Author Archive: Brykman (steve)

Is a Joke a Joke?

Back in January, local businessman Marty Jakosa thought that along with the honor of being chosen to MC the 45th the Turlock Chamber’s 45th annual “Best of Turlock” dinner came the right to tell an off-color—even conceivably treasonous—joke about our President.

The joke was about Obama following in the footsteps of past presidents like Washington and Jefferson, and concluded with, “How about you be like Abe Lincoln and go to a play?”

Apparently, somebody with some influence said something to change Jakosa’s opinion, because not too much later, he effusively apologized, saying he was “truly, truly sorry,” and had “exercised extremely poor judgement,” adding, “I would never purposely disrespect the office of the President of the United States.”

Except that he did. And since “never” includes things that happened in the past, one can only conclude he was lying. And you couldn’t argue that his intentions weren’t purposeful, either, since in response to audience moans and boos, he felt compelled to add, “That’s a cute joke.” As in, ‘Come on, you oversensitive nits, that was a cute joke and you know it.’

According to Wikipedia, the prototype for 18 USC § 871, Threats Against the President, was the British Treason Act 1351, an act that made it a crime to “compass or imagine” the King’s death. More relevantly, convictions under 18 USC § 871 have been sustained for simply declaring “President Wilson ought to be killed,” and for displaying posters calling for the hanging of President Roosevelt. “The US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit held that a threat was knowingly made if the maker comprehended the meaning of the words uttered by him.”

I suppose one could argue Jakosa in fact didn’t comprehend the actual meaning of his joke, that perhaps he felt Obama just needs more culture in his life. At least this would help explain why he thought the joke was cute to begin with.

Then again, According to the US Attorney’s Manual, “Of the individuals who come to the Secret Service’s attention as creating a possible danger to one of their protectees, approximately 75 percent are mentally ill.” Given Jakosa’s assertion the joke is “cute” in the face of a offended audience, I’d say deteriorating mental health is also a likely possibility.

But here’s the thing. Just a few days ago, I caught an NPR story about some Republican (whose name I don’t remember) who’s defending Jakosa’s joke, saying (and I’m paraphrasing), “Well, back when Bush was President, right after Cheney shot his friend in the face, there were tons of jokes flying around from Democrats about how Bush should go hunting with Cheney. So that makes what Jakosa said okay.”

Only there weren’t.

First off, the hunting incident was so bat-shit crazy, even Bush himself couldn’t help joking about about it. While hosting the 2007 Stanley Cup winners at the White House, (at which the Anaheim Ducks were in attendance), he said, “Have you noticed a lot of security around here? It’s because the Vice President heard there were some ducks around.”

Solid joke, right? Score one for President Bush.

Not enough? How about this: at an executive order signing in October, 2007, Bush said he was going to do some fishing because, “The Secret Service won’t let me go hunting with [Cheney].”

In other words, Bush had opened the doors, providing clearance for any Cheney hunting jokes to come. However, if you look at those that did follow, you’ll see a fundamental difference between them and Jakosa’s. A difference Republicans either don’t appreciate or choose to ignore.

And I don’t know about you, but frankly, I can’t recall any specific Bush-Cheney jokes that paralleled this situation, nor could I find any online, Despite scouring the web for late-night talk show Cheney jokes, not one came close to implicating Bush as shooting victim or even implying he should become one.

06.02.12.SittingDuck-X

For whatever reason, Argus Hamilton has amassed an exhaustive collection of Cheney hunting jokes, which can be found here: argushamilton.com/hunting.htm. Funny thing is, out of the fifty or so jokes listed, in every instance, the butt of the joke remains Cheney. This only makes sense, since Cheney is the one who shot his buddy in the face and then didn’t report the incident until the following day.

This joke from the Hamilton list is interesting, but the aim (sorry) of the joke is to avoid Cheney’s birdshot, not to get taken out by it, so really it’s just a variation on Bush’s own joke: “Dick Cheney’s job approval rating fell to twenty-nine percent in polls released Monday. However, President Bush stated categorically he’s standing behind the vice president. If he’s standing anywhere else the Secret Service makes him move.”

Out of all the jokes listed on Hamilton’s site, this one comes closest to Jakosa’s: “Dick Cheney got bad news Wednesday when the CBS News poll came out showing that the vice president’s approval rating has sunk to eighteen percent. There’s a way out of anything. To get his numbers up, he just invited President Bush to go hunting.”

However, even here, Cheney is the butt of the joke, the one inviting Bush to go hunting, suggesting the VP is the one who wants to shoot the President in order that he might take over his position. That’s very different than implying the general public would like to see Obama go the way of Lincoln.

In general, whenever I think about the ways Republicans respond to allegations of impropriety (whether it’s assassination jokes, or redefining rape) I can’t help but think of my four year old son. After being caught slamming his sister’s head into the wall, he’ll defend himself by shouting, “She poked me in the eye!” But when you sit them down and the truth comes out, we learn what had happened was she had accidentally brushed his face with a feather…after he gave her the feather.

The point is, let’s all tread lightly. Sometimes a joke isn’t just a joke. The assassination pump is already primed, people. According to Wikipedia, President George W. Bush received 3,000 threats a year, while Barack Obama received four times that many.

Maybe Jakosa should be like Abe Lincoln and Gettysburg the hell out of here.

Be sure to check out my Huffington Post blog – I’m with Mitt: Adventures in Amercia!

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Into the Mystic

Raegan and I were standing atop the rocks at Whipple Hill, a hundred acres of woodsy conservation land back in Lexington, MA, my hometown. Raegan was giddy, skipping along, insistent something wonderful would happen. I decided to take her word for it. Just a week before, her mom had forbidden her from seeing me, after an incident involving a party and a drug deal gone bad. But it wasn’t my idea. I was having an asthma attack, thanks to their dog, and the guy that saw me pop one assumed they were something else, apparently, and offered me five bucks, and things kind of progressed from there. Next thing I know, everybody wants one. First off, the guy was a dick and totally deserved it, and second off, I needed the money. But even though her mom had forbade her from seeing me, Raegan said, She never said anything about not seeing me with her third eye. At the time, this didn’t make much sense to me. I thought maybe she was talking about her vagina. In any case, I wasn’t about to turn back.

I still don’t get why we need the orange juice? I asked.
The vitamin C, she said, It increases the absorption.
Excuse me?
It makes them better. Stronger. Something like that.
It makes what better?
You know, psilocybin. Magic mushrooms. It’ll be great. We’re going to shroom in the woods.
I don’t do drugs.
These aren’t drugs, they’re mushrooms. They’re totally natural.
Everything’s natural. Hemlock’s natural. Technically speaking, nuclear waste is natural.
Relax.
And then, like that great Claymation dog Goliath, I said, Are you sure this is a good idea?

Then, suddenly, she was on me, plunging her tongue deep into my mouth. Which wasn’t something I was used to necessarily but was on the whole pretty hot regardless. Until I realized her tongue tasted like a bag of shit.

Ach!

I pulled away and she left me chewing on a mouthful of what I could only assume were actual pellets of dung, just like Houdini and the key. I know you don’t know what that means, so I’ll explain. See, before Houdini would get locked in that tiny milk can, he would open his hands and run them all along his body, demonstrating he didn’t have anything on him. But before finally squeezing himself in there, he would give his assistant (who also happened to be his wife) a passionate farewell kiss. And then she would lock him in the can, close the curtain, then — ABACADABRA! — the curtain spreads and there he stands, dripping, unchained, and alive.

The secret was this: when they kissed, she passed him the key. From her mouth to his. Simple as that. Only Houdini didn’t have any problem holding onto the key. As for me, I was gagging.

Don’t spit them out! Raegan said. They’re supposed to be disgusting. They grow in cow shit.
Maybe you could have told me that before you regurgitated them into my mouth!

She handed me a VeryFine OJ, the bottle with the Styrofoam-wrap. Then she took out a small Ziploc filled with something that looked to be mulch, pinched half of it into her hand, and tossed it into her own mouth like they were Oreos.

Nature’s candy, she said.

I chewed as quickly as I could. And yet it wasn’t quick enough. It was like eating wood chips dipped in a shit salsa. It sent out a pretty strong signal this was not meant to be eaten—much like the orange caterpillar or the colostomy bag. Again, I started to gag. It was not at all reminiscent of food.
Come on, pussy! Raegan said. Swallow! Use the juice!

I summoned up all the power within me to open my throat and push the substance down. It was Herculean.

Delicious, I said, wiping my mouth on my sleeve, leaving a stain. What’s for desert?

We sat awhile and talked about Pittsburgh and then she recommenced with the kissing.

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XMas Envy or The Plight of the Jews

Available at Christmas Tree Shops - $3.99 ea.

This year, I finally did it. I caved. I welcomed Christmas into my home. Despite that I am Jewish and my wife claims to be “opposed to all forms of organized religion,” our house is now also home to a 1/4-sized Xmas tree — illuminated, ornamented, and tinseled to the hilt. Two enormous stockings, appropriately stuffed and festooned, hang from our gas-fireplace mantle, atop which sit boughs of holly and fake hemlock, intertwined with more twinkling lights. Lastly, an elf-on-the-shelf sits (where else?) on the bookshelf beside the TV, just below the Buddha, a gift from my adorable sister-in-law.

Now, before you go congratulating me on a successful assimilation, consider this. I had to do it. I had no choice in the matter. The reason? You guessed it. The kids, of course. Because let’s face it, when it comes to winter-solstice holidays, us pathetic meddling Jews got nothing on you kitschy, ubiquitous Christians.

Sure, you guys got the Son of God and the whole Wise Men spiel and the beatific Virgin Mother but as you and I well know that’s not what sells it. It’s all about the fat guy with the hippie beard who breaks into your house, eats your cookies, and leaves behind everything you ever wanted, all your hopes and dreams.

For Christ’s sake, your holiday literally boosts the entire US economy! Anti-Christmas is anti-American! It’s no wonder everyone got so pissed when Walmart decided to start going with “Happy Holidays.” They had every right to be upset. I mean, those fat-cats put the entire country in jeopardy! The ruination of Christmas is one of every sensible American’s greatest fears, right up there with public speaking and public nudity. Christmas goes down, the almighty dollar goes down with it. Thank God Walmart recognized the error of its ways. Thank God it overcame its “fear” (Walmart’s word, not mine) of the rest of us and rescued the economy from certain collapse by definitively going back to their former, more correct, “Merry Christmas” greeting!

Now, if they could only stop killing babies with their Chinese formula, we’d really be onto something.

Just imagine what might have happened had they kept on with their left-wing “Happy Holidays” nonsense and all of us all of a sudden started forgetting about Christmas and just figured there was some unidentifiable holiday that happened about this time each year. Maybe it was meant for us, maybe not, nobody could really remember. Thanks a lot, Walmart!! Thanks for almost screwing it up for everybody!

Maybe you think I’m talking out of turn, this idea that we could all somehow forget about Christmas. Well, chew on this. The atheists are poised to strike! And Glory be to Fox News for keeping us abreast of the Godless menace that walks among us. For, just this year, in Los Angeles, we experienced a major “Christmas Controversy,” when atheist displays forced Nativity scenes out of Palisades Park. Santa Monica had allocated the spots via lottery. The Christians put in one bid and got two spots, the atheists, with 11 bids, got 18. And what did the atheists do with all that sacred space? Why, just what you’d expect them to do—nothing! In all of their 18 spots, the atheists have erected three potted plants, two paltry signs, and not a single partridge in a pear tree. As a result, well, let’s just say there’s not a lot of Santa in Santa Monica this year! Christmas-related purchasing in the city is down a full 75% and overall Church attendance has dropped by a depressing 98%. The local economy is in shambles. There is talk of shutting down the town entirely.

But I digress.

Jews and their Chanukah shopping, meanwhile, provide only the merest bump to the economy: specifically in the beeswax sector, along with an almost imperceptible rise in jelly donut profits. Our holidays, as a national budgetary concern, are inconsequential. Because what do we get on our beloved winter solstice celebration? If we’re lucky, we get 8 presents. Your people get about a thousand. I know how it works. I’ve seen what happens: gifts come in from all over the country and by the time Christmas Day rolls around it’s like the season finale of Hoarders.

And while you irradiate the cold night skies with the glow of countless twinkling lights, we strain our backs pulling out the family’s old cast iron candleholder, all just to celebrate the fact that four thousand years ago some guy scored a week’s-worth of free oil. And, lo, what a bargain it was! And to make matters worse, we don’t have twelve kinds of dessert, either! Figgy pudding? We got chocolate money and a four-sided top—a gambling toy. Why? So you can win more chocolate money!

What I’m saying is this: given a choice, what kid in his right mind would choose it?
Choosing to be Jewish?? Why, it’s unheard of! That’s like choosing to be gay!

Neil DiamondBut don’t get me wrong. My beef is not with Jews adopting Christmas. The best among us have done it. My Christmas Spotify playlist is composed entirely of songs by Irving Berlin, Paul Simon, Neil Diamond, Barbra Streisand, the Beastie Boys, Barry Manilow, Bob Dylan, and one of the Ramones. I’m not a monster. I like to make my kids happy. I don’t want them to run around all day wondering why our house isn’t lit up all crazy like the neighbors..or why Santa doesn’t like to give presents to the Hebrews..or why we haven’t gone out and killed a tree for Jesus like everyone else.

I got nothing against Christmas. Hell, I don’t even mind the month-long pummeling of well-wishes and good-cheer tidings. My problem is simply that Christians haven’t met us half-way on this one. They haven’t co-opted any of our Chanukah stuff. Because if what my wife tells me is true—that the Christmas Tree and all its accoutrements are originally Pagan traditions—then what’s the big deal with stealing one more?

So I appeal to you now, Ye Merry Christians of America!! Please. Why not celebrate our common roots, this year, and incorporate a little Judaica into your Christmas Season? This year, why not go ahead and spin a dreidel? Eat a latka. Put on an old Woody Allen record.

What could it hurt, right?

Chappy Cholidays, everyone!!!

The Time I Had Them Mutilate My Son’s Genitals

Let me begin with a word of warning to those of you whose shiksa wives have just given birth at home, in a tub, to a beautiful baby boy, whose penis you now want to ritually scarify in order to satisfy a supposed covenant with God. Don’t wait until the last minute to spring the news! And don’t do this either: don’t act like it’s all taken for granted, like it’s all been decided upon. Don’t play dumb, is what I’m saying.

I can’t explain why I hadn’t mentioned it. I guess I had either assumed everything would be cool when it came to circumcising our boy Guthrie (Gus for short), or else I was in denial and knew all along she’d have a kanipshin, which ironically is a Yiddish word, as far as I’m aware. It sounds like one anyway, so I’m going to go ahead and say it is.

I never understood why us Jews are so all about getting rid of the foreskins in the first place. We must’ve thought it was a pretty big deal at some point since we went and came up with this whole Covenant spiel. I’m assuming there was some sort of a growth involved.

To put it bluntly, I’m guessing the guy that invented circumcision must’ve had one nasty, stinky, irritating crotch. I mean, to even think of cutting off a piece! Imagine, being the first one to think of it. There must have been an assload of bullshit going on with this guy’s dick. The thing must have been literally dripping with a disgusting, fetid mold. Lichen may have played a part. Or maybe it was fuzzy like those poisonous caterpillars, like an old loaf of bread. With hyphae shooting out all over the place.

Had to be, right? Because you’d think most people—back then especially—would look at a penis and go, Hey, nice looking penis. Let’s not fuck with it! I mean, consider this: back then, even if you got a little cut on your hand or whatever there was a petty decent chance you were going to die. That you would just get an infection and die. They didn’t have Neosporins back then. They couldn’t just go to CVS.

Okay. Now I’m starting to see a theory forming. I’m beginning to feel my way around the makings of a theory. So here’s what happened: so this one guy gets infected with this crazy fungus, like maybe at some point he gets real horny and he fucks a mushroom or whatever and wham. And then the guy goes home and screws his wife and then she goes and screws some other guy and now he’s got the fungus-dick! Or else maybe it wasn’t even that. I hate to pin this one on the ladies. So let’s say maybe the guy just jerked-off and then shook the other guy’s hand and then the other guy jerked-off, and there you go. Or maybe the first guy jerked-off the second guy. Maybe the first guy was secretly in the closet. Maybe he’d been stuck in an unhappy marriage all these years and his only remaining pleasure in life was to go out and jerk dudes off in a mushroom patch. Fine by me. Who am I to judge?

Anyway, what I’m saying is it spread. That’s the main thing. Like something out of a horror movie. Until before you know it everybody’s going around scratching his balls all the time and it’s literally driving them crazy. They don’t know what to do.

CUT IT OFF!!!!

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The Time I Got Thrown Out of the 2000 Democratic National Convention

First off, they had it coming, let’s be honest. Seriously. Who gives press passes to the National Lampoon? Whose decision was that? I can just see our application hitting their desk: Deloris, another pass request! Oh for the love of God, Mildred, who is it this time? Who knows? Something called National Lampoon. Sounds kind of familiar…but I can’t quite place it…National Lampoon…National Lampoon. Dotcom. They have a dotcom after their name. And then Deloris brightens up, “Oh, dotcom! Al loves dotcoms. Very green, apparently. Piles and piles of cash, he says. Any dotcoms are a go!

We couldn’t believe it ourselves when the passes arrived in the mail. It was like Willy Wonka and the golden ticket. We literally jumped around the office holding hands and doing kicks and singing (to the tune of ‘I’ve Got a Golden Ticket’): “We’re gonna see Al Gore!!! We’re gonna see Al Gore!!!” There was only one problem. There were two passes. And there were five of us: an art director (Joe) and four editors (Mason, Cummin, Crespo and myself). My editor, our boss: Scott Rubin (ticket holder #1) snapped into action:

Brykman!! You’re the smallest guy here. Tiny, in fact. You’re..you’re like a weasel.

Thank you, sir, I said.

I mean that in that you can work your way through a crowd.

Lithe would have sufficed.

What?

I prefer to think of myself as lithe.

Whatever. I’m gonna need you on my team. Here’s the other press pass. I mean, nobody can even see you, you’re so little. Er, lithe. Sometimes I don’t even see you and you’re standing right in front of me.

Whisper words of wisdom, I said, hugging my press pass to my breast, Let it be.

Everything was finally coming together. Of course I should be the one chosen. After all, I was the smallest. It was unbelievable. Was I dreaming? Could this really be happening? It was the exact opposite of everything I’d ever experienced in my life up until that moment, particularly when it came to gym. And yet today, all that had changed, the slate wiped clean. For today, I had been picked first not in spite of being the smallest, but because I was the smallest. The most nimble. Dare I say, the most political-ninja-like.

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The Time I Performed Standup Comedy Naked

For some reason, everybody wants to know about the time(s) I performed standup comedy naked. Forget about getting thrown out of the 2000 DNC. We want to know about the nudity! They think it’s, like, a big deal or something. That I’m naked. That I’m not wearing any clothes and that a lot of people are seeing me that way. Maybe  because it’s the unification of two things people fear most of all: public speaking and public nudity, joined into one terrifying whole. The funny thing is, when I perform standup comedy, the clothes I’m wearing are the last thing on my mind. After a minute or so, I literally forget I’m naked. The pressure is on. I’ve got work to do. Got to score some laughs. So from a performative perspective (phew) being naked makes the whole thing easier, getting laughs, that is, which is after all the main point of the thing. Particularly in my case, being as short and yet as hairy as I am.

First off, I should get this out of the way. The show I do is billed as “The Naked Comedy Showcase.” It’s not like I just walk out there and tear my clothes off and everybody’s like, “Woah, What the fuck?!” Not at all. Anybody who buys a ticket does so knowing they are going to see a show made up entirely of unclothed comedians, both male and female.

People who study comedy for a living might tell you something like: it doesn’t matter that a comedian is naked. Comedy is not down there, it’s up here, in the performer’s face. In their facial expressions. In fact, recent studies have shown that within moments of the opening joke, a majority of the audience will stop looking at a performer’s genitals and will focus their gaze on the comedian’s face, where the jokes are coming from. And once that happens, once attention is removed from the groinal region, it makes little difference what the comic is wearing or whether he or she is wearing anything at all.

But here’s the thing. Even if they’re all looking at your face, making good eye contact and whatnot, you know it’s always at the back of their mind, gnawing-away: Don’t look at the junk. Don’t look at the junk. Eyes off the — oh, God, I just saw the junk again. And this tension, this inner conflict, ups the laugh-factor ten-fold.

For this reason, performing standup comedy naked almost feels like cheating. Because here I am, taking these things the audience can’t help but laugh at—nervously or not—and literally shoving them in their collective face. I’m like carrot top. If I slip-up a punchline or two, no biggie. I’ve got great props to fall back on. Besides which, the crowds are always sympathetic: Of course the dude forgot his jokes, they’re thinking, the poor fool’s naked. Cut him some slack!

Here are the rules, (at least for the Cambridge, MA stage):

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The Time I Kissed Grace Paley on the Mouth

            I’m sitting in a workshop at Juniper, UMass, Amherst’s summer writing program, a program I enrolled in solely because Grace Paley was teaching. It’s 2005. For years, I’d been obsessed with two fantasies: one, to hear Ms. Paley say a kind word about my writing and two, to kiss her on the lips. The first part I could understand, as I was hoping for a quotation I could stick on a book jacket. The second, I’m not so sure about. I think I thought maybe I could glean some secret wisdom that way. I’d made a pact with myself: I would slip her the tongue if need be, if our passions were so aroused, and from that point I would play it by ear.

Two years later, she passed away.

Alternet describes a recent NY screening of Grace Paley: Collected Shorts, a new documentary: “The lights were hardly back on when [the audience] started talking, telling stories…about this arrest and that action…the talk continued in the lobby and on the street, and, I imagined, on the subway rides home, and on the phone later, and at some meeting or rally, before too long.”

On the eve of the anniversary of her passing (Aug 22nd, 2007), I’d like to keep the discussion going.

So I’m in her class, like I said, and we’re workshopping my short story. It’s a story I assume she’s going to like, since, after all, I stole pretty much everything from her. I mean it was all in there: the witty spousal banter, the pith, the holocaust ending. It was downright manipulative.

My classmates are saying the usual this and that—the dialogue is confusing; it’s hard to know who’s saying what, etc.—when Grace puts her copy down and looks up and asks me to read a section aloud. And as I do so, her face goes sour. She is clearly disappointed. Moments later, everybody’s making the same face, their features all squished-up and whatnot. What’s going on? I’m wondering, Was my joke about the Hasidim so offensive that they have all joined forces and conspired against me?

Then I pause for a moment and realize there’s a strange noise in the room, the buzz of bad circuitry. What the hell is that? A smoke detector? A HAM radio? A spaceship landing at South College?

Ach, not again, Grace says.

She shakes her head, then whacks the side of it a few times, harder than you’d think appropriate for an old broad like her. Finally, she tilts her head to one side, reaches into it by way of an ear, and pulls out something that at first glance looks to be a giant ball of wax.

It’s her hearing aid. And it’s humming like a Hendrix amp. She tries shaking it some more, but to no avail. Here, she says, handing it to me, You’re a man. Take a look at this, would you? For the last six months it’s been making me sound all crazy in my own head. Like I’m talking through a megaphone. Like it’s Greenwich Village in the ‘60`s. I can’t tell you how unsettling it is.

Even with my Y chromosome, I said, handing it back to her, There’s not much I can do with this. You should probably just get a new one.

Ha! She said, turning it down and sitting it back in her ear, You know how much they want for a new one?

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