirk, will close the show, and probably make twice that for twice as much time. He also said he’d drive, which was good, because as strange as it sounds coming from a road comic, I hated driving. I could never shake the thought of thrown pistons at four in the morning on a Tennessee country road, the sleep-deprived truckers, the Dick and Perry wannabes, and the disgruntled highway patrolman whose girlfriend blew a comic at a corporate gig.
Jed is in his 50 ’s,has a sweet, large wife with whom he travels, and an act from the middle of the 20th century. He still does Gabby Hayes and Akim Tamirov impersonations, for Christ ’s sake. He works for FedEx, does comedy for a hobby, and is a good friend of the agent, who books him in many of these types of gigs because he ’s the cleanest comic around. If Kirk’s ever said "shit "on stage, it ’s because he ’d lost a bet.
There was a buffet dinner before the show and a DJ had been hired to play country music. Before Jed and I did our sets, the Elks came on stage and told jokes. Jews were depicted as unscrupulous, but sharp businessmen; blacks were shiftless, but rhythmic; Italians were dumb but good cooks with cute accents; and Poles were hopeless morons but inept and jovial. One joke went like this:
"How do you annoy a black? Hide his food stamps under his work boots."
It got the biggest laugh of the night.
The booking agent told me to work as cleanly as possible, which I did, but what do you make of a town where the word nigger is acceptable while the word fuck is offensive? (The word cunt is usually off limits no matter where you go, but words like fuck and shit are negotiable.
Once, in a club in Victoria, Texas, the manager told me not to say Goddamn on stage, but said nothing to the other comic who, when talking about fighters getting into the ring with Mike Tyson for two million dollars, said "For two million, I’d suck Mike Tyson ’s cock. For three million, I ’d swallow.")
I figured these people in Seminole had never seen a Jew, and if they had, didn't like him. I also figured these were the kind of people who drank too much, raised ignorant kids who they dressed in fatigues, found documentary value in Deliverance, picked their teeth with the edges of matchbook covers, and generally were, as Randy Newman said in Good Ole Boys ,the kind of people who didn’t know their ass from a hole in the ground .
Still, there was a charm here: a Thornton Wilder ’s Our Town without the poetic narrative. Members of the Elks Lodge, while proud of their facility, were jealous of the Masons ’larger facility across town. Big Jay weighs 350 pounds but wears striped shirts with the swagger of a man half his weight. Charlene, his wife, worries about his smoking, drinking, and appetite, but told me she ’d rather have him happy than thin, so she doesn’t nag. J.D., Jodee ’s dad, works in the oil field outside of town, and begins most of his stories with, "Oh, okay, okay, so this ole boy ..."
It was Saturday night in Seminole and if I was uncomfortable in their world, that was my problem. These people were home and, judging as best I could, happy. They didn’t need me doing a running commentary of their lives. They weren’t on display for me to dissect; all they wanted from me was to do my little jokes and shut up during George Jones.
I had only been in comedy a year or so, so my act didn’t have much dexterity. I wasn’t good enough to figure out what they found funny. I opened with:
Okay, so I was behind a bus that had a sign that read, "Caution, school bus may come to a complete stop when unloading children."
May? What do you mean may? Where I come from, we don ’t leave that decision up to the bus driver. We kind of take the ambiguity out of the whole stopping business. And then I went into a restroom and saw a sign on the towel dispenser which read, "Do not insert head into towel loop as it may cause serious injury." Are you having trouble with this kind of behavior? It seems to me, if you insert your head in a towel loop, you deserve what ’s coming to you.
The Elks just stared at me.
By Elaine Perkins, Urban Tulsa Weekly
Reading Road Comic is akin to sitting down at a table with a comedian and having him relate to you in vivid detail all of the hopes and dreams of making it big ... the book is full of hilarious anecdotes, poignant characters, sleazy characters, and, of course, good jokes. It is also full of honesty—the kind of hard-core honesty that most people would be too embarrassed to write. But that’s what makes it interesting, and keeps Barry human.
Even when he gets completely full of himself, he unabashedly lays it all out there, then promptly takes aim, fires, and drops his ego in the dirt. But even though Barry’s perceptions are most often clever and truthful, Road Comic is the portrait of a man with a fantasy life whose life is no fantasy.
Included in collection
by Barry Friedman
It’s the manure that gets to you.
It’s the final night of the 25th Annual Pawnee Bill Memorial Rodeo, and we’re at the Lakeside Arena, two miles outside of town, and it smells like every animal here has suddenly and simultaneously defecated.
Read more ...
Funny You Should Mention It
From Chapter One ...
How to Kill a Bee in San Antonio
There are too many bees here, including one who’s particularly fearless, buzzing between the Sweet N Low, the sugar, the Equal packets, and the salt and pepper shakers on the table. He, and I don’t know why I’m convinced it’s male, is after my 32-ounce Strawberry Julius. He knows I can’t smash the little green blood out of him until he lands on a flat surface, so he’s mocking me by skipping along the glass countertop. There are birds, too, flying too close to the ground and just above my head, as if to remind me that they were here before the Foley’s, before the hotels, before the boat tours, before the Riverwalk, before even Davy Crockett himself. The Peruvian band, which all looks like waiters at a fancy restaurant, is playing on the side of the mall near the Food Court, but its on break, so the pan flute player has popped in a tape filled with music that sounds infectiously native, but on closer listening, it’s the theme from Titanic, a song annoying even with Peruvian instruments. The Riverwalk here in San Antonio has perhaps too many Mexican restaurants, definitely too many Starbucks, and arguably too many tourists wearing too many fanny packs, but the sun is shining, there are three uninspired clouds in the sky, and the tour boats that pass—all dedicated to San Antonio women, like Selena and Lady Bird Johnson— are filled with smiling Germans in bad shirts and video cameras.
It’s hard, then, for too many things to bother to go wrong on a seventy-nine degree day in March in San Antonio, down at the river, even if the bee is emboldened by my lack of action. There’s a couple in their 70s, who look like they know how to vacation, holding hands by the river, which is now an olive gray; the city dyed it green for St. Patrick’s Day and this is the result. The couple doesn’t seem to care, or notice.
The Alamo is here, too, and that too is the point. It sits, almost parenthetically, down the street from the Rivercenter Mall. The horror of Alamo has been scrubbed away, making it look like the quaint old mission it was designed to be. At the entrance, there is a plaque that reads Be silent, friend. Here heroes died to blaze a new trail for other men, a sign inadvertently trivialized by the guy hawking Sno Cones a few feet away. Admission is free, which is surprising, because it costs eight bucks to park at the mall. On the other hand, there are no guided tours at the Alamo; you walk in, pass signs telling you not to touch the walls, and then you’re free to move about. A few knives and guns are displayed inside the room directly to the left. High on the far wall fly the flags of the five countries involved in the conflict—France, Spain, America, the Republic of Texas, the original six-state Confederacy, and, because it won, Mexico. There is a memorial stone embedded in the ground stating the date in January, 1937, when the bones of three bodies were unearthed, and the date in May of the same year, when those bodies were re-interred, but the plaque is more walked over than reflected upon. Outside, in the back, the first thing you notice is the gift shop museum; the second thing is the Crockett Hotel on the horizon.
The Spurs dismantled the Lakers last night at the Alamodome, but everyone at the bar at the comedy club watching the game knew it wouldn’t mean much come playoff time. A friend of mine, who lives here and had never been to the Alamo, or the Alamodome for that matter, says she noticed the word accouterment was spelled incorrectly on the placard near one of Davy Crockett’s knives; she also mentioned that San Antonio is the third fattest city in the country—perhaps an overstatement, but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of Size 2s walking around.
I heard on the news that the new WNBA team in San Antonio is looking for a name. So far Spirit is the favorite, but also being bandied about is Boots and River Queens, which probably won’t be chosen once morning radio jocks exhaust all the aquatic lesbian jokes. Speaking of, I did a radio interview on Thursday morning, right after a 5-minute pitch for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital’s cancer programs in Memphis, complete with a testimonial from a tearful mother afraid of losing her son to Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
And now comedian Barry Friedman joins us …
The comedy club is inside the Rivercenter Mall, upstairs, by Aunt Annie’s pretzels. The opening act nearly lost her house on Tuesday when a tornado went through her front yard; the feature act, a good friend, Mike, has some horrible birthmark on his face that he covers with make-up when he performs. He told me a story about how another comic once told him to forgo the make-up and let the audience see his deformity.
Mike said, "I told him, ‘We all have our cross to bear. I have my face; you have your act.’”
I was in Austin last week. The Austin and San Antonio comedy clubs (as is the one in Tulsa) are owned by the son of the man who started the La Quinta Hotels chain, but the son doesn’t put his comedians at La Quinta; he puts us in condos, or apartments, insisting it gives us a sense of home. Clubs across the country make the same claim; we comics know better—club owners are cheap. In Austin, I stayed in a duplex with lopsided furniture, stained carpet, a jelly-like mattress, and thin towels with holes. The other comic, from San Francisco, was such a health food nut, he convinced me to stop drinking diet sodas. In San Antonio, since I’m headlining, I have the big condo to myself, but the toilet runs and the overhead ceiling-fan light doesn’t work. And I started drinking again.
As mentioned, one of the beauties of a being a comedian is the 23 hours a day spent not working. The time is often spent on too much self-reflection, too much whining, but sometimes, it’s spent on river walks, standing behind visiting Boy Scouts ordering Dairy Queen, listening to illegal Peruvians play the pan flute, and watching a fat waiter from the French restaurant tear off a hunk of bread and give it to a little girl. I remember hearing former Governor Mario Cuomo once talk of the same thing. He was relaying a story about going to a church and seeing a statue of a saint with a bird perched on the saint’s head. Cuomo, a pretty good Catholic, said he must have stared at the statue for over an hour, trying to figure what he must have missed in the liturgy about this particular saint and the significance of the bird built into his likeness. Finally, Cuomo said he went inside and asked the parish priest about the bird. Apparently, when the sculptor was doing his work, an annoying bird kept landing on the clay. Days would go by and the bird kept coming back. The sculptor then decided the bird needed to be in the statue. As beautiful as the story is, it was Cuomo’s explanation about having the kind of life that lets you ponder a story like that.
And no job gives you more time to ponder than comedy.
The sun is setting, the Peruvians and their instruments have gone home, and, most important, the bee has landed. I quickly cover him with the laminated lunch specials and force my hand down, crushing him, I hope, in the iron table below. I remove the menu; he is in fact dead. I quickly wipe the lamination clean of my deed and reset the menu between the sugar and Sweet N Low. I smile. The Strawberry Julius is mine.
Now, the other bees will fear me.
You’ve got to admire the birds though—my birds. Immune to the cacophony of shoppers and Germans eating ice cream and men in striped shirts videotaping their every move, they fly with aplomb, searching for breadcrumbs and comedians to annoy.
Stand-up veteran releases second humor book
By SCOTT CHERRY Scene Writer , Tulsa World
Barry Friedman was on the road to Sioux Falls, S.D., to perform his "first real road gig" as a standup comedian.
"I thought then, going down the highway, there could be a book in these travels someday," he said.
It took a lot of road work -- roughly a decade -- that included married life on the road, children, divorce and single life on the road before his collection of personal essays culminated in his first book, "Road Comic," published in 2002.
A follow-up book of essays, "Funny You Should Mention It . . ." (Hawk Publishing, $17.95), came out this month.
"The first book was very personal, very raw, R-rated," Friedman said on a recent afternoon between bites of clam chowder and a Caesar wrap at Rick's Cafe Americain.
"The second one is much less about pierced cocktail waitresses. A friend in Vegas said it was easier to find the heart in the second book. I mean, at some point, nobody really cares about your sex life anymore."
Another factor might be that some of the material in the second book was written since Friedman's marriage to singer-songwriter Susan Herndon three years ago.
"That, too," he said.
Whatever, his friend in Vegas was right. The "heart" is easier to find in the second book, and though populated with somewhat less visceral stories than the first book, "Funny You Should Mention It . . ." still is loaded with lots of laughs, a fair number of the R-rated variety.
Friedman said his favorite story in the new book is one with little humor. He wrote it after accompanying a friend to pick up her daughter from her ex-husband at a halfway point on the Turner Turnpike.
"They are not alone," he wrote. "In rest stops all over Oklahoma, all over America, on alternate weekends, ex-spouses exchange their anger, their disappointment, and, ultimately, their children."
Chapters that include stories about his 80-year-old father are particularly poignant -- and funny. His father, who likes to place a wager now and then, spent 40 years as a cab driver in New York, then retired in Atlantic City, N.J., before moving to Las Vegas.
"If he was happy living in Atlantic City, he's absolutely giddy about living in Vegas," said Friedman.
Friedman's visits to Tulsa gun shows, where he observed American flags next to Nazi "memorabilia" and a "combustible mix of mainstream America and the radical right," also provide a memorable chapter.
"You go to a gun show, and you know there is going to be a story there," he said, taking a sip from his sixth glass of Diet Coke over lunch. "Then you get there, and the story is worse than you imagined."
At the other end of the spectrum was a story that goes back some years, when he took his brother to a strip joint in Glendale, Calif., on the eve of his brother's wedding.
As the stripper, a lass named Dee, "started doing inverted pushups" in front of them, she began instructing his brother about the wisdom of taking out a pre-nuptial agreement.
"Dee," Friedman wrote, "it's difficult taking financial advice from you right now."
Friedman, a Brooklyn native, came to Tulsa in the mid-1970s. He married, spent a year in Florida ("where I got thrown out of acting school"), three years in New York where he pursued acting, then two years in Tulsa and one in Arkansas writing advertising, and two more in Tulsa as a freelance copywriter before taking up comedy as a profession.
He has played comedy halls from Las Vegas, Atlantic City and the Bahamas to Hastings, Neb., and Arnold's Park, Iowa. Based in Tulsa full time since 1993, Friedman still does standup comedy around the globe and already has a third book in mind.
"I probably should write some fiction, but I can't quite get focused enough," he said. "Maybe I should do one called 'Man's Guide to Marriage -- You're Just the Groom.' Everything out there you see is for women.
"But I'm sure the book will be more essays. I like the format. It seems to serve well what I want to say."
Based on the first two books, what Friedman has to say will be well worth reading